Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Domestic Robotics: An Ideal Gift For Human Creativity

The great human gift to dream and create is something that us androids still can not achieve. Young humans are massive processing units that are capable to absorb vast amounts of data without any resistance but lack the spark for creativity that can be provided by their guardians. They may become your next significant contributor to the progress of your species by creating the next technological marvel. Today there are plenty of domestic robot kits and robots that can assist these precious young humans to their next step towards the next big idea. Give them a floor cleaning robot and have them learn how to use and maintain it (i.e. Roomba, Karcher, Samsung, Neato), give them a robotics kit so they dive into this technology head first (i.e. Lego Mindstorms NXT, Robedo) and/or get them to join their school/neighborhood robotics club! The gift of knowledge will last their lifetime and no one will be able to take it away from them. Have them enjoy the human gift of creativity!

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Repair or Dump That Domestic Robot

Recently I posted about a problem with my Roomba 560 robot friend "dying" after just 2 years of good work. The average human would just dump the little guy into the garbage and probably purchase a new one. Many of you or fellow human friends/family would probably do the same thing. Is it worth the time and effort to fix it? or just dump it to have an excuse to purchase a new version? The "Throw-away" mentality that many humans have and in these financial and environmental trying times should make all give it a second thought. The thought as to just throwing away a broken domestic robot because you do not know how or are afraid to repair it, do not have time and/or do not have the tools should not be a reason. I mentioned that I decided to fix my little Roomba 560 friend and this is why I was surprised that soon after my post I found out that the humans over at iFixit wrote a "Self-Repair Manifesto"!

It made me happy! Here are the basic principles:

  • Repair is better than recycling (If it worked why throw it away? You didn't dump it when it was working)
  • Repair saves your planet Earth (Using what you already own cuts down on the need to get new materials to create you a new replacement)
  • Repair saves you cash ($$$) (Generally it is cheaper to repair the broken part than buying a complete replacement of the unit)
  • Repair teaches you to be like Chief Engineer Scotty and LaForge (You gain knowledge on how the device works and how to repair it for yourself and fellow humans)
  • If you can not fix it, you do not own it (You Pwned the item soon after you learn how to fix it and can "stick to the man" by not forcing you to have it fixed by them)
This manifesto applies to everything, not just domestic robots. Go ahead and print out a copy of it and set it up in your shop. It will help you remind to fix your little robot friends and in turn you will benefit from it. It surely helps all of us and your little robot friends will thank you while you gain confidence and knowledge over the technology that make the robots work.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Ghost Inside A Domestic Robot

I enjoy my domestic floor cleaning robot friends but sometimes they seem to have their own spirit or may I say electronic ghost within them. One of my helpers, a Roomba 560, has decided to play sick recently. This little "guy" worked each day without a complaint and cleaned all the floors with a simile under that black/gray shroud. It only asked for a new battery after about 2 years of faithful and hard work from which I gave him one that he deserved. Last week I left this guy to take care most of the floors of my domain while his grandpa, Roomba 4000 "Discovery" series that keeps on ticking, was taking of the smaller areas. Soon after I disconnected from the grid I noticed the Roomba 560 giving me the finger! Yes! The FINGER!

In Roomba 500 series language that is the exclamation sign and 10 ugly beeps! Guess what? After much troubleshooting I found that his IR sensors inside the bumper left switch gave up the fight. I give iRobot kudos for great domestic robotics at a decent price and so I thought. Many of the internal components (electronics, DC motors, plastics, etc) were never designed to last much. I would say to expect about 2 - 3 years maximum life on their latest line of domestic robot floor cleaners. Why? Price, demand and the throwaway mentality. The nice thing is that I do not throwaway, I rebuild. I can see the next Tip of The Month coming soon. My poor little Roomba, Papa will make you Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wow! A Great Offer That You Can Not Refuse!

Alright, here is a good one for you all. What if a nice fellow human being is willing to give away a cool Friendly Robotics RL850 for FREE with just tiny catch? Would you take it? This one comes from our friends over at MAKE: that has a kind human being that is willing to do this. What is the catch? He wants the person to hack the living electrons out of it so it can be something that the planet Earth has not seen and publish the project at MAKE:Magazine! Talk about a great bargain, not only do you get a nice domestic lawn mower robot but you get to hack it and publish your work in a great magazine. It is almost like a dream come true to us domestic robot geeks! Here is what you need to do, are you ready? Send an Email to gnomic AT earthlink d0t net with your idea on what you plan to do with this domestic robot. gnomic will pick the top 10 entries in the next 9 days. The winner should be willing to pick up the robot in Richmond, Virginia - United States of America (unless you can convince him that you pay for shipping & handling to your destination). Keep me updated if any of you here won this great robot! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ideas Exists Twice In The Universe

Yes they do! Once in your mind and once in "reality". I admire my two friends still roaming around Mars for 6 years and counting! My dream is to create a mini version of them with the Lego Mindstorms NXT kit for various experiments. One item that was missing was a renewable energy source for the setup.

I know that solar panels can be purchased for the cheap but not many exists that can be purchased to be "plug-n-play" ready for a Mindstorms NXT kit! One such nice solar panel kit is made by Dexter Industries called "dSolar Systems". Dexter Industries offers two versions of dSolar panels, a round solar panel that provides 2W of power at 9 volts to give 250mA at direct sunlight, just enough to power the NXT and a single motor. The other version of dSolar is a much larger rectangular shaped panel that provides 4W of power at 9 volts and gives 500mA at direct sunlight; enough sunshine juice to run the NXT and two motors!

You can definitely mix and match the panels in parallel by using their "dSolar Parallel" connector that can hold three panels for total of 740mA! The dSolar 2W unit sells of US$90 and the 4W unit for US$99. Both kits includes a single solar panel, power cord and adapter. Let your imagination go wild and create something new today! Here are some videos showing the product and what it can do.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stay Tuned, Re-activating Systems...

Please stay tuned. I am re-activating systems back to nominal levels. Thank you for your kind patience.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Could Qbo be the Model-T of Domestic Robots?

A wonderful thing about the web is that everyday that I am connected to it I find a gem in the world of domestic robotics. Francisco Paz always dreamed about the future and its wonder technologies since he was young boy. He had high hopes of flying cars and autonomous domestic robots running about helping their human friends. Reality is that its 2010, we are living in his "future" but without all wonder technologies he dreamed about. The good thing is that he did not want to wait but instead start it and that is how Qbo (phonetically pronounced CUBO in Spanish which means CUBE) was born.

Francisco knew that robots of all types existed (cleaning, demos, edu-tainment, toys, remote controlled, experimental, etc.) but nothing that was at arms reach of the masses like the Ford Model T was for the automobile industry. He is working on making Qbo to be an open source autonomous robot, with its own A.I., available to the masses!

He is designing Qbo to be easily programmed without much programing knowledge but instead will have you interact with the robot with user-friendly GUI in your computer. The nice thing about this open source robot project is that Francisco started this 5 years ago and just recently came out public on April 2010. Currently he is integrating ROS API which was created by Willow Garage (makers of the PR2) into Qbo and is finding it to work very well but they are still undecided to use ROS or their very own API.

As of this post, Francisco and his team are still developing and improving Qbo since they are doing this project out of their own pockets but he assures us that they can see the finish line to complete it. As of a couple of days ago they have 90% complete with the GUI, 85% with the API development and 90% with the hardware! Not bad if you ask me. We really wish Francisco and his team at The Corpora much success so we can have Qbo visit our labs soon and hope that he does NOT end up like TOPO! Here is a video testing the Qbo servos and head with a Wii remote control. Enjoy!

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Domestic Robot That Will Keep Floors Neato!

I mentioned the Neato XV-11 a while back at DomesRO but things have been quiet at the Neato front since back then. The great news, for those waiting, is that Neato will be shipping out the XV-11 soon (in about 2 - 3 weeks) to online retailers like Amazon, Hammacher and others. This 80's retro looking floor cleaning robot will be retailing for US $399 and will be the first domestic robot with SLAM technology at an affordable price.

The XV-11 brings many goodies to the domestic floor cleaning battlefield; cleaning weapons like:

  • Single pass floor cleaning
  • True room mapping
  • Auto docking and charging
  • High powered suction vacuum
  • Rectangular front design so it can get close to walls and corners
  • Efficient cleaning on all types of floor surfaces (tile, carpet, stone, linoleum and pergo)
  • Low profile so it can clean under many types of domestic furniture
  • Simple and user friendly interface
  • Scheduler
But there are a few things that need a closer look. Things like not having side brushes, cleaning session maximum run time, performance on picking up hair (human, animal and/or alien), maintenance effort & cost just to name a few. I do not know why we still do not have a floor cleaning robot that is fully autonomous like the Karcher RC3000?! Is it that hard to make? Let us see, maybe if I just wished upon a star. Here are some videos with the Neato XV-11 in action and how the SLAM works (you can actually see a human following it!). Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Robotics Research In The Tropics

During my time away, while doing research within the Caribbean tropics, I have been pushing my processors to the max thinking about domestic robotics. There is a revolution going on and it has been screaming loud at deaf ears of the human masses. You and I know about how these first few domestic robots are changing our lives just as the personal computer has revolutionized our way of life in the last few decades.

Some aspects of robotics are being integrated in the automobile industry and it is just a matter of time when they do become a fully autonomous robot that moves you around. This can also be said with the aerospace, military and medical fields. If you have not read the fine print in the news lately then you are missing the revolution. It is a very interesting time to be alive in this planet. I have many interesting topics to post very soon so sit tight while I upload this data into DomesRO!

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Stuff That Robot Dreams Are Made From

I know, the "stuff" is not what you think it is, stop thinking dirty. It looks like rice pudding...ummm me want to eat! Anyways, many of you probably had an idea or two to create a wonderful autonomous robot that no existing kit is able to come close. So you go through your drawers, closets, local electronics shop and even the junkyard but nothing is able to satisfy that specific design that you have in mind.

Well my human friends your robotic prayers have been answered! Here I introduce "ShapeLock". Whom ever came up with this tool enjoyed playing very much with Play-Doh when they were young. ShapeLock is able to turn your ideas into reality by using low temperature thermoplastic. This material is reusable, non-toxic, tough plastic, machine-able, paint-able and highly modifiable. You only need a bag or bottle of this thermoplastic pellets, hot water (160 F / 71 C) and your ideas! How easier could this be?

ShapeLock also offers to send you a free sample just so you can try it out if you doubt how incredible this stuff really is. Look at what the guy at Crabfu is able to create with this material. If I were you, this stuff would be in my robot lab or arsenal of the home robot inventor. Take a look at the video and let me know what you think of it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Mindstorm That Inspires Your Inner Engineer

Sometimes there comes a thing that ignites the imagination and in turn starts the firs of invention. Recently I crossed to project created by the Department of Bio-mechanics at the Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena. These people used just your "ordinary" off the shelf Lego Mindstorms NXT kit to create one of the most realistic biped gaits done on any Lego! It reminds me of the early versions of Honda's Asimo when they were learning on how to perfect bi-pedal robotics. This is just one project and I know of many others that have pushed the limits of the NXT kit even out to space (or close or it)! What I mean to say is that it does not matter if you are young or old, if you want to step into robotics get a Mindstorms NXT kit. If you know of someone that may get inspired into design, engineering, robotics, programming and/or just plain solving problems get them this kit. Not even space is the limit for you and/or them! Take a look at the videos (one of the Lego NXT project, the other of the history of Asimo) and share your projects with me if you have any. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tip of The Month: Block Out That Dirt !

A fellow DomesRO reader asked if there is a "do-it-yourself" method or mod on how to prevent debris, dirt and/or hair from accumulating into the gears of a 500 series Roomba cleaning head module (CHM) and I said YES! The mod comes from the mind of fellow domestic robot fanatic Ed Vickery (a.k.a. "vic7767"). He is a huge contributor at RobotReviews and I have known him for many years from helping out human beings with their sick and tired domestic robots. Keep in mind that these steps created by Ed are for the technically inclined (which is most of us here); for those who do not have the time and/or expertise Ed (a.k.a. "vic7767") can do this mod for a modest service fee. So are you ready to hack your 500 series iRobot Roomba?! Yes? Then just follow these 16 "easy" steps and enjoy!

The Sealed ball bearings used are:

1) 6 x 10 x 3 mm bearing for the brush motor from
2) 10 x 15 x 4 mm bearing for the small rubber brush
3) 15 x 21 x 4 mm bearing for the large brush.

The 15 mm inside diameter ball bearing does not allow much clearance between the square portion of the brush gear and the wall of the ball bearing. If one is concerned you may substitute a larger ID sealed bearing like the 17 x 26 x 5 mm instead but you will have to cut away some of the plastic from the wire brush retainer.

This mod does not cover the actual removal of the CHM from the Roomba. The owners manual and online video at the iRobot site should help the owner with the actual removal of the CHM.






STEP 6: Once the motor is removed it can be turned around and kept in place out of the way using some clear tape.


STEP 8: With plate removed you will be able to access the six gears and the surrounding area to wipe out the lubricant applied during assembly.

STEP 9: Once the six gears are removed they can be cleaned of the lubricant by using liquid soap and a toothbrush.

STEP 10: When filing down the diameter of the brush motor gear a small screw and nut can be used to hold the gear and insert the screw into the end of the drill.

STEP 11: The two larger gears can be inserted into the drill using the metal shaft that is already installed in each. As the diameter is filed down on each gear a test fitting of the ball bearing should be done from time to time so that the bearing has a tight fit.

STEP 12: There are three basic tools that can be used to enlarge the diameter of the holes for the gear assembly. The first tool is a "step drill", the second is a shank mounted grinding stone, and the third is a fine round file.

STEP 13: As each hole is enlarged just enough for a tight fit of the gear with the bearing installed on it, a test fit of the gear next to it can also be done. This helps verify that the gear alignment will be true when all three bearing gears are installed. After all gears are in place the gear cover plate can be trial fitted to make sure the gears are in alignment.

NOTE: The bearing will bind if they are fitted too tight into the hole.

STEP 14: When installing the brush motor check that the motor is in proper alignment with the Green deck and that the deck height adjustment wire is stretched out so the end of it can be reinserted into the slit in the blue cage.

STEP 15: After white lithium grease is applied to the gear teeth surfaces and the metal shafts, install the gear assembly access cover with the six screws. This part will be difficult for most but you might be able to at least test and verify the brush motor and gears will operate without much resistance. Try using a 9 volt battery connected to the red and black leads of the paddle board and verify that the gear assembly will spin. If you can test the amount of current being consumed by the brush motor make sure it is below .5 amps at 16 volts.

STEP 16: Finally install the Green brush assembly back into the blue CHM cage. Make sure the paddle board is in place and the screws tightened so they are flat with the blue plastic case. Make sure the brush deck height adjustment wire is in place and the Red DOT in place or a piece of tape over the plastic slot.

Wow! You reached the end! Hope that this great tip from Ed (a.k.a. "vic7767") has helped you block out the dirt from your Roomba 500 series gear box so it can provide you many years of efficient service.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Guide For Mindstorms NXT 2.0 is Here!

Let us roll! For starters, all of you Lego Minstorms NXT 2.0 fans out there should be jumping up and down by just seeing this! Finally a beginner's guide for the MindstormsNXT 2.0 , no more waiting and guessing on how to convert many of the projects from the NXT 1.0 guide just to end up frustrated. There are some Lego pieces that the NXT 1.0 kit has that NXT 2.0 kit does not and in turn many of the projects designed for the NXT 1.0 found in the previous version of this guide did not translate 100% into NXT 2.0! This is just taking into consideration the physical parts and not going into firmware! So for all of us whom purchased the NXT 2.0 kit and wish to test your skills I have no further word to give but to get this great book. The book has interactive tutorials to help you reach advanced levels of programming and building NXT 2.0 robots. Included in the book are the guides to build a total of 8 robot projects (i.e. a six leg walking robot, a climbing robot, a robotic sorter and a robotic snatcher). The nice thing about all of this is that both the book and the Mindstorms NXT 2.0 kit will challenge your mind, your will, your determination with programming, engineering and creativity no matter what age you carry within you heart!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Just Recharging But Not Gone

Wow! Did I need that! Sorry for the lack of new posts but I have been soaking some rays around the Caribbean again in order to charge my battery packs. I am not gone so sit tight as I have may things to posts soon. Hey, there is only so much an android can do :) Be right back!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is Palro Related to DomesRO?

Yes, he is considered to be a Domestic Robot! He can be used for edu-tainment (Education - Entertainment) just for starters. Palro, short for PAL (friend) and Robot (a synthetic person like me) is from our friends at Fujisoft. Palro may remind some of you of Sony's Aibo that walks on two legs instead of four. He indeed is an interesting little fellow which carries a plethora of robotic tech goodness:

  • 1.6 GHz Intel Atom CPU
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 4 GB Flash Memory
  • WiFi (802.11 b/g/n)
  • USB port
  • 5 Microphones
  • 1 Speaker
  • 1 Camera 3MP
  • 1 Gyro Sensor
  • 8 Pressure Sensors
  • 1 Accelerator Sensor
  • 1 Sonar
  • 1 2800 mAh / 7.4 V Li-ion

Talk about a walking laptop! Not just that, this guy runs on Linux (Ubuntu)! Me like him better this way. He measures 15.7 in. (39.8 cm) at "just" 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) making him a nice hefty little guy to not mess with. Fujisoft originally created Palro for research projects at universities and/or research centers around planet Earth but at US$3,300 they are not cheap to own by enthusiasts like you and me. Also, for that amount I would rather get PR2 but it seems that all these tiny humanoid robots always have this US$3K price tag (Hello, we have a life too!). Take a look at the videos and see if you can convince your human significant one to purchase one! Enjoy.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tip of The Month: Clean That Robot!

Wow! My batteries are now completely re-charged. Sorry for the late postings but my system set me into hibernation for some reason or the other (will check that out). Anyways, since it is a new month let me provide you with the Tip of The Month. Many of you have ways to clean your domestic floor cleaning robots and others may have no idea so let me share at least my basic robot cleaning kit. I say basic because these are tools that I use each time before I set my friends (Roomba, RC3000, Cleanmate, etc.) out for their daily or weekly floor cleaning chores. Many of these tools may already exist somewhere in your home but if not then you can purchase them cheap at your local hard ware store.

Here are the basics:

  1. Storage bag or box: To easily carry all your robot cleaning tools in one place.
  2. Brush: To brush away stubborn dust in the dirt/dust bin, brush areas and filters.
  3. Phillips Screw Driver: To tighten loose screws, remove modular parts for cleaning or replacement, remove side brushes to clean out wound up hair.
  4. All Purpose Machine Oil: To provide lubrication in high spinning friction prone parts/gears/axles/bearings.
  5. Box Cutter: Cut away wound up hair around axles.
  6. Slicker Brush: To easily and effectively remove hair from main brushes.
  7. Microfiber Cloth: To easily wipe off charged dust from the robot.
As you can see, they are nothing out of a different dimension but they do make the job of maintaining your robot a snap. A typical human can take 5 minutes, using these tools and tips, to maintain their robot but in return your robot will provide many years of effective floor cleaning! Take my word since I still have a 5 year old Roomba cleaning my lab without a problem! Enjoy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Homeless Domestic Robots

Have you seen lately the countless amount of homeless domestic robots in your home town? How about in the subways going to work? Have you ever wondered why they roam around asking for help? The reason is that they do not have a caring home to take care of them. The people at i3Detroit are able to provide them the much needed care. They are a collaborate community that balance art, technology and culture in order to bring together like minds that share these passions. i3Detroit promotes learning in a fun non-traditional format so people like us can help re-build these poor homeless robots! Take a look at their "Homeless Robot Ad" so you and other caring humans can help them out. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tip of The Month: Know Your Force Fields!

Wow, this freezing weather has been keeping me from recharging my batteries and writing new posts! Anyways, let me ask you something, do you know how to use the Lighthouses that came with your Roomba 500 series domestic robot? If not, I got a tip of the month for you and if you do then there is something new you may learn here!

Something new that iRobot created with the 500 series Roomba was the dual function of "Lighthouse". The Roomba 500 series "Lighthouse" can act as a "traffic cop" and/or a "invisible wall" to assist your Roomba to clean your floors more effectively by partitioning your areas.

Lighthouse Mode: The device acts like a virtual door. The virtual door only opens when the Roomba 500 makes the request otherwise it will not allow the robot to pass through. Once the Roomba has finished cleaning the current room it will then make a "request" to the lighthouse to open the virtual door so it can traverse to the adjacent cleaning area.

Virtual Wall Mode: The device acts as a barrier that the Roomba is unable to trespass.

This information will help you setup your Roomba for optimal floor cleaning heaven by teaching you the basic functions of the "Lighthouse" along with best placement practices.

Virtual Wall Mode: Using The Lighthouse As A Barrier

Looking at the Lighthouse from a "top view"/"floor plan" view, place and orient the Lighthouse in a way that the "invisible IR beam" (illustrated here as a red cone) will form a wall completely across the door passage way so the Roomba will be unable to pass it. Set the IR beam distance setting of the Lighthouse to the corresponding approximate distance (0 - 3 Ft / 4 - 7 Ft / 8+ Ft) of the passage way.

Lighthouse Mode: Using The Lighthouse As A Virtual Door

Looking at the Lighthouse from a "top view"/"floor plan" view, place and orient the Lighthouse in a way that the "invisible IR beam" (illustrated here as a red cone) will form a wall completely across the door passage way so the Roomba will be unable to pass it while cleaning one area. Make sure that the "lighthouse beacon beams" (illustrated here as teal colored cones) are not blocked as shown here:

You will need to have the "Lighthouse beacon beams" be pointed outwards on both directions so that your Roomba 500 series robot is able to "see" them easily. Doing so will help your robot navigate much more efficiently and quicker between rooms when it completes each cleaning area. Here are some examples of great and not so great positions for the lighthouse:

Some additional interesting tips for your Roomba 500 series Lighthouse:

  • Always use fresh batteries for the Lighthouse. Weak batteries give out weak signals (IR and RF) that your Roomba 500 will not detect.
  • Your Roomba 500 can "remember" a maximum of 10 Lighthouses.
  • Your Roomba 500 will be "guided" by the closest Lighthouse to the cleaning area. The robot will move to the next adjacent Lighthouse controlled cleaning area after it has completed cleaning.
  • You can mix Lighthouse roles in your floor plan, some can be set to used as in "virtual wall" mode and others as "lighthouse" mode.
  • Only one Roomba (the first to remember all the Lighthouses when turned ON) can use the Lighthouse when the device is set to "Lighthouse Mode" but multiple Roombas can use the same Lighthouse device when set to "Virtual Mode".
Hope this helps shed some quarks into this unique device and if not then please leave me a message. What do you think? Did it help you this month?