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A Fully Programmable Mobile Robot 86

paxmaniac writes "iRobot has announced Create: a new fully programmable mobile robot based on the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. People have been hacking the Roomba since the day it came out. Well, hacking just got a whole lot easier. A command module for the Create provides a programmable 8-bit Atmel micro controller, four DB-9 ports for your own sensors, and a number of sample programs that can be compiled and uploaded to the command module via USB. Botmag has more details and some cool applications. This looks like the perfect robotics platform for hobbyists, schools, and universities alike."
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A Fully Programmable Mobile Robot

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  • As neat as this is, I was sort of disappointed to find out it's a mobile disc like Roomba. I still have sci-fi dreams of androids and other human-like robots. Not to say this isn't cool or that I won't be buying one in a few years time when my kid is old enough for some father-son geek projects. But I still wanted it to be more human-like.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Go read about the "Uncanny Valley" - you may want to rethink that. Beyond a certain (and not very human-like) point, people get very uncomfortable (think of creepy trained chimps having a tea party...).

      People relate *much* better to not-particularly-human-like robots. Robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers are doing quite well these days here (eurozone), but I suspect if they looked anything like humanoid slaves, people would be a bit freaked out!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by eln ( 21727 )
      Get a TOPO []!

      I swear, every time I hear about movable robots, I think of the TOPO. We had one in my 2nd grade classroom, and you could either use the touchpad on his head to make him move or, even cooler, program several movements at once (including speech!) using an Apple II computer. Of course, it had no collision avoidance system at all, so while the idea was to get it to follow complex paths, the most common outcome was for it to execute 3 commands then run into a wall because you miscalculated the dist
    • So get more basic (Score:3, Informative)

      by iamlucky13 ( 795185 )
      They also sell just the command module seperately. Same for the power pack. From that you could build up your own device.

      I've been looking around for an affordable controller for a while that is a complete unit, but programmable, so I could build a custom chassis with quite a bit of versatility. This looks like it might fit the bill, although I'm still digging through the website trying to find information about the I/O. At $60 for the controller, it might be what I'm looking for.
      • try googleing basic stamp 2. Affordable microcontrollers have been around for a while.
        • You know...I figured they were out there, and I was just looking in the wrong places. Thanks for the tip, although I suspect these Stamp modules are a little simpler than I'm looking for. My interest is not so much in building the electrical interfaces as the mechanical parts. So if I can upload a program easily and just connect sensors, switches, and loads or relays directly to the I/O, I will be a happy person.
          • by ibbey ( 27873 )
            Also check out the Wiring Board [] MUCH more powerful then a Basic Stamp, programmable in either C or the C-like but somewhat simplified Wiring language, cross-platform, well supported, and Open Source. At $70 it's a bit more then a Basic Stamp, but you get a FAR more capable processor. (Disclaimer: I work for Maximum Robotics, but I would recommend the Wiring board either way. It's a great platform at a great price).
    • by Anonymous McCartneyf ( 1037584 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @07:42PM (#17531806) Homepage Journal
      Human-like robots are a nice dream, and I understand that people are still working on them.
      But there is an advantage to Roomba-type robots: they are cute.
      The same sci-fi that makes androids look plausible can make them look scary. If they clearly can do anything we can, and they have AI minds of their own, how do we know they won't turn on us? And if they look like persons, then we can easily imagine them acting like persons. We're not doing much toward Asimov's Three Laws yet--hey, even then there's a risk that a robot will discover the Zeroth Law and use it in ways we object to--so any true humanoid robot might feel risky.
      Roombas are attractive mobile discs. They clearly are functional; the ones that know how and when to go to their charging stations are getting smart. But they are small, they don't look scary, and they don't look like people. Hey, you can push most of them aside with your foot (obviously excluding the little disc lawnmower), and we haven't (yet) built one that can climb stairs or dares try. So people feel safe around them.
      If androids try to take over the world, humanity will be shooting them down or hitting their off switches quickly. If all the Roombas tried to take over the world, most of us humans won't even realize it at first, and we'll be very surprised when we do figure out what's going on.
  • realdoll (Score:2, Funny)

    by eneville ( 745111 )

    so... is this going to merge with the realdoll project?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by spun ( 1352 )
      Yes, you can now by flat, disc shaped RealDolls for your Roomba, which will no doubt thank you profusely. It also keeps the little bastards from hopping the fence into the neighbors yard in order to hook up with other Roombas or harassing the toaster when no Roomba companionship can be found. No one like to come home and find their vacuum cleaner humping the kitchen appliances.
      • No one like to come home and find their vacuum cleaner humping the kitchen appliances.

        Oh, I don't know. There might be a certain degree of humour to come home to some live-action appliance p0rn in my house.

        Though, the novelty might wear off before long, it's tough to say. :-P
  • really? (Score:4, Funny)

    by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @06:30PM (#17530626) Homepage
    This looks like the perfect robotics platform for hobbyists, schools, and universities alike.

    I thought that was the ED-209?
    1. Price. You can get a very complete little robot for $250, or you can get started for like $100 less. Pretty amazing.
    2. Durability. Roombas are designed to be abused because they are, after all, a household appliance. They can by their original design manage carpet quite well.

    They even have a little expandability, so that you can add more hardware to them. I think this device is a champ. Add a PDA with USB host capabilities and you've got a lot of power and reconfigurability, too.

    • Actually, if you have a PDA with serial capabilities (as the old Palms used to), you can access it that way.
      • Sure, but it's pretty hard to find a PDA with a serial port that actually has more processing power than the onboard AVR processor :D Okay, I'm not sure if I'm joking or not, I haven't looked up IPC on the dragonball and the atmega or anything. Still, it's hard to imagine that it would be immensely useful. There's probably other options for connectivity anyway, like CF cards that will give you some more useful interface.
  • One giant leap towards serious PC-like robotics. Robots won't get out of the factories and into our homes in any really big way unless they develop more platforms like this. Easy(ier) to customize, modular designs allow more people access to them, speeding up market acceptance, boosting industry innovation and generally benefit the field. Lego Mindstorms also comes to mind as a good trend.
  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @06:34PM (#17530718) Homepage
    I always thought that Lego Mindstorms [] was the "the perfect robotics platform for hobbyists, schools, and universities alike", especially after the release of their NXT kit.

    Hell, if you look here [], you can see that they've:

    * Released the source to the firmware, so people can write code right down to the metal.
    * Provided *hardware* schematics, so people can hack their own gear.
    * Fully opened the specs to the programming environment, bytecode, etc, on the shipped firmware.
    * Opened up the Bluetooth protocol used by the NXT firmware.

    Additionally, they've opened the doors to third party accessories [].

    Seriously, what can a hacked Roomba offer that's better than all that?
    • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @06:40PM (#17530828) Homepage Journal
      Seriously, what can a hacked Roomba offer that's better than all that?

      It's based on Atmel AVR, so you don't need help with programming environment, bytecode, etc. It's an AVR.

      Not only can you therefore write the code right down to the metal, but you have access to at least two fully supported languages (they will support C, atmel provides tools for asm as well and they're quite good) and it's an excellent processor to boot.

      NXT is very cool, and I want some a whole lot. But this has its place. Lego constructions are less sturdy than machines made with purpose-built components. On one hand, this device is less configurable than legos. On the other hand, this device is lighter, more powerful, and more durable.

      In other words, this doesn't supplant NXT. Arguably, you might find a case in which you would like to use them both together. you could also use the former mindstorms; AVR chips are good at providing you RS-232 and routines are typically provided for this purpose, so you could use the serial IR tower from mindstorms on your robot.

      • It's based on Atmel AVR, so you don't need help with programming environment, bytecode, etc. It's an AVR.

        So's the NXT brick. Check the website yourself if you like.

        Durability is an interesting point. But, to claim that makes the Roomba at all superior is, I think, rather shortsighted, as it's not *nearly* as flexible.
        • As per the subject, I was actually mistaken. The NXT contains both an Atmel ARM7 microcontroller and an Atmel AVR, so it's even more powerful than the Roomba.
          • by x2A ( 858210 )
            hahaha, robot wars!!!

            • by iocat ( 572367 )
              I'll take the iRobot machine vs. the Lego one. Lego brick-based robots are great, but iRobot makes robots that leap off stairs and don't slow down (their military-grade bots). My roomba has stood up to copious abuse. I still like the parallax or lynxmotion platforms, but this is super intriguing.
              • by x2A ( 858210 )
                "My roomba has stood up to copious abuse"

                You abuse your robot? Perhaps you'll be interested in a new chip I developed that lets your robot feel pain... or could wait for the one i'm working on at the moment, that lets it feel shame

                • by iocat ( 572367 )
                  "This is what happens to bad little robots that don't find their charging station!... [reaches for wire coathanger]"

                  Anyway... The Roomba has gone through a lot more wear and tear successfully than my Mindstorms 1 bots did.

      • by smorken ( 990019 )
        Not only RS-232, you can hook up some A/D to the AVR chip if you want to use analogue sensing parts :D This has alot more flexibility than the lego stuff, but requires a bit more know-how (or work) to get good results.
    • by lys1123 ( 461567 )
      How about 50% savings on price? The iRobot Create starts at $129.99. Lego Mindstorms on the other hand start at $249.99.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Abcd1234 ( 188840 )
        Sure, but, forgetting the obvious flexibility of a Mindstorms kit, it also comes with touch, light, and ultrasonic sensors, bluetooth capability, three servos, and and bunch of Technics pieces, plus the ability to use any other Technics kits you have. Not to mention new third party gear that will be coming around, such as HiTechnic's 3-axis accelerometer/tilt sensor.

        So sure, it's twice as expensive, but looking at it, it seems like a pretty good deal to me.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @06:53PM (#17531030)
      Agreed. The NXT is great. I've been doing some hacking to get Lejos running on NXT [] . This is now at alpha stage (code on sourceforge).

      Having the hardware specs (schematics etc) has been great. I started this effort before Lego released the firmware and have not used that.

      The NXT has a pretty grunt CPU and is capable of much more than a Roomba. Designing and adding 3rd party sensors is a breeze.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Abcd1234 ( 188840 )
        Designing and adding 3rd party sensors is a breeze.

        And it'll get even easier once Hitechnic [] releases their NXT Prototype board []. It's basically a breadboard with the I2C interface mounted and ready to go.
        • There are three ways to interface to the NXT.

          Analog(ue). Hook up something that looks like a potentiometer (eg. say an LDR or NTC).

          Something via I2C. You can use a Hitechnic proto board or make your own for approx $2 or so using a small micro like an Atmel ATTiny13 which costs less than a buck.

          Or, if you hack the NXT firmware, you can do just about anything you can think of using two digital lines and an analogue line.

    • by ganhawk ( 703420 )
      I like Lego Mindstroms, but recently I have been playing with Vex Robotics and its starter kit is good value for just $100. It is based on PIC and also includes RC controller. The pneumatic parts especially look interesting: s.shtml []
      • by ibbey ( 27873 )
        The Vex Starter kit is a great value for $100. Unfortunately, it's $300. Sure you may find it at your local Radio Shack on clearance at that price, but they are very few and far between by now. You can get a deal on eBay, but you're more likely looking at $150+. In addition, that price doesn't include the programming kit, so you're going to have to spend an additional $100, so you're back up to the $250 price of the Mindstorms NXT. For the price, you get about a quarter the number of usable pieces (the offi
    • The VEX robot kit [] is definitely worth a look for anyone wanting to experiment in robotic design, outside of the Lego-based options. It's sort of a "smart" erector set with loads of sensors and parts to choose from (including 3rd party customizations).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aralin ( 107264 )
      I love the platform, but I saw few of the robots that my nephew built and every single one of them had a little problem, like not strong hand grip or bad walk, that programming them with some really difficult tasks was just pointless. They would reach breakpoint in a first third of anything remotely complex.

      I wish there was a humanoid robot with all the sensors and the brick already built so we could just program it and know it will work and execute even a complex program without problems. That would really
  • There's Bluetooth for Roomba, and the Lego Mindstorms uses it too. How about some swarm tech that uses say, a single Perl module to control a mixed swarm of Mindstorm and Roomba devices?

    Better get the command security right, or robotwars will have a whole network battle raging among the clashing droids for control of all the marbles.
  • Daleks anyone? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by videoBuff ( 1043512 )
    Looks perfect for making daleks.
  • Slashdotters will either hack them to be pleasure models or killbots or both. Decisions, decisions!
  • The Parallax Boe-Bot kit [] and included book is a good kit for the beginner. The kit is about $150 USD.
    • I made one of these a few years ago, easy C-like programming and fun to build. I made it a line follower, but I was cheap and didn't have much stuff for it...
      • by airuck ( 300354 )
        After the initial fit of programming hardware configuration (and re-configuration) with my oldest child, ours sat on the shelf for many months. I just took it down to see if my younger daughter (7) would have any interest. She does, so off we go again.
    • That's great, but I'd prefer an AdrianBar Boe-Bot [] kit. You know, those things have the strength of five gorillas.
  • Hooking it up into the home automation system would be nice.
  • An 8 bit Atmel in 2007? This is definitely not Japan. Why can't they provide an ARM9?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You are obviously not acquainted with the Atmel. In fact I doubt you're acquainted with any microcontroller or why and where they're used by the way you talk. You want to put a 400MHz processor on this thing? Why? Simplicity is beauty. An ARM or any processor above 8 bits is simply overkill, too expensive, too complicated, and totally unnecessary. We're not doing bleedin object oriented programming here. 8 bit processors can do anything - USB, Ethernet, CAN, Bluetooth, Zigbee, RFID, you name it. If
  • Seriously, why would we want the crappy form factor and the plastic wheels that shred?
    Why not build it up from scratch, if they're not keeping its primary function?

    • Vacuuming is really a derivative function of a Roomba, as the Scooba attests (it washes floors -- there's still sucking involved, but the internals are way different). The Roomba platform is one way of solving the problem of moving over a variety of terrain with the ability to change direction nimbly and stay very stable. There's no reason a Roomba couldn't be, say, a courier-bot or a traction- (pull or push) bot with the right sensor suite.

      As for plastic wheels shredding, do you have a different Roomba

      • I have a Sage. For those of us with earlier models, the solution is to tape up the wheels so they don't wear. I didn't know they'd solved it with your model.
    • Plastic wheels that shred?
      I'd think that a Roomba that didn't vacuum would be less likely to have its wheels shred. The only problems I've had with the wheels of my pet Roombas were caused by things getting entangled around the driveshaft; if the Roomba isn't vacuuming, then presumably that sort of thing won't happen as much.
      It seems these new programmable Roombas have an extra wheel to better to support heavy things like robot arms, laundry baskets, or Dalek bodies. Would that make a difference in its
      • Well, the shredding happens on bare floors and stuff, mostly. The solution for people with old Roombas (mine's a Sage) is to tape them up with duct tape.
        You're right, though, if it didn't vacuum, the wheels would be less likely to get tangled up with hair. But you don't normally run the vacuum while you are playing with it as a robot, do you? :) My point was that the platform is the way it is mostly because of its original function. I'm glad they added another wheel, though.
  • by MrP- ( 45616 ) <jessica AT supjessica DOT com> on Tuesday January 09, 2007 @07:52PM (#17531960)
    Looked cool.. then I saw the hamster robot..

    I bought the $299 kit, I'm sooo building a hamster robot!

    Mine will have high power laser weapons though, it will destroy all of you!

    Now I have to buy a hamster.
  • They're called Microsoft Windows Users, better known as... Borg Drones!

    Star Trek! It's the new reality!

    Oh! You own a Zune? We feel for you, and we're here to support you! Apple just handed MSFT it's ASS, fresh from the fruit shredder!

    Long Live iPhone, and mobile technology done right!
  • One word: iGore.

    They only invited him to join the Board for reference data.

    Gives a whole new meaning to "think Gore will run in 2008?" And this time "The Kiss" will be more lifelike. :-)
  • by dino213b ( 949816 ) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:01AM (#17534628)
    In my experience, the biggest problem that's hindering development of anthropomorphic robots is lack of standardized parts, and their likelihood of being affordable. Most amateur robot builders start from the very scratch and work their way up and in this process find that, while they can themselves afford to take some shortcuts, many have to waste their budgets on what seems the silliest of things in the great scheme of things. In the end, the enthusiasm behind robot building ends up in the designer spreading themselves thin across the details of a project.

    For example, they might have wanted to create a robot that will locate a TV's well-used remote controller once everyone leaves the house, and put it on a designated area on the living room table and then plug themselves into the wall to recharge.

    This task is fairly easily defined in pseudo-code and by use of common sense, sensors can be used to simplify the execution of this task. The problem is, the designer would have to work on mechanical and electrical issues such as H-bridges for motors or motor controllers, instead of just software to make the robot do what it is supposed to. That spreads their patience thin and causes them to give up on the project at some point or settle for a quality they wanted to avoid in the first place.

    So.. as a good example, the DARPA challenge that took place a few years ago showed us what happens when you have to deal with both hardware (vehicles) and computers (software-figuratively speaking, I know it's technically hardware as well..). If my memory serves me correctly, a great deal of competitors ended up with disabled vehicles from purely mechanical reasons. Imagine what would have happened if all the competitors had the exact same vehicles in exact same conditions, exact same sensors, and were just left to develop software to guide it? I suspect the contest would have yielded better results.

    So the question is, how much of your time do you spend actually designing what the robot will do, and how much of your task do you deal with its hardware and how it will perform its tasks? In my humble opinion, I believe that the hardware development is causing a major slowdown in robotics. It would help if some affordable standardization existed.

    I would be more productive if I purchased a "blank mac-formatted robot" (ala Futurama) and spent my time writing software for it instead of working out on just how to make a 2KB PIC microcontroller communicate with 20 sensors and 10 actuators using one signal wire and I2C.

    Someone should fund me so I can start an open-source robotics project: to make geeks of the world unite in our struggle against physical labor!
    • by Stevyn ( 691306 )
      I designed a robot from scratch, although an off the shelf AVR microcontroller board was used. I agree with you that it would be great for hobbyists to plug in parts and just write some code to get them working, but that adds cost and waste. However, I2C is a great interface that makes adding components easy and lots of components support it. And what is so bad about mechanical and electrical issues? It's fun to learn this stuff if you're a geek. As for an open source robot, there are so many resources
    • Sounds like you read my mind! I 100% agree that there needs to standardisation, like in the computer industry. I have tried using 'Meccano' which is ok but very heavy. I was thinking of using polystyrene (as used by modelers) but its a bit too flexible. Looks like I'll have to build a wooden robot! (Strong, light and easy to work with) The electronics are not a problem, there are some good robotic modules available and I can design and build my own, and the software would depend on what processor I choose,
    • by glindsey ( 73730 )
      I have thought about this for a few years now. In fact, I was thinking about it on the way to work today! Last year I started to come up with some sort of standard for creating robotic modules -- both a physical standard, keeping most modules to the same form factor (so they could be stacked), and an electrical standard, designing a bus capable of carrying power (+5v/+12v/GND) and signals required to all of these modules. I wasn't looking at something super powerful -- probably a robot based off an Atmel
  • I can see myself and other programmers finally getting into robotics through the iRobot Create. Being a software programmer, I haven't had much experience with circuitry and hardware programming and thusly, haven't had much of a foothold in robotics to get seriously involved with them. With the Create kit (since the SDK is based in C/C++), I think this would be a great opportunity for us to easily get into robotics as a hobby. Exciting!
  • wars will be fought by hamsters. iRobot enhanced hamsters.
  • []

    Oh, we make the board he wants to control it with too :D
  • The DE-9 (9 pin D-shell connector) is a type of D-subminiature electrical connector most commonly used for the RS 232 serial port on the IBM AT and compatible computers. DB-9 is a common misnomer for the DE-9. (A true DB-9 connector would have 9 pins in a connector the shape and size of a DB-25, the other 16 pins would just be missing.) ( Wikipedia [])

    Seriously, do people even work on catching themselves on errors like this? I know that they sound quite the same, but we did, after all, decide to move to a sm

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.