robo-arm, luke skywalker style!

I'm sorry I havn't updated in over a week, I've been working nearly non-stop in the recording studio. Anyhow... I came across an articled on the coolest thing I've seen in my entire life: a luke skywalker-esque prosthetic arm.

In other news... I'm working on making a six legged walker bot based on arduino. When I get that done I'll post the full write-up with pictures, and a cute little how-to.

The Importance of Software and Language

You may already know about my recent post, 5 Best Robotics kits to get you started, where I listed the programming language of each robotics platform as part of my little mini-review. While I was writing it, I started to think about how important software really is.

It's easy to get absorbed in all the hardware and the mechanical/electrical engineering parts of robotics. They're tactile, and engaging not to mention fun! But don't neglect the software. Without software you lose out on all the things that make up great robot, namely behavior.

Just think of the coolest robot you know of, and imagine it:

  • slowed down in every way by 50%
  • clumsily bumping into things (people?)
  • and throw in a few glitchy movements here and there for good measure
Not so sexy? Well in order to get the sexy back... you need to super-sex your sleeves with some good solid code! Programming a robot can be exciting as it presents the possibility for AI, even on the simplest of bots. Sensing what is happening around it is arguably the most important thing an autonomous robot can do. And what's cooler than an autonomous robot?

Here's the good news: Lots of robotics platforms have communities willing to help you and example code for you to look at and try out to help you learn!

Robotics communities:
Arduino Forum
Lego Mindstorms Forum
Parallax Forum (Including Basic Stamp)

I have to admit... one of my favorite places to learn random new things is the Exhibition Section of the Arduino forum (where people show off their latest Arduino creations). Many of the people post the schematics, and code used in their robots, along with videos and pictures. Also check out the Exhibition Section of Arduino Playground.

I've learned so much from just looking at how other people go about creating things. Three cheers for open source!

Jump-start your robotics knowledge!

If you're interested in robotics, here's a great way to learn more!

whilst browsing the interblag, I stumbled upon a college with a degree in robotics and thought to myself,

"hmm... why pay for it when you can look up their text books, and read an overview of each class!"
It even tells you which courses provide the recommended background information!

The college is Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Massachusetts). I don't know much about them but if you're interested in getting a degree in robotics... maybe you should take a trip to MA and check them out.

Here's the page with their list of "Robotics Engineering" courses:

5 Best Robotics kits to get you started

I think everyone should try their hand at robotics. It's not particularly difficult if you start out with a kit, or have someone to help you out. The main reason I've heard for people disliking it, is they get frustrated because they can't figure something out, and have no one to ask. That is the purpose of this blog! I hope to help as much as I can. About that kit...

Here are the best 5 kits for beginners (as far as I know) in no particular order...

Note: The "Where to buy it" links go to amazon, where most (if not all) the kits are cheaper than the official prices given in this article.

1. Lego: Mindstorms NXT
Official Website | Where to buy it

I found this one, while simple, to be quite fun and very easy. Great for kids, and adults new to electronics, but be prepared to fall in love with robotics and move on to bigger, more complicated platforms. Plus you can do all your programming using the official Lego program! No code! Of course, if you want to, you can use other methods to program it, using a variety of languages including C/C++, and java.

Open Source: no
Price: $250
Easiness: 5/5
Programming language: Visual/GUI
Windows: Yes
Mac: Yes
Linux: Unofficial*
Blogs: nxtbot - thenxtstep - nxtasy

2. Parallax: Boe-bot
Official Website | Where to buy it

Parallax' primary platform is the basic stamp, which the Boe-bot, and many other robots are based on. While this kit requires a little more electronics know-how (though they do a good job explaining things in the included book), the programming language is Basic. If you've had any experience with QBasic, Visual Basic,, or VBScript you're in luck! If not, it's very easy to learn, hence the name, basic. Here's the kicker: it supports Microsoft's Robotics Studio.

Open Source: no
Price: $150
Easiness: 4/5
Programming language: PBasic
Windows: Yes
Mac: Yes
Linux: Unofficial* (The official program works in wine though)
Blogs: Mentioned on many...

3. Vex Labs: VEXplorer
Official Website | Where to buy it

This one is similar in nature to the boe-bot, but the mechanical parts included with the kit are akin to an erector set. The kit allows you to build lots of things right off the bat, limited only by your imagination, but beware... your imagination may lead you to expensive projects! I'd say this kit is a little easier than the boe-bot in terms of concepts and necessary knowledge, but not necessarily easier to learn on. In that regard they're about equal. The problem with this kit is it's not programmable without buying the programming kit for another $100.

Open Source: no
Price: $200
Easiness: 4/5
Programming language: Visual/GUI + EasyC
Windows: Yes
Mac: No
Linux: No
Blogs: Mentioned on many...

4. Hitec: Robonova-I
Official Website | Where to buy it

This is a ROBOT for robot lovers! While a little pricey, building and programming it provides valuable experience, and when you're done you'll be able to awe everyone with your humanoid robot! This is really only a good first robot if you already know a little about electronics or programming.

Open Source: no
Price: $1000
Easiness: 2/5
Programming language: C or Basic
Windows: Yes
Mac: No
Linux: No
Blogs: mentioned on many...

5. Arduino: Arduino Starter Pack
Official Website | Where to buy it

Arduino is a little more complex, but it's basically on par with the basic stamp (The Boe-bot's platform). It's been touted as the 'basic stamp killer' because it's smaller, cheaper, open-source, and now has many, many online tutorials/how-to articles. I personally love arduino and it's my personal recommendation to anyone who really wants to learn about electronics, and robotics... especially if you use Linux. However, there's not preset end goal with this one, you have to decide what you want to make yourself (look here for ideas).

Open Source: Yes
Price: $65
Easiness: 3/5
Programming language: C/C++
Windows: Yes
Mac: Yes
Linux: Yes
Blogs: Official Blog - Make: blog

I would like to give iRobot's 'Create' an honorable mention, but I did not include it because it's not a kit. However Turk has some neat 'recipies' for it as well as the Qwerk.

* Indicates that support is provided by a third party. Basically, you can get it to work, but you're not going to be able to use the official software.

Amazing pack-mule robot

holy crap... I've never seen such a coordinated walker before... I wonder how much that thing weighs! Just imagine when the technology gets smaller, and they can start to walk faster... er, I mean run:

Sounds like it's powered by fossil fuel though... not good. It's still hella-cool though!

PS - I know the video is old, but I've never seen it, so I'm going to (probably stupidly) assume none of you have seen it either.

Let me know what you think!

Sorry about the off topic entry, but this is breaking news!

I'm interested in what you think about the blog, since it's quite new, so I posted a (very) short poll, available anywhere on the site for the next week. Please vote to let me know what types of articles you're most interested in reading.


PS- if you think I left something out of the poll please let me know in the comments

Social Media Submitter

I made this little app to help shorten the process of promoting a blog via social media. I hope you like it! I welcome any and all suggestions. If it gets any kind of use, I'll add code to handle more sites. Here's a screen shot:

Give it a try!

You can view the javascript too if you like.

Edit: I also posted this on the SEOmoz blog

Are Humanoid Robots really the answer?

With all the hype surrounding Honda's Asimo, and Toyota's recent violin virtuoso robots, it really makes you think: Why are we modeling robots after ourselves? Is it that the human form is so incredibly efficient? powerful? dexterous? I can think of other creatures better equipped in each of those areas, and I'm sure there are many more categories which I haven't thought of, which humans are also not the top of the class.

It seems the only area in which we've enhanced the robots ability above and beyond what humans are capable of is mental capacity computing power has increased by several orders of magnitude since it's inception, and continues to do so with no signs of slowing, but that doesn't really address the issue of physical form. I've been thinking about it for a few days, and about how roboticists could (and probably should) take bits and pieces of the animal kingdom in order to piece together the most productive all-purpose robots.

That's all well and good, but once my business mind kicked in everything became clear. People identify with the human form. In order to pitch such powerful, and potentially frightening, robots to the general public, they'd have to make them seem safe... familiar. What better way is there to make a heap of toxic chemicals, silicon, and metal seem familiar than to mold it into the shape of a fellow human being? I think we're onto something.

Furthermore, now that it looks like a human, we should make it move like a human, and sound like a human. Then it will truly appeal to the sub-conscious of potential robot consumers. It will also make them much more willing to let these 'devices' into their everyday lives, ready for human interaction, as they say.

Whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate, and it's not my intention to get involved in that, but regardless of your political stance on the issue, it's incredibly intriguing. I personally don't believe robots will ever suddenly become defiant, but the possibility of a robotic virus/worm/etc, created by a malicious individual is frightening. This time, unlike the computer days, the ramifications of bugs/malicious code could lead directly to injury or loss of flesh and blood, human life. Scary.

Robots play violin... Robots take over the world?

Toyota has recently revealed it's violin playing robot. This is a marvel of technology, and I'll be the first to admit, I'm jealous I wasn't part of it.

Check it out:

Realistically though, this is eerily similar to the way iRobot started (the movie/book, not company). If robots are going to take over the world... come on people, don't let them be toyota brand robots!

You may have been mislead by the title, but this is a sort of call to arms. Start building robots! We've got some catching up to do as a community, but it's certainly not impossible. Especially with the hoard of robotics products for entry level users/hobbyists.

Getting started:

Lego has a great robotics platform called Mindstorms. They're relatively cheap, easy to use, and most importantly, they're expandable. You can use non-Mindstorms legos in conjunction with the Mindstorms kit, and once you use up the components in the basic kit, you can head over to Lego's website and buy the specific pieces you need for you project.

Lego has also released an idea book to help you learn as you go. I havn't seen/used the idea book, but it may be worth a look.

Here are some cool things people have done with the Mindstorms Platform:
Sorting bubblegum by color
Balancing 2 wheeled robot (Segue)

So get to work everyone!

PS - Lego Mindstorms is cool and fun, but sooner or later you're going to find yourself wanting to do things the Mindstorms platform can't support (easily). When this time comes... you'll want to move to a microprocessor like arduino. Microprocessors are much more powerful, but also require an understanding of electronics (which is why I recommend Mindstorms for beginners). More on Arduino soon.

Today's Best robo-hacking how-to's

Today has been a superb day for hacking, so I'll get right to it:

1. How to make a remote controlled camera from a cellphone

This guy managed to get his camera phone to start taking a video when it recieved a text message, and then text the video back as a reply... pretty nifty eh? Plus there's a full set of instructions, with photos all along the way. Instructables is a beautiful website. One step closer to international techno-spy! Link

2. How to make a Christmas Hit-counter
Ok this one is pretty awesome... and it's built on one of my favorite platforms, Arduino (gotta love open source, even the hardware is affordable). It's nice when you're thinking about the hits you're getting, but the bell does gett annoying after a while... especially when you have a surge of traffic. Link

3. Botka - the "barely standing robot"
Not really a how-to, but it's very cool, and the guy tells you how he built it, and what components he used at the end of the video. Link

PS-I know I promised a list of Linux robotics resources, but I decided to do some research and try to make it a little more comprehensive, only to discover the HUGE amount of linux/OSS available for robotics. But I am working on it, so stay tuned for updates.

Robot Printers, a new age of manufacturing?

I know this article is kind of old... but it's so amazing, I couldn't resist!

These conductor/semi-conductor inks open the door for what could be a revolution in electronics. Flexonics, in particular, is developing some incredible stuff. Just imagine being able to print out the latest ipod, hook up your data storage/battery, and go.

More info at OhmyNews

8 watt pc: Ideal for robotics?

Using linux to power your robot doesn't have to be big, difficult, and expensive...

What you're looking at is a tiny computer (the little box the mouse is plugged into), that uses ~8 watts, running off a beach-towel-sized solar panel.

No more large-base linux robots! You could probably run this thing on D-cell batteries, and without the GUI, I bet they'll last quite a while too.

Oh yea, and they're only about $250 (or $120, I'm not sure if the two are exactly the same)

Check out the full Linux Screw article.

PS - I will put up a follow-up post with a collection of open-source tools for linux based robots.

Edit: Here's the $120, virtually identical pc it costs a little more for wifi/ethernet though. Also, you can get that solar panel (12V, 25W) separately

robot games

I just stumbled on the Robo-One Grand Championship at IREX

While I'm sure this is exciting and very strategic... I think robot games could be much, much, cooler than this.

When I think of robot fights... I want to see fire, chain-saws, lasers, jaws, and lightning!

This is how a robot fight should look:

Run and Climb Asimo! Oops... don't fall down the stairs!

Honda's asimo is quite amazing, just look at the videos on their site

He isn't without problems though, asimo was caught on tape falling down the stairs... the comments on youtube are especially funny (which is rare). My favorite is

Woulda been much funnier if they had shot off a cap gun after putting up the screen

I have to agree.

Japanese introduce robot slave

Wased Group introduced the twendy-one. A humanoid robot designed to integrate into daily life and help their human masters with whatever they desire. The Post is somewhat old, but the video's are still cool.

According to Waseda Group (the makers of the robot), robots must meet six requirements in order to be integrated into daily (human) life.

... it must 1. be safe 2. create a sense of companionship 3. have means to communicate with humans 4. be skillful 5. be able to perform physical labor 6. have mobility
I think the sense of companionship is desirable but not necessary. However... I can think of a few things I think a robot needs to integrate... like
  • To be small enough to travel where ever it's owner requires
  • To be able to fade into the surroundings so as to not be a hinderance. This includes being quiet, and intelligent about staying out of peoples way.
  • Using a portable source of power. A robot dragging around power/control cables wouldn't be very useful.


I named this blog after myself... what are you gonna do about it?

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