At the RobotWorld exhibition in Seoul Korea this week, Robotis featured what may turn out to be a major revolution in popular robot experimentation and creation.
For quite a few years the company has had its eye on the worldwide maker movement, and has actively participated in maker fair of events in several different countries. While they were exhibiting their commercial line of robot kits, servos, and controllers at some of the events, they also had their ear to ground and actively engaged with all the visitors and makers.
Although people were extremely impressed by the capabilities and performance of their professional grade robot systems, they were also put off by the level of sophistication required, and the pricing. Robotis carefully studied their needs, and spent more than two years developing a totally new approach that the company believes will be welcomed with enthusiasm by the maker community.
At RobotWorld we were able to talk directly with both the company’s technical and marketing staff to get an inside view of the new products and what their impact might be on the market.
Robotis had a presence at many major robot conferences, exhibitions, and competitions, like RoboGames, over the years, and had succeeded in having their technology adopted by major universities, R&D centers, and high-end robot hobbyists involved in humanoid robotics. While they were quite successful, they also realized that in many respects they were “preaching to the choir” – meaning that most of their customers were already actively involved in robotics.
The new ROBOTIS product lineup extends smoothly from entry level exploration kits targeted at pre-schoolers and lower elementary school age, up through the higher grades including high school, college, and professional use.
Around 2011 Jinwook Kim, who was responsible for Robotis marketing in the United States at that time, was exposed to the maker movement by some users and attended his first Maker Faire, primarily out of curiosity. It didn’t take long before he realized how massive both the Maker and the Open Hardware Movement were rapidly becoming. It took some hard work, but he was slowly able to convince the company management and product development of the tremendous potential represented by the adoption of open hardware in the hobby, education, and professional sectors.
The Robotis strategy is very simple, focused, and eloquent. They decided to create a direct progression of logically connected products, starting at the low end with an Arduino compatible low-cost controller and servo offering that extends to higher-end professional grade robot systems.
Their key OpenCM themes are “low-cost”, “open source”, “convenient”, and “expandable”.
The OpenCM product line starts with an extremely attractive Arduino like controller board specifically designed for robot use, the OpenCM–9.04.
OpenCM-9.04 Controller Specifications:
72Mhz ARM Cortex-M3 core
5V-16V (Depends on DXLs)
3 x USART
10 x 12 bit ADC Channels
12 x 16 bit Timer
1 x CAN (2.0B Active)
2 x I2C(SMBus/PMBus)
2 x SPI(18Mbit/s)
USB 2.0 Full-speed
2 Watchdog timers
JTAG (SWD Only)
Ext. ADC Ref Selection (up to 5V)
4 x 3Pin DYNAMIXEL TTL Bus
The OpenCM-9.04 controller is completely open source. All of hardware and software is completely disclosed and available for users to modify and expand. The controller board schematic and layout will be available in Eagle format on github. The software is also available on github, including the Bootloader, Core–library, Processing–core, and Processing–head.
In a significant shift from previous designs, the board implements 100 mil header pitch compliant with US standards. It includes a three pin connector to control ROBOTIS Dynamixel servos using TTL communication. There is also a JTAG / SWD terminal that can be used run commercial development programs.
The ROBOTIS OpenCM software IDE enables users to create programs the same way that they are used to with Arduino boards and also program in C/C++. And, the software is supported across Windows, Mac, and Linux – something that’s expected in the maker community but has been all too rare in the robot world in the past. Sample libraries are provided supporting Dynamixel servo control.
The most surprising thing about this new controller is its price. The company expects it to sell worldwide for approximately USD$10.
Dynamixel XL-320 Servo
A high-performance low-cost controller board is impressive enough by itself, but what really makes the Robotis OpenCM initiative exciting is the introduction of the new Dynamixel XL-320 servo. The new servo, featuring the quality and high performance that ROBOTIS has become known for, is expected to sell for less than USD$30 and will enable users to easily create cost-effective robot designs – anywhere from simple actuators up to completely functional humanoid robots at an affordable price. This has the potential to be truly groundbreaking – triggering a real revolution in low-cost robotics.
In the past, servo cost has always been that the determining factor in the cost of a total robot design. And, the situation has gotten worse as the number of servos for particular robot increases in number.
That’s why most of the commonly available humanoid robot kits on the market today cost close to $1000 or more. But, by using the new Robotis XL-320 servos a smaller, but just as capable, humanoid robot could be designed for as little as half the price.
Dynamixel XL-320 Servo Specifications:
Dimensions- 24.2mm x 36mm x 24mm
Min Angle- 0.29 degrees
Gear Ratio- 238:1
Stall Torque- Approximately 4 kgf.cm (at 7.4V)
No load speed- Approximately 114 RPM (at 7.4V)
Operating Voltage- 6-8.4V (7.4V recommended)
Link (Physical)- TTL Level Multi Drop
Baud rate- 7843bps - 1 Mbps
Feedback- Position, temperature, load, input voltage, etc.
Usually with low-cost servos manufacturers tend to sacrifice features and performance. Robotis has taken the opposite approach. They dramatically decreased the cost while preserving advanced features like the ability for the controller and program to read feedback information from the servo including position, temperature, load, input voltage, and other important factors. They’ve achieved truly surprising performance at this price point.
Providing power for robot designs another important challenge facing makers. To address that challenge, and make things easier, Robotis is releasing a new lithium-ion 3.7 V rechargeable battery pack rated at 1300 mA. With an extremely small form factor, the battery pack has a built-in charging circuit and LED charge indicator while being compatible with the popular micro – be USB cable.
As you might expect, the company also has plans for additional shield boards that plug into the controller in the same fashion as Arduino shield boards. We are not at liberty to disclose any of the details at this time, but they are coming soon.
The new low cost XL-320 servo is also being used in a wide range of ROBOTIS products, as you can see in these photos:
And even in the exciting new DARwin Mini humanoid robot:
During the Robotis OpenCM briefing in Seoul Korea we were shown demonstrations of the new controller moving two servos based on input from a Gyro Sensor; servo velocity control; direction change using a touch sensor; and other tests simulating real world robot applications.
The new DARwin Mini humanoid robot from Robotis is about to rock the robot community worldwide, and give some major heartburn to competitors.
Featuring outstanding price/performance, this new robot will make it possible for a whole new sector of users to get actively involved in humanoid robotics whether it's at the educational, hobby, research, or professional use.
Loh HC - Managing Director and Carolyn Tang - Sales/Marketing Director of Hongqin SDN BHD in Malaysia, with Dr. JK Han of Robotis and THOR-MANG.
Here's another video of the RobotWorld 2013 THOR-MANG demonstration from a different angle so you can see the robot walking and climbing up two steps before it closes the valve.
About a week ago I was really concerned about the typhoons moving in. It appeared that at least one of the typhoons would hit on Wednesday possibly delaying my flight. But, luckily the weather was perfect and my flight was on time.
It will take me a while to wrap my mind around Korean currency since it has a few more zeros than I'm used to.
At Narita airport I cruised the gift shops killing time and ran across this display of Piperoid paper robots. They sell for approximately 8 dollars a set, with each set including two robot designs.
It's a sign of the times that the balcony floor in the north wing of terminal one at Narita used to be a Bob's Big Boy restaurant, but now it's the smoking area for that wing.
Luckily, the flight from Japan to Seoul is only about two and half hours, and the woman in the seat in front of me didn't try to recline her seat.
The airport bus system in Seoul is basically the same as what I'm used to in Japan, except here I can't read most of the signs.
They sell these T-shirts on the bus on the way to the airport, obviously pitching to people that need to buy last-minute gifts.
By the time my flight landed and I was able to work my way through the bus queue, the sun was already setting as we got into the city.
The weather is beautiful, and the temperature is much milder than I expected. When I used to visit Seoul regularly in the 1980s I was often told that all of the bridges had explosive charges rigged so that if the North decided to suddenly attack the bridges could be blown up to impede their progress. I don't know whether it was true or not, but I still think about it every time I cross one of these bridges.
RobotWorld kicks off tomorrow morning with the opening ceremony scheduled for 10 AM. It will be really interesting to see how it compares with the major robot events I've covered in Japan and the US.
I always try to put together an interview/shot-list before any major event that I am assigned to cover. It helps to make sure that I don't overlook anything interesting or important to the client, especially in the heat of the moment. Robot events like RobotWorld Korea can be particularly challenging since they expect approximately 80,000 visitors including the general public.
The official exhibitor list, as of October 19th, shows 84 distinct companies, including 5 coming from France. I'm sure that some of the larger companies will have multiple exhibits since many of them have multiple divisions in the robotics sector.
The overall classifications organised by pavilion are shown in the table above, along with the market sector and number of confirmed companies exhibiting. I suspect that the distribution represents a fairly accurate view of priorities within Korean robot manufacturers.
The one sector that really stands out, at least in terms of the number of companies, is education. From the perspective of the Korean focus on the importance of education, and the parent's intense commitment to making sure that their children have the best education possible, it makes a lot of sense.
Keep in mind that these numbers only represent companies and do not include colleges, universities, technical high schools, non-profits, and some research and development facilities. Those organisations are expected to also have a presence at the event.
As a point of reference, South Korea's population is roughly 50 million, compared to a U.S. population of 314 million. If a country with only 16% of the U.S. population draws huge crowds to a robot event like this, and has an obvious commitment to STEM education, what does that tell us about competitiveness, and what can we expect in the future as students graduate into the workforce?