Rovera, Maker Shed
I already wrote about the Rovera robots in the Maker Shed Robot Gift Guide, but this guide is supposed to cover the robots that I’m excited about/interested in and that includes the Rovera. There are a lot of basic robot platforms out there. One of the things that I think makes the Rovera so special is the accompanying book, Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot. It’s designed to be a very detailed step-by-step manual for assembling the Roveras. So even though the Rovera is a fairly sophisticated robot, not ideally suited for the beginner, even a dedicated beginner could tackle it by carefully following the instructions in the book. BTW: The book stands on its own if you want to provide your own parts. The Rovera is available in two versions:
Rovera 4W, $175
Rovera 2W $200
EZ-Robot, Maker Shed, $235
Another Shed offering I plugged in my first guide. If I were buying for someone who’s already a bot enthusiast, I would likely get them this well-sourced, easy to use robot development kit with a great software interface and features you’d expect to see in a kit costing thousands not hundreds of dollars. And I really like the emphasis on turning existing toys and devices into real robots, like the Wall-E toy turned into a robot seen above. There’s also an active user community of EZ-Robot builders, which is always a nice gift to give, too.
Kilobots, $130 each
I’m absolutely fascinated by swarm robotics and really want to do a swarm project. These Harvard-developed bots made a big splash when they were introduced and initially billed as “$14 swarmbots.” That’s what they might cost you in parts if you built them yourself (the plans are available). If you buy them, from K-Team which produces and sells them into the educational/research market, they’re $1,300 for a swarm of ten. One of my projects in 2013 is going to be building a couple of these. They’re quite ingenious. They use bulk infrared programming — with a programmer that hangs over the swarm — and recharge themselves in a charging pen. How they move is also innovative — three stick-pin legs and pager motors motivate them like a direction-controllable Bristlebot.
OK, you and I are not likely to see a $16,000 robot beneath our Christmas tree, but if I could own any mini humanoid, it would likely be the Nao (pronounced “Now,” BTW). This is the bot currently used in RoboCup soccer and in social robotics/autism research.
There are a number of these mobile phone-controlled robot platforms out there. I think this is a very clever way to easily bolt a brain onto a robot body and to have fun applications and a “personality” in a low cost robot platform. The Romo is targeting both the robot toy market and also presenting it as a useful tool for teleconferencing and as a mobile camera. It will be interesting to see where this technology goes.
Hexy, Maker Shed, $250
When I did my Shed guide, we didn’t have Hexy the Hexapod in stock yet. Now we do. These guys had their booth right next to the Breadboarding Workshop I co-ran and I really like their product. It’s pretty exciting to see a six-legged walker of this level of sophistication be available at such an affordable price. There’s a reason why the creator of Hexy, Joseph Schlesinger, asked for $13,000 on Kickstarter and got $168,000 instead! If you have a more advanced robot hobbyist on your gift list, consider a Hexy.
Robot Builder’s Bonanza
I have a soft spot in my heart for Gordon McComb and this book. They are what got me into hobby robotics in the 1980s. This book is a classic, the title that pretty much launched the hobby robotics space. This new edition brings the book into the 21st century and covers everything from mechanical systems and working with various building materials all the way up to using microcotrollers and a wealth of sensors. This is the best overall book about building personal robots that’s currently on the market.
I love the idea of an affordable robotic combat toy. Attacknids made a big splash on Kickstarter earlier in the year when the prototype was demo’d in the KS campaign video. These rather sophisticated walkers have weapons that shoot various projectiles and the armor on the enemy bot flies off when you score a hit. The Attacknids are the first in a planned line of “Combat Creatures.” If I were still ten, this would be what I wanted for Christmas.
Eddie Robot Platform, $1250
At this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, the Microsoft Robotics group had Eddies out in force. This is a robot development platform for the serious developer. It’s a base and sensor array to which you add a laptop PC and a Kinect to create very powerful robot applications. It was made to be used with Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio. At the Faire, they had a little army of Eddies performing various tasks. My favorite was one that used facial recognition to latch onto and follow you around to take your picture — a paparazzibot! [Unfortunately, it looks like these are not currently in stock at Parallax. Don't know if they're coming back.]
My Keepon, $80
This is an affordable commercial version of the Keepon robot that we’ve written about before. Keepon was originally developed as an aid in doing social robotics/autism research. The developers of the bot have even done projects for MAKE. Keepon is a strange little dancing yellow blob, but with its diverse reactions, it’s a great example of machines that can be designed to appear like they have a real personality and feelings. I really want to get one of these and find out what the hacks potential is.
I haven’t seen one of these in action, but I like the concept. If Roomba is basically a robotized electric broom, Mint is a robotic answer to a Swiffer. It has a dust pad on the front. I have an open foorplan in my house and all hardwood floors, the perfect environment for Roomba and Mint. Where Roomba uses a random wander and some set patterns, Mint uses a ceiling navigation scheme (where a pattern is projected on the ceiling that it follows). I have not been very impressed with these navigation schemes in consumer robots so I wonder how well the Mint performs.
Litter Robot, $340
I’m always interested to see new utility robots beyond vacuums and mowers. Getting a bot to clean your kitty’s business seems like the perfect solution. I can’t stand dealing with kitty poo. If I didn’t have to clean the litter box I’d be far more inclined to own a cat. Robots should do the things that we don’t want to do, or can’t do. This is one of those things.