RobotWorld 2013: Robotis Posed To Disrupt Robot Development

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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.

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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.

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OpenCM-9.04 Controller Specifications:

72Mhz ARM Cortex-M3 core
5V-16V (Depends on DXLs)
26 GPIO
128k FLASH
20k SRAM
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
7-Channel DMA
2 Watchdog timers
SysTick timer
JTAG (SWD Only)
User Switch
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

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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:

Weight- 16.7g
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.

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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:

 

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And even in the exciting new DARwin Mini humanoid robot:

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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.

 

 

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3Doodler ABS vs PLA Chart

3doodler

The folks at 3Doodler, the innovative 3D plastic pen that provides you with tremendous artistic freedom, published a helpful comparision infographic covering the strengths and weaknesses of ABS and PLA plastic filaments used for 3D printing.

Although many of their observations only apply to creating objects and art with the 3Doodler pen, it is quite useful in understanding how the two plastics perform, and why you might want to select one over the other.

In my particular case, I'm opting for PLA, primarily because that's all I use in my Tantillus printer, so I have a wide selection of colors already on hand.

Related links: ABS vs PLA: Head to Head - The 3Doodler

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Wonderful Robot Carnival #10 Scheduled

wonderful robot carnival

Just rapped up my absolute favorite US robot competition (RoboGames), walked back to the hotel, and logged on to find that my absolute favorite Japanese robot competition - Wonderful Robot Carnival - has scheduled the 10th event for Sunday, July 14th, from 12:00-18:30 in the Akihabara area.

The Wonderful Robot Carnival features a whole series of different challenges, everything from a 2 meter dash, bottle traction (pulling a storage box full of water bottles, dice shoot, ROBO-ONE style battles, and much more.

One of the most interesting aspects of the competition is that all robots compete in all the challenges, whether they are good at it or not. The over all champion and top positions are determined by the highest overall point score, which evens out things quite a bit.

Related links: Wonderful Robot Carnival (Japanese)

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Real World Tests Are Always The Best (Video)

fritz robot

I have to admit that I was more than a little skeptical when I first ran across the Fritz Robotic Head Kickstarter project. The concept was good, and it was easy to understand, but I had to question how engaging it would actually turn out to be for kids and other people that come into contact with the robot puppet head.

It turns out that I shouldn't have been concerned. Fritz's creators trotted him out for the Robotics Exhibition at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum last weekend, and he was a big hit.

I hope they'll repeat the experiment. For example, RoboGames 2013, coming up later this week in San Mateo, California would be an awesome location for Fritz to get more exposure, especially with all the families with kids that turn out.

Related links: Kids with Fritz The Robotic Head at Robotics Exhibit - YouTube

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NAO Writer – NAO Robot Writes Any Word (Video)

nao robot

Franck Calzada is a real robot wizard, especially with the NAO humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics. He keeps on surprising me, always pleasantly, with new functionality, features, and extensions of other available routines.

This time he has his NAO executing an enhanced version of the word recognition handwriting functionality that I saw Taylor Veltrop demonstrate at the Paris Hackathon last year. Building on the original concept, Franck added speech to text word recognition, and the reverse, enabling the robot to grok and print almost any word. He's also improved the robot performance making it look much more professional.

The only minor fault I could find with Franck's implementation is the stroke order. NAO prints the characters in a very odd sequence, very different from actual handwriting - at least the handwriting of most people I know.

I can't wait to see what Franck comes up with next.

Related links: NAO Writer - NAO Robot writes any word - YouTube

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Prototyping A Camera Mount

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3D printing makes it incredibly easy to crank out new parts on a whim.

For example, I'm about to make the trek to California for RoboGames and want to use a Contour ROAM2 HD action camera to capture some of the action - especially ComBots with the massive steel robots trying to inflict mortal damage on each other. I have the camera and have access to all areas of the venue. What I don't have is three hands. I always carry my Canon 5D Mark II for the still images and some video, and I have a light Nikon bridge camera for competition videos. The challenge was to find some way to operate the Contour that was basically hands-free.

After considering, and disqualifying, several approaches, I finally decided to use my bicycle helmet. I tried the stock Contour helmet mounts, but didn't like the way they felt - primarily because the camera sticks off to one side and is heavy enough that it is noticeable, and irritating.

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It only took a few minutes to take some measurements of the top of my helmet and design a short plug to slip inside one of the air vents. Printing a test part to check the fit took a bit longer, of course.

130414 Helmet Camera Mount

Surprisingly enough, the test part fit perfectly without any modifications. The next step is to add the top flange for the camera. The mount is a snug fit, so I plan on securing it with some tape or velcro because I want it to be easily removable.

We'll see how it works this coming weekend when it is put into real use at RoboGames 2013.

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