Robot control interfaces usually suck. The buttons and functions are laid out in a way that makes sense to the original designer, but are often cryptic, hard to understand and get used to, and almost never intuitive. But, one of the really nice things about robot hacking is that you can fix that problem and change the GUI to something better that really feels right to you. The MECH Puppeteer program developed by Matt Bauer for the Robonova-1 is an excellent example.
As robot complexity increases, the typical robot remote control starts to become a user nightmare. For example, the control functions for a basic robot are fairly limited - go, stop, turn right, turn left, reverse, etc. They can usually be mapped into a few keys on a standard television type remote control.
Move to the next level, say something on the order of the first Robosapien robot, and you have around 60 distinct functions or movements to control. This is usually done with a set of command keys or modes - the original Robosapien robot has three separate operational modes to deal with the problem.
The next level up, and the number of functions becomes almost unmanageable using a normal remote control. The modes and control sequences for the Robosapien V2 robot are so involved and complex that dedicated fans of the robot have joked about having to have the sequence matrix permanently tatoo'ed on their forearms.
There has to be a better way, especially if robots are going to penetrate more of the mass market, even if it's only the hobbyist segment of the mass market. Version 1.01b of MECH Puppeteer is a good example of what can be accomplished, and is extremely encouraging.
Matt is one of those rare individuals that enjoys working across the traditional boundaries. He has very strong technical skills and a passion for robotics, but at the same time he has a real talent as an artist and also wants to teach.
All three of Matt's interests and skills are very apparent in the way that he has designed and implemented MECH Puppeteer. He was looking for a better way to control his Robonova-1 robot, and a visually keyed GUI turned out to be an excellent solution.
MATT: "I wrote this program to give an operator a visual format for which to control the Robonova-1. The program itself didn't take long to write, but the graphics kinda' did. So please, mind the fact that I made each one. You can use them outside this application for your own programs, but I insist that you ask first."
Matt's even gone to the trouble of graying out the icons when the
comm port is closed so it's really easy to know the status all the time.
Where does Matt see this going in the future?
MATT: "Like I said, it's a start. In the future releases I plan on having a compiler, RX, sensor decoding, error handling, and other such goodies. Any advise, comments, or suggestions are more than welcome, so dish away! I made this as a predecessor to a combat platform that's next on the agenda."
Of course, we have lots of ideas and suggestions for Matt, and we expect you will too. We'll post more about this, and other related projects, again soon. But in the meantime, feel free to visit Matt's website, check out MECH Puppeteer, and give him the benefit of your feedback and experience. And, if you're working on something similar, we'd love to hear about it.