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Little Johnny by Dan Gates

The creation of Little Johnny was driven by need as well as inspiration. After appearing as a guest at a 6 year old's Talented & Gifted class presentation on robotics, I realized that my CD-Bot just wasn't impressive enough.

If I was to continue working with schools and young people I'd have to come up with something a little more flashy.

Soon after that I ran across a Power Horse toy tractor in one of my salvage center sprees. It went into my son's toybox and to the back of my mind untill one evening while flipping channels, I stumbled upon the movie 'Short Circuit'. The wheels in my head began to spin and Little Johnny is the result.

Origionaly his name was PicoTrac, but he was often referred to as The Little Johnny robot by those who didn't know the PicoTrac name, so as time went on Little Johnny became the preffered name and I think it suites him.

Here is a rundown of the items (junk) that went into him.


New Bright's Power Horse Tractor with the cab and shovel removed. I also cut all the traction nubs off the tracks for better drive/steering quality.

Drive Train

Modified rubber treads driven by a worm drive tranny and two stock toy motors.


$4 worth of aluminum angle from the local hardware store cut on my scroll saw and riveted together.


More aluminum from the hardware store cut with the scroll saw. Six hobby servos to give three degrees of freedom in each arm. Upper arm servos have over 10 inch-lbs of torque.


Yellow powder coat finish was done by my cousin who has his own powder coating company. Thanks Rob!


This robot runs on an M.I.T. Handyboard with a custom expansion board that gives him speech. The Handyboard is based on the Motorola 68HC11A1 microprocessor. http://www.handyboard.com.


The Handyboard uses Interactive C for its programing language. IC was designed specifically for the Handyboard.


The head is made from the back of a halogen shop light and pieces of a novelty railroad nightlite. The eyes are lit by neon rope used in custom automotive decor. The inner portion of the eyes are Eltec Pyroelectric sensors for sensing body heat. The head has one degree of motion for tilt. I wanted the entire body to move for pan motion.


Hopefully soon I will be adding piezo pressure sensors to the grippers, a low battery sensor, and a CDS Cell for light intensity readings.

All created to capture and hold the attention of young audiences by being interactive and articulated... do you think it will work??

See more about Little Johnny at http://www.sorobotics.org or email Dan at dan@sorobotics.org