Foreword – Bart Everett –
I first met Ray Holt in 2004, when he came to visit the Unmanned Systems Group at what is now the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego, CA. Ray had stumbled across one of our many technical articles on the ROBART series of autonomous security robots. Back in the early ‘80s, I had used the versatile Synertek SYM-1 single-board computer in my first two prototypes of this series, ROBART I and ROBART II. As Vice President for Engineering at Synertek Systems in Santa Clara, CA, Ray had been the hardware designer for the SYM-1 in 1978, hence his interest. As I was soon to learn, he had also designed the fly-by-wire flight computer for the Navy’s much accomplished F-14 Tomcat, featured in the popular movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.
The ROBART series of research prototypes (see also http://www.theoldrobots.com/OddsEnds.html ).
As a newly arrived engineering student at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, I had been fortuitously introduced to the elegant SYM-1 microcomputer by Professor Russel Richards in 1980. My 1966 robots, Walter and Crawler I, were devoid of any type of sensors, controlled by a human operator via a multi-conductor tether (see https://www.barteverett.com/). My first autonomous robot, Crawler II, featured four tactile sensors for collision avoidance, with a primitive punched-card reader to alter course accordingly. My primary thesis goal with ROBART I was to incorporate as many sensors as possible to enable far more intelligent autonomous behaviors. And significantly more sensors on a battery-powered robot naturally required a small, low-cost, but very capable computer with considerable input/output (I/O) capability.
For around $200, the SY6532 RAM I/O Timer Array and three SY6522 Versatile Interface Adaptors of the SYM-1 provided an impressive 64 bits of I/O, which I further expanded with off-board 16-line data selectors and distributors. Buoyed by this seemingly limitless I/O and now a real computer to provide intelligent control, I set about to procure or build an appropriate array of sensors to effectively perceive the robot’s environment. I’ll never forget the thrill of accomplishment each time some innovative perception routine successfully enabled a new behavior, or how lucky I was that my obsession towards this goal was something the Navy was paying me to do.
ROBART I, circa 1982, featured an extensive array of commercial and custom perception sensors.
As the first world’s autonomous security robot, and to the best of my knowledge the first robot to incorporate speech synthesis, ROBART I naturally drew quite a bit of interest at the time. During the last year of my thesis work (1982), I was asked to give a presentation to the local Apple Computer Users Group. This limited exposure immediately generated several calls from local television stations, which came to my residence to film the talking robot that patrolled and protected my home. ABC World News Tonight flew out from New York to do a shoot, which started a world-wide media frenzy, and ROBART I went viral long before there was an internet. The Naval Postgraduate School sent their Public Affairs Officer out to my house for a week to answer the phone, which rang again as soon as you hung it up.
So, given the key role the landmark SYM-1 played in my early 80s robotic experience, I had happily given Ray Holt an in-depth guided tour of our Lab’s ongoing robotic projects in 2004, many of which were spawned by the supporting technology base initially developed under the ROBART series. Ray later arranged for a follow-up visit in 2006, accompanied this time with Manny Lemas, President of Synertek Systems, and programmer on the SYM-1, and Mark Holt, Ray’s oldest son. During this second tour, I put particular emphasis on the perception and autonomy technology developed under the ROBART series, and its impressive legacy of literally hundreds of follow-on projects we subsequently produced for DoD customers. Without Ray Holt and the SYM-1, there likely would have been no ROBART I, whereupon I would have never been designated as Special Assistant for Robotics to the Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, and then spent 34 more years working in the field of unmanned systems.