Stories of Heath Products

This document was updated on Wednesday, 7 August 2019.
Updated some links and did some minor editing.


The Customer Service Department at Heath Company provided free technical consultation on Heath products. Well, almost free. If you were calling from out of town, you had to pay for long distance charges.

Most of the time, the job was routine for the Heath Tech Consultants. Occasionally, however, they'd get a call that was somewhat unusual.

Some of these stories are ones the tech consultants told me, others are from personal experience.

CB Boom

Note: In the following, I'm not trying to fan the flames between CBers and ham radio operators. I was a CB operator in the 70s (call sign forgotten) and also have an amateur radio operators license (Amateur Extra - KC0SVZ). In addition, I've had a commercial First Class Radio Telephone Operator License (now grandfathered to a General Radiotelephone Operator License). For many, Citizens band radio is a stepping stone for people getting their amateur and/or commercial tickets.
In the mid 70s, it no longer became a requirement for a U.S. citizen to pay the FCC to obtain a CB license. You could buy a Citizen's band radio, fill out the form, mail it in, and start operating. I suspect that many people didn't bother with the form part of the process. Anyway, people went crazy and it seemed like everybody was buying CBs.

Heath Company was selling some CB items, but also made money by selling test equipment to people who were servicing the radios. Here's a couple of stories from when I was a service technician at the Heathkit store in Omaha, Nebraska:


HERO: Heath Educational RObot

Though I'm not a genius in the mechanical-aptitude department, I've been a fan of robots since I first saw Robbie in the movie "Forbidden Planet" when I was a child.

Czech playwright Karel Capek wrote a story called R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). "Robot" is derived from the Czechoslovakian term robota, or forced labor. The story was about how the robots got fed up, rebelled, wiped out humanity, and formed their own society. (Note: The original web page linked to R.U.R., above, is no longer available. This is a link to the Internet Archive.)

Later, forest-destroying Isaac Asimov wrote a large number of stories showing how robots could not only get along with humankind, but could be cooperative to the benefit of both species. That is, his aim was to show that technology isn't basically evil. So, inspired by John Campbell, Dr. Asimov based his stories on the Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
While those concepts are too sophisticated for the Hero robots to grasp, they nevertheless seemed to be a friendly bunch.

The Hero Junior That Was Ran Over By A Car While Trying To Do It's Duty

The Hero Jr. was Heath's entry-level robot. That is, their cheapest. It didn't have an arm, but could move about on its three-wheel base, sense its surroundings, and talk. Its brain consisted of a Motorola 6808 eight-bit processor, a 32K EPROM, and 2K RAM (expandable to 24K). It used an SC-01 speech synthesizer and could sense sound, light, and nearby objects (using sonar). It could be programmed through the hex keypad on top of its "head." Physically, the robot was 19" high, 18" in diameter, and weighed 22 pounds. Short little squirt. Options included a transmitter (GDA-2800-3) that would allow it to sound an alarm or summon help if it was programmed to guard an area.

Anyway, Hero Jr. was a cheerful little robot. It would roll about happily chatting random phrases in its nasal, sing-song voice while avoiding objects. It couldn't maintain a straight course—its rear-wheel drive/steering motor lacked the circuitry to sense when it was drifting.

Hero Jr. would sit still when put in its "guard" mode. So if you were out for the evening and somebody broke into your home, your robot would wake up and ask for a password and--if not given the correct response—it would sing out "Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert! You are an intruder! I am summoning the police!" and then do whatever you programmed it to do with the GDA-2800-3 transmitter.

So, with that long build up, here's the tale of woe:

A customer called Heath Technical Consultation and told them he'd purchased the Hero Jr. with all the options. After successfully building it, he was testing it in his driveway when his wife backed the car out of the garage.

Hero Jr. sang out "Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert! Aaaaaahhhh..." as it was crushed.

I don't know what the warranty status was on that, but it could be possible for an SC-01 speech synthesizer to make such a mournful cry if it's interrupted at the right moment.

Poor little robot...

Hero 2000 Does the Unexpected

If you're writing a service manual on a product, you'll spend a lot of time just playing with it. It's not time wasted, you learn about how it works and you can tell your readers the normal operating characteristics of the product.

The Hero 2000 was Heath's most advanced and expensive robot. It had an 8088 CPU for its main processor, plus about ten dedicated processors to handle motion and sensor functions. Though not advertised as such, it was a multi-tasking, multi-processing computer system. If you programmed it to move about, speak, pick up objects, and describe what it sensed, the 8088 would send the appropriate commands to the subprocessors and would react according to the information they sent back.

So there I was, sitting in my office and playing around with the Hero 2000. That included the remote-control interface—which was really a keyboard connected to a transmitter that Heath had used in a number of their radio-controlled model airplane kits.

Since I was in the office with the door closed (and being somewhat bored), I programmed Hero to swing about, move its arm, and shout words most people don't use in mixed company.

It turned out that the Hero 2000 test fixture used by the service techs downstairs was tuned to the same frequency. Luckily, it was mounted on blocks so it couldn't move from its spot. However, it did move its arm and shouted those words —just as a group of Heath customers that were touring the plant walked by.


Go to my Heath Company page.

Copyright © 1996, 1997, 2003—2005 William Albert Wilkinson. All rights reserved.