HERO (Heathkit Educational RObot) is the name of several educational robots sold by Heathkit during the 1980s. The Heath Company began the HERO 1 project in October 1979. The first units were available in 1982. Models included the HERO 1, HERO Jr., and HERO 2000. Heathkit supported the HERO robot line up until 1995. All three were available as kits, or for more money, prebuilt by Heathkit. Since 2013 the 1980s models are considered collectors items, due to their apparent rarity. For the most part, they cannot perform practical tasks, but are more geared toward entertainment and education above all.
HERO 1 was a self-contained mobile robot controlled by an onboard computer with a Motorola 6808 CPU and 4 kB of RAM. The robot featured light, sound, and motion detectors as well as a sonar ranging sensor. An optional arm mechanism and speech synthesizer was available for the kit form and included in the assembled form.
To make this power available in a simple way, high-level programming languages were created. For example, the ANDROTEXT language was a HERO 1 editor and compiler developed in 1982 for the IBM PC.
HERO 1 was featured on Mr. Wizard's World on a few episodes. BYTE called HERO 1 "a product of extraordinary flexibility and function ... If you are interested in robotics, Heath will show you the way".
A smaller version of HERO was released later, called HERO Jr. Heathkit intended it for the home market, and therefore made it less complex, and more self-contained. Like HERO 1, HERO Jr. had a 6808 processor, but only 2 kB of RAM. As well, it sported onboard speech synthesis, a Polaroid sonar range sensor, a light sensor, and a sound sensor. An optional infrared sensor was available as well. Other optional components included a pair of extra batteries to double the operational time between charges, from an estimated 4 hours to 8 hours. A remote control accessory allowed users to drive the robot around. It included a motion sensor that caused the robot to croak "SOM-THING-MOVE" when it detected a source of motion.
Heathkit released several add-ons to increase the robot's capabilities, including a transmitter to activate a home security system in the event it sensed movement while on "guard duty". Also, additional cartridges with programs and games were available, as well as a components to allow the user to directly program the robot.
The drive mechanism is backward compared to the HERO 1, with the drive and steering wheel in the back of the robot. The head section featured an indentation to allow the robot to transport up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg). The robot could speak several phrases from various films that either involved robots or computers. It was also capable of remembering and repeating back its masters name, as well as singing songs, reciting poems, acting as an alarm clock, and making its own combinations of phonemes to create a robotic gibberish.
The much more powerful HERO 2000 included several onboard microprocessors, onboard speech synthesis, several sensors, and the ability to add expansion cards using a passive backplane.
The HE-RObot was the result of a strategic partnership between Heathkit and White Box Robotics. When available, it cost as much as $8000. The HE-RObot was marketed to the educational market. Heathkit sold approximately 50 of these robots before their bankruptcy in 2012.