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The Mythbusters Construct a Kit Bot 148

Posted by Zonk
from the i-am-your-robo-friend-please-remove-packaging dept.
A reader wrote in to mention a writeup of a really great Mythbusters project. Hyneman, Savage, and Imahara went out and purchased a 'Vex' robot kit from RadioShack, and constructed the bot to see what it was like. They were pleasantly surprised. From the article: "Jamie Hyneman: I must admit I was expecting to turn up my nose at a do-it yourself robotics kit from Radio Shack. But guess what? The VEX System kicks butt. In a total of about 12 person-hours, Adam Savage and Grant Imahara (my cohosts on MythBusters) and I were able to build a functional, if somewhat basic, prototype equivalent of an iRobot's PackBot."
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The Mythbusters Construct a Kit Bot

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  • by cavalierlwt (764097) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @06:42AM (#14951552)
    Good break for Radio Shack, you can't pay for that kind of advertising.
    • Or else they actually did pay for them to do just that.

      You have to understand that Radio Shack is teetering on the edge of self-destruction due to piss poor management tactics and poor product placement.
      They are shuttering between 400-700 corporate stores (I don't think this will affect franchise owners, but who knows) and reevaulating where they stand on what products they need to be pushing.

      The robotics kit was a safe bet to do a little advertising without getting wrecked because of shoddy materials or lo
      • In Canada, Circuit City had to rename all the Radio Shack stores to The Source. Some sort of convoluted legal thingy where they owned InterTAN which was the NoN US parts of Radio Shack for 20 years and then Radio Shack Prime decided to cut them off.

        Personally, the new name gives them a fight chance at respectability albeit slim.

      • and reevaulating where they stand on what products they need to be pushing.

        That's good. My local Radio Shack only sells 40-conductor IDE ribbon cables, not the 80-conductor kind that's been required for like the last 5 years.
        • They don't sell any car radios or the adaptor you might need if you want to hook up the radio antenna in your GM vehicle to your new car radio. The employee told me they don't sell "that kind of stuff" anymore...
          • They don't sell any car radios or the adaptor you might need if you want to hook up the radio antenna in your GM vehicle to your new car radio.

            Fascinating that Wal-Mart has nearly as good an electronics parts section as Radio Shack, ain't it?

            The employee told me they don't sell "that kind of stuff" anymore...

            While to you and me that means "useful stuff" I suspect to the MBA at Radio Shack who dreamt up this scheme, that means "low gross margin stuff". If you're just dying to find a middle man to sell you
            • Yes, it's amusing that I found the part at teh Wal Mart next door to RS.

              And now that you mention it, I do remember not too long ago being surprised that all of the discrete components like resistors, LEDs, RF connectors, etc all were moved into a set of drawers instead of being hung up on the walls like they used to be. Guess they needed more room for a few more cell phone providers and some junk computer accessories.
      • They are shuttering between 400-700 corporate stores
        the big thing is most of the stores that are closing are
        1 not performing
        2 being moved (may have a shortish period between)
        and anyway with 5000 stores thats only 10% (this number does not include dealer/franchise stores)
        although i will give you that some of our PHBs are pointier than normal (and are now asking "would you likes fries with that?")
        psst btw the stores that are closing will have some "THIS STORE ONLY specials"
        i would think that if Vex lights up
    • Erm, yes they can. It's called product placement. If you see a person drinking Pepsi in a movie, do you think that's a coincidence? No, it's someone only job to contact companies and ask for money. Favorite targets are cars, beverages, guns (USA), fast food restaurants, ....

      Anyway, mythbusters has gone infomercial it seems.. Not that it was such a great show, they repeat the same thing over and over again (next we're going to do this .... now we're going to do this .... we're really going to do this .... we
    • The problem with Vex is that it's primarily intended for highschool-aged people - or at least that's RadioShack's stand on it - and how many highschoolers are going to shell out > $300 for a robot kit?
  • That government is overspending on military hardware? ;) On a more serious note, Grant had his BattleBot robot and Jamie had that soda can shooting vending machine. No wonder these guys were all over that robot kit. I might need to get ahold of one of those things myself.
  • by Salo2112 (628590) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @06:50AM (#14951562)
    They actually said "person hours?"
    • Re:Person Hours? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Secrity (742221) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @07:23AM (#14951603)
      In TFA, Jamie Hyneman is said to have used the words "person-hours" in a sentence. The term is totally appropriate and it is not out of character for him from what I have seen on his television program.

      A person hour is a measurement of effort. One person who works for one hour will have performed one person hour worth of work. This measure is often abbreviated as PH. http://www.spc.ca/resources/metrics/glossary.htm [www.spc.ca]

      This information was obtained by reading TFA (I searched for "hours" in the page) and by googling for "define person hours".
      • by Salo2112 (628590) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @07:46AM (#14951626)
        Sounds very similar to what we normally refer to as "man hours" when we are not trying to bend over backwards to appease the goddesses of political correctness. ;-)

        man hour [wikipedia.org]
        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 19, 2006 @09:51AM (#14951849)
          Similar, but not identical.

          You gotta figure one man-hour is about equal to two woman-hours. So that means 1 man-hour is approximately 1.5 person-hours. Of course these figures are a very rough sort of average. The actual time it takes to complete a project varies widely depending on which individuals are involved, and it often will not scale in a linear way with number of participants.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            Similar, but not identical.

            You gotta figure one man-hour is about equal to two woman-hours. So that means 1 man-hour is approximately 1.5 person-hours. Of course these figures are a very rough sort of average. The actual time it takes to complete a project varies widely depending on which individuals are involved, and it often will not scale in a linear way with number of participants.


            It's true. Which just means that we women have to work twice as efficiently and twice as smart as men, to get the same am
            • It's true. Which just means that we women have to work twice as efficiently and twice as smart as men, to get the same amount of work done in the same amount of time.

              Fortunately, that's real easy to do.

              Not so easy that you were able to figure out how to create an account!

        • Funny how you complain that a term which refers to time needs to be assigned a sex. I would prefer person-* to man-everything when refering to something totally generic like.. I dunno.. Time?
          • I would prefer person-* to man-everything when refering to something totally generic like.. I dunno.. Time?

            Everyone knows time is male. It is Father Time after all.
        • Sounds very similar to what we normally refer to as "man hours" when we are not trying to bend over backwards to appease the goddesses of political correctness. ;-)

          Yeah, except in this case Kari and Scottie are just way too hot in a tank-girl kinda way to be classed under the category of "man-hours".

          But anything which makes me think of those two in the same sentence as bending over backwards, I've gotta thank you for.

          I, for one welcome our new politically correct tank-girl goddess overlords. =)

        • Re:Person Hours? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rob_squared (821479)
          Political correctness is bad enough, political correctness without thinking about it is downright scary. George Carlin said it best:

          "I think mankind ought to be human kind, but they take it too far, they take themselves too seriously, they exaggerate. They want me to call that thing in the street a personhole cover. I think that's taking it a little bit too far. What would you call a lady's man, a person's person? That would make a He-man an It-person. Little kids would be afraid of the boogieperson. They'
        • If I were a woman, I would be a little annoyed (not a lot, but a little) to have my work units referred to as man-hours. Anyway, it just wouldn't be ACCURATE anymore, right? If work is performed by a woman, then the term "man hours" simply is grammatically incorrect.

          That having been said, I don't care for the sound of "person hours" - it's clumsy. Why not something neutral like "work hours?" And instead of replacing "manhole cover" with "personhole cover" why not "access hole cover?"

    • What else did you expect. They are the Mythbusters...

      After all, we all know that man months are mythical.
    • They actually said "person hours?"
      Of course: it's a more specific term to differentiate from something like "robot-hours" or "woman-hours."
    • I just had to do the accounting of an EC project in PM. That's person month - of course, there's no clear definition anywhere of how many PH there are in one PM.
  • by scooter.higher (874622) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @06:50AM (#14951565) Homepage Journal
    I know my son will love this (OK, me too). He has been asking me to get him a robot kit. But I'll probably have to get two kits so I don't take over his project :-)

    Then robot wars!

    Oh, yeah: I for one welcome our robotic overlords...
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:40AM (#14952008) Homepage
      I know my son will love this (OK, me too). He has been asking me to get him a robot kit. But I'll probably have to get two kits so I don't take over his project :-)

      Of course, once you've got two, then you'll need a third so you cannibilize more parts without taking apart his science-fair project. But then he's gonna want another one so he can get a better grade 'cuase little Billy is making a robot too. Then it'll get totally out of hand.

      Then, soon you'll have a houseful of robots doing all manner of silly things. Stop yourself before it's too late, you're playing into their hands and creating our own overlords!

      Run. Run for your lives ... must resist shiny robot mind-control technology ... must resist temptation to go to Radio Shack ...
  • Stairs (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 19, 2006 @07:53AM (#14951637)
    Adam Savage: Our goal was to see if we could get it to climb stairs. As far as I know, there are few (if any) toys that will climb stairs; and only a few high-end robots like the PackBot and the humanoid Honda robots that can perform this task.

    I guess climbing downstairs doesn't count? [wikipedia.org] :-)
    • my slinky would walk down stairs, get caught in my brother hair, become unusable with in a week. There was a truck with star shaped wheels that did ok going up stairs, can't remember the name, the rich kid down the street had one... it was hard to see through the breath fogged window.
    • Climb, as in, to go up.

      Just because you can push it down the stairs doesn't mean it counts.
  • Vex is NOT a robot (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Porchroof (726270)

    The Vex System is no more a robot than a remote controlled model airplane or my car is.

    A remote controlled device is NOT a robot.

    A robot is a mechanical and electronic device that performs a function(s) under its own control. It is capable of making its own decisions.

    An android (NOT "droid") is a robot with the appearance of a human or animal.

    For further enlightment read "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov.

    • From the American Heritage Dictionary
      robot n. A mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance.

      Remote control falls under performing a task on command. You are thinking of an autonomous robot, which is a much more advanced thing and not something I'd expect from Radioshack.
      • You just can't trust somethign that calls itself "American Heritage"

        Try The Oxford English Dictionary :

        robot /robot/

        noun a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.

        -- DERIVATIVES robotize (also robotise) verb.

        -- ORIGIN from Czech robota 'forced labour'; the term was coined in K. apek's play R.U.R. 'Rossum's Universal Robots' (1920).

        Perform another search of the Compact Oxford Engli [askoxford.com]
        • Sept going by this definition many of the things that the term "robot" was given in the 1920's-1930's or even before the term was even coined would not infact be considered robots, when most scholars do indeed consider them that.

          Thus this definition is far too narrow, especially when even today many of our robots are still human controlled for various reasons. The American Heritage one wins I have to say.

      • From TFA 'Also available is a programming module that will allow you to hook your robot up to a computer and download a program for adding autonomous capabilities.'
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Vex System is no more a robot than a remote controlled model airplane or my car is.

      A remote controlled device is NOT a robot.

      A robot is a mechanical and electronic device that performs a function(s) under its own control. It is capable of making its own decisions.

      An android (NOT "droid") is a robot with the appearance of a human or animal.

      For further enlightment read "I, Robot" by Isaac Asimov.

      Did you read TFA? "Also available is a programming module that will allow you to hook your robot up to a comp

    • by dhiebert (962182)
      If you find out more about the VEX kit and don't dismiss it simply as a Radio Shack product, you will see that it is based on a programmable microcontroller. While I think that RS is probably trying get some of the RC market with their product decription, VEX is capable of running autonomously, and thus would fit the definition of a robot.
    • umm you do know about the PROGRAMMING KIT (btw required for the for fun sensors)
      heck with the stuff 50% off you could get the base and programming kit for less than the original price of the base alone.
  • by jpellino (202698) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @08:01AM (#14951652)
    There was a mini-FIRST made of VEX robots this year. We saw the demo at FRC Hartford last week. Very impressive, makes it more accessible to middle schoolers and they "play" with it less than Mindstorms. The electronics comes from Innovation FIRST, the folks who make the brains for the FIRST robotics teams, and they're also VEXLabs. We're using it for the Trinity College Firefighting Robotics Contest, and we've gotten a chassis built and running under program control and effectors prototyped in record time.

    One thing better than Mindstorms is that you can more easily add other materials, parts etc., and make it more bombproof without resorting to toxic adhesives or plastic-eating tools...

    We're still wondering why RS is having a fire sale - two local stores were cleaned out as of Friday night - we just loaded up the last ultrasound and light sensors we could find. Some have said they're just dropping the retail line at RS, some have said it's just a sale, an eMail to the edu & gov rep at RS Fort Worth is yet unanswered. VEXLabs is still selling at full price. Hope they're just switching horses, but with RS no longer selling electronic parts, this was the sweetest thing they'd had in a while.

    Two heads-ups: the pushbutton inputs use negative logic (thanks, VEX - that was a half hour of "stump the chumps"...) - and there is no "run" switch on the bot - programs (and the wheels they control) run once they complete the download - so either mold some tiny cinder blocks or grab an extra bumper button (or other sensor) and create a latch as the first step in the program...
    • In our rookie year in the FIRST Robotics Competition usfirst.org [usfirst.org] we got a set of this VEX stuff, but it was labeled a llittle differently, as this was before the stuff was released at retail.

      Basically, it's some really useful stuff for fun little project bots, with a lot of components that are very similar to RC parts. It shares a lot of similar traits to the base chassis and components that we use for FIRST, the only differences being that VEX stuff is smaller and less powerful (The main battery we got

    • We're still wondering why RS is having a fire sale - two local stores were cleaned out as of Friday night.

      Probably because the store is closing. Radio Shack is having big problems [allheadlinenews.com]. Profit is down 62% for the quarter, the CEO lied on his resume and was fired, and they're closing 400 to 700 stores.

      Apparently most of Radio Shack's profits come from selling cell phone contracts.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    and some sort of probe to the robot. Then I'll be interested.....
  • by Narphorium (667794) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @08:06AM (#14951661)
    Could this be the start of mainstream Open Source robotics? I know this isn't the first DIY robot kit, nor will it be the last but if this really catches on I could see an open source community developing around it.

    Also, I can definately see people developing their own components for these things. Paying $9.99 for a phototransistor is a little ridiculous if you know how to set one up on your own.

    • In a total of about 12 person-hours, Adam Savage and Grant Imahara (my cohosts on MythBusters) and I were able to build a functional, if somewhat basic, prototype equivalent of an iRobot's PackBot."

      Because Imahara's an electrical engineer with years of experience building remote controlled logic boxes?
      • No, one up from that. He built R2D2.

        No, really. I'm serious. ;)
      • Because Imahara's an electrical engineer with years of experience building remote controlled logic boxes?

        That may have sped things up a bit, but I don't doubt that this kit would allow the average geek to achieve a similar result in a longer timeframe. They're kind of limiting, but kits like this are designed to be fairly easy to set up and program (no assembly language here!). A friend of mine bought a robot kit (admittedly it was mechanically simpler than this) and quickly had a robot capable of navigat
      • Because Imahara's an electrical engineer with years of experience building remote controlled logic boxes?

        Hehehe... No. Im going to be building a holonic robot strictly from vex robotics parts. I nearly bugged out once I realized how freaking easy it's going to be because well building a robot that can travel in any single direction without turning is prety dam cool. The first robot I started building was actually a cockamamie design that rival in complexity the packbot. I ran into a problem with it bu

  • by carpe_noctem (457178) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @08:23AM (#14951673) Homepage Journal
    What myth are they busting here, exactly? That everything from RadioShack sucks?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What myth are they busting here, exactly?

      You're right and this really doesn't make any sense. Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage were put on Earth with the sole purpose of busting myths. God is really going to be pissed when he finds out that they reviewed a product with no myth involved.
    • What myth are they busting here, exactly? That everything from RadioShack sucks?
      Mythbusters (like Scrapheap Challenge/Junkyard Wars) before abandonded it's theoretical reason for existing pretty early on and replaced it with a chase after flash, dash, and glam.
      • flash, dash, and glam.

        Is anyone familiar with this strange bit of slang and what it means? Maybe this means something in a 12th century Welsh dialect, but it's all gibberish to this modern American.

        -Eric

  • I want to see a comparison between this and that Lego robot so I know which to buy.
  • R.S. has had difficult financials recently so it is a good thing that as proper geeks the MythBusters gave them some well-deserved support.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Radio Shit deserves bad financials. Can't hardly find a radio in the place anymore. Nor anything resembling the parts you need, as I found out when I made a fruitless search for mounting knobs one day. Ended up going to Home Depot for hex bolts. And forget about finding any employees -- excuse me -- "associates" with technical knowledge. I know former employees who advised me that if I ever applied for a job, don't put anything on the application that implies technical competence, it gets in the way of
  • Back in the day RS had some awesome stuff like the 100 in 1 and 200 in 1 electronics kits. They provided all sorts of experiments that could be built upon. I had em' all.

    Probably why I was able to easily diagnose and repair problems on my TRS-80 Model 1 with EI and disk system. So I'm happy to see them succesfully branch out into robotics. I know they've made some half hearted attempts, like that robotic arm they had on the shelves a number of years ago.

    But I lament the fact that RS stores have slid f
    • RadioShack still has the 100 in 1 and 200 in 1 electronic kits. Usually they're hidden in the back-left of the store near the sound stuff.

      When I worked at RadioShack for a year, I would say that 80% of our customers were those who came in and walked straight back to the electronics drawers and nabbed a few componenets and walked straight up to the cashier to buy them. Admittedly, these were the customers that RS was definitely not trying to sell to (they wouldn't buy cellphones and usually they wouldn't buy
      • I find it hard to belive that selling componenets with 1000% markup is less profitable then selling cellphones.
        • umm how could something have a 10000% markup ie you buy a part for $0.005 and then turn around and sell it for $0.50 that would be 99% markup or are you saying markup exist in this field that are 99.99% ie the buy price is .01% of the sell price in which case you are way off
          • umm how could something have a 10000% markup ie you buy a part for $0.005 and then turn around and sell it for $0.50 that would be 99% markup
            I don't really get your example, but that's not what markup is. Markup is just the percentage increase. So buying for $0.25 and selling for $0.50 would be 100% markup and selling for $5 would be 1000%.
  • by yellowbkpk (890493) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:35AM (#14951986)
    My robotics class here at school used a few Vex kits and accessories to build robots. We came out with three cool robots that all were quite successful in 3 weeks. Check out pictures here:

    http://flickr.com/photos/yellowbkpk/tags/vex/ [flickr.com]

    Also, we spent a lot of time making custom sensors and modifying the ones that Vex gave us. They are all very easy to get in to and examine (like this one [flickr.com]) and interface with (like the switch debouncer [flickr.com] that I made). Although the metal parts are just a little "different" then everything else, meaning you have to machine or buy new pieces, some Lego pieces will mesh with the Vex pieces quite nicely (as in this home-made shaft encoder [flickr.com]).
  • I seriously misread that as "The Mythbusters Construct a Kill Bot." I was thinking that maybe Radio Shack was prepared to do anything to restore their former glory...
  • Um, cool -- but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by FlyByPC (841016) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:40AM (#14952267) Homepage
    ...aren't Jamie and Grant already quite knowledgeable about robotics? I mean, Grant has experience in competitive robotics, and Jamie built that soda-can-shooting, remote-controlled vending machine. Not exactly your typical RS customers.
    That said, I am looking forward to seeing them build the kit...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    This is NOT a radio shack product, it is a kit robot developed by US F.I.R.S.T. Robotics. They hold competitions every year between teams. If you are interested in the robots, check out Cheif Delphi Fourms. They are a team in pontiac who are rather loud. http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/index.php [chiefdelphi.com]?. (Nobody really likes chief delphi because most people think they have engineers build their robot and not the students.)

    They also have VEX Contests.
  • In related news... (Score:2, Informative)

    by timothykaine (821252)
    The cast of Magnum PI just built a model airplane and didnt even sniff the glue.
  • I bought one of these when they frist came out and it is great except for one major thing. I bought the kit to hook up to my laptop to experiment with vision and intelligence. I figured the robot would save me a few months and even some money designing my own equivalent and be super easy to modify. Unfortunately FIRST didn't come out with its Programming module for 4 months and when it did it was only windows compatible and was only to program the pic microcontroller. There is no easy way yet to send ea
  • This is all well and good, but how am I going to afford the alcohol to fuel its power cells?
  • They don't just have the base model kit.
    From what I can tell they have:
    - starter kit
    - Tank tread kit (2X)
    - Ultra sonic ranging sensor
    - Extra hardware kit

    I just bought a vex kit about an hour ago as well, damn cool so far.
  • What plenty of people don't understand is that building a prototype is not the same thing as building a product.

    Some issues that aren't even on MythBuster's radar:
    Making something work as close to 100% of the time as possible.
    Making the system robust to almost all situation.
    Making the system hardened so that dropping it doesn't matter, for example.
    Making it so the marginal cost of product is far lower than the prototyping cost.

    There are hundreds of serious university homegrown robot that can do some great t
  • For a second, I thought that was an FRC [usfirst.org] kit bot.

    It's a basic robot for the FIRST Robotics Competition, made from a kit from IFI Robotics [ifirobotics.com]. IFI also does the backstage work for the Vex robotics stuff. FRC kits are sorta like Vex except with beefier motors and on a larger scale. Too bad the sensors in FRC kits are pretty lame (e.g. the kit has hall effect sensors, but no nice shaft encoders).

    Here's a beautiful FRC robot from team 254 (a Californian team that builds awesome robots): http://www.chiefdelphi.c [chiefdelphi.com]

  • We've Got Blank Stares(tm).

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