Affordable — unlike the Apple II

Filed under Mainstream coverage;

The Apple II was a turning point in the computer revolution, making spreadsheets and games available in an attractive, accessible fashion to
professionals and students everywhere. Garry Kasparaov called it "the last technological revolution", and many entrepreneurs and innovators have since tried to recapture that magic. But they aim is sometimes off in identifying what made the Apple II special.

Project BLUE is a robotic arm being developed in UC Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab as part of the answer to the question, "How can AI change the robot design paradigm?"

After a three year effort across a multidisciplinary team of more than 15 researchers, we’ve designed, built, and tested BLUE — the Berkeley robot for Learning in Unstructured Environments. BLUE is a low-cost, high-performance robot that is intrinsically safe, developed from the ground up with ever-increasing Artificial Intelligence capabilities in mind.

MIT Technology Review reported news of BLUE’s development, focusing on its affordable, low-cost nature. The headline for that story was "This may be the Apple II of AI-driven robot arms". The headline is derived from UC Berkeley postdoc Stephen McKinley saying, "Without a low-cost platform— an Apple II-type device— experimentation, trial and error, and productive research will continue to move slowly."

But the Apple II was never affordable. When it was first revealed 42 years ago, it cost $1,298 — the equivalent of $5,445 today. Compare that to the Commodore 64, which cost $595 in 1982, or $1,567 today. A consumder could buy almost four Commodore 64 computers for the cost of one Apple II — a leading factor why the Commodore 64 sold 12.5–17 million units, compared to the Apple II’s 5–6 million.

Burt Ratan had it more accurate when he compared space tourism to the Apple II: something that affluent early adopters bought into. Whether it’s a trip to the space station, a personal computer, or a robotic arm, investment in any early technology will pave the way for more affordable and innovative products. But when shooting to replicate the success of the Apple II, don’t pretend that affordability is something your product it has in common.

  1. I suspect that their consideration of the Apple II as “low-cost” is in comparison to the packaged machines (as opposed to kits) that came before it, which were multiple times the price.

    Think things like an IBM 5100 ($8975 for 16k BASIC), a Tektronix 4051 ($5995 for 8k), or minicomputers.

  2. Comparing the other two “micro-computers” from the 1977 trinity: the Commodore PET and the TRS-80 did not have color and hi-res graphics. The Apple II came out in 1977, five years before the Commodore 64 would be available. In 1982, the Apple II was expensive compared to the C-64, but the first $5000+ IBM-PC was available, and the newer Apple II models, the $10000 Lisa, and the $5000 Mac were soon to come.

    The prices seem ridiculous compared to today, but things are different today. My wage is lower today than it was 30 years ago, and I have $0 reused and hand-me-down devices like cell phones with a thousand times or more the computing power. But, the Apple II is still much more accessible and open than any machine I have today. The only computer giving the Apple II any competition today for accessibility and openness is the raspberry pi: $35 when I bought one new, and a $0 hand-me-down Raspberry pi.

  3. mmphosis says:

    Let’s not leave out the Atari 800, introduced in 1979, and cost only $1000!

    I see one on ebay for $175 ($47.15 in 1979 dollars) obo. Gotta go