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Atlas robot (robotic) arm A weird, wonderful Heath-Robinson contraption

This has to be my favourite Beeb arm as it's such an odd-ball, quirky design. The Atlas I and II models were produced by LJ Electronics Ltd, Norwich, a company established in 1979 to market training technology to colleges, schools and universities. The company behind LG Electronics still exists but is now known as LJ Create. (See Links page.)

The Atlas arm is unusual both mechanically and electrically. Its designers rejected current anthropomorphic forms and opted instead for a turret-based design, similar to the very first industrial arm - the Unimate 2000/4000 series of 1961 (see below). In fact, rather than an 'arm', the Atlas looks like a tilting head, resembling as it does a head with a long extensible tongue - like a chameleon.
Electronically, I believe the Atlas is the only Beeb arm with internal computational capability. All the other Beeb arm designs I'm aware of use external processing - either in an add-on box (e.g. MA2000) or by relying on the Beeb for control signal generation (e.g. Armdroid). The one exception may be the tiny 'Alfred' arm from Robot City with its Z8 microprocessor. Atlas robot arm Atlas robot arm Unimate 4000
Differences between Atlas I and II

There are no mechanical differences between the Atlas I and II. Atlas II simply has upgraded firmware in eprom and a 'II' added to the side decals. Atlas II eproms can be recognised by their rectangular labels, rather than the Atlas I's round ones. Most Atlas I models were upgraded to Atlas II specification by the fitting of a conversion kit consisting of three 8KB eproms and an Atlas II manual. One major feature of the new firmware was acceleration and deceleration (staircase ramping) of the stepper drive signals for smoother operation. (This ramping gives a sound signature reminiscent of 'R2D2' as the motor step-speeds change.) A second feature was a revised data format for files saved to tape.
Atlas II robot arm eprom set
Atlas robot arm minus top cover and wing panels Dating an Atlas arm

According to the manual, all Atlas arms sold after June 1st 1985 were to Atlas II spec. So if you have an arm marked Atlas II on the side decal, you can be sure it's a post May 1985 model. All arms without the II, whether firmware upgraded or not, were made prior to June 1985. My Atlas I/II arm (upgraded) has the serial number 1111 or 380, depending on where you look - see the Atlas Gallery pictures for possible serial number locations. Either way, when allowance is made for additional Atlas II production, this suggests that a considerable number of Atlas arms must have been made in total.

Shown on the left is an Atlas arm minus its top cover and wing panels. The wing panels house heavy iron counterweights to balance the arm when tipped forward, but they can be easily removed if the arm needs to be carried any distance.


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