The 2200 DVD archive robot

Where optical disks created from 1997-2010 were stored.

Similar projects worth following

The original vision was a big UNIX box sitting in the middle of a living room, like an Onyx 2.  Some of the early UNIX boxes might have been designed as pieces of furniture.  It would contain all the media the lion kingdom ever had, on some kind of 200GB internal disk.  Optical storage became cheaper & more reliable than hard drives in the late 1990's, so the plan shifted to a giant robot which would make thousands of disks behave like a slow hard drive.

The robot was originally supposed to load the disks into a desktop drive.  Commercially produced robots of the time did it for a lot more money & much less capacity.  The lion kingdom thought it could save money by relying more on machine vision & wood.  As the problem grew in complexity, the robot was pared down to just an organizer.  

The robot was built twice.  The 1st one was made of balsa.  

 The 1st tower had 1 disk per row & took an eternity to fabricate.  3 more  towers were built with 2 disks per row & a low density loading tower.  It was fully functional, by this point.  It would transfer disks from high density towers to a loading tower closer to the computer, where a lion could swap them in the drive.  Various attempts to move the disks into the drive by suction proved too bulky & slow.

The 1st version was entirely TTL logic, driven by a giant board on the floor.  It read all the photodiode voltages with comparators & multiplexed the sensor inputs & motor control outputs down to the parallel port.  It was quite a leap just to remember anything about TTL logic that lions were shown in school, just 5 years earlier.

The very 1st point to point soldered board lions made.

The lion kingdom still used TTL logic in 2002 & viewed microcontrollers with their fancy serial ports as an impossibility in the short term.

Enough soldering of registers, counters, & parallel port pins could just barely convert a command line input to a physical PWM signal to control a servo, but it wasn't scalable. A TTL logic based robot could be abstracted into a bunch of registers with a way of reading & writing the registers with data lines & address lines in the parallel port.

Each bit in a register was the voltage of some sensor or motor. Reducing motor control from an 8 bit PWM value to a 2 bit H bridge value was the breakthrough that convinced lions it was possible to make a robot. Reducing an ADC from 8 bits in a register to 1 bit from an analog comparator was another breakthrough.

The TTL logic board was controlled by a modern PC.  Hard to believe ancient TTL logic from the 1970's was the only way for all those feeds & speeds from the 2000's to access the real world.

The balsa robot had a short life, despite appearing to contain a lot of disks.  The disks had no caddies & risked getting scratched.  It was built & all the disks were loaded in place, but the moment it had to be moved, it fell apart.  The balsa was too fragile.  After the robot was built, disks also started coming up erased from exposure to ambient light.  

Before the 1st robot was finished, lions started trying microcontrollers in late 2002.  

There was no Arduino in 2002, just buying an MC68HC11 & soldering it.  Without an oscilloscope & very little knowledge of how the serial port worked, the lion kingdom gave up on making it print hello world.  6 months later, in June 2003, the lion came back to it & it finally worked.  It turned out in the microcontroller world, the serial port wasn't independent of the CPU speed.  The serial port was locked to the speed of the crystal, which was 50% faster than what the datasheet was written to.  The serial port was 1800 baud instead of 1200 baud.

Despite having only 512 bytes of RAM, it was way beyond TTL logic.   

In mid 2004, a new robot was started, with all microcontrollers. ...

Read more »


Copies damaged files while preserving the block order.

x-csrc - 2.73 kB - 06/25/2018 at 04:16


  • Doomed Towers

    lion mclionhead12/19/2021 at 00:05 0 comments

    A plan began to evolve whereby the towers would be dismantled to free up space for a bigger 3D printer. Instead of complete destruction, they could be broken down into the modules they were constructed from. 

    May 2004.

    These could be rearranged to form a wider table for the printer.

    They've been nothing more than artwork since 2010 & the apartment isn't going to get any bigger as believed 20 years ago.  Pragmatic lion was right in believing optical disks & the mecha to store them had no future.  What would the world be like if the original plan to build 2 more towers happened?  Not building the 2 final towers was a big source of procrastination, but younger lion had a feeling it was worth waiting.  Media in the existing towers was swapped for higher density & the 2 disks in each row were replaced with 4.

  • The last of the robot

    lion mclionhead01/20/2020 at 06:32 0 comments

    The last of the robot was finally scavenged for parts & discarded to free up space.  Looking over the intricate mechanical wood work reminded the lion kingdom what a leap it was to go from a pure software programmer with no mechanical engineering or electronic skills to designing that, within a year.  The mechanical linkages moving DVDs around were a cut above the quad copters & rovers that came later because they weren't just static cargo carriers changing position.  They had to grab & replace objects & travel around large areas with mm accuracy.

  • Stuff that wasn't worth recovering

    lion mclionhead08/22/2018 at 08:54 0 comments

    Most pirated video still manages to be atrocious, 30 years after VHS, so never bothered with the pirated Xena anthology.  Holy hairpieces, it was lightyears ahead of what the lion kingdom spent the last 2 months watching, less in the early episodes but decisively better in the later episodes. It's almost worth watching all 134 episodes again, but the pirated version doesn't include the TV edit of the last episode. It's absolutely terrible when watching a single episode, but the entire series watched from start to finish is quite moving.

    Editing out all those commercials, scheduling batch recordings, deinterlacing it, transcoding it, burning it on CD, all before anyone heard of DVD-R, was a lot of work, but most pirated TV shows really don't hit this level of quality, certainly not a show about a dominant female.  All that was rendered meaningless in 24 hours.  The surviving Xena disks aren't worth keeping around.  Most of the other optical disks aren't worth keeping around, either.  Every month, they burn ever more on rent.

    The unique stuff is just photos, home music performances, late night talkshow sound bytes, really bad home movies, some obscure TV movies, some past olympics. 

  • Ancient recordings

    lion mclionhead07/23/2018 at 05:17 0 comments

    Then the DVD archive had the John Bell Young recordings.

    1st saw his name at the University of South Florida on a sign for a master class, in 1997. Didn't think much of it. Saw it again on, in 2000. What outstanding recordings he made of Scriabin & Schumann. It was a rich, relaxed sound, deep into the keys. It was disappointing more high quality recordings weren't made. Always wondered how he played Chopin Etude Op.10 #1 so fast. Perhaps he left out a lot of notes.

  • Forgotten codecs

    lion mclionhead07/06/2018 at 00:43 0 comments

    Not surprisingly, a lot of files can't be decoded anymore because of lost codec support.  

    A bit of debugging gets it most of the way, for something which can be bought from Bezos Inc in higher quality.

    MPlayer still decodes everything properly, but can't do anything else.  

     The Xena episodes at 15fps were manely IVTC, so there was no way to increase the framerate by bobbing.  The bobbing would work when IVTC occasionally missed, but it usually just showed the fields out of order, making playback studder.  It was a reasonable sacrifice to get higher spatial resolution.

    After 2 weeks with 3 drives working, all 2TB of data that was known to be unique was transferred.  It was easier to transfer everything than figure out what was worth it.  Most definitely wasn't worth it.  Since many were backups, it was about eyeballing directories to discover dupes.

    Tokyo in 2002, a small world to live out an entire life, with little to seek after besides just surviving.  It might be why people in even poorer countries than US & millenials travel a lot more.

  • Forgotten files

    lion mclionhead07/04/2018 at 21:57 0 comments

    It's surprising how many videos the lion kingdom has no memory of recording.  In most cases, lions can remember making a video on an invention, but nothing about how the invention was made.  It's a case of lion intelligence being augmented by machines.

    In this case, it was a forgotten 2 way serial port.  It sent data over 72Mhz & received data over the audio channel of a 2.4Ghz cam.  The cheapest UART radios of the time were $40 & there was no such thing as editing config files on a phone & sending them over bluetooth.  72Mhz & 2.4Ghz couldn't operate simultaneously.  They needed a 1/2 second delay between sending over 72Mhz & receiving over 2.4Ghz.  It took a piece of heroic PIC assembly language to make it transparent to the user.  It was never used.

  • The Xena transfer

    lion mclionhead07/03/2018 at 03:27 2 comments

    After 1 week, all the Xena episodes were transferred. They were all on 1 or 2 CD-R's, manely 15fps, Oxygen split screens which could be somewhat increased in framerate by converting frames to fields. Some were rerecorded after the dot coms crashed & Oxygen converted to a sane full screen. Some were recorded from WB.

    They used 2 or more encoding passes, to get the file size as close to a CD-R as possible. Only near the very end was inverse telecine good enough to encode a complete episode at 24fps on a CD-R. They were all MPEG-2 video + MPEG-2 audio in program streams, with no B frames. There was no source code for compressing audio + video in Quicktime.

    Some had the black levels lowered, but theoretically the lion only lowered to the darkest part of the video. No such thing as histogramming during playback, in 2001. The very last episodes were non standard Quicktime mashups of MPEG-4 + OGG Vorbis, at 24fps, on a single CD-R, in 2004. The quality was lightyears ahead of its time.

    Remembered the router had a very slow DVD drive so 3 disks could be copied, simultaneously. Virtualbox constantly crashes when reading the Mac DVD drive. The most reliable drive is a Matsushita in the Macbook. The fastest drive is a Lucky Goldstar.

    It was a highly debated move.  There weren't any significant errors.   For only the price of an Amazon prime subscription, you can view all the Xena episodes in full framerate, full digital, low definition.  The only compromise is a lousy player with no dynamic range compression, no bookmarking, & no access once you stop feeding Bezos.

    The past obsession with codecs was quite different than working with video for a living.  Doing it for a living means creating set top boxes.  You're implementing standards on the cheapest hardware available, with almost no regard for quality.  There's some concern with making the network streaming reliable, making the GUI as responsive as possible.  The amount of information in the number of bits is all defined in standards from long ago, far below the theoretical limits & the GUI maxes out at awful by the price of the hardware.  Nowadays, there's little need to max out a codec anyway, since you can throw endless bits into an 8TB hard drive & the artifacts are invisible in 4k.

View all 7 project logs

Enjoy this project?



Ken Yap wrote 01/20/2020 at 06:55 point

I like the look of the huge clock display on the ground in one of those photos. Did you ever publish that project anywhere?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Clara Hobbs wrote 07/04/2018 at 23:28 point

There's a typo in the title.  I doubt 2 TB of DVDs could fit into a mere 8 GB, no matter how good your compression is. 😉

  Are you sure? yes | no

Owen Trueblood wrote 07/04/2018 at 15:00 point

Amazing! Would love to live in a space with one of these doing its thing in the background. Any chance of getting a video of it in operation?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Mike Szczys wrote 06/26/2018 at 18:28 point

Oh my, those towers of robotic DVD racks are awesome! You've got to give us more details on that build :-D

  Are you sure? yes | no

Similar Projects

Does this project spark your interest?

Become a member to follow this project and never miss any updates