The Programmable Computer Controlled Remote Control Car project (PCCRCC)

Originally published in 2001 at

Minor style editing and link fixes and continuation on 12/12/2014

It matters not our current state of machine intelligence is no more advanced than the ability of nature's five year old kid, or that beyond expert systems there is little application for a machine that thinks on its own, the fact of the matter is, aside from MIT's COG, most of our machine's available thinking power is locked in a box, with no other channel of influence than to draw pretty pictures on a screen. Without a form, it is extrememly difficult for an intelligence to develop, for it is the need of the body that demands the resourcefulness of the mind.

Hence this project. It is an exercise in allowing a machine to act in/on the physical world. To give limbs, in a sense, to whatever intelligence that is possible within a typical personal computer.
The Apple IIe, the computer that started it all Some might question my choice of the computer used in this project, after all, compared with today's machines, this thing is like an amoeba. But, and this is important, because to people who have actually used the thing sometime in their lives, such as myself, we know this is a true hacker's machine. You don't even need a screw driver to open the case! To young people who always wondered what is making the sound inside a radio and longed to pry open the case to have a look-see, this is a dream machine - it not only inspires ones curiosity, it invites you to an exciting journey of self guided exploration called learning. Thanks to Woz, and the hacker ethic. 
The Game I/O port built into the back of the machine Anywho, this is a good place to start because it has a very simple and very hackable I/O in the form of the game port. The code is easy, the language is designed for curious non-programmers, i.e. kids, to play with, and best of all, it is cheap. Purchased for the price of about two lunches. While it would still be a tragic loss should it get destroyed in the experiment, the world will not come to an end and I could easily replace what could have been the single most expensive component in the setup.

It is now 13 years later, and I finially get to finish this write up.

Apple II game I/O header on motherboard

This is the money shot. The awesome Game I/O. If you are facing the keyboard, if you pop open the case, hiding just under the frame on the right side is the white connector.

Apple II with hood opened

It leads to an array of switches on the motherboard that you can control via software.
Not taking any chances, adding another set of transistors and resistors between the header and the DIP-9 Male that'd be added to the case.

Well that takes card of it on the Apple IIe side, on the R/C toy side we have this from the box:

Popping the case open on the controller, the board is simple enough, just 4 switches to tap into.

A little Dremel work on the shell and the matching DIP-9 Female is on the case.

This is very neat, the plug will hold the remote controller in place, making it a radio add-on for the Apple IIe.

The base code is this.

In the beginning the code was used to have the toy car perform a pre-programmed choregraphed routine, then it was programmed to use random movement, the thing ended up twitching like an insect. Eventually an LED was attached to the car, tapping its main 2AA. A photo-resistor circuit was added to the paddle inputs of the Apple, then the code was modified to respond to the light from the car.