by Laura Myers, Associated Press
Middlesex News 
September 5, 1991

Nomad Steven Roberts and his ‘Behemoth’

Mountain View, Calif. — Steven Roberts lives in ephemeral “Dataspace” when he’s on his bicycle built for too much computing power, at least for most ordinary human beings.

But the high-tech nomad, who has peddled his computer-burdened Behemoth more than 16,000 miles, doesn’t claim to be ordinary. He barely admits to being human.

“The bike is becoming a showpiece of future technology with radical human interfaces (that’s Roberts), dynamic multiprocessor system architectures, and experimental communications links hinting at what may lie ahead for society at large,” he writes in a report on his “nomadness” and his machine.

“What does this all imply?” he asks.

What does it all mean might be a better question for most Earthlings who don’t speak or understand high-tech lingo.

Translation: Roberts exercises brain and body on his 350-pound recumbent Behemoth – Big Electronic Human Energized Machine, Only Too Heavy – that communicates with the world via computer, cellular phone and satellite.

Top speed: 100 words per minute on the computer and so fast down hill that Roberts has six separate braking systems to slow the heavy 8-foot-long Behemoth and 4-foot-long trailer loaded with equipment.

Uphill, the 105-speed Behemoth, trailer and RUMP — Rear Unit of Many Purposes — struggles along at just over 1 mph and needs training wheels to stay upright. Roberts’ normal flat land speed is 12-14 mph, “depending on my attitude and what I had for breakfast.”

“What keeps me rolling personally is this whole symbiosis idea,” says Roberts, who spent the past two years updating his high-tech machine to prepare for another cross-country journey. “There’s me, the machine, the technology, the computer industry… it all comes together.”

So far, about 150 computer companies have donated $1 million in equipment for Behemoth.

Roberts can write in shorthand while he pedals by pressing combinations of 10 buttons on his handlebars. A computer translates the shorthand into text on a screen in front of him. And he can conduct business: opening and sending electronic mail, talking on the phone, dispatching and receiving faxes and linking up to advanced satellite navigation systems to find his way.

Most of that is accomplished with three main computers, including a Macintosh and mixed and matched innards of others, and by using voice commands or an ultrasonic beam built into his biking helmet, which also has a cooling system and audio sound for music.

“Some of this is through my own invention,” Roberts says. “But most of this is the technical wizardry that’s out there.”

Roberts plans in October to return to his Nomadic Research Labs office at Sun Microsystems Inc. in Mountain View. Then in January he says he’ll leave again for parts unknown, perhaps never to return.

“One of these days I’ll get burned out, but right now I just want to keep pushing the technology,” says Roberts, 38. “If you think too much about where you’re going you lose respect for where you are.”

Roberts has worked on his invention in rent-free space at Sun Microsystems. In return, he’s a paid consultant, telling executives how well products work and suggesting improvements. He’s also an author of numerous articles, the book Computing Across America, and a quarterly journal, Nomadness, for desk-bound types who like to follow his adventures.