Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tip of The Month: Open Roomba Discovery

Almost had this monthly tip pass by without being posted for the month of June! Do you own a Roomba? How about a Discovery series Roomba? Yes, the nice looking robot staring at you right now! This guy has been in millions of homes for some odd years now and you have put it to great floor cleaning use but have you ever looked inside it? There are plenty of reasons to justify "open heart surgery" for your faithful robot assistant besides feeding your nerd-like curiosity. Let me list a few:

  • A well earned deep cleaning (after many years of hard work)
  • Replacement of faulty speaker (have wondered why it never spoke to you again?)
  • Get better access to the drive wheel tachometer assembly (That is why the Roomba does the Mambo!)
  • Replacement of the main brush motor (Where did my left red sock go?)
  • Hacking fun with your Roomba electronics and sensors (Can your Roomba water your plants?)

There are almost endless reasons to get access to your nice little robot and my good friend Gordon Plews, a very experienced and technical contributor in the Roomba web universe, has a very detailed step-by-step instructions (with pictures for those who like that stuff) at his Roomba technical website:

Gordon's Instructions: Opening A Roomba Discovery (make sure you click at this link)

Don't blame me for the geek fun you will encounter! Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dreamland For Domestic Robot Geeks

An "area 51" (a.k.a. dreamland) for domestic robot geeks exists. This robotics dreamland can be found in Esslingen, Germany in a company called Festo. Talking about Festo as a robot geek "dreamland" is nothing compared to what you can see and experience! This place makes many dreams come true and some just seem like something out of a Science Fiction book or movie! Festo is a leading supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation technologies for more than 50 years. One of the interesting aspects found at Festo is called "Bionic Learning Network", here they design maximum performance systems with minimal energy my observing designs found in nature.

Here you can see the Airic's Arm, designed back in 2007. The arm is composed of 30 "fluidic" (a.k.a. artificial) muscles and very small piezo proportional valves that enable it to move accurately and with rigidity. The Airic's Arm can be introduced into a future humanoid robot in order to assist in dangerous and hazardous situations or to just help around your home.

Another very interesting robotic project made by Festo is the "Air Penguin". These flying robots were inspired by the aquatic version of the Festo robot and were designed to fly around autonomously in a defined air space. These robotic creatures can freely explore their area and collaborate with other similar robots. These robots are just awe inspiring to see them fly above you as they were organic creatures from another planet!

The "Aqua Jelly" is yet something else to see that will just make your mind go wild with great ideas. The "Aqua Jelly" is an autonomous underwater robot created by Festo back in 2008. This particular and very interesting underwater robot can work in swarms by emulating Jellyfish behaviour. The "Aqua Jelly" consists of a translucent hemisphere and eight tentacles for propulsion. At the center of the "Aqua Jelly" is a watertight laser-sintered body. The body houses a central electric motor, the two lithium-ion polymer batteries, the recharging control unit and the servo motors for the swash plate. Imagine a couple of these guys at your pool or at the beach!

Festo is full of robotic technology "magic" that anyone could easily declare this company as the Dreamland for domestic robot geeks. Festo's "magic" can be found in their will to make their dreams into reality; you have this will within you to make this "magic" as well. Enjoy the video!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The "Re-Birth" of Laptop Based Robot Kits

Last week I posted about the re-birth of Domestic Computer Robots like the 914 PC-Bot which can be considered as a direct evolution of the HERO. So recently I have also found something similar with a great robotics kit from 2002 that used a plain laptop computer for its brain. This laptop based robot from 2002 was created by Evolution Robotics which they named it "EV1"; its life was cut short because back in 2002 laptops were expensive to be used for robot projects. Fast forward 7 years and laptops have greatly reduced their price and size; just take a look at the popular Netbooks created by Asus, Lenovo, Acer and many other manufacturers.

With less than US$350 you can purchase a brand new and very functional Netbook that can be used on the robot kits offered by RoBe:Do Robotics which can be considered as a descendant of the EV1. RoBe:Do Robotics is a real "Mom and Pop" shop based in the state of Colorado, USA. Currently they have the four wheeled robot kits called "Coppa" and "Silvio"; these guys are designed to carry or haul heavier payloads and the three wheeled robot kit called "Three" which is designed for the need for speed! All of these robot kits have flexible USB controllers which with the combination of highly level software libraries make easy mastery of the robot components. These robot kits are easy to add components like controllers, sensors, actuators and other physical extensions. All of RoBe:Do robots can be controlled and programmed by:

* C, C++, C#
* Cocoa
* Delphi
* Flash AS3
* Flex AS3
* Java
* LabView
* Matlab
* Max/MSP
* Microsoft Robotics Studio
* .NET
* Python
* VBScript
* Visual Basic
* Any other tool which can access library files

Get your domestic robot idea out the door if you already have a Windows or Linux based Netbook laying around; pay a visit to RoBe:Do and choose a kit that meets your needs. This is your chance to make a difference.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pleo - The Comeback Kid Robot

There are a few of us out there that have a special spot in our hearts for Pleo. The Pleo is special, it sparks a sign of an "intelligent" robotic life that we have not been seen since the days of the Sony Aibo. Not too long ago Ugobe (creators of Pleo) failed as a company and the days of this beloved robot was ready to be set on the pages of domestic robot history until just a few months ago (March 2009) a company from China purchased Ugobe's intellectual property. Jetta Company Limited (not the VW automobile) has plans to re-launch Pleo to the world and most likely make it affordable to own one. Jetta is a very well known manufacturer of domestic robots and parts (iRobot Roomba and Pleo) with a 32 year experience in the field. We can all be assured that Pleo will be cared for by the very same "caretakers" that put him together since day one. Be on the lookout for Pleo to come back and most likely other domestic robots from Jetta within a year or so.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The "Re-Birth" of Domestic Computer Robots

Last week I posted about TOPO, the cool "futuristic" robot from 1983. TOPO may seem like an outdated technological idea but the concept of having a "computer on wheels" still lives on today. Computers have advanced many times fold (following Moore's Law) and at the same time shrunk in size; it was just a matter of time to have them integrated into a "robotic" platform like the 914 PC-Bot by White Box Robotics. From what it appears, the 914 PC-Bot may be long lost descendant of the TOPO although the beloved HERO would be a more direct ancestor.

The 914 PC-Bot does not need to be programmed with an external computer but instead this robot IS the computer that can use a wide array of software to run it. This robot has multiple set of sensors that can be used and provide the ability to interconnect with other robots, computers and even the Internet. The possibilities are huge and wide of what can be done with this robot and that is why it has been received with wide open arms by university research labs, domestic robot enthusiasts, artificial intelligence engineers and anyone who just wants their computer on a mobile platform. So for anyone who is like my TOPO loving friend, you are still in luck since the 914 PC-Bot has been on sale since late 2006! Get one and create something new with your robot friend. Enjoy the following videos showing some of the 914 PC Bot coolness.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TOPO: The Future Domestic Robot (Circa 1983)

Back in the day before iPhone, Roomba, Google and Tweeter we had one of the first domestic robots called "TOPO". Believe it or not, this robot was admired and wanted by many! I have a friend who still talks about this robot to this day! You have to remember that this robot came out in 1983 and personal computers were still relatively new so you can imagine how "futuristic" this domestic robot seemed back then. Anyways, TOPO was created by Androbot, Inc. (conceived by Nolan Bushnell) as an "Edutainment" (Entertainment-Educative) domestic robot. TOPO was programmed with BASIC on an Apple II personal computer so it can move around your house on pre-set patterns (nothing like your relatively "intelligent" Roomba). You could have purchased this 36 inch tall "computer" on two wheels to move it around for just US$1,600 (1983)! Later versions had a text to speech processor to amuse your friends and psychiatrist. Anyhow, check out this video showing how back in 1983 many thought that "in just a few years these robots will liberate us from mundane and time consuming household chores"...WOW! Its 2009 and we barely have domestic floor cleaning robots. Enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

iRobot Designs A Roomba With An Outhouse!

Ever since iRobot was successful on creating the very first Roomba, in 2002, it always had a huge flaw; you always had to clean it. What use is it to have a robot clean the floors so at the end you still have to clean the robot. True, the Roomba can clean the floors while you do something else and the time to clean the robot is just a fraction of the total time it may take to clean the floors with a broom but sorry are the people who have allergies. Karcher is one of the most successful on creating a great design with their RC3000 by having it clean itself automatically but the costs (a
prox. US$1400) was a bit too much for many.

iRobot had their minds on creating something similar with their Roomba back in the days of the 4000/"Discovery" series but nothing came out of it until recently these design patents came out from mid 2007. This does not mean that any of these design ideas will come out at all but it surely shows the interest that iRobot has on creating a true semi-autonomous floor cleaning robot. The problem for iRobot is not with the engineering but rather in the costs and market need. If I were iRobot, I would leave this a limited edition add-on option to their current Roomba 500 series and let the market choose. I really hope that the bean counters at iRobot take on this and push it through if they really wish to sell the idea of having a TRUE domestic floor cleaning ROBOT.