Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spiderwheels: a step in the right direction...

If you've read some of my other blogs you will know that I have been attempting to get into robotics since I graduated college in 2008. This journey lead me to create my own 3d printer with help from the RepRap team. Though I am still working to improve the quality and speed of my prints I have passed the point where it requires intellectual work. I must move on. With what I currently know about robotics (which isn't a whole lot) I've put together an idea for my first robot. This project should sharpen my abilities in writing c / c++ applications under Linux. It should give me an introduction into streaming image processing, skin detection, face detection, and potentially face recognition. It will also be a good project for getting experience using micro-controllers, and servos. Finally, and I'm not 100% sure on this, it may be a good platform for starting an open-source project.

Now that I've laid out all of these very lofty goals let me step back and describe the project that I have envisioned and where it came from.

Every interesting robot has the following characteristics:

  • sensors

  • a brain

  • interaction

In terms of hardware this implies processing power, motors, camera... among other things. I've spent quite some time thinking through the best platform for my first robot when I stumbled across the following:

Above is a picture of an MSI Wind U100-420US Netbook. The amazing thing about a Wind is it weighs 2 lbs and can be purchased off the shelf for under $300. I was fortunate enough to find one on ebay for under $200. Built into this machine is a 1+ hr power supply, 1.6Ghrz processor, 1.3Mpix webcam, mic, speakers, wifi, and a 10 inch screen. Thus, this machine alone can supply a large amount of portable computing power, vision, hearing, speaking, wireless communication, and visual expression. The only gaping hole between this machine and an interesting robot is interaction. This is where my new friend the adruino microcontroller comes in.

This micro-controller is opensource and inexpensive. It is also really easy to program. I know of it because it is the brain for the Reprap. Micro-controllers, among other things, can tell servo motors what to do. A few lines of C, and a bunch of these

and you can have pretty cool interaction. My end goal is to build a six legged spider with these parts, but the servos alone cost $30 a piece. Considering three are needed per leg your are looking at a bit of saving up. I am going to start with only two legs and some wheels.

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