Friday, July 31, 2009

Tip of The Month: Free Storage For Scooba

If you own an iRobot Scooba you know the headache of storing this guy after he completes a cleaning session. The problem with Scooba is that it works with water and water brings mildew when left unchecked.

You can not leave the Scooba sitting on the floor since with time the foam wheels will flatten out and it takes time for them to get back to its normal form. Sitting on the floor without drying also brings up the mildew problem so what can you do to solve this problem? iRobot sells a stand for US $15.00 to take care of these issues but why pay if you can take care of it for free!

If you own a 400 series Roomba you most likely still have standard wall mount gathering dust on the wall or inside the original box. I do not know why iRobot engineers thought of this contraption since most of the time the Roomba is either cleaning your floors or charging. The great thing is that the Scooba tank (any current model: 300 or 5000 series) or the complete Scooba can be stored on it! The tank can be setup with both flaps open so it can vent out any trapped humidity as you see on the picture. Later you can store the complete Scooba (as pictured here) so the wheels can maintain their form and the underbelly can dry out well. Enjoy your new Scooba storage!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Is A Domestic Robot?

What is a robot? This is a very difficult question to answer. If you say it’s a machine that makes your life easier, then you are surrounded by them, dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer. Yet we don’t get to excited about them because these appliances are pretty stupid. Another words they only do that one task. That being said, they work well, and you don’t see many people swapping out the washing machine for a washboard.

If your answer is it’s an intelligent machine. Then the products at iRobot should interest you. The product has intelligence built in, it won’t eat your cat. It does what you want , which is clean your floor. The drawback is, who empty’s the device? You do.

So while we have been living with robots for a while, they always leave something wanting. We have become slaves to the devices, we need to maintain them. Maintaining them takes our time. This violates "Bill’s law of computing", “I don’t work for the machine, the machine works for me”. Then we know that iRobot has a ways to go, in order to satisfy that demand. The Karcher seems to meet that demand, yet the current leader has not taken up that challenge. So the new question is, is a robot a toy or a useful machine. If you answer both, you will have more fun!

Post Inspired by Bill R.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Future of iRobot's Domestic Robots?

Just a few weeks ago I watched iRobot's CEO, Colin Angle, speak about the future of their domestic robotics division. He aired in the month of June 2009 on a Discovery Channel series called "Next World"; he seemed to have made this short interview within iRobot's HQ or research lab. He mentioned the following interesting ideas into the near future of domestic robotics:

  1. Create a system to eliminate the need of dust/particle bin on the Roomba (possible use of atomizers).
  2. Having different iRobot robots work together by letting them communicate with each other (i.e. Roomba letting Scooba know when he is done sweeping and let Scooba start scrubbing the floors)
  3. Create a "Laundry Robot with manipulators" to help you in the laundry room.
  4. Create a "Virtual Presence Robot" like the long forgotten "ConnectR".

These are exciting news from if iRobot pursue these projects and improve on the ones that exist today. Evidence can be found, within DomesRO, that can back up Colin Angle's predictions:

  1. Eliminating the need to use the particle/dust bin. Check this post about iRobot Patents (June 2009)
  2. Robots working together by using inter-communication techniques. Check this post about iRobot research on "swarm robotics" (August 2008).
  3. A robot to assist in your laundry room. Check this post about iRobot's Domestic Robot Product Road Map (May 2008).
  4. Creation of better and more affordable "virtual presence" robots. Check out this post about the cancellation of the ConnectR project and how it brought them back to the drawing board but not out of the race.
Something is definitely brewing behind the walls of iRobot HQ; we just do not know if this recent silence is a good or bad thing for them and us.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Teach A Future Robotics Geek How To Solder

Our friends at Make: are running a "Teach Your Family To Solder" week and since I consider all of you my robotics geek family I decided to post some basics on how to solder. Robots and electronics are like flesh and bone so you need to know at least some basic soldering before hacking/tinkering or creating your own robot.

First you need to get some basic soldering tools from your local or online electronics store:

  1. Soldering Iron w/Stand (This IS the main tool; get one with temperature control)
  2. Solder (Get 60% Tin/40% Lead for best results but you can get SAC305 for to be free of Lead)
  3. Flush/Diagonal Cutters (Important to cut leads close the circuit board)
  4. Handy Hands w/Magnifying Glass (Not Pictured but it helps hold circuit boards)
  5. De-soldering Tool (To help you de-solder electronics)
  6. Digital Multimeter (Helps measure Voltages, Amps, Continuity and other fancy things)
Secondly you need the basics, here is a quick tutorial on soldering from they guys at Solarbotics that you can print out and keep handy at all times:

I also provide you with two "quick" videos (movies can help you learn better and faster by using the "Monkey See Monkey Do" technique; it always works!). The first is a quick basic How-To-Solder and the second is a bit more specialized for electronics soldering (much of what we do for robotics). Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Have You Done With Your Mindstorms Lately?

Do you own a Lego Mindstorms? If so what have you done with it lately? Nothing? Come on! The Lego Mindstorms NXT is one of the greatest home robotics project kits that currently exists in the market. I found this nice "classic" (circa 2007) Mindstorms NXT project stored away in my browser favorites; Krystian Majewski (design student from Germany and robotics nut) set up simple instructions on how to get a "JenToo" or "Tribot" Mindstorms design to use RADAR.

You can actually use this RADAR on any other Mindstorms NXT design that you can come up with or even improve on it to do something out of this world. The following is all you need to start this project:


This is just one of endless amount of other robotics projects and experiments that you can create with this kit. Enjoy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Once Short Lived "Robotic Intelligence"

Do you find your domestic robot to be lacking something? How about every single time it goes out to clean your floors, mow your lawn or clean your pool? Sure, it lacks intelligence! They currently can not learn! You let it go and run its pre-programmed "logic" to provide you with a cookie-cutter solution. All of us do not have the same setup at home and these domestic robots will fail in many of those configurations and this is where a "smart", "learning" domestic robot comes in handy. Technology exists to mimic some of this "intelligence" for years! One example of this "intelligence code" existed in a PC game by Anark called "Galapagos: Mendel's Escape" back in 1996. The game used a technology known as Non-stationary Entropic Reduction Mapping (NERM) which allowed the "robotic organism" in the game to learn, adapt, and react much like a living organism. NERM is a special form of controller technology; a controller is a device that accepts inputs and produces an output. A NERM controller is self organizing; it does not require prior knowledge about the system that it will control. All that is required is a special type of feedback from the system. As the controller is used, it will organize itself and "learn".

NERM technology is very different from traditional artificial intelligence. In general, artificial intelligence requires a very detailed understanding of the system that it will control or simulate. This is quite problematic; it may be difficult or even impossible to understand relatively complex systems without significantly reducing or simplifying the problem. Unfortunately, the simplification of the problem may lead to an invalid or incomplete understanding of the structure or behavior of the system. NERM approaches this problem from a completely different direction. A NERM controller is a complex system unto itself. It was designed to change its internal form to accommodate the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of its environment. If its environment changes, the NERM controller will reorganize accordingly. NERM offers significant advantages over other adaptive,controller-oriented technologies. It allows controllers to emerge that may produce multiple outputs, or solutions, for the same input. For example, NERM could allow a robot to express many different behaviors though it is receiving the same stimulus. Sadly this "intelligence code" was abandoned with time and never implemented into any known domestic robot. The interesting thing is that more of this style of "intelligence code" exists and it is just a matter of time for someone to implement it into a domestic robot.