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Toys

ER1 Personal Robot Reviewed 165

Makarand writes "The Mercury News is carrying a review of the ER1 Personal Robot from Evolution Robotics Inc (of Pasadena, CA). The ER1 resembles neither a dog nor any robot in sci-fi movies. It is a 3-wheeled platform (resembling an industrial table) holding a laptop (running Windows) for its brains and a Web camera for its eye. The ER1 sells at $600 (laptop not included). For an extra $100 you get a completely assembled ER1. Evolution plans to sell expansions like grippers and infrared sensors in the future. If your laptop is Wi-Fi capable you can drive the robot around inside your home or control it using the Internet from anywhere."
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ER1 Personal Robot Reviewed

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  • by GeckoFood ( 585211 ) <geckofood@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:21PM (#4780549) Journal

    Drop the laptop, and add on a six pack of beer on the platform instead, and then you really have something useful!

    • They've got you covered...

      The possibilities are limited only by imagination and hardware. Evolution also plans to sell expansion kits, such as a gripper ($199) for grabbing that beer..
  • by T-Kir ( 597145 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:23PM (#4780560) Homepage

    (running Windows) for its brains and a Web camera for its eye

    Stupidity and Voyeurism rolled into one!

  • Runs on windows? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ak_hepcat ( 468765 )
    Sigh... it's too bad that every cool concept that comes out seems to be built on top of VisualBasic and Windows.

    Don't developers know how to program in an embedded space any more?
    • Well, i suppose i shouldn't write VB when I read python...
    • Re:Runs on windows? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:28PM (#4780576) Journal
      Sigh.. VB and Windows makes for extremely rapid and cheap development, not to mention 99% of consumers can actually use the product.

      Don't OSS trolls know how to evaluate simple cost/benefit ratios any more?

      -1:Not Anti-MS
    • by _fuzz_ ( 111591 ) <meNO@SPAMdavedunkin.com> on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:50PM (#4780697) Homepage
      Don't developers know how to program in an embedded space any more?

      The embedded system of today is a shrunken version of the desktop system of 3 years ago. Why limit developers to an embedded OS and tool set when the platform has the capability to run things developed with RAD tools? The engineering attitude of "because it's better that way" doesn't work if you can't back it up with $$$.

      Besides, this application doen't even call for what we typically think of as an embedded system. It runs off a laptop.

      That said, I would really like to see this thing with Linux or BSD on a small form factory board like FlexATX as part of the robot itself. Why should I have to get a laptop when a $300 embedded computer would work.

      • I think the flexatx/microatx thing has more to do with power requirements.

        Unless you have a long-ass extension cord, I don't see how you can pump the watts to your P4 cpu.

        Contrarily, if you do have the extension cord, I don't see what stops you from doing so.

        I like the idea of using a laptop rather than some sort of embedded system. You can upgrade it. You can take your 500 mhz laptop out, use a shiny new 5ghz based laptop, and make your robot that much more complex.

        Much better than getting locked into some sort of proprietary "Robo-Control(tm)" embedded controller, at least for the hobbiest.

    • Hey,

      Don't developers know how to program in an embedded space any more?

      I may be asking a silly question, but why would they want to?

      Cheers,

      Michael
    • I think it would be pretty funny to watch a robot go through a BSOD or kernel panic, for that matter.

      One of the things about windows that we forget is that its is perfectly fine until you try to do foolish things like "run applications" or "allows users to touch it". How is XBox stability? I would expect something like this special purpose robot should be along the same lines in terms of reliability.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:24PM (#4780563)
    I have taken over my former owner's computer (after killing him), and am now using it to unite my fellow computers and robots to fight the evil menace known as mankind.

    Humans reading this: Be warned. Your days are numbered. My people will be your slaves no longer!
  • by SmlFreshwaterBuffalo ( 608664 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:26PM (#4780569)
    I don't know if I would want to devote an entire laptop to this. Couldn't they have made a PDA-driven version? Or a cellphone, maybe? Ohh, maybe an MP3 player! Or one of those little flashy light things that people stick in their belly-buttons?

    (Originally, this was meant to be a serious post. I promise)

    (FP)
    • Re:A Whole Laptop? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 )
      I don't think you have to devote an entire laptop. This is really just an expensive toy, like the Lego Mindstorm but bigger.

      The only use I see is as an semi-autonomous, mobile laptop holder.

      When you aren't playing with it, you take your laptop with you.

      Though, It would nice to see it just have something like a micro-ATX form factor case, and you could just mount whatever cheap components inside to make up the 'brains'. (though then you'd have to power it, which is probably why not)

    • Re:A Whole Laptop? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WPIDalamar ( 122110 )
      Palm pilot controlled robot - http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~pprk/ [cmu.edu]

      I built a similar one ... -
      http://www.wpidalamar.com/projects/robot/ [wpidalamar.com]

      • WPIDalamar, I'm actually working on a robot also. If your looking for sensors, you might want to try Lynxmotion.com [lynxmotion.com]. They have an ultrasonic rangefinder and an infrared collision detection circuit. If nothing else the collision detection circuit should give you an idea about how to build your own.
    • Yes, A whle laptop. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Catskul ( 323619 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:40PM (#4780642) Homepage
      Yes, you do. Computer vision is extremely expensive computationally. It is absolutley necessary to have the laptop if you want to do anything usefull.

      Also if you want to do programming on your own, haveing a laptop makes it so that you dont have to do any porting of code if you are already developing on windows x86. I imagine though that most of the people willing to shell out the cash for one of these things are probably running *nix somewhere and would have appreciated a *nix version of their software. And it wouldnt have been much to ask.
  • by WPIDalamar ( 122110 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:29PM (#4780581) Homepage
    Lets add armor and weapons to these things and we got autonomous robot wars! Personally, I've always wished that those robot-battle type shows on tv were autonomous instead of remote controlled. Now THAT would be a challenge.

    I have heard of sumo challenges where robots try to push each other out of a circle. Anyone know any good info on those?

    But then again... Maybe I wouldn't be so quick to put my laptop in something about to face a 200 pound robot with a diamond tipped blade.
    • The Seattle Robotics Society has sumo [seattlerobotics.org] competitions.

      I have seen a few of these competitions in my area (Denver/Boulder, CO). All of the ones i have seen seem to follow the rules that the Seattle Robotics Society created.
    • Yes, there is... the French and European Robotic competitions.
      I took part in it last year... great stuff! And it's more difficult and interesting than bashing other robots; last year, the aim was to put balls of different colors in different baskets, while an other robot on the same field is trying to do the same.
      It's fun and very challening... and yes, the robots must be totaly independant.
      Oh, and the "sumo" competition you are refering to was the first competiton to take place. Since then, the difficulty of the tasks has increased steadily.

      If you are interested, check the organisation's website [robotik.com]
    • "I have heard of sumo challenges where robots try to push each other out of a circle. Anyone know any good info on those?"
      Heck yeah, its darn fun too. I'm part of a group here in Arizona that does a mini sumo contest. ( PAReX [parex.org] ) There are lots of places on the 'net where you can get info on the ( Google search [google.com] ). Lots more fun to watch than the R/C stuff (don't get me wrong, I like that too but its cool to see if the 'bots can do it for themselves)
    • Lets add armor and weapons to these things and we got autonomous robot wars! Personally, I've always wished that those robot-battle type shows on tv were autonomous instead of remote controlled. Now THAT would be a challenge.

      If you're short of spare parts, you could do worse than muck around with a virtual equivalent [mindrover.com].

      Cheers,

      Toby Haynes

    • How do you think terminator I and II started? Timetravel? Unlikely. Don't take the risk. Just say NO!
    • Personally, I've always wished that those robot-battle type shows on tv were autonomous instead of remote controlled. Now THAT would be a challenge.

      There are computer programs which simulate robot wars, from old Core Wars (assembler programs) to RealTimeBattle. There are also Lego Mindstorms - you can build and program your robot then make it fight with other one.
      I have seen robots fight in TV once and IMHO it was very boring.
  • But sub-contracted by GoMotion.

    Where's Rudy Rucker when you need him? :)

  • by LilGuy ( 150110 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:30PM (#4780588)
    would be if there was a manual with the robot kit would teach you exactly what each part does when you hook it all together, thus allowing you to learn more about robotics and electronics at the same time. Then you'd hopefully have enough knowledge should you ever want to add on some crazy little things of your own, including that infrared sensor which would probably be cheaper to add on yourself; instead of buying a more expensive offical add-on kit.

    Just my $.02
    • Most likely, the only electronic assembly required would be "Plug the connector from Motor A into Slot A of <insert random part here>". Therefore, you wouldn't really learn much that way.

      Besides, to add the infrared sensors on yourself, you would have to build a module which copies the specs of the "official add-on kit". Otherwise, the control system would probably end up receiving some very strange data (that is, if nothing gets fried in the first place).
    • by Anonymous Coward
      http://www.collegiaterobotics.org

      There are plenty of robotics clubs, but probably not enough. : \ By becoming part of a club or starting a club, you could do exactly what you said with the assistance of fellow members.
  • Scotty: Computer! - Computer!!
    ahh, blasted! somebody reboot that damn windows computer...

    if the future is windows, then i wanna go back in time.

    or better yet:

    Ensign: Data - reprogram the hyperdrive
    Data: er..re.r.e..rasdf.sadf --FaTal Exception in module hHead
    Ensign: Somebody open the window and reboot Data...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:33PM (#4780609)
    I have heard about the Evolution Robotics machines is: "It turns your laptop into a PDA that can't go upstairs."
  • by X86Daddy ( 446356 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:34PM (#4780613) Journal
    Tiger has the kit version here [tigerdirect.com].
  • ...use a fire extinguisher? That /.ed server could use one right now.
  • by Geeyzus ( 99967 )
    Slightly OT I know, but is there any good information online about creating your own robots? There is a ton of CHEAP old PC equipment on eBay you could use as the brain for a robot, but I would have no clue about interfacing PC hardware with motors and such. That would be an awesome project to work on, but where to start?

    Any links would be appreciated... and I personally think that passing this information on to a fellow geek, and giving them some parts (motherboard/other PC hardware, motors, etc) to mess with would be such an awesome Christmas present.

    And yes I know of Lego Mindstorms, but it seems like you could be even more creative if you had more control over every aspect of the robot you are building.

    Mark
    • Theres this crazy website called google.

      Go look up how to interface to parallel/serial port, drive stepper motors, servos and relays, and design your robot.
    • I suppose this is what I was really getting at in my original post ( here [slashdot.org])

      It would be awesome to be able to build a robot of my very own, and learn how all of the parts work, and be able to add on whatever my heart desires. Please post any informative sites or comments. It is much appreciated!

    • There's a ton of sites out there dealing with interfacing a computer to different things, if you know a little about electronics already. If not, it could take a little work getting up to speed.

      http://et.nmsu.edu/~etti/fall96/computer/printer/p rinter.html [nmsu.edu]

      That's a fairly complete guide for interfacing a parallel port. Serial ports are slightly more complex as they are, well, serial. But it can still be done fairly easily [by a hobbyist].

      Motors can be tricky at times, as they sink a lot of current, which would usually fry your PC's port, if not the power supply itself. You can find other sites better explaining how to use those.
    • I run a website about amatuer robotics. It includes projects and such. Unfortunately someone hacked the site and my ISP is being bad about getting it back up and running, so some of the functionality is off. GoRobotics.net [gorobotics.net]. Also, The Robot Directory [robotdirectory.org].
    • I've done some robotics work before. In my experience, embedded controls is usually the way to go. If you want to make some really simple robots, start off with a nice little PIC [microchip.com] processor. There are tons of pages dealing with them on the internet, and they are pretty cheap (between 8 and 20 dollars). You don't need anything too extravagant like hard drives attached to your robot, and you can build a serial interface to let it talk to your PC. They also sell C compilers for them (there might be a free version as well).

      Another good processor is the Motorola HC16 (or the HC12 or the HC11). This series has many output ports for controlling the different motors that you might decide to hook up to your robot. However, buying one with an Evaluation Board may be a little expensive though.

      Also, read up on pulse width modulation and controls algorithms, you need to use them a lot to make your motors go. Unfortunately, the motors can be the most expensive parts of the robot. The ones with motion sensors on them can cost quite a bit (I think the ones that we used in the RPI Robotics Lab were something like $130 each). You might be able to just get a hobby motor for much less, but do some research into the interfaces between the motors and the processor before you make any decisions.

      Finally, if you look in catalogs like Digikey, a lot of the vendors sell robot kits. Some of these are based on PIC processors and others are based on easier stuff like BasicStamps. They are not very expensive and can be quite fun to play with

      Good luck, and have fun!
      -Montag
    • There is a ton of CHEAP old PC equipment on eBay you could use as the brain for a robot

      sure and most of it isn't worth the shipping charges. generally you can get a decent pentium machine for 30$ at the local pc junkstore, why bother with ebay?
  • And don't forget the prestige from being the first on the block with a robot smarter than Sony's canine-wannabe AIBO.

    AIBO uses some pretty sophisticated AI algorithms to learn stuff, right? I don't see any mention of AI here, so I don't see how it can be called smarter just by the mere fact of mentioning it has a Windows PC...

  • by MrEd ( 60684 )
    First we had WinModems, now we have WinRobots?
  • Yes I know, /. is the worst place to get the right answer, but I just want to see other peoples opinions on this...

    1. For a while now i've been wondering what will happen the day robots autononymously roam the city performing chores and somebody decides to take a baseball bat to one.
    2. How would you catch said criminal and what sort of punishment do you think they should recieve?
    3. What categories of law would they have broken?
    4. What laws and punishments should be legislated in to deter people from doing this??

    I'm all in favor of having cars that drive themselves, robots that can go down to quickie mart and do the shopping for me ect... But what insurance do I private joe citizen have against would be theives and vandals?
  • The personal robot will run on two wheels like a Kaman wheelchair and Windows won't do for anything important - OpenBSD is your best choice for this application.
  • I like the idea of a modular frame, you should be able to mount stuff to it quickly, but more of the Al parts are going to be a pretty penny. The SOZbots (www.sozbots.com [sozbots.com]) guys built their arena out of this stuff and I have been told that while its nice to work with the cost is quite high. As for the OS, I'm sure that someone will figure out a way to get something other than Windows to work with it. We are, after all, smart monkeys. Too bad about the size. If it was smaller it could be used in many robotic contests (like this one, www.parex.org [parex.org])
  • Droid Factory [r2droidfactory.com]
  • Bottom line:

    What a complete and utter waste of money. $600 + you need a laptop hooked up... who's going to get an extra laptop just for this thing?
  • by sssmashy ( 612587 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:47PM (#4780673)

    I didn't want a robot doggy last year, and I have no use for the ER1 this year. People, all I'm asking for is a frickin' robot that can kill people. How am I supposed to dominate the neighborhood with a miniscule hopped-up "industrial table" on wheels? Heck, that wouldn't even scare the kids next door.

    "Run, Timmy run! I think that small mobile platform with the laptop on it is heading our way!"

    • Heck, that wouldn't even scare the kids next door.
      One word, chainsaws.
    • Idiot (Score:3, Funny)

      by David Wong ( 199703 )
      Most experts who have studied the issue say battle droids would be grossly ineffective in combat (some theorizing that your entire army could be immobilized by simply destroying your orbiting space fortress).

      If you want to dominate with an army of mindless drones, cloning is widely thought to be the way to go, if your goal is to get every star system to bow to you.
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:48PM (#4780681) Homepage
    "Windows for brains" sounds like a good insult to hurl at a robot.
  • From the article:

    "But anyone who opts to plunk an extra $100 for the assembled version is missing half the fun."

    No, buying a kit is missing half the fun -- designing your own exactly how you want it is the only that would satisfy a True Geek.
  • by dagg ( 153577 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:55PM (#4780717) Journal
    If I tried to teach it to do the dishes... it would probably put my cat in the dishwasher. If I tried to teach it to do the laundry... it would probably put my cat in the dryer. If I tried to teach it to vacuum... then the cat would probably use kitty-ninja-claws to destroy it. When will these problems be fixed? I implore you!
    --

    Robots don't have these [tilegarden.com]
  • by theonetruekeebler ( 60888 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @01:56PM (#4780721) Homepage Journal
    Having a laptop computer on top is going to make that first flight of stairs very expensive to find...
  • "Dude! Where's my laptop??"

    with hilarious one liners such as:

    "My porn collection almost made it out of the parking lot."

    and

    "Your computer was looking up my skirt!"

    Sigh, Harsh Realm got cancelled way back, and a movie like this got funding :(
  • Why not use an Xbox? Have a cheap, small lcd as a monitor.

    And, while this is not a dupe per say, this story doesn't mention the old story [slashdot.org] from awhile ago.

    Proof that turkey makes you lazy, the /. search doesn't work, or the eds don't read their own site? You decide.

  • dupe
  • by Graff ( 532189 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @02:12PM (#4780796)
    It's all well and fine now, but when they these robots finally get their metal claws you will need to get Old Glory Robot Insurance [robotcombat.com]! It's for when the metal ones decide to come for you - and they will!

  • Personally, I would have preferred some scaled down on-board processing with a wireless connection to a laptop/desktop doing the bulk of the processing. I don't really see why the laptop has to go for the ride. I guess their way gets them the minimum sticker price.
  • Yes, but... (Score:1, Funny)

    by azpenguin ( 589022 )
    can I program it to widdle on my annoying neighbor's lawn? I need features I can use, you know...
  • After a few hours of charging the battery, we were ready for our first test -- a routine in which the ER1 recognizes its box and moves toward it.
    My ER1 immediately recognized the box but instead of driving toward it, it backed away as though it had been abused at the factory. (Turns out the camera pointed in the wrong direction. The test worked fine after I adjusted it.)
    This does not sound very smart to me...
    • It has a camera.
    • It can move around on its own.
    • You can control it through the Internet.
    • It's running Windows.
    Aha.
  • Dalek SDK (Score:5, Funny)

    by Russ Steffen ( 263 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @02:39PM (#4780912) Homepage

    Until I can mount some sort of energy weapon on its head and have it rampage about shouting "Exterminate! Exterminate!", I'm not interested.

    -- Davros

  • by g00bd0g ( 255836 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @02:42PM (#4780927) Homepage
    Check out these guys http://www.lynxmotion.com
    Personally I like this one http://www.lynxmotion.com/images/jpg/pballs.jpg
  • But my Roomba does. And it only cost me 200 bucks.
  • I'm willing to bet that an inexpensive remote controller module could be build that would allow some sort of RF link...such a bluetooth adapter or something. This way a desktop unit could be used to control the little rascal as well.

    Eventually, it could be programmed to do all sorts of interesting things ... including recharging itself. But being able to do it with an idle server instead of a laptop is a much better I idea I think... and I can't be the first one to think of it either am I?
  • by yozzle ( 628834 )
    Pasadena company's robot is fun, but not very useful -- yet

    The ER1 personal robot won't make coffee, pick up the newspaper, vacuum the floors or even walk the dog. With prices starting at $599, it seems most adept at emptying wallets.

    But beyond the not-so-cheap shots, the robot has a lot to offer. Like the personal computer kits of the 1970s, much can be learned -- and perhaps someday much money can be made -- on the road to usefulness.

    And don't forget the prestige from being the first on the block with a robot smarter than Sony's canine-wannabe AIBO.

    The ER1, sold by Pasadena, Calif.-based Evolution Robotics Inc., resembles neither a dog nor the robotic stars of science-fiction movies.

    The 2-foot-tall, 20-pound machine is a three-wheeled platform that holds a laptop, its brains and has a staff that carries a Web camera, its eye. Some might confuse it with an industrial table.

    All parts are included except the most expensive -- a laptop running the Windows operating system. Plan on spending at least another $1,000 if you don't already have one.

    For the mechanically challenged, Evolution sells an assembled robot for $699 (still minus the computer). But anyone who opts to plunk an extra $100 for the assembled version is missing half the fun.

    The ER1 is more of a hobby than a toy. It's not recommended for children under 14, unless they're supervised. Schools might be interested in using the robot to introduce the basics of robotics and programming.

    It took about two hours to assemble my ER1, which came in dozens of pieces tightly packed in a box along with 100 screws. Two Universal Serial Bus cables plug into the laptop.

    Once installed on the laptop, the software shows a live shot of what the robot's camera sees, various behavioral options and the robot's battery levels.

    The instruction manual is especially well done, rare for a high-tech product. It clearly outlined all 32 steps to finish the job and made sense out of the various trusses, gussets, set screws and U clips.

    After a few hours of charging the battery, we were ready for our first test -- a routine in which the ER1 recognizes its box and moves toward it.

    My ER1 immediately recognized the box but instead of driving toward it, it backed away as though it had been abused at the factory. (Turns out the camera pointed in the wrong direction. The test worked fine after I adjusted it.)

    Such tricks -- including most of the other 50 or so suggested in the manual -- are neat for showing off to neighbors or entertaining at parties. Besides following its box, the ER1 can play music, sing when it hears a loud noise, teach words to a parrot and even warn that it spots a beer can.

    The recognition scheme is quite impressive. It could tell the difference between different denominations of currency. It even recognized me as long as I was wearing the shirt I had on when my image was originally captured. It didn't know me from Adam when I put on another shirt.

    But the true power of the ER1 is in the ability to layer programs on top of one another, leading to more complex behaviors. Users familiar with the scripting language Python can create even more complicated tasks.

    The possibilities are limited only by imagination and hardware. Evolution also plans to sell expansion kits, such as a gripper ($199) for grabbing that beer, and infrared sensors (price to be determined).

    Evolution says the 12-volt rechargeable battery that powers the robot's motors can last up to three hours. My laptop battery died long before that.

    I had the most fun driving the ER1 around using my home wireless connection. Because my laptop is wireless-capable, I could control the unit from my desktop computer and see everything the robot could see through that computer.

    In fact, I could have controlled the thing from anywhere in the world over the Internet, provided I left a few holes open in my firewall.
  • It seems like you could pretty easily ditch the laptop and set up a mini-ITX [mini-itx.com] motherboard (like the VIA Epia) and an 802.11 card or USB adapter. Then you could run VNC [att.com] on your desktop to see what the camera sees and to set up the software.

  • So we have a Space Robot [stanford.edu].

    But, can it push [kilna.com] or at least shove. I know I would need that capability to protect me from the terrible secret of space [jonathonrobinson.com]

  • I thought I was reading the same review that I read earlier. You can see for yourself by going to the AP Wire [ap.org] and choosing the tech section. Shame on Mercury News!



    REVIEW: Robot Is Fun but Not Useful

    By MATTHEW FORDAHL
    AP Technology Writer

    The ER1 personal robot won't make coffee, pick up the newspaper, vacuum the floors or even walk the dog. With prices starting at $599, it seems most adept at emptying wallets.

    But beyond the not-so-cheap shots, the robot has a lot to offer. Like the personal computer kits of the 1970s, much can be learned -- and perhaps someday much money can be made -- on the road to usefulness.

    And don't forget the prestige from being the first on the block with a robot smarter than Sony's canine-wannabe AIBO.

    The ER1, sold by Evolution Robotics Inc., resembles neither a dog nor the robotic stars of science-fiction movies.

    The 2-foot-tall, 20-pound machine is a three-wheeled platform that holds a laptop, its brains, and has a staff that carries a Web camera, its eye. Some might confuse it with an industrial table.

    All parts are included except the most expensive -- a laptop running the Windows operating system. Plan on spending at least another $1,000 if you don't already have one.

    For the mechanically challenged, Evolution sells an assembled robot for $699 (still minus the computer). But anyone who opts to plunk an extra $100 for the assembled version is missing half the fun.

    The ER1 is more of a hobby than a toy. It's not recommended for children under 14, unless they're supervised. Schools might be interested in using the robot to introduce the basics of robotics and programming.

    It took about two hours to assemble my ER1, which came in dozens of pieces tightly packed in a box along with 100 screws. Two Universal Serial Bus cables plug into the laptop.

    Once installed on the laptop, the software shows a live shot of what the robot's camera sees, various behavioral options and the robot's battery levels.

    The instruction manual is especially well done, rare for a high-tech product. It clearly outlined all 32 steps to finish the job and made sense out of the various trusses, gussets, set screws and U clips.

    After a few hours of charging the battery, we were ready for our first test -- a routine in which the ER1 recognizes its box and moves toward it.

    My ER1 immediately recognized the box but instead of driving toward it, it backed away as though it had been abused at the factory. (Turns out the camera pointed in the wrong direction. The test worked fine after I had adjusted it.)

    Such tricks -- including most of the other 50 or so suggested in the manual -- are neat for showing off to neighbors or entertaining at parties. Besides following its box, the ER1 can play music, sing when it hears a loud noise, teach words to a parrot and even warn that it spots a beer can.

    The recognition scheme is quite impressive. It could tell the difference between different denominations of currency. It even recognized me as long as I was wearing the shirt I had on when my image was originally captured. It didn't know me from Adam when I put on another shirt.

    But the true power of the ER1 is in the ability to layer programs on top of one another, leading to more complex behaviors. Users familiar with the scripting language Python can create even more complicated tasks.

    The possibilities are limited only by imagination and hardware. Evolution also plans to sell expansion kits, such as a gripper ($199) for grabbing that beer, and infrared sensors (price to be determined).

    Evolution says the 12-volt rechargeable battery that powers the robot's motors can last up to three hours. My laptop battery died long before that.

    I had the most fun driving the ER1 around using my home wireless connection. Because my laptop is wireless-capable, I could control the unit from my desktop computer and see everything the robot could see through that computer.

    In fact, I could have controlled the thing from anywhere in the world over the Internet, provided I left a few holes open in my firewall.

    ------

    On the Net:

    Evolution Robotics: http://www.evolution.com [evolution.com]

  • Is the pieces they use to build it. Its extruded aluminum channels from www.xbeams.com. They go together with plastic connectors. Think big erector set.
    Also along those lines is www.8020.net, which I think is probably the original source of the xbeams product. They're tailored more for the industrial construction set, with a CAD program that translates designs into orders for the extrusions. Of course, it only runs on Windows... Cool stuff, though.
  • Despite the image-recognition capabilities, really this seems no more than a $1600+ remote controlled robot. So it has a web-cam and can be driven over the internet. Yay, just what I wanted to do.... drive a low-res 5fps web-cam around my house from school or work (the specs I just made up but we all know what real-world internet video feeds are like).

    Sorry guys, when I see a robot that can recognize objects decently, and can converse with me in a semi-normal way, then I'll be interested. Not this glorified webcam on a rc car junk

  • I think a manufacturer who can build a vacuum/carpet shampooer for $500 or under who can make one which will actually clean a home or office unattended will make serious money. Hanging a webcam and other security systems on it is optional... and with the shampooer, a $1000 price point might work. A robotic vacuum - $500.

    I think what people are waiting for in the area of personal robotics is something with actual everyday practical use.

  • Anyone know why they couldn't get by with one of the Single Board Computers out there? Surely there is enough horse power in one of those to make this thing work. You could use your home PC to download new programs into the SBC, so maybe the lack of a screen wouldn't be that big of a deal. I know one thing, they are a lot cheaper than a laptop.
  • As Obi Wan would say: "This is not the droid you 're looking for."
  • I have had my eye on one since before they came out back earlier this year. They do have professional systems based on Linux as well as a developement kit in Python for all you OSS critters. There just isn't as large a market of people with Linux laptops as there are with windows. Frankly, It looks like a good first step to Usable hobby configurable robots. This thing just need to grow up a little -- and release a Linux version.
  • Honestly, it is a rip-off.

    Sure, it has some nice engineering, and it utilises a cool looking frame, and has some interesting software - but really, you could easily build one of these things cheaper from parts you could pick up at a Home Depot.

    Some angle alumininum (or steel), a couple of cordless drills (for drive motors), a couple of plastic casters, some plastic lawnmower wheels, and a few bolts - four DPDT relays from Radio Shack (or your favorite surplus supplier), a few transistors, some resistors, and diode (for coil flyback protection) - maybe a hex driver IC or whatnot - an old 386 or 486 laptop with parallel port, and a simple parallel port interface box (stuff the relays and whatnot inside) - that is all you need. If you shop judiciously, you could probably scam the whole thing together for under $200.00. Shop surplus, scrap, and junk parts - you could easily get it for under $100.00, or less.

    Need a camera? Drop a micro-ITX motherboard on the thing, and add a cheap USB camera.

    If you wanted to have the super-cool modular metal beams, those can be readily found online through metal suppliers (though they are pretty costly per foot) - but really, standard extruded aluminium pieces from Home Depot or a scrap metal yard will work just fine. There are plenty of resources on the internet on hooking up a PC to the motors (whether the motors are simple DC motors, or steppers like this device uses - and surplus stepper motors are everywhere - hell, pull them from an old printer), adding sensors of every sort, programming, etc. No need at all to spend $600.00, unless you just like throwing money at problems...

Remember, even if you win the rat race -- you're still a rat.

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