In this series of posts, we're going to document our experience building, aligning, and testing one of the most popular ROBO-ONE robots, the Kondo KHR-1. If we were really organized, we would start at the beginning and proceed directly to the end. But, we're not that organized, so we've decided to post our thoughts and notes in a semi-random fashion in the order in which they occur to us. Organization will come later, when we get around to writing the book. . .
First, we should make it clear that we happen to live in Japan, and are semi-fluent in the Japanese language. Semi-fluent basically means that we have managed to survive (and thrive) here for a couple of decades, can decypher technical manuals and documents with reasonable accuracy (we haven't blown anything up yet), and most important- we're not embarassed to play the fool by asking questions when we don't understand something.
All of our computers run the Japanese version of Windows XP, and we normally work from the Japanese documents and versions of the application software. The reason we mention this up front is that you may find some minor (hopefully minor, not major) differences between the KHR-1 robot kit and software that we built and the one provided overseas.
Deciding which robot kit to purchase took a long time. We seriously considered kits from over 10 different manufacturers, including the Kondo KHR-1, Hitec Robonova-1, Pirkus, RB-1000, Bioloid, and several others that aren’t marketed outside of Japan. Each kit had its own set of strengths, and weaknesses, so we did a lot of soul searching trying to determine up front what we really expected from our ‘investment’ in robotics.
Spending $1,000 for a robot kit, then
damaging it because you didn’t use
good tools is a waste of time and money.
Get good tools. You’re going to be
using them a lot.
Like many of the ROBO-ONE competitors, we were really draw to the concept of a robot as an avatar. We wanted something we could expand, build onto, show our own creativity with. That includes many of the technical aspects, like adding sensors and modifying programs to try and create more autonomous behaviors.
At the same time, we really wanted to create a robot as a platform for artistic expression. It may come as some what of a surprise to people outside of Japan, but honestly, most of the Japanese ROBO-ONE robot competitors are heavily into creating robot avatars rather than boxing machines. In many ways, they are closer to artisans than engineers.
We also put a high priority on whether or not a kit could be expanded in the future, what kind of options were available, and whether or not we thought the manufacturer had a chance of being around three or four years down the road. We didn’t want to invest all of our time and money in a particular robot platform only to find out a couple of years later that there was no support because the company had gone bankrupt.
By the way, we don’t use the term ‘investment’ lightly. The cheapest kit starts around USD$1,000 and some of them easily top double that price. Keep in mind that the kit price is only the beginning. If you plan to do any serious work (or play) with one of these robots you’ll definitely need other accessories like a quick battery charger, power screwdriver, power supply, etc.
The kit assembly is very modular and
fairly easy to understand. There are a
few “gottcha’s” though. For example,
we didn’t realize we had the foot plate
on backwards at this point in the process.
In the end we narrowed our choices down to the KHR-1 and the Robonova-1 robot kits. Deciding between the two was difficult, but we finally picked the KHR-1 because of the larger number of hardware, controller, and software options, including some from third parties; the large established user knowledge base; and the fact that so many of ROBO-ONE robots are already based on the KHR-1 kit.
Although we know that some of the Robonova-1’s appeal comes from its external appearance, we didn’t really give that aspect high marks since we plan to create our own robot skins and personality. We tend to think of our robot more like a custom hot-rod than an off the dealer floor standard model.
It’s finally starting to look like a robot!
Just to get to this point took several
hours, and hundreds of screws.
We also "invested" in a two day training course taught by Nakagawa-san, the founder of RT Corporation in Akihabara. Although we didn't make any fatal mistakes during the robot assembly, and probably could have managed okay without it, in the end we felt the course was invaluable. We learned so many tips and techniques, saved so much time, and avoided so much confusion, that we are extremely grateful for Nakagawa-san's guidance and support. The course is available in English, by the way.
We’ll come back to cover more of the details and specifics in later posts, but for now we’re going to fast forward to the afternoon of the second day when we had our new robot up and running (well, walking) and started to create some movement sequences and scenarios.
Only an hour old, and he’s already
developing a personality.
Nakagawa-san, like all good teachers, was a tough taskmaster. She kept pushing us to do more, and wasn’t surprised at all when we managed to live up to her demanding standards. Had we put the robot together by ourselves at home, we’re sure we would have stopped in awe when the robot first started operating. We probably would have been very content to have it run through the pre-programming routines supplied by Kondo that have it walking, doing push-ups, and turning cartwheels.
But, Nakagawa-san wouldn’t let us rest on our laurels. She wanted to make sure that we felt comfortable creating new, original poses, movement sequences and scenarios of our own design. So, here is our final ‘class project’:
Pretty cool. Even cooler is the fact that now we have the confidence to go ahead and create more, and to express ourselves with this great new mobile artist’s platform. Who knows, we may even have the courage to enter the KHR-1 Second Anniversary Competition next month here in Tokyo.
http://www.rt-net.jp RT Corporation: Robot kits, training, and accessories
http://www.kondo-robot.com Kondo Robot website