Depending on your level of geekyness that title either just sent you into a childhood memory induced siezure or you are scratching your head.
This morning my brother asked me if I remembered a 6 wheeled programmable toy from childhood and I immediatly freaked out. Big Trak was the coolest toy I remember having as a kid and after spending a few minutes reminiscing about it and looking at information on the web I think I might have a lot to thank Milton Bradley for.
Big Trak was a 6 wheeled tank shaped robot available starting in 1979. I had a 24 key keypad on it’s back that you used to program the toy to move around. You could enter up to 16 instructions such as move forward or backwards, turn right or left, pause, and fire into memory and then press GO and the Big Trak would execute your program. The controls and the premise were simple, but the implications were pretty enormous.
I think now that Big Trak might have been my introduction to programming. I remember spending hours and hours programming the Big Trak to do exactly what I wanted and I remember feeling limited about the 16 instruction limitation.
I don’t know how long I got to play with the Big Trak, but I do remember when it broke. I eventually wore the keypad out and not all the buttons would function. My Dad and I tried to repair it by installing 24 little red push button switches from Radio Shack, but neither of us knew anything about digital electronics and couldn’t figure out how the keypad had less outputs than 25. All I knew then was that 24 inputs should equal 24 outputs. I can still see the unfinished keypad sitting on the workbench in the basement in our house in Mantua.
Soon after that we got our first home computer; an Apple IIc. That was where programming blossomed into a lifelong addiction for me but I think that I have Big Trak to thank for getting me started.