One of the major trends in the educational toy industry is programmable robotics. There are all sorts of inexpensive robot vehicles that children can program themselves in order to learn how to code. But, it’s hardly a fad, and one of the first of these toys was the Big Trak which was first introduced way back in 1979.
The Big Trak was a small electric vehicle which could be programmed with an onboard keypad. It would remember up to 16 commands, and then execute them to drive around. That was exciting at the time, and impressive for a toy, but we can obviously do a lot better today.
Over at RetroManCave, Howard of Dubious Engineering shows how he improved his Big Trak by replacing the factory Texas Instruments TMS1000 microcontroller with a modern Arduino. The only obvious exterior modification is the addition of a small OLED screen. But, with everything being controlled with the Arduino, the Big Trak is capable of a lot more than those original 16 commands.
The most obvious benefit is that a lot more than 16 commands can be stored. But, there is also an ultrasonic distance finder up front that expands what those commands can be used for. In Howard’s case, that was fighting other robots—a competition which the Big Trak took first place in.