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Transforming a Laptop into a Robot 140

NathanZ writes "Evolution Robotics is selling what looks like a docking station on wheels as a way to transform a laptop into a robot. I'm not exactly sure how this can be useful since the "robot" has no arms. According to their website, "you can train your robot to do things like recognize objects and places, send email, take pictures and video, respond to voice commands, and more!". Yipee. At least it would give me something to do with that old Toshiba laptop sitting in the closet."
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Transforming a Laptop into a Robot

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  • finally my plans for an evil army of robots ar becoming complete! the world will be mine! Muhahahahah!!

    the chicks will certanly dig it ;-)

    • the chicks will certanly dig it

      You obviously haven't met my wife. If I went up to her, with 1000 sleek and horribly beweaponed mechanoid warriors at my command and said:

      "Finally my plans for an evil army of robots are becoming complete! the world will be mine! Muhahahahah!!"

      Her response would be: "That's nice, dear. Don't forget you promised to insulate the loft this weekend, though."

  • by Spencerian ( 465343 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @09:55AM (#3572055) Homepage Journal
    [out of keyboard] Form feet and legs!
    [out of display] Form arms and body!
    [out of Windows XP] And I'll form the head!

    [Robot's body shortly turns blue with white lettering crawling around it like an obscene electronic text ticker, and falls on its side ala the Dirty Old Man from Laugh-In.]
  • Slashdotted in less than 4 comments!
  • Waving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkZero ( 516460 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @09:56AM (#3572067)
    Wouldn't voice recognition be better than a visual system for commands? I'd rather say "Play U2" than have to fetch a U2 CD to wave in front of its face for it to play music. And since you have to train it anyway by showing it various objects, it just seems like voice recognition would've been the smarter route.
    • Yes, the ER1 Robot also has voice recognition. It's pretty cool. You CAN say "play U2" or "play Hey Jude" and it begins playing from an mp3 collection virtually instantly. You can branch off of voice or images/vision. Images can be of objects, books, or people.
    • I wonder if it would be easier to get a computer to understand some form of sign language than try and parse human speech... I'd rather sign out "Play" "U2" than have it randomly start playing odd things because of background noise. Remember the article on phantom Windows actions resulting from random noise picked up over an empty MIC port?

      I think Star Trek had a good approach to voice commands though, they always had to prefix commands with "Computer" to let the computer know when to pay attention.
  • Have it roll into a room full of people, then when they are all looking at the fancy robot, it loads the goatse [] page. It can then email you to tell you when they are out of things to throw and is safe to return to the room.
    • With the camera attachment, you can have it be a web-cam of people looking at goatse guy. Put it out on the sidewalk and the fun ensues!
    • Ah yes. This from the "laptop robots show the darnedest things" department.

      In fact, you could dress it up in a little mini trenchcoat and have it roll through the park, flashing people. Technological progress at work.
      • Some day, Robo-Ho's will hang out on street corners, flirting passers-by with glimpses of porno web sites.

        They'll have credit card swipers, bill and coin slots, and even cigarettes dispensers.


  • by Britney ( 264065 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @09:57AM (#3572072)
    Program the software to recognize a beer bottle and a refrigerator, for example, and next time you're running on empty, you just need to wave a bottle in front of the laptop's camera and request a refill.

    While the beer routine made a good demonstration, Gross said he expects the system to have many useful real-world applications.

    I don't need it any more useful than that.

    Come to think of it, is there anything more useful for a laptop-on-a-trolley to do?
    (Remember, it has no arms - hang on, how did it fetch my beer?)

    • (Remember, it has no arms - hang on, how did it fetch my beer?)

      But it is a planned future accessory.

      While it is amusing, the specifications for the laptop are a bit hefty for that old laptop you have laying around:

      Pentium II - 800 MHz or faster
      256 MB RAM
      50MB Hard disk space
      2 USB ports

      I don't know about you, but I don't have any 800MHz/256MB laptops laying around. :/
      • The reason that the processor requirement is so high is because the vision algorithm is doing massive stuff on each frame that comes in from the camera. This kind of robust vision has never been done before on ANY type of machine before, so to pull it off on an under 1ghz machine -- I think you will find it very impressive when you see it.
    • Who are these sickos that don't have their beer fridge within arms reach of the couch? A robot to get your beer. Sheesh! How lazy can you get?
      • I ran into a guy once who kept a keg in the refrigerator in his club basement with a tap coming through the side so he didn't actually have to open the door. :o) You guys need to think bigger! Put a keg inside of the robot! Now where could we put the tap? ;o)
      • I think the "bring me a beer" is not that useful, although neat, but to use that same functionality to do something more valuable, like bring me some medicine (the robot can read medicine labels, so this might be very useful for elderly) or bring me that package (for inventory) or bring this fedex to room 207 might be much more useful. We were just showing the beer example to show how the robot could navigate based on vision and how it could recognize similar looking objects even in random lighting and settings (of the trade show booth).
  • is sell them on automotive performance doesnt take much to run the tuning software. well, unless programming a smart "battle bot" seems appealing to you ...
  • Program the software to recognize a beer bottle and a refrigerator, for example, and next time you're running on empty, you just need to wave a bottle in front of the laptop's camera and request a refill.

    I'd hate to see some of the other modifications, such as fashoning the robot with a blow-up doll's wide-mouthed head.
  • by Zen Mastuh ( 456254 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @10:00AM (#3572101)

    I would definitely build one of these things and epoxy a bong holder, nug jar, and lighter holder to it. Then I would never have to leave the couch again. Well, 'cept to use the bathroom...

    "HAL, come get your daddy high". Yep.

    • Have it handle the growing of weed too.. cos whatever stash i have.. with this thing around it'll be up in smoke in a matter of hours..

    • Just have an arm that can extend either a urinal or bedpan. Any self respecting couchbot should be able to dump them out in the toliet and rinse them without mishap. Heck attach a little sprayer nozzle to it so you won't have to mess with TP either. I bet the Japanese would buy this crap up in a heartbeat. (The average japanese is even more gadget crazy than even the most raving Slashdotter. They even try to have more advanced toliets than their neighbors.)
  • From the webpage:

    Requirements for your laptop
    (Not included with purchase)

    Windows 98 or higher
    Pentium II - 800 MHz or faster
    256 MB RAM
    50MB Hard disk space
    2 USB ports
    (directly on laptop or via hub
  • And I just gave my old laptop to a teacher, what was I thinking?! Instead of using technology to help someone help kids I could have been using it as a roving email station or another piece of hardware to yell at when it breaks or doesn't work properly.
  • Battlebots (Score:5, Funny)

    by theEdgeSMAK ( 467213 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @10:01AM (#3572111) Homepage
    My amd bot will kick your intel bot up and down the street. Now a beowulf cluster of these would certainly be a party. Droves of robots armed with 802.11 roaming around bumping into each other. It's a far cry from the matrix but we can teach them to be evil!
  • Then you'll have your family & friends worring about the increase in daily spam intake :-)
  • I'm not exactly sure how this can be useful since the "robot" has no arms.

    Why do so many people have this misconception that a robot has to be humanoid, or have mechanical appendages. A robot is simply any machine that performs tasks automatically. A record player is a robot. A printer is a robot. 'cron' could even be classed as a logical robot.

    Of course a robot can be useful without arms!

    • I guess I have a higher set of standards for what constitutes a robot. To me, a robot must be able to sense its environment and make decisions between alternatives, and not be merely some sort of clockwork style mechanism. A record player that sensed whether it had a 45, or LP, or any record at all loaded, and adjusted where to drop the tone arm, and what speed to spin the platter, I might class as a robot. But not your average, run of the mill, record player. A printer will, at least, stop printing when there is no paper, or will switch to an alternative paper source.
    • A record player has one arm.

      Actually, I would dispute all the examples above. Not that a robot has to be humanoid (R2D2?), but I think a robot has to be able to adapt the task it is doing to the environment it is in. A simple example would be a paint-spraying robot that can tell when the piece to be painted is in a different orientation than the piece before.

      A robot that brings me beer would have to be able to find the beer even if it wasn't in the usual place in the beer cupboard (beer in fridges? [shudder]).
  • Well, if the wheeled base is connected via USB and has a control pannel, then a USB arm seems just as possible. Not that I could do it, though.

    Put arms on it! Send it to pick up the paper and pick up dog crap. That's what robots are for.

    The RDK (Robot Development Kit) page [] says you can get a laptop preconfigured to run this thing. The laptop runs "Standard Red Hat 7.2". Cool!

    The thing has loads of sensors: Video input, Sound input, 9 infrared sensor and 4 bump sensors.

    Wonder if the hardware interface has an open spec? Again, not that I could do anything with it. Not for a while.

    This is incredibly cool.

    • Yes, it does have an optional arm, and it can do amazing things. Yes, we have a pretty flexible spec. We also have a simpler windows version that allows you, yes, even you!, to program things very easily. Did you see the picture of the interface at our web site?

      Let me know what you think. And if it's not completely obvious how it works and what it does then we blew it!
  • Lets face it what is it? Its a camera and a few motors.
    Ive made exactly thesame thing out of lego a year back. It had a webcam a mic and two motors.

    All it could do is follow a remote control car with a green target on it.

    The only problem was the lack of software. I culdnt be bothered to write something too complex. but everything you need is out there. Video in, speech recognition etc. Just put them together.
  • cool, now i'm one step closer to having a teddy (AI) :)
  • by WEFUNK ( 471506 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @10:13AM (#3572198) Homepage
    I'm not exactly sure how this can be useful since the "robot" has no arms.

    How about R2-D2? Sure, he has little tools for welding and grabbing sausages from Yoda, but he doesn't have any really useful arms. Most of his best roles were acting as a big mobile laptop that could help navigate spaceships and hack into the Death Star. As well as provding some comic relief. I bet he could play MP3's too.
    • I bet he could play MP3's too.

      Not without the special astro-droid grade soundcard and speakers. Its internal sound system could only manage C64-like bleeps and whistles.
      • Not without the special astro-droid grade soundcard and speakers. Its internal sound system could only manage C64-like bleeps and whistles.

        Is that so? In that case R2-D2 must possess some damn impressive bleeping and whistling ability to he recreate the audio from Obi-wan's message in Episode II and likewise Leia's message for Obi-wan in Episode IV.
        • And considering that he obviously *understands* English (or whatever language people speak in the Star Wars universe that just happens to coincide with English), and that understanding language is much much harder than making sentences, we've got to conclude that the only reason he beeps and whistles is because he doesn't feel like bothering to form words....
      • Probably was a SID chip too... The SID rules.
        Anyone here ever remember the code so you could play audio from the C2N out from the speakers? I remember a quote with the code not to disimliar to "It makes Kylie Minogue sound like the Utah Saints but its a small step".
        Anyone remember the speach samples in Beachhead 2?
    • Looks like I finally found the guts for my AstroMech! Sweet!
    • I bet he could play MP3's too.

      Unfortunately, due to an old mishap involving an previous owner intalling Windows XP on R2-D2, the poor little droid has been left crippled, unable to play any audio format other than Windows Media.
  • Holy fark, this doesn't sound like a "spare" laptop to me! I was looking forward to running it on my old 200Mhz laptop that I use to check email, etc when on the road. Plus, the USB requirement nixes my idea too. The laptop will never have USB (I've tried) since it's an older-style laptop and does not run CardBus cards.

    Pshaw. I'll go buy two Lego Mindstorm kits for the same price and do it myself...
  • by Sarin ( 112173 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @10:15AM (#3572216) Homepage Journal
    Sounds like the ultimate bachelors tool to me:

    -you can train it to get you a new beer (with the robot arm), doesn't need any explanation.
    -you can train it to recognize places and objects: really handy if you drank too much of those beers. "where the hell is my bedroom? - please follow me sir.." or "what's the name of the broad in my bedroom?"
    -you can have it send email: "send got sick excuse email #34 to work"
    -you can have it play mp3's: it can also recognize people, combine those two and next time a skirt walks into your place it'll start playing your 70s-sweet-luvvin' mp3's (already did that, just clap my hands twice to start it)

    basicly it can do a lot of things a girlfriend can do, some people will find this highly argueable and they will come up with things like sex and stuff. Well I suspect you can have handsfree pr0n-session with the thing as well. (Or with the thing and your girlfriend at the same time and even record at the same moment).
    • -you can have it play mp3's: it can also recognize people, combine those two and next time a skirt walks into your place it'll start playing your 70s-sweet-luvvin' mp3's (already did that, just clap my hands twice to start it)

      From the overly misogynist tones of your post, I have a sneaking suspicion that your hands are sore - and I don't it is from too much "clapping".

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Remember the autodialer Homer Simpson was using? It called Professor Frink, he recognized his creation and ordered it to come home. Legs popped out and it walked out of the house. Homer dragged it back into the house.

    Ralph Wiggam Zen Master!
  • A kit to turn your home theater system into a crystal radio!!!

  • "you can train your robot to do things like... send email..."

    Great, because my laptop's been having problems logging on to my mail account lately.

  • A seeing robot could be a useful companion for a blind person, for example, or a sophisticated security camera.

    Finally someone thinking of those poor, lonely security cameras. It breaks my heart, I'm telling you.
  • ...not to speak the series of 7 imprinting words to your laptop robot.

    It may become irrevocably attached to you, and begin following you around the house or office like a lost puppy dog.
  • I'm sure there are circumstances in which this kit would be useful, but as one poster already mentioned, the laptop requirements are pretty steep--if I had a laptop with those specs, I don't think I'd be using it to fetch beer for me.

    The Evolution homepage is slashdotted, so I couldn't see many specific details, but based on the article, I'm pretty skeptical. It sounds like they've managed to put together some pretty neat tech, but again, what use will it be?

    It sounds like it navigates on sight. Does it "remember" it's environment or does it have to do a visual search every time? "Gee, where was that large white thing that had the little brown bottles again?"

    I guess I could put cat toys on it and have it play with my cat during the day! Now that would be useful. However, I probably wouldn't last long.
    • Yes, it requires a pretty hefty Pentium to do the real time vision, at least 800 mhz or so. We are doing processing at 5 fps of up to 10,000 objects, using up to 1,000 features of each object, so it's very cpu intensive, even after extensive mmx optimization. But it works very well, and it can recognize extremely accurately even in varying lighting conditions and at offset angles. We have a rotation invariant, scale invariant, affine transform invariant, and ligthing invariant transform that we do to the features in the image as we process them and that allows us to do the check so quickly and with accuracy in a real world situation.
  • Something like this would be pretty good for surveillance. Have indoor models that wander around inside a large complex after hours to check for fire, intruders, or structural issues like leaking pipes. Or stick some outside with infrared cameras and motion detectors to keep an eye on parking structures, open grounds and whatnot. Make convenient escorts for late night workers heading to their cars. A few antennas spread around and a wireless link to a security center that would allow security to instantly look at anything that the bots are looking at would make for much safer surroundings at a much lower cost than human watch standers with their tendancies to doze off or get caught up in Brittany Spears videos in the break room.
  • The only thing i can see happening to this thing is the screen catching
    on the bottom of a table and being perforated / decapitated!
    If there was a way to protect the "brain" from the
    body's inherent clumsiness we might have something.
    • What does the robot need the screen for? Let it get smashed, so long as you have some external monitor port (and remember to have it set to always output to it) you can plug it in elsewhere whenever you need to do any work on it.

      This reminds me of something that's always bothered me about the Terminator...what does he need all that text overlayed on his video input for? For Robocop, it makes sense...but the Terminator isn't thinking like a person.
  • You have an older Toshiba laptop sitting in your closet and the best thing you can think of to do w/it is make a robot out of it?

    You will not only have a Toshiba laptop in your closet, you will also have this robot as well.

    My roommate and I use our laptops as wireless web machines and MP3 servers to the stereo, that's the most selfish way to use an old laptop, obviously giving it away would be even better.

    Geeks and their toys, sheesh ;-)
  • Ok, it hasn't been commercialized but it isn't as whimpy - check this out [] "Vision is hard," Gross said. "Nobody has succeeded in making it work in real time." One word: Aibo Oh, and give CMU [] some credit Jeff
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @10:43AM (#3572429) Homepage
    Forget "video capture resolution."

    The specs _I_ want to know are: how thick a rug can it run on? Can it go over a 3/4"-high threshold? How is it at navigating obstacles? How resistant to floor dirt is it (hint: some of us have Newfoundland dogs, they shed, the hair is long enough to wind around a vacuum cleaner beater bar and jam it...)?

    What about stair-climbing?

    Looks like it's only useful in a space that has a single, flat, clean floor. How many readers live in a space that fits that description?

    Now, as a way of ferrying parts around a factory floor like those big "Pronto" systems...
  • Sure, Aibo the robot dog is cute, but can he fetch you a beer?

    Great the first robot of the trailer park scene!

    Can it turn the talkin picture box to NASCAR?
  • Dont need to lug my ol heavy laptop now.
    I'll just train it to recognize and follow me to work.
  • Yipee. At least it would give me something to do with that old Toshiba laptop sitting in the closet.

    Wait, you have an old PII-800mhz(or better) laptop laying in your closet unused? Can I have it? I don't have a laptop and that's plenty fast for me to get REAL work done on it.

    Or donate it to your local highschool, I'm sure they have teachers there that could use that well equiped of a laptop for REAL work too. My aunt is a teacher in a public school and would have constant use for a laptop like that.
    • My linux laptop is a Toshiba P-166 and it runs as fast as my Windows P3 desktop for nearly all everyday tasks (email, text editing, doc prep, etc.).

      Plus I can run snort, etherape, lophtcrack, all kindsa nifty network stuff on the laptop's 3com PCMCIA interface if I need to. Not as fast as on a real laptop, but I got this one from the recycling bin at Pigeon Point so what the hell.

  • Granted it's a step in the right direction. Being able to recognize objects at 5fps is fairly decent. I would advocate an open source system to develop pattern recognition standards to be incorporated into a variety of "robots". Speed would improve gradually. Based on the open-source AI, the mechanics could be left to whoever to build. No need for autonomous logic systems development. Ghost in the shell--spooky.
    • Here is Intel's open source "Computer Vision Library", which has lots of useful stuff for robotic vision: []



      This library is mainly aimed at real time computer vision. Some example areas would be Human-Computer Interaction (HCI); Object Identification, Segmentation and Recognition; Face Recognition; Gesture Recognition; Motion Tracking, Ego Motion, Motion Understanding; Structure From Motion (SFM); and Mobile Robotics.

      Library Areas:
      The areas covered by this library are
      Chapter Contents
      Image functions: Creation, allocation, destruction of images. Fast pixel access macros.
      Data Structures: Static types and dynamic storage. Contour Processing: Finding, displaying, manipulation, and simplification of image contours.
      Geometry: Line and ellipse fitting. Convex hull. Contour analysis.
      Features: 1st & 2nd Image Derivatives. Lines: Canny, Hough. Corners: Finding, tracking.
      Image Statistics: In region of interest: Count, Mean, STD, Min, Max, Norm, Moments, Hu Moments.
      Image Pyramids: Power of 2. Color/texture segmentation.
      Morphology: Erode, dilate, open, close. Gradient, top-hat, black-hat.
      Background Differencing: Accumulate images and squared images. Running averages.
      Distance Transform: Distance Transform Thresholding Binary, inverse binary, truncated, to zero, to zero inverse.
      Flood Fill: 4 and 8 connected
      Camera Calibration: Intrinsic and extrinsic, Rodrigues, un-distortion, Finding checkerboard calibration pattern
      View Morphing: 8 point algorithm, Epipolar alignment of images
      Motion Templates: Overlaying silhouettes: motion history image, gradient and weighted global motion.
      CAMSHIFT: Mean shift algorithm and variant
      Active Contours: Snakes
      Optical Flow: HS, L-K, BM and L-K in pyramid.
      Estimators: Kalman and Condensation.
      POSIT: 6DOF model based estimate from 1 2D view.
      Histogram (recognition): Manipulation, comparison, backprojection. Earth Mover's Distance (EMD).
      Gesture Recognition: Stereo based: Finding hand, hand mask. Image homography, bounding box.
      Matrix: Matrix Math: SVD, inverse, cross-product, Mahalanobis, eigen values and vectors. Perspective projection.
      Eigen Objects: Calc Cov Matrix, Calc Eigen objects, decomp. coeffs. Decomposition and projection.
      embedded HMMs: Create, destroy, observation vectors, DCT, Viterbi Segmentation, training and test.
      Drawing Primatives: Line, rectangle, circle, ellipse, polygon. Text on images.
      System Functions: Load optimized code. Get processor info.
      Utility: Abs difference. Template matching. Pixel order<->Plane order. Convert Scale. Sampling lines. Bi-linear interpolation. ArcTan, sqrt, inv-sqrt, reciprocal. CartToPolar, Exp, Log. Random numbs. Set image. K-Means.

      Intel® Image Processing Library (included in OpenCV WinOS download):
      Image creation and access (same image header used for both libraries).
      Image arithmetic and logic operations.
      Image filtering.
      Linear image transformation.
      Image morphology.
      Color space conversion.
      Image histogram and thresholding.
      Geometric transformation (zoom-decimate, rotate, mirror, shear, warp, perspective transform, affine transform).
      Image moments.

      Demo Overview (apps that come with the library)
      Matlab Camera Calibration Toolbox tutorial
      Automatic camera calibration filter
      Color tracker/face tracker
      Condensation filter fracker
      Face recognition using embedded HMMs
      Kalman filter tracker
      Lucas-Kanade optical flow in an image pyramid

      User Contributed Utilities

      Windows* Specific
      How to find any Direct Show* camera driver with the CAMSHIFT demo
      Matrox Meteor* Direct Show capture filter

      Linux* Specific
      C Code, Non-Specific
      BMP* to IPL file reader/writer
      Finding the mean and covariance of data sets on disk


  • So this thing roams around taking pictures, and e-mailing them eh? Imagine the look on your Mom's face when she starts getting pictures in her e-mail of your "nocturnal activities", because the laptop was bored, and wanted to take some pictures/movies.
  • This is a joke right? I've been building / designing robots for years. First of all Microsoft Windows isn't the OS of choice for robotics. I use a handyboard (, for one robot, a embedded controller running Linux for another robot, and a 68332 controller for yet another design. I use Linux to develop code for all three, and the embedded controller also run Linux as it's OS. The other two robots make use of Linux for code generation (GCC for the 68332 robot) and IC for the handyboard.

    You need lots of Digital IO and lots of A/D and D/A ports if you want to build a real robot. I've
    got sonar, and I'm going to use the CMU cam for vision recognition ( The embedded controller based robot also as a wireless 802.11b connection to my home LAN.

    I wouldn't spend $599.00 for a robotic base that hooks up to a lpatop. I am guily of building the CMU pprk robot to be driven by a Palm Pilot html but at least that has a holonomic drive system and Infrared Proximitty detection. I just
    wanted to play more with a holonomic drive.

    before you spend $599.00 do some research.

    My next robotic platform is going to use the
    Power wheels Wild thing as a base. I'll be taken a dremel tool to the toy. It will also use optical encoders to detect wheel position, Polaroid Sonar, IRPD, an embedded PC-104 controller, a homebrew A/D PC 104 card, a hombrew Digital IO card, a homebrew D/A PC104 card, a homebrew TPU card, a homebrew H-Bridge, and a homebrew servo controller. But I will be using the CMU Vision recognition system and DLINK USB->802.11b adapters.

    • The Evolution Robotics System doesn't use Windows -- it's based on Linux. If you're already building and programming robots, you will probably have no problem integrating your hardware and software with it.


    • We have a Linux Version and a Windows Version. The Windows version is really so that people can use the Windows gui and 802.11 drivers for wireless control. The real motor control is done in a separate hardware box that we provide. The real breakthrough with this product is not in the robot construction so much but more in the software, in particular the vision algorithm that lets the robot navigate autonomously and recognize objects and people.
  • i'll take my old 286 laptop and train it to be the best robot doorstop ever . . .
  • What does it do if someone where to flash it? Do a Google search for pr0n for them?
  • "Hey, did your laptop just transform into a robot?"

    "Yes. It's more than meets the eye. You should see my car outside..."

  • Now I can put up a website to let total strangers have my robot chase my cats around the house at any hour of the day or night... the poor things will turn into nervous wrecks.
  • If you don't know what I'm talking about, shame on you. Read this [].
  • Quick, Lappy, go email for help!
  • How about a virus that makes your laptop run away, or attack you in your sleep.

    Or a variation on the pyramid money schemes. Pass this email onto ten people and tomorrow morning there will be a thousand laptops on your doorstep.

  • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @12:30PM (#3573293) Homepage Journal
    Tech: Hello, Toshiba technical support.

    Client: Uhhh, I put my laptop in one of those robot kits. Now its rolling around the house, screaming that its alive and not to "disassemble Johnny five".

  • Does anyone know of a robot (built with Mindstorm
    product or some other) that can flip a book and
    turn its pages as it photocopies it on a standard
    home scanner?

    This would help me in my book digitization
  • I like the idea of the robot's brains being somewhere else, safe, controlling the robot wirelessly (satellite maybe), seeing as that's probably the most important and expensive part of it. Kinda like in episode 1 with those robot troopers (I know they lost in that movie, but it's just a movie :)

    I wonder what kind of bandwidth would be acceptable to send all of the sensory input and to recieve instructions? It might not be feasible, but all I said was that I like the idea :)
    • I want to know why I can't run this on my PC now and use it with a cheap RC car with an 802.11b web cam on it...... that would bring the cost way down. An even cheaper solution would be to use an x10 camera on an RC car with the PC interfacing with the RC remote control and taking the video from the wireless x10 camera. Existing pc (no laptop or 802.11b needed) plus cheap x10 camera plus cheap RC car... total "robot" cost - $100? Add a wireless speaker to it an it could seek out people in an apartment and (upon recognizing their face) read e-mails aloud. THIS COULD BE DONE TODAY! Wow - I'd love to have the time to work on it.
  • I'm not exactly sure how this can be useful since the "robot" has no arms.

    It can still protect the bridge to your house!

    "It's only a flesh wound!"
  • Do you need Energon Cubes to run it?
  • by SimHacker ( 180785 ) on Thursday May 23, 2002 @02:51PM (#3574284) Homepage Journal
    Last weekend I assembled one of Evolution's robots, set up the software and read over all the included sources and documentation. It pretty much works as advertised, and is quite flexible, but it needs more example source code and further development.

    I'm working on a robot project with the Stupid Fun Club [], and we're going to build the Evolution laptop into a much bigger heavier duty robot body, to control it. [These people started the Robot Wars competition, but this particular robot is designed to be peaceful, even friendly and social.] The big friendly robot is still under construction, so I decided to assemble Evolution's cute smaller modular robot to see how it works.

    It took an afternoon to put together the lego-like parts to build the Evolution robot kit. It included a bunch of aluminum beams, lots of ingenious modular plastic connectors, nuts and bolts, wheels and motors, bump and IR distance sensors, and some awesome ultra-heavy-duty velcro.

    The IR distance sensors were somewhat tricky to attach, had flakey connectors, and don't all work; but everything else was quite straightforward and easy. I haven't had so much fun with legos in years!

    We're using a laptop recommended and preconfigured by Evolution: an IBM Thinkpad type 2612-1bu. Most interesting is the software, which runs on Linux. Evolution has developed a "robotic operating system", which is written in C++ and configured with XML.

    It has a visual behavior programming language for connecting together boxes (representing software behavior modules) with wires (representing data types of input and output parameters).

    It's kind of like the "SimAntics []" language used to program The Sims, but much simpler, more general purpose, and extensible.

    The behavior modules are implemented in C++ and compiled into dynamically linked libraries or built into the application. There's a C++ SDK for programming your own behavior modules, with which I've just started experimenting.

    XML schema files describe the module interfaces (name, description, library, symbol, parameters, input and output ports with data types, etc). They're not standard XML-Schema, just Evolution's own special purpose behavior schema format, which is appropriate for the task.

    XML behavior files assemble a bunch of modules and connect them together into high level behavior networks, which you can use to build even higher level behavior networks in a modular fashion.

    There's a visual programming tool implemented in Java that lets you graphically construct networks of behavior modules, or you can simply type them in as XML in a text editor.

    Unfortunately the behavior construction tool isn't integrated with the behavior execution engine, so you have to run them separately, so you can't actually edit the behaviors in place while they're running.

    Other visual programming languages like SimAntics and Bounce [] let you edit live programs while they are running, which is extremely useful.

    The software side of the Evolution robotics kit includes modules for voice synthesis and voice recognition (IBM's ViaVoice libraries), as well as video capture, some simple image processing, sensor reading, motor control, network communication, teleoperation, a simple emotion engine and animated human face, and a bunch of other stuff.

    But unfortunately the source code for many of the interesting modules is not included, so if they don't do exactly what you want you have to replace them from scratch.

    For example, the human face emotion animation module doesn't support texture mapped faces. That's fine if your robot's face is Kermit the Frog, but I want to use face skins from The Sims. If Evolution decided to include more module source code with the SDK, programmers would be able to customize it more easily, instead of reinventing the wheel.

    In summary, I like Evolution's modern and open architecture, and the code that I've seen so far is quite well designed and nicely written. But I'd like to see more code, please! One of the big problems in robotics is smoothly integrating many different pieces of software and hardware, and I think they've taken a good approach to that problem. Now they have to enable developers to easily integrate many different software and hardware modules, and let them all fight it out.


  • Why am I reminded of Chef's TV from that episode with Russell Crowe's Fighing Round the World? (Best episode ever, seen it at least thirty times and know most of the dialogue by heart)

    "Menu.. Function.. Back.. Enter.. Volume.. HEM..."

    *TV sprouts legs arms and laser cannons, walks through a wall and starts shooting at people*

  • The magazine MacAddict did this a year ago with an iBook... it was built from scratch (except for the quickcam for visuals and the iBook itself) and was controlled by AppleScript over an airport network. It was called the iBorg. There is probably still plenty of information at MacAddict []
  • go to

    They have MUCH more functional platforms, although they don't come with a camera, but a good quickcam is under a hundred bucks anyway. I went with the Max 99 myself, good little base. With a creative application of either a 5-10 gallon bucket(depending on which base you buy), or a Rubbermaid container, you can have a really spiffy looking and useful robot. For about 300 bucks cheaper than the one in the article I might add and MUCH more customizeable. Adding an arm, for example, would be much easier.

  • The new Evolution Robot ER1 has an optional arm, so you can pick up things or actuate things in the environment. At E3 where we unveilded this new robot, we are doing a demonstration of the famous "get me a beer" application. In it, we show the robot an empty beer can or bottle, it recognizes it, then goes to the fridge, using vision, and then picks up the correct beer, and brings it back to you. I wish there were a way I could post an image or a movie of it doing this, it's quite impressive.
  • Oh no, you're not fooling me again with this 'robot' malarkey.

    Far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't have compartments for crayons and ID cards [] and demand to play 'hider-seeker' every ten minutes, it ain't my robot.

    (You kids today... doesn't anyone remember Planetfall []?)

interlard - vt., to intersperse; diversify -- Webster's New World Dictionary Of The American Language