My Mbot just arrived!

Mbot from Makeblock is here! This robot is an educational robot from a company in Shenzhen, China. It’s not a new concept but the price at $49, is really low. We purchased a similar robot from Parallax robotics for around $150 and on top of that you have to provide your own Arduino Mega board. The difference definitely is in the price.

32335: Robot Shield with ArduinoONE ROBOT PER KID. mBot is the easiest educational robot for kids to learn programming, Arduino and robotics.

It is a simple robot with that comes only with 2 motors, a ultrasonic sensor and a line following sensors with a in-build Arduino Uno.  To top it off, they included a RF serial module that allows you to remove the USB cable if you want to run the robot untethered. This is enough for elementary robotics education with the basic features but you can go to the Makerblock site to purchase a couple of addon sensors but the limit is in the number of IOs on the uno block. That is where the Parallax robot will be better.

In terms of software, It’s riding on the success of  Scratch graphic user interface that makes it easy for children to program their robots. It’s widely used in the education community in projects like Hummingbird Robotics Kit, and basically any robotics kit that uses the Arduino platform. The software is easy to use and you are able to generate arduino code and this is a useful feature for student who want to graduate from visual programming to C programming.

My son assembled the robot in 2 hours and we started to program the robot almost immediately, since he’s quite familiar with the scratch interface. We started with keyboard tele-control and it was a better experience then the Parallax robot since the robot is now untethered. We moved on to line following with the online instructions provided on the website. The Makeblock site provides some educational materials and video that the children can watch to learn. It is certainly work in progress but I am still amazed at the price. At this price, we are slowly getting into the mass market with robotics.

I personally work on mobile manipulators in the office and this mobile base can’t really do much but the future is coming as sensors get cheaper. I can’t wait to put a Microsoft kinect or mobile phone on this to program it to do some human interaction that would be fun for the kids as well.

Great work and I hope that more interfaces to this platform will be developed soon.

Google and Delphi Self-driving Cars’ Close Shave

Self-driving cars are a thing of the near future as we begin to see sign of fully autonomous vehicle appear within vehicles of today. We know the technology is there, but the question everyone ask is whether it’s safe enough. Would I put my life in the hands of a robot? Would a robot do the right thing when I need it to? Everyone has only one chance – when a vehicle crashes, it might be your last.

There are of course statistics that prove that autonomous vehicles are safer. There are statistics that prove otherwise. I personally have placed my life in the hands of a robot and I know where to stand when a robot comes my way. I would always stand in a way to move out of the way if I have to. The analogy is that lifts use to be semi-autonomous (human in the lift) and now they are fully autonomous. Just press the button and you will be sure you will get there.

Accidents and deaths have plagued transport of every kind in big ways because we need to travel. Either to work or to get food and for holidays. It’s a necessary aspect of life. Is the real solution online shopping? or VR? Should we just stop travelling all together. It’s a game of probability and the size of the sample. The percentage might be small but a small percentage of a large number is still huge.

What do you think? I would still put my live in the hands of an autonomous vehicle but there are users and educated users. My take is that we need to show responsibility and learn to use whatever technology we have today. To not use it is to say I would not cook food because fire is dangerous. Embrace the technology but before each trip, please watch the stewardess in the video explain safety features in the “plane”. Do not ignore here!

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Fetch Robotics Secures Investment from SoftBank

The Fetch Robotics’ system is comprised of a mobile base (calledFreight) and an advanced mobile manipulator (called Fetch). Fetchand Freight can also use a charging dock for autonomous continuous operations; allowing the robots to charge when needed and then continue on with their tasks. In addition, the system includes accompanying software to support the robots and integrate with the warehouse environment. Both robots are built upon the open source robot operating system, ROS.

The robots are designed to work autonomously alongside workers, performing repetitive tasks such as warehouse delivery, pick and pack, and more. Fetch and Freight used in tandem are capable of handling the vast majority of all items in a typical warehouse.

Fetch is an advanced mobile manipulator, including features such as:

  • Telescoping spine with variable height from 1.09 to 1.491 meters
  • Capacity to lift approximately 6 kgs.
  • 3D RGB Depth Sensor
  • Back-Drivable 7DOF Arm
  • Modular Gripper Interface
  • Head Expansion Mount Points
  • Pan-Tilt Head
  • Differential Drive
  • ROS-Enabled

Freight is a modular base, used separately or in conjunction with Fetch. Features include:

  • Base Expansion Mount Points
  • Payload support of approximately 68 kgs.
  • 2D Laser Scanner
  • Stereo Speaker
  • Computer Access Panel
  • Run-Stop
  • ROS-Enabled


iHY, the Low Cost Robot Hand

The iHY Robot Hand is the result of the DARPA Autonomous Robotic Manupulation(ARM) program. the aim was developed with the goal of producing a low cost robotic hand with the flexibility to handle different situations.
The hand is equipped with three fingers that are flexible and able to pick up large objects like a basketball to a small object like a pin. It’s able to sustain the weight of a 50 lb kettle bell. It can open doors, pick up a power tool before operating the power tool with it’s finger. It is a very versatible hand at a very low price. It has contributed greatly to the field of robotics in a big way.
The hand is underactuated and called so because there are fewer motors than joints. The spring like material and mechanical linkages connect the rigid parts of the finger. The design of the finger enables it to grab and hold large object but yet also grasp small objects like a pin. Have a look at the video to see it at work. This is not the first underactuated finger in the market but it is the first with it’s versatility and at that price point.

iRobot has done a great job and they did not do it alone. They had the help of Harvard and Yale, hence the name – iHY.

ieee article

The new Care-O-bot 4

This is the new Care-O-bot is now configurable and still compatible with ROS. It has been given a modern look with newer features.

This fourth generation has many of the features available on Willow Garage’s PR2 and it has the same intelligence as the PR2 given it’s on the ROS platform. It has learnt from PR2 that you can’t sell the entire robot as it’s too expensive. It has the options to purchase the robot with different configuration depending on your budget. Something worth looking into, given it’s german built.