Overview

After the Video Game Crash of 1983, console vendors were looking to market new gaming devices without using the word game (seriously). In 1985, Nintendo released their Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which proved to be a great hit and the start of a long string of beloved gaming gear.

As part of the first round of shipments, the console came with a light gun (NES Zapper) and a novel interactive robot they called the Robotic Operating Buddy, or R.O.B., which was part of a marketing plan to portray the NES's technology as being novel and sophisticated when compared to previous game consoles, and to portray the NES as being within reach of the better established toy market. 

R.O.B. came with some gyro spinners and attachable claws. A lot of the peripherals were soon separated from their robotic friend.

robotics___cnc_nes-rob-d8-sm.jpg
Picture from http://www.theoldrobots.com/Rob.html

While R.O.B. was appealing, Nintendo only made a couple of games that used his capabilities.

Later NES packages dropped R.O.B., making the price more affordable. R.O.B.s were relegated to closets with many of his little gyro peripherals and his claws scattered and lost.

Revival Efforts

R.O.B. relies on a series of precise flashes from a CRT analog television to receive commands via a sensor in the robot's head. It had no connection to the NES itself.

Using an NES on a modern LCD TV does not allow R.O.B. to work as the images are not output in the same way analog signals were used. R.O.B. uses a detection chip in his head which relied on specific flash timing inherent in analog TV (in the US, NTSC signals).

Over the years, people have tried to recreate the R.O.B. controls without success. Some success has been achieved by Makers by hacking the motor control board in R.O.B.'s base (which will be shown later in this article). 

Here at Adafruit, we took this as a challenge. With the aid of some NES emulation detective work on the AtariAge forums along with Ladyada's NTSC-foo, we have recreated the light control sequence R.O.B. uses to move.

This tutorial will assist you in taking your dusty R.O.B. and making him a useful part of your life.

R.O.B. Buying Guide

If you want to go and buy a R.O.B. here are some hints:

  1. You don't need an NES console or game cartridge. R.O.B. works alone.
  2. You don't need the spinners or other peripherals. The grey "claws" really are not required either.
  3. You do want the battery cover for the bottom unless you plan to modify the power in some way.
  4. You do want to ask the owner if R.O.B. works with the batteries in and if any gears may be stripped as this will affect the price you pay.
  5. Gear issues can often be fixed, but it may be worth it to buy a R.O.B. that seems in working order.
  6. You don't need to buy one of the pristine bundles with or without original packaging unless you are a collector and know what you're spending money on. For this tutorial, only the basic R.O.B unit is needed.

As it becomes known that R.O.B. can be controlled, the prices may fluctuate. Before publishing this tutorial, a basic R.O.B. may go for US $50 to $100 on eBay with higher prices for bundles of extra stuff. Do your homework before jumping in. You may have some better luck at thrift shops.

This guide was first published on May 24, 2018. It was last updated on Oct 18, 2018. This page (Overview) was last updated on May 25, 2018.