There isn't much time left to prepare for RoboGames in June, and as we mentioned in our earlier Project R report, we really wanted to have a couple of different remote controls to use in competition. Both of our humanoid robots - Gulliver (KHR-1 with a RCB3) and Mondai-noid (MANOI AT01) - are entered in the humanoid events, and both of them work well with the stock Kondo KRC-1 remote control. But the crowded venue is going to be packed with hundreds of different robots using a wide range of remotes, so we really wanted to have a reliable alternative.
Thankfully, quite a few of the humanoid builders we know, including several of the top ROBO-ONE competitors, have started using a PS2 game pad controller with the TEC-1 board, a special interface kit developed by HotProceed here in Japan.
We wanted something that was simple, straightforward, and easy to implement. There were lots of alternatives available, including Bluetooth implementations, Zigbee, and other much more complex solutions.
Unfortunately, most of them required a level of familiarity with the communication protocols that concerned us. Later, when we have more time, we'll probably go back and explore some of those solutions, especially since they offer bidirectional communication with the robot.
But, our immediate need was pretty basic. We just wanted to be able to control our robots in competition. Bidirectional comms, and the complexity that entails, could wait a bit.
Gulliver (left) started off life as a stock KHR-1 humanoid robot, but has recently been upgraded to use the latest RCB3 controller board. His overall performance and programmability has improved considerably. Without any mechanical, structural, or servo changes, his movements are much smoother and lifelike because of the 3x improvement in resolution. We've also given Gulliver a new pair of 'shoes' which work much better than the original flat aluminum plates he was born with.
Mondai-Noid is one of the first monitor (beta release) MANOI AT01 humanoid robots from Kyosho. At the moment he's 'brainless' since we've pulled his controller board out for upgrading to the latest firmware release, and have some other exciting mods in the works for him.
The stock KRC-1 we've been using with Mondai-Noid works fine for competitions here in Japan. But, given the electrically noisy environment we'll be faced with at RoboGames in San Francisco, we didn't want to have all of our eggs in one basket. A few other concerns were that the KRC-1 uses crystal controlled channels, so at events here it's not uncommon to have to swap crystals to avoid interference. For example, back in January we were setting up Mondai-Noid to play robot soccer at the Robo Spot facility when suddenly he started to jump around in our hands. We were so startled that we almost dropped him. It turned out that Dr. GIY, who happened to have the bench directly behind us, was on the same channel, so we changed Mondai-Noid's crystal. We can do that easily here in Tokyo, but 5,000 miles away in San Francisco, we're not going to have that option.
The perfect alternative - easily available, and with a natural look and feel, would be the Playstation PS2 game pad controller. It's cheap - around $30-40 depending on the manufacturer and model, and replacements are as near as the local department, game, or electronics shop.
For our purposes, since we didn't want to dig deeply into the comms challenges, we picked a wireless model PS2 controller sold by Logicool - the brand name used by Logitech here in Japan. To handle the interface between the wireless module and the robots onboard RCB3 controller, we decided on the TEC-1 kit developed by Yusuke Yumae at HotProceed. The design uses a custom programmed IC to convert signals from the PS2 game pad into codes for the RCB3, RCB1, or other similar robot control boards.
The kit came with all the required parts, including the IC socket and a connector for the cable to the RCB3. The Japanese instructions provided were quite detailed covering the board assembly and setup codes for use with the robot. It does require basic soldering skills to assemble, but took us less than an hour to complete.
Our biggest challenge? Strangely enough, it turned out to be locating a mating connector for the PS2 control. We spent a while searching through used parts (junk) bins on the back streets in Akihabara trying to find some connectors to 'liberate.' Finally, we discovered a dual PS2 to USB board that turned out to be perfect, especially since it only cost us a few dollars.
The junk board had lots of parts, but all we wanted were the two special connectors. A few minutes with a screwdriver, pair of pliers, and soldering iron, and we had what we needed for both of our robots.
One of our two 'treasures'. Even here in Akihabara the PS2 connectors aren't sold as separate items, probably because of licensing restrictions from Sony.
Installation in Gulliver was dead simple since his back pack has lots of empty space left over from the dual RCB1 -> RCB3 conversion. Initially we used double sided tape for mounting, though we will probably improve on that before the competition. We haven't decided on the mounting in Mondai-Noid yet - probably a head mount since we've seen several other builders mount the board successfully in that configuration.
"Cheng Long", Yumae's ROBO-ONE competition robot used the TEC-1 board for its battle against King Kizer Jr. during the ROBO-ONE 11 competition here in Tokyo last month.
Sugiura-san also used the TEC-1 board for Dynamizer-3, another top competitor at the ROBO-ONE 11 event. Initially he mounted the TEC-1 board and PS2 wireless receiver module in Dynamizer's head, but is now in the process of relocating it to the hip section of the robot as a part of some other design modifications.
Would we recommend this approach to others? Yes, definitely. It does require some familiarity with basic electronic kit construction. The instructions for our kit were in Japanese but were pretty easy to figure out even if you don't understand the language. For that matter, HotProceed might be encouraged to release an English version if they heard that customers are interested.
The interface has been tested with both the Kondo RCB1 an d RCB3 controller boards, and with a variety of PS2 controllers. It's also possible that it might work with other manufacturers robots and controllers, but hasn't been tested at this point.
TEC-1 Board - HotProceed Website (Japanese)
HotProceed TEC-1 Promotional Video (Japanese)
HotProceed Website (Japanese)
Dynamizer Website (Japanese)