We've been watching the Robotis company and their Bioloid "Edutainment" robot kits for a while on the internet, so when we had the chance to actually enjoy the robots in person, and chat with staff from the Robotis home office, of course we jumped at the chance. We also took the time to put together a video clip showing three of the many different robots you can easily build using the kit (see video below).
Robotis had a small booth in the exhibitors section at the Robo-One 9 competition here in Tokyo, but didn't enter any of their robots in the actual event.
The Bioloid robot kits are based on a very interesting and flexible modular design. There are sensor, DC servo, and controller modules that connect to each other using Philips head screws and plastic brackets. The basic mechanical interconnect design reminded us a lot of the MicroBric educational robot kits from Australia, and in almost exactly the same way, you can connect and disconnect parts of your robot design using only a simple screwdriver.
With the Bioloid robot modules you can create quite a few
different robot designs including a simple droid, dog, dinosaur,
spider, and snake.
The basic sensor module (AX-S1) includes three-directional distance detection (using IR), three directional light sensing, IR signal reception and transmission, a programmable buzzer, and sound detection. For example, in the video you can see they have programmed the robot dog to respond to sound to perform its tricks.
The Bioloid "servos" (AX-12) are actually more like custom networked actuators than the standard servos you might be familar with. They feature adjustable compliance, speed control and temperature detection. The servo parameters can be both set and read under software control. Speed and torque is controllable in 1024 steps, and the servos are rated at 12Kgf.cm holding torque. The standard range of motion is 300 degrees, but there is an option for 360 degree rotation when you want to use them to drive a wheel. Each servo module also has an LED status display built in - a very nice touch.
The Bioloid robot 'brain' or controller (CM-5) is the driver for all the other modules. It has 128 Kbyte flash memory, 2 UART ports, and 6 control buttons. According to the Robotis staff at their booth, the CM-5 can also interface with 2 axis gyro modules, a "Zigbee like" (ZIG-100) wireless module, and an LCD display module. Their use of the term "Zigbee like" is echoed on the kits datasheet, and would probably be worthy of some additional research since it wasn't clear how compatible it might be with existing software and applications that use the Zigbee.
All of the modules are connected and communicate with each other using the Robotis multi-drop digital packet communications network. Basically, it's a daisy chain topology that really simplifies the robots wiring. This should be a great feature in a class room environment with an influx of new, novice students every semester. On the other hand, the closed, proprietary nature of the network is likely to frustrate more advanced experimentors and researchers that want to hack the robots.
Since all of their promotional material and information was only in English and Korean (Hangul), with no Japanese flyers available, it's highly likely that they attended the event to test the market rather than seriously try to sell here at this point. As a result, most of the response and attention they recieved seemed to come from the general public rather than the competition competitors and devoted Robo-One fans.
What's the 'official' Robots Dreams take on the Bioloid robot kit?
Frankly, we're still undecided. It would probably be an excellent choice for a classroom or club that wants to get people involved with robotics, or provide entry level to intermediate courses. Still, there are a lot of questions still to be answered, especially the quality of support that can be expected, parts availability, and whether or not the system is open enough to support custom development. Advanced experimentors and hackers will probably find the Bioloid design technically interesting, but frustrating if they want to do any extensive hardware and design modifications.
In any case, we would like to learn more about this exciting new robot kit, especially its software and application development tools.
http://www.robotis.com Robotis website