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Do-It-Yourself Robotics 90

PreacherTom writes "Imagine Legos and Erector Sets on crack. The fruit of a collaboration between Lego and the MIT Media Lab, the Toronto-based startup Playful Invention Company is offering the PicoCricket, "a kit of parts that can be used to build an infinite variety of robotic inventions. The kit contains an assortment of pom poms, pipe cleaners, and other craft materials reminiscent of a summer camp art period. It also includes a collection of Lego bricks and electronics: the Cricket "brain" and a motor, colored lights and a soundbox, a digital display, and an infrared beamer that allows the Cricket to communicate with a PC on which kids write the programs that control their invention's behavior. Perhaps the most important parts in the Cricket kit are the four sensors, which detect light, sound, touch, and electrical resistance. "It was lots of fun making things and controlling their action," says Grover Venkatasubramaniam (age 10). "The most fun was programming the robots. It felt like giving life to lifeless bodies.""
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Do-It-Yourself Robotics

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  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:16PM (#16056886) Journal
    The kit contains an assortment of pom poms, pipe cleaners, and other craft materials reminiscent of a summer camp art period.

    This one time at summer camp, I built a cheerleader robot.
  • I wish (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Eightyford ( 893696 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:18PM (#16056895) Homepage
    I wish I had this when I was a kid. Robotics is what got me interested in programming in the first place and I'm sure I'm not the only one. It's one thing to see "hello world" on a computer screen, but programming a "light seeking" or other simple robot can really get the imagination going.
    • But did you see the pictures? They made this with their fathers, so I wonder how much the kid will get to play with it :)

      Actually I do wonder how easily programmable this is for a 10-year old, as it apparently can do quite fancy stuff (shoe with leds in them, where the colors of leds that light up depend on the speed with which you walk). I don't know any of the lego sets, so I have really no clue how child-friendly they are. Anyone can give me an update on this?

    • If you really want to do some programming of a robot, then Mindstorms is a lot better than this dopey toy. Mindstorms is easy to get going with, yet has significant depth and you can keep learning..... Hit the wall of the Mindstorms UI and you can add Lejos or similar and go to a whole new level of complexity.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by timeOday ( 582209 )
        Mindstorms are cool, but I was disappointed by the new version because it's still limited to a fixed, relatively small number of sensors and actuators per control module. I was really hoping for a bus-based architecture, where you could daisychain almost an arbitrary number of sensors and actuators, and address them individually in the code.
        • Mindstorms are cool, but I was disappointed by the new version because it's still limited to a fixed, relatively small number of sensors and actuators per control module.

          Actually [bnxt.com], as described in the NXT HDK documentation [lego.com] (this link is a download), all sensor ports can act as I2C controllers and sensor port #4 also provides an RS485 bus. The I2C capability is currently utilized by the ultrasonic sensor as well as aftermarket sensors by HiTechnic [hitechnic.com] and MindSensors [mindsensors.com]. The RS485 capability is not currently use

          • Interesting. Does that mean you can currently plug in and write software to access a large number of sensors? According to your first link, the RS485 hardware could do that, but it isn't supported by the firmware. I also hope there will soon be a java interpreter etc. for NXT. Then again, maybe it would be better just to use the bluetooth to send sensor readings and receive actuator commands, and put all the control logic on a laptop.
            • I read it as direct communication with devices on the RS485 bus is currently supported, but P-Net (an application layer network protocol for RS485 and similar transport layers) is not.

              As for bluetooth, I don't want to rely on it too much. Someone starts making lunch with a microwave or using a mobile phone nearby and everything starts crapping out...

              Regards,
              Ross
      • by jlarocco ( 851450 ) on Thursday September 07, 2006 @02:12AM (#16057790) Homepage

        Mindstorms are pretty cool, but these [lynxmotion.com] are completely awesome. The only downside is they're a bit more expensive than Mindstorm.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by phaggood ( 690955 )
      > wish I had this as a kid

      Don't get me started on what I wish they had when *I* was a kid - cheap computers (the Atari 800 w/ magnetic storage was nearly $2000!!) cheap-assed web cams, cheap movie editing software (buddy and I were going to make our own stop-action "Aliens" with action figures - developing the b/w 8mm film was going to be about $200) high speed internet, big-assed hard drives (paid over $1000 for a 5MB HD in my 20's) cheap blank CDs and DVDs, cheap or free web development tools, free p
      • actually, i'd like to object to that. i know quite a few kids (including myself, depending on your definition of "kid") who would use their computers for all kinds of creative stuff if given good reason to do so.
  • Instead of The kit contains an assortment of pom poms, pipe cleaners, and other craft materials reminiscent of a summer camp art period, I read The kit contains an assortment of porn porns, "pipe cleaners", and other craft materials reminiscent of a summer camp orgy period.

    I am sorry.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:35PM (#16056954)
    "The most fun was programming the robots. It felt like giving life to lifeless bodies.""

    Maybe he could get that job with Stephen Hawking...
    • by jm007 ( 746228 )
      That was good for an out-loud chuckle....
      ... worth the high karma price
    • by ColaMan ( 37550 )
      I hope that quote was lost in translation somewhere.

      When a 10 year old kid starts saying things like, "It felt like giving life to lifeless bodies." , it's time to take a step back. When he says something like that, it implies he gives life to lifeless bodies every day. ....ooooooh! Creepy....

      You know after he said that to the news guy, he's thinking to himself, "Yes, foolish interviewer, I will take your soul and animate your shattered corpse to join my army of the UNDEAD!!! Mwahahhahah!"
  • by dualmoo ( 997181 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:35PM (#16056956)
    we'll be able to clean up the internet and its tubes !
  • by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:37PM (#16056967) Homepage
    And it's really cool. Here's the description from the official website: http://www.picocricket.com/whatisit.html [picocricket.com]

    Flash-heavy site though.

  • Droids (Score:5, Funny)

    by EMeta ( 860558 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:43PM (#16056984)
    I just don't know... I still don't think these are the droids I'm looking for.
  • Kit robotics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kell Bengal ( 711123 )
    I've always been skeptical of kit robotics. I'm a robotics post-grad student so perhaps I'm spoiled by some of the gear I get to play with, but I've always found that robot kits seem kinda wimpy and limited. I'm so tired of seeing line followers and edge follower robots. Lego mindstorms was a step in the right direction - giving you a platform that can be used to make some truly interesting applications, but I still bemoan the underpowered motors they provide. One day I'd like to make and sell a robot k
    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @11:24PM (#16057315) Homepage

      There's real progress in kit robotics, but you have to be willing to pay roughly the price of a PS3 for it. See Lynxmotion [lynxmotion.com] and Hitec Robotics [hitecrobotics.com].

      Among other things, you can finally get stock R/C type servos with a digital interface providing position and torque feedback. That's a huge step up - you're no longer stuck with blind position control; you can do force control and software-implemented compliance, like Brooks' insects from a decade ago. The actuator hardware is now available.

      Sensing is improving, but a 6DOF INS is still rare on kit robots. That's purely a volume problem; accelerometer and gyro chips are cheap, but the systems haven't come down enough yet. We're starting to see rate gyros in kit robots; adding a rate gyro to an R/C biped makes the thing much more stable.

      The software used to drive hobbyist robots tends to be way behind the state of the art, but that will get fixed as more people read the papers and write code. The next few years are going to be interesting.

      • In our household I think I can get that cool robotic arm from Lynxmotion approved for purchase. Should be a great learning experience for the kids. I can hear them now - "Dad can I try it now"?...
  • The most fun was programming the robots. It felt like giving life to lifeless bodies.

    Thus spoke J.F. Sebastian. At least Blade Runner remains under budget and ahead of schedule.

  • Other Robot Kits (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Wednesday September 06, 2006 @09:47PM (#16057002)
    So far, the Radio Shack/FIRST VEX robotics kits [radioshack.com] seem to be the most interesting pre-fab robotics kits next to the older Lego MindStorms kits. There are numerous sites that carry add-on parts (sensors, timing gears, etc...) for the VEX kits, as well as the long awaited programming module.

    Of course, if you'd rather go the old-school route, you could go looking for Capsela sets and try hacking together a few custom bubble modules to give it some intelligence.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The best lego kit for the money is the XBC Robot Starter Kit [botballstore.org]. Its a little rough around the edges, and the documentation could be *way* better, but the XBC is wicked :-)

  • ...not "Legos" [wikipedia.org]!
    • Actually they're (not singular "it's") "LEGO bricks" [lego.com], not "LEGOs" or "LEGO." That doesn't keep me from calling them LEGOs, though. It's just that if your going to be a pedantic asshole, you might as well be a correct pedantic asshole.
  • I wonder if I can convince my wife that my 3 year old son needs this $250 toy to stay ahead of the curve... :-D

    • Let me know how you accomplish this...I have been trying to convince my wife to let "my 6 year old" have a set of Mindstorm or something and she still isn't buying it. She says we need to focus on things like reading...come on already, reading isn't useful or anything, robotics is the wave of the future. Who needs reading when he can do robotics!
    • by cwgmpls ( 853876 )

      I agree. I'm afraid at $250 a pop, this will only be available to rich kids. Which is fine as far as it goes, I'm just wondering what the other 90% of kids can have to play with. At least you can pick up LEGO mindstorms set pretty cheap at brinklink [brinklink.com].

      I wonder what other options are out there for good, low-cost robotics toys?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Erector Sets on crack ...I can see the spam now,... yes...

    -m10
    • I thought the same thing; if it's "Legos and Erector Sets on crack", then do they lay around the house all day in a state of induced ehphoria (until they need their next "fix", at which time they rampage around looking for it)? Personally, I'd rather my Legos and Erector Sets look unnaturally "pumped" and be a little too "agressive" for most people's taste (though I can do without them having that "forehead bulge" and I'll pass on the liver damage...) *sigh* I guess everything has its tradeoffs...
  • I need a Walking Eye. I've got some walking eye stuff that needs to get done and currently nothing to do it. I was thinking about bulding a 1/6th scale walking eye and working my way up, so smaller actuators would be fine for this revision. A few hundred bucks would be a small price to pay for my very own walking eye! I just need to find a good supplier for the iris mounted lasers and the camera. Of course, the walking eye features a stealth design, making it perfect for reconnisance type operations!
    • Dr. Venture wants his unfunny joke back.
      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        It was hysterical and after I saw that I decided I just had to have a walking eye! That was like the best episode of the season, though I think Ghosts of Sungrasso is still the best overall episode.
  • Interesting but hasn't this been done before. I forget what the kits were called, but it was basically the same thing - maybe a bit less rugged. Please join our new tech discussion forum at www.NewToTech.com our community is very small right now, help us grow
  • ...because if I did, I'd never have noticed girls! Robots are just that damn cool!
    • Wisecrack alert...

      ...because if I did, I'd never have noticed girls! Robots are just that damn cool!

      Based on what I've seen from similar posts like this from other people, you're fibbing. Slashdotters never have anything to do with girls... that is unless they are girls.

      If this post offends you, feel free to do one (or more) of the following:
      1 - :1,$s/girls/{women|boys|men|opposite sex}
      2 - Start your own Ask Slashdot question about how this bothers you and how you had problems as a child.
      3 - Go
  • by owlnation ( 858981 ) on Thursday September 07, 2006 @03:51AM (#16057979)
    ...says Grover Venkatasubramaniam (age 10). "The most fun was programming the robots. It felt like giving life to lifeless bodies
    ....It's pronounced "Fronkensteen"
  • What!? (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 )
    "The kit contains an assortment of pom poms, pipe cleaners, and other craft materials reminiscent of a summer camp "

    Porn porns? What!? Ohh... POM POMs. Damn this Bitstream Vera font.
  • The pom poms are so that my death robot can cheer as it kills you.
  • I once worked for a company that was using the mindstorm software to run a real live production bot stamping sheetmetal parts for cars... It never worked right.. lol What do you expect for "toy" software and a windows machine that skips a clock cycle on sync motors... I quit that job... Jack-legg ppl....
  • This kit has nothing over Vex robotics unfortunately. I find it rather sad that a group of MIT kids came up with this one. It says nothing positive for the MIT crowd. If you need to make a cute looking robot, you should buy the decor you need at a craft shop instead of being given an inadequate robotics kit with some flowery design elements you can add to it.
  • like these [wikipedia.org]? What's it for? if you want to build your own terminator or something?
  • Do-It-Yourself Robotics? Isn't the whole idea behind robots to have them do things for us?

    What's next? The backtalking robot? The unionized robot?
  • Infrared beamer? Don't they realize that has already been pretty well tested with LEGO Mindstorms 1.0-2.5 and it really stinks? Tell your robot to turn around away from the transmitter, whoops! no more signal!

    I much prefer using the Bluetooth of LEGO Mindstorms NXT. That's basically the most important element of the system which makes my web-controllable wireless robot ( http://turbogfx.homelinux.org/legocam [homelinux.org] ) possible.

    Which, by the way, after I spent $91 on 4 500mAh rechargeable 9V's + charger for the wire

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