Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Released in 1979 by Milton Bradley, Big Trak was a computerized, battery-operated, programmable lunar-inspired sci-fi tank. It happened to be the most advanced toy ever at the time of it's release, and became an instant hit.
The original Big Trak was a six-wheeled (two-wheel drive) tank with a front-mounted "photon beam" headlamp, and a keypad on top. It came in two colors, the U.S. version came in gray, and the U.K. version in white. There also was an optional cargo trailer accessory called the Transport, once hooked to the Big Trak this trailer could be programmed to dump its payload.
Using the 24-key keypad on top of the vehicle, users could program a sequence of up to 16 commands. The commands ranged from simple movements like go forward three lengths, turn right or left, or pause for a certain amount of time. To more complicated commands like stealth mode where it would delay commands, fire it's photon beam, or navigate an obstacle. It was programmable to move up to 99 lengths at a time. With a single length corresponding to roughly a foot, this meant that the tank could cover approximately 100 feet in a single programming session.
The Big Trak was innovative for its time, when programmability was cutting-edge in consumer electronics, and the personal computer revolution was invading homes and schools. It was a low cost alternative to the Apple or Commodore computers for teaching young children introductory computer programming. By laying out a simple course and tasking their students to program Big Tack to navigate it, teachers could foster a basic understanding of programming even before their students were old enough to use an actual computer.
Big Trak was also in some movies, it can be seen sitting next to the TV in the movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
By the time Milton Bradley discontinued production of the Big Trak they had sold over two million units at $40 a piece. Did you have a Big Trak as a child? We'd like to hear about it in the comments section.