Quote of the day: Personal robots a defeat

Atari founder Nolan Bushnell reflects on the problems with household robots.

Jennifer Guevin Former Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin was a managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitated toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin

In a CNET News.com interview with Silicon Valley entrepreneur Nolan Bushnell, the Atari founder reflects on his various enterprises--from launching the Chuck E. Cheese's chain of pizza parlors to creating the Atari 800. However, he admits some ventures?such as his household robot Androbot--were less successful.

You were right about video games, right about high-tech pizza parlors. What about personal robots? Were you just ahead of the curve there?
Bushnell: The personal robot, to me, was a defeat--and it was a defeat based on unintended consequences. We had a PC at the core, and in those days, noise immunity on a computer was very, very low. What we could not solve was that robots running across any surface would generate static electricity. When the static electricity was discharged, sometimes just across the bearings of the wheels, that was enough to reset the computer.

We tried all kinds of isolation approaches. With a computer, (if) you get the blue screen of death, you reboot, you go forward. In a robot environment, if you have a computer failure, all your sensors go out, all your fail-safe stuff. So the robot can be locked into a mode where it's going full-speed into a wall. We used to laughingly call that the "mow the baby" mode. It was a thing where we never felt the robot was ready for the marketplace.