The year was 1999. In Japan, Sony was just launching Aibo. On the opposite side of the world and without the massive resources of a Sony to support them, a small group of passionate robot developers began a project that would result in the creation of another amazing robot animal - GUPI. Filip Verhaeghe, the founder of Robonetics, the company that developed GUPI, tells the story behind the robots development, including all the challenges they faced to make it a reality.
Filip, who publishes the popular BNXT.com weblog totally devoted to the Lego Mindstorms NXT robotics system, has not only posted a lengthy and very enlightening history of the GUPI robot development, he’s also included photos and video clips that show how the robot evolved over the life of the project.
Keep in mind that the technology his group had to work with at the time was much more limited compared to what we have available today. For example, they had to design and fabricate custom processor control boards, and develop a lot of the software tools they needed. As Filip explains:
“As it turns out, the time for robotics was still early. We had to develop our own electronics, which we called RPUs (Robot Processor Units). The name was inspired by the Graphical Processing Unit on your graphical card. We hoped that a generic processor combined with an RPU would provide a great robot software platform. However, for Gupi, there was no production budget for a generic processor. We needed a single chip solution, and so we built the RPU RS100. The RS100 allowed us to execute the complete software.”
Cute doesn’t begin to describe the GUPI robot. It was cute,
cuddly, and responded to attention almost like the real thing.
The name GUPI, in case you haven’t already figured it out, came from GUinea PIg, which turned out to be a much better choice than the project code name - R2, which stood for RoboRat.
The Robonetics group responsible for creating
the GUPI robot among others.
The AI features built into GUPI were really state of the art for the time. Unfortunately a few of the advanced features didn’t make it into the version that eventually made it’s way onto store shelves.
Left: Robots don’t complain if you plug things into them.
Center: The original GUPI design actually had little feet instead of wheels.
Right: Every self respecting guinea pig has to have a home.
Here’s just one of the interesting video clips taken during the robot’s development:
GUPI as a commercial product, like Aibo, has reached the end of it’s life. But, thanks to Filip, the spirit of GUPI lives on. Filip has committed to publishing a whole series of articles on BNXT.com documenting the creation of a NXT version of the robot. Be sure to check out his weblog for all the history on GUPI and follow along as the next (NXT) generation GUPI is born.
Gupi - How It Started BNXT.com weblog