Exploring the RB5X: A Journey into the World of Personal Robotics

Exploring the RB5X: A Journey into the World of Personal Robotics. The RB5X is a versatile and sophisticated robot initially released around 1983. It’s a cylinder-shaped robot with an optional arm and a transparent, dome-shaped top. Here are some key aspects of the RB5X:

  1. Physical Features: It measures 13 inches in diameter and 23 inches in height, weighing about 24 pounds. The robot moves with two 4-inch diameter synthetic rubber drives and two 2-inch diameter castors.
  2. Sensory and Interactive Capabilities: The RB5X is equipped with eight bumper panels, a photodiode, and a sonic transducer. It has an on-board microprocessor (INS8073) and 8K of memory standard, which can be upgraded to 16K. Its ‘eyes’ are a Polaroid Rangefinder sonar system, allowing it to recognize and navigate around obstacles.
  3. Communication and Programming: It features an RS-232 communications interface and is programmable in TinyBASIC or Savvy. The robot can be programmed using any home computer with an RS-232 communications interface.
  4. Additional Features: The RB5X can have an optional voice/sound synthesis system for programmed speech, music, and a variety of sounds. There’s also an optional robotic arm/hand with five-way movement capable of picking up, carrying, and releasing objects weighing up to 16 ounces.
  5. Applications and Use: This robot is designed to teach life-long skills valuable in various fields of study and employment. It can be used for interactive games, educational purposes, and even home security or entertainment. The RB5X’s capabilities can be expanded through programming and optional hardware enhancements.

The RB5X represents an early commercial implementation of autonomous mobile robotics (AMR) and is notable for its ability to learn from experience. Its versatility and programmability make it suitable for a wide range of applications, from educational to personal experimentation​​​​​. 123

RB5X Robot


National Semiconductor


            Type – 8-bit CPU.

System clock – 4.0 MHz.

On-Board Memory – 8K RAM.

ROM – 2K and 4K PROM.

RAM – 2K for language.

I/O System – INS8255.  Six B-bit bytes of I/O to four edge connectors with +5 volts and ground.  Edge connectors: standard 2 x 22 pins on .156″ centers.

Optional memory – 16K or 18K non-volatile RAM.

Interface – Standard serial RS-232.

Data Transfer Rate – Selectable at 110, 300, 1200, or 4800 baud.

Programming Language – National Semiconductor NSC Tiny BASIC.

Optional languages

Robot Control Language with Savvy (RCL).

RB5X Terrapin Logo Translator (RB Logo).

General Features


Dimensions – 13″ diameter x 23″ high.

Weight – 24 lbs.

Wheels – Two 4″ diameter synthetic rubber drives and two 2″ diameter castors.

Motor speed  – Approximately 4″ per second.

On-center turning radius – O” (turns on center).

off-center turning radius – 6

Construction – Aluminum chassis, polycarbonate dome.

Standard Software

                Beta self-learning programs,
sonar software, charger-finder
and charge-maintenance routine
routine, self-diagnostic, and
sample programs on a utility
software module.
Optional software

    Preprogrammed software modules.

Controlled Devices

  • Two motors.
  • Five programmable LEDS, one of which turns on four randomly flashing LEDS.
  • Eight bumper-indicator LEDS.  Four motor-direction-indicator LEDs.
  • One horn (piezoelectric buzzer).

Type – Polaroid Rangefinder.
Resolution – 1 cm.
Sensing angle – 10 degrees, solid angle.
Range – 0.91 – 251.

Type – Eight momentary pushbutton, normally open switches.

Infrared LED/photodiode    Infrared reflective.
Sensitivity frequency    950nm.

Power Supply
Batteries – 6-volt, 5 amp hour, rechargeable, sealed  lead-acid  battery for electronics.
6-volt, 10 amp  hour,  rechargeable, sealed  lead-acid  battery for motors, relays, LEDS, and
Protection – Automatic shutoff at 5.4 volts.
Optional power supply Additional 6-volt,  10-amp-hour battery.

Charger – Nest-style.
Power requirements – 110 volts AC, 60 Hz.
Output voltage – 7.5 volts nominal.
Output current – 1.5 amps, current limited.
Optional capability – Recharge cable kit to allow plug-in charging.

Optional Voice/Sound Synthesis

    Speech Type – Synthesized, phoneme-based system operating 64 basic sounds.
Reference pitch – Hardware selectable.
Inflection – Four levels using software.
Sound Type – Three independent tone channels, one noise channel. Volume/output functions Software controlled.

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About the Author: Bernard Aybout

In the land of bytes and bits, a father of three sits, With a heart for tech and coding kits, in IT he never quits. At Magna's door, he took his stance, in Canada's wide expanse, At Karmax Heavy Stamping - Cosma's dance, he gave his career a chance. With a passion deep for teaching code, to the young minds he showed, The path where digital seeds are sowed, in critical thinking mode. But alas, not all was bright and fair, at Magna's lair, oh despair, Harassment, intimidation, a chilling air, made the workplace hard to bear. Management's maze and morale's dip, made our hero's spirit flip, In a demoralizing grip, his well-being began to slip. So he bid adieu to Magna's scene, from the division not so serene, Yet in tech, his interest keen, continues to inspire and convene.