We've had a fantastic weekend getting to know some robots from http://redrobotics.co.uk/.
My son is a big fan of these robots from seeing them at Pi Wars meetings, so Neil Lambeth, who designs and builds the robots kindly allowed us to borrow a couple to play with, photograph and write about. Here is what we found out.
Firstly, by way of introduction, the robots are like remote controlled cars, but they can also grab and fire a ping pong ball, which means that they can be used to play football against one another.
The robots are still in prototype form, especially the circuit boards. There's a lot of hand reworked components on them where the design is still evolving. We are really chuffed to be meeting these robots at such an early stage, and seeing how they change and improve over time.
These are the two that came to us, along with their controllers:
The driving mechanism is in here under the hatch:
They take 8 x AA batteries each, and the controllers take 2 x AA batteries each and the batteries lasted several hours for us. The robots have to be powered on with a button in the lid, and then the controllers are turned on, and automatically connect, via a mechanism which I assume is bluetooth. My son, who is 6 years old, was able to look after his robot entirely by himself, as the steps are so simple and easy to carry out.
The robots fire a ping pong ball from the front and they have an automatic grab feature, so that if the ball comes into the opening at the front then it is automatically gathered up and made ready to fire again.
The robots are simple to control. Although there are a lot of buttons on the controllers, the controls are just forward/backward, right/left, fire, double-speed, and soft fire.
Here is the blue robot firing a ball:
The main thing we found is that these robots are fantastic ice breakers for groups of people.
When the robots arrived, I invited lots of friends from our local neighbourhood to come and visit. Some of these friends are regulars who come round a lot, and some were people who have never visited before.
Over the weekend we had such a lot of fun with so many people coming to visit. They were all fascinated to meet a raspberry pi-based robot. All of them had a whale of a time, zooming the robots round our hall and firing the ping pong balls at goals.
Here are a couple of our players in full swing:
We tested the fun with people aged 4, 6, 10, 12, 30+ and 40+ and all had a great time with them. The best thing was that everyone was having so much fun that we all forgot to feel self-conscious and just all had a great time. Even the non-talkers amongst us talked a lot.
We've tried quite a few robots in our house (massive understatement) and these are by far the most fun as a social tool, and the best for bringing people together.
So what goes on inside the robots?
The neatest part from my point of view was opening up the robots and seeing the components inside. The mechanism is based on the raspberry pi, but there is also a custom designed and built card on top.
This is the whole mechanism as viewed with the hatch open. This picture and the ones that follow are worth clicking on to see them enlarged as the detail is really interesting.
If there's one extra thing I'd love to see from this company, it would be a little map, explaining what the bits are. They look really fascinating, and I have literally no idea what most of them do, in spite of being a robot enthusiast and computer programmer.
This stuff is the main reason why I would buy a robot like this, especially as it gives my son and his friends the chance to learn so much about the business of building a robots. This robot is a particularly good tool for this, as it combines the social aspect of children playing together, with the opportunity to learn so much about robotics, programming and engineering. A map with the names of these components would really bring the whole thing together beautifully.
What a great weekend we've had. We're all really grateful to http://redrobotics.co.uk/ for providing us with this Easter fun. We are now especially looking forward to the day when we can put our names down to have a robot of our own from their first commercial release.