by Ken Boone and Rodney Radford
The Triangle Amateur Robotics club started its life as a homebrew computer club in 1975. As mass production of personal computers brought down the price of computers, it became cheaper (and a whole lot easier) to buy a computer than to build one. A few members decided that a new club should be formed for those interested in using their new computers for control applications.
The first meeting of the Triangle Integrated Microprocessor Experimenter’s Society, or TIMES, was held on January 29, 1984 in Dreyfus Auditorium at the Research Triangle Park to discuss the formation of the new club. The announcement for that meeting stated the club was being formed “to extend the application frontier of Microprocessors — including Robotics, Remote Manipulation and Sensing, Computer Generated Music and Voice, and Voice and Image Analysis and Recognition”.
During the first meeting, Russell Lyday was elected president of the club. Russell remained club president for fifteen years and is still active in the club today. Two other currently active members, Ken Boone and Robert Wallace, also attended the first meeting. After the club business was conducted, the first meeting concluded with a lecture by Hal Chamberlin on “New Microprocessors and Support Chips”. Hal Chamberlin is considered the father of computer generated music and he also designed the first word processor that could display a complete page of text. Hal was the technical leader of the club until he sold his computer company and moved out of the area to work for a music keyboard company.
The club began a design for a group project, forming separate teams to investigate “Navigation”, “Locomotion”, “Arm/Hand design”, “System Engineering/Master Control” and “Visual Aspects & Speech Recognition”. The club was very ambitious, even by today’s standard. The January 1985 issue of club’s newsletter stated, “We have a goal of building a useful robot this year. This robot will be reasonably intelligent in that he will be able to ‘sense’ his surroundings by touch, feel, hearing, and perhaps ‘sight’. He will be able to move on his own power and lift, to a height of 6 feet, a 25 pound object”.
During the next two years, various club members presented several proposals toward the design of the club project. Ken Boone proposed a “Body Connection Standard” that would allow separate club modules to be built and stacked on top of each other. Hal Chamberlin presented several talks on motor control techniques, FORTH programming, and design of a 68000 based main control system. Work on the club robot ended in October 1986 when Hal Chamberlin moved out of the area.
The club then turned its attention to building smaller robots. In April 1987, the club held it’s first robot contest, the TIMES Mobile Vision Contest, at the Raleigh Amateur Radio Society (RARS) hamfest. In August 1987, the club changed its name to the Triangle Amateur Robotics club. The club held additional contests, including the first “TAR Maze” contest in April 1993 and the first “Basic Stomp” contest in April 1996. Since 1999, several members have represented the club in the Trinity College Fire Fighting Robotics challenge.
In 1997, the club built a working full-scale replica of the Mars Rover, nicknamed the TAR Rover. The TAR Rover is a 6-wheel drive, 4-wheel steer, remote control platform that receives commands over a two channel RC transmitter/receiver and feeds the commands as input to a Basic Stamp. The Basic Stamp then converts the two-channel input signals in to the ten output signals required to drive each of the ten servos responsible for drive and steering. An on-board color camera and video transmitter provides real time video back to the operator. The TAR Rover has been well received at several robotic demonstrations for local schools and universities.
In August 1999, the idea of regular club elections was proposed and adopted. The club decided to elect three officers – president, secretary/treasurer, publicity/contest chairman – each year during it’s December meeting. In order to promote growth and change within the club, the club decided that each new officer can only run for one year, and at the end of that year, someone else must be elected.
In December 1999, the club elected Rodney Radford as president, Alan Porter as secretary/treasurer, and Greg Preston as publicity/contest chairman. In February 2000, the club acquired the domain name of TriangleAmateurRobotics.org to serve as a permanent Internet home for information on the club.
The club’s members have participated in many community robotics projects. Members teach robotics classes for the Parents for the Advancement of Gifted Education (PAGE) program and the Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP). Members give robotics demonstrations at schools, museums and cub/boy/explorer scout meetings. Several members are registered as robotics presenters with the Scientist in the Classroom program. Members also mentor new robotics enthusiasts and participate as advisors for local FIRST robotics teams.