Didn't people 'back in the day', ever try 'Object-Tracking'( combined with RC ), via their retrocomputers, as 'Home-Projects'

( I'm referring to a time range from say 1975 to 1985 )

( Also, if there have been any modern attempts by using 'only' equipment available back then, then they should also qualify )

I am referring to the following scenario( although some variation is OK ) :
Your retrocomputer controls an RC-car, but because of wheel-slippage, the postion of the car on the computers map, does not match the position of the car on the actual floor-area meant to represent the computer's map .
So, you would want to construct radio-signal-direction-detectors, or audio-signal-direction-detectors, or light-signal-direction-detectors, and have a signal-emitter on the RC-car, and then use 'triangulation' to determine the position of the car, or, use any other method to determine the actual position of the car on the floor .
( obviously, this would allow you to point to any position on the computer's map where you would like the car to be, and the computer would be able to guide the car to that exact position, via steering and speed adjustments, just like in simple video-games where you played against an AI )

I have never found any evidence that anyone ever tried this 'back in the day' as a 'Home-Project', and yet you'd think that for many people it would have been a main reason for buying a computer back then

So my question is, does anyone know of any attempted 'Home-Projects' fitting this description 'back in the day', although, if there have been any modern attempts by using 'only' equipment available back then, then they should also qualify .

( I can see that this question will not be allowed as it is too general etc, can any skilled moderator find an acceptable way of editing it to make it an allowed question )

  • 4
    Note that legislation and regulations on anything regarding radio "back in the day" were absolutely more strict than today. Fiddling with such stuff without an amateur radio license would have gotten you halfway into prison in most (even otherwise very liberal) countries.
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 7:24
  • 1
    there where still free frequency ranges but wit very limited power at least in some countries which limits the usable distance quite a lot but the main problem was RC tracking requires a least 2 directional antennas for triangulation with controllable direction which was expensive to do back in the days. Now we got MCUs and can do a computer homemade but back in the days it was not that easy and not many people could actually do it with parts available.
    – Spektre
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 8:51
  • 4
    "you'd think that for many people it would have been a main reason for buying a computer" I assume RC/object tracking is a passion of yours... without wishing in any way to criticise that interest, I suspect you are over-projecting your interest on to others. While there were people who tried to computerise RC systems (and in particular, the micromouse competitions that JeremyP refers to), my recollection of "back in the day" (first access to a computer 1975; first own computer 1980) was that most people were simply happy to have access to a computer they could learn to program.
    – TripeHound
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 10:37
  • 2
    Back in the day, when people asked us why we wanted a home computer, we told them that we were going to use it to organize the recipe files in our kitchens. But then, when Apple computer gave us the perfect tool, we discovered that that was not what we wanted computers for at all. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 16:12
  • 2
    This feels like exactly the sort of thing BBC Micro owners might have done, probably with help from a Maplin catalogue. I can't find anything specific though.
    – Tommy
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 21:05

2 Answers 2


Back when I was young (in the early 80's and still interested in computer shows, a feature of every major show would be a micromouse competition. The robots that used to compete didn't have radio control but were actually fully autonomouse.

A micromouse consisted of a motorised chassis, some sensors to tell the mouse where the walls are (usually infra red in those days IIRC) and a "brain" which would be a computer. When I first started watching, these werer often custom made because there were no off the shelf computers small enough to fit onto the chassis. However, after the appearance of the Sinclair ZX80, that all changed.

These don't strictly fit the criteria of your question , but it does show that people were thinking in terms of adding spacial awareness to things like R/C cars.

  • 10
    "autonomouse", I see what you did there. Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 10:03
  • yes, and especially the maze-solvers were very impressive, but to make my idea easier to achieve, you would need the retrocomputer to be external from the 'car / robot', because it would be too difficult to send data back and forth to a 'car / robot' back then
    – texttext
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 20:49
  • @JeremyP: Do you have any picture of this specific micromouse controlled via ZX80?
    – wizofwor
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 6:00
  • @wizofwor Sadly no. But it literally was a micro mouse with a Sinclair ZX80 strapped to the top.
    – JeremyP
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 10:02

I remember having seen a video on Youtube where two vintage computers (because one would have been to slow) were used to detect position and speed of a marble in this game where you can tilt a wooden board with a kind of maze with two knobs, and make a marble run through it.

It had a very crude kind of camera, that basically detect light/dark in a few areas, but that was enough to track the marble.

Does that count? (No RC-car involved, sorry).

If I find the video, I'll edit the question with the link.

I also vaguely remember a project for home-computers where you'd use a kind of arm made of some segments, equipped with potentiometers at the links, as a kind of input device for a 2D position. The computer had to do trigonometric calculations to get the coordinates.

I guess with the right mechanics (equip the RC car with some kind of vertical rod, the end of the arm with something with a hole, put the rod through the hole so the arm moves when the car moves) that could have been used to find the position of the car, at least in a limited area.

Sound-based and radio-based triangulation would have been too difficult because of the time-scales involved, you'd have to do the measurements with quite a bit of extra electronics.

  • Pasting a sample of a comment I posted above, "The easy alternative, is in my question, "light-signal-direction-detectors", you may know about that robot-dog at the 1939 worlds-fair, that was a companion to another robot, that robot-dog( or a version they had of it back then ) could follow any light source"..... Yes, I have seen the marble-tracker you mention, and I was going to mention the idea in my question, visual-tracking, because home-video cameras had been available since the very early 70's or earlier, you could of used a grid of photocells facing an output TV from a video camera
    – texttext
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 20:56
  • Something the idea in my question could have enabled, is that you would be able to race ( or chase ) your RC-car against a retrocomputer-controlled RC-car, since the retrocomputer would have known the position of both vehicles (although tracking 2 vehicles would have been much more difficult though, because of trying to distinguish one car from the other )
    – texttext
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 21:12
  • @texttext: The thing is that following a light source is easy (needs 2-3 photo-diodes, simple logic to control the steering), while finding a position is a problem of totally different magnitude, and finding a position of one object among several objects is again of different magnitude. They may look very similar, but they are not.
    – dirkt
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 5:07
  • I once read that the following used some type of radar, but no article I find today mentions radar rcgroups.com/forums/…
    – texttext
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 18:34
  • In my question I mentioned triangulation, so obviously you'd be using 2 light-signal-direction-detectors, they could simply be continously rotating( like radar, but to detect light ) and rolling around a ring lined with seperate contacts( each contact representing a direction ), when it detects light, current flows through that contact on the ring, and the signal goes to an individual pin on the joystick-port( or something ), or you'd have some crude box to generate an individual coordinate code for each contact on the circle
    – texttext
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 18:35

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