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Open Design for ~$800 Swarm Robots

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the silver-metal dept.

Robotics 106

An anonymous reader writes "There are lots of multi-robot designs out there. Most are either research platforms well over $2K (often $10K or more), or are hobbyist bots under $400 with tiny brains and few sensors. But George Mason University's new FlockBots wiki is interesting. They're trying to pack as much functionality as possible into a roughly $800, 7" mobile swarmbot, and publish the design and software as a free and open spec. So far their design includes a wireless 200MHz Gumstix Linux computer, a camera, range and bump sensors, wheel encoders, a can gripper, and lots more. It's a great-looking design and I think the cost could drop to $500 with vendors doing consolidation."

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FP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990905)

First Post Bitches

swarmbot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990909)

more like wormbot I am scared gusy

I for one... (2, Funny)

Alaren (682568) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990914)

Welcome our new flocking overlords... well, I'll enjoy having it do my dishes up until the revolution comes, anyway.

Seriously, though, I think this would be a lot of fun to build with my little brother as a good introduction to the world of electronics. Too many kids these days think if they can plug a PCI card into a motherboard without breaking anything, they're friggin' techies.

Re:I for one... (1)

ServeYourWorld (762879) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990932)

I for one welcome our new low-cost overlords.

Off Topic, But How Could I Resist? (1, Funny)

Alaren (682568) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990943)

I for one welcome our new low-cost overlords. I'm pretty sure the article doesn't mention Wal-Mart. d^_^b

My undies really stink. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991179)

Seriously. Too many farts? Or possibly it's that shit I thought was only a fart.

Re:I for one... (1)

ProfaneBaby (821276) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991204)

It'd be even better for high school applications ... $10k-$20k grants aren't difficult to obtain (relatively speaking), and that would help a nice chunk of kids who would otherwise have nothing.

Re:I for one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991505)

Yay!...this means that being able to plug an AGP card into the motherboard without breaking anything makes me a techie!

Open Source Prey? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990926)


Gumstix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990930)

Nice platform, but kinda wimpy when it comes to I/O. Wake me up when they add a USB host port module or when you can attach multiple CompactFlash cards to one.

Re:Gumstix (1)

belphegore (66832) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991385)

You can do USB host today, with a CF adapter and a USB Host CF card (drivers for the CF1U from Ratoc are in the 2.6.12 kernel).

Re:Gumstix (1)

skids (119237) | more than 9 years ago | (#12993762)

Hrm, I've been mulling over converting an old Cannon BJC to a robot (you can see the mainboard here []
most of the way down the page.) That would be pretty damn cheap :-). ...but newer printers come with USB (gadget-side, yes, I know but it would be would be much more convenient/flexible than parrallel ports at least, and depending on the hardware it's possible host-side could be software added.) Maybe I should try to get my hands on one of those instead and see what the guts look like.

Aren't there some IRDA/bluetooth/whatnot wire-free printers now? (Rhetorical, don't answer, I'll just google.)

Ahh but does it cyber? (1)

SComps (455760) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990938)

When they come up with something like this 234 []

THEN I'll be impressed. ok.. so I am already, but hey.

Awesome stuff though!

Re:Ahh but does it cyber? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990987)

Click this link [] . It describes you quite well.

Military applications? (4, Interesting)

CyricZ (887944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990941)

I wonder if we'll see freedom fighters in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan start to use robots like these such as weapons (assuming these researchers do succeed in keeping the cost low). Indeed, considering the US military's increased use of drones and unmanned combat vehicles, it is doubtful that those they are fighting against will not soon resort to employing he same methodologies.

This particular device uses Linux, which brings up another question: should developers of open source software license their software so as to prevent it from being used in such killing devices? Or should freedom trump such an argument?

Re:Military applications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990979)

Golly, what a fascinating question. Ranks right up there with wondering what to do with the ball of fluff I've garnered from my own navel.

Re:Military applications? (1, Flamebait)

haakondahl (893488) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991006)

Only if by "freedom fighter" you mean "technologically inclined terrorist". I suppose one of the optional packages might have the thing roll into a crowded restaurant and blow itself up.

And what would you intend with your anti-"killing device" license? Do you *really* want to drive the people who intend to kill with computers into the arms of Microsoft? I can see it now; the "Blue Screen of Death to America"

Moderator Filter: If you want to call me a troll, READ THE FUCKING PARENT.

Re:Military applications? (2, Funny)

B3ryllium (571199) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991262)

I'll take "Before and After" for $2000, Alex.

Re:Military applications? (3, Insightful)

cranos (592602) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991021)

Nope not a chance. Part of the reason why the insurrgency has been so successful is the low tech aspect. This is something the US found and the forgot about in Vietnam. In a straight up battle, the US probably has the best technology in the world, against simple devices such as road side bombs and car/truck bombs they don't know what to do.

Re:Military applications? (5, Funny)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991024)

> should developers of open source software license their software so as to prevent it from being used in such killing devices?

This is a great thought. By forbidding using open source software in killing devices we will cause great numbers of lawyers to approach the fighters to serve notice of the lawsuits. The fighters, of course, are already killing people and killing a few lawyers that get in their way won't bother them.

Killers use up their inventory of killing robots.
Software developers feel good about being on the moral high-road.
Lawyers die.

It's a win-win situation.

Re:Military applications? (1)

gaspyy (514539) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991706)

The fact that the parent is modded insightful should serve as a warning :-)

Re:Military applications? (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 9 years ago | (#12993812)


Nothing gets karma like killing lawyers!

Re:Military applications? (0, Flamebait)

general_re (8883) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991025)

I wonder if we'll see freedom fighters...

When your long-term goal is to turn the clock back to about 1350, and your preferred means of achieving that goal is blowing up restaurants, you're not a freedom fighter - you're a fucking terrorist.

Re:Military applications? (4, Insightful)

Admiral Burrito (11807) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991045)

This particular device uses Linux, which brings up another question: should developers of open source software license their software so as to prevent it from being used in such killing devices?

Somehow, I doubt that people who would use the software for such purposes would be dissuaded by the licensing conditions.

Re:Military applications? (1)

aug24 (38229) | more than 9 years ago | (#12993018)

Geek: Hey that's my software you're using!
Major: Huh? Did someone say something?
Geek: You've copied my software!
Major: So?
Geek: It's not licensed for military use. I insist you erase it immediately.
Major: Talk to my evil killer robot. It's in there.
Geek: Wow. Imagine a beowolf cluster of those!

Re:Military applications? (0, Troll)

Are you a NIGGER (850302) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991066)

Oh hell. The "freedom fighters" (read: terrorists) are like GNAA members and the USA (read: God's Country) is like Slashdot. We fucking own Iraq. We should just ban the terrorists and show no mercy, and if a few innocents get caught up in it all oh well.

This robot swarm shit sounds to me a lot like the GNAA's armies of open proxy bots that post crapflood comments to slashdot. The US should be banning this type of research. Not that it would do any good. Taco has spent the last 2 1/2 years of his pathetic excuse for a life trying to keep the gayniggers of his preciousssssssss Slashdot, and utterly failed it. We need like we have If you're still reading this you should sign up for the GNAA right now [] .

Republican ALERT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991095)


The parent poster is obviously a Republican partaking in a false flag operation. He is not a true member of the GNAA.

Re:Military applications? (2, Insightful)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991206)

We should not restrict anybody from using software. If we allowed restrictions then everybody would have their favorite restriction.

-no military uses
-no Taliban can use this software
-no al Queda can use this software
-no Nazis
-no Republicans
-no vegetarians
-no meat eaters
-no SUV drivers
-everybody but Martha Stewart

and so on. Pretty soon what was free isn't so free. That's because restrictions and freedom and opposing concepts. When in doubt, go with freedom. Some people will do things don't agree with with their freedom, but if you try to stop them from doing these disagreeable things with their freedom, you are the DEVIL.

Re:Military applications? (2, Insightful)

hernick (63550) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991210)

Open Source must be free for all or else it isn't Free. Should the GPL include a clause that prevents military contractors, neo-nazis, child molesters and Bill Gates from using the software ?

Never. We cannot exclude a single group from using Free software. This would be a desecration of the Freedom that the software stands for. Also, every OSS author would use the license as a political platform to condemn people at random: "This software cannot be used by Southern Baptists, Wahhabists and the followers of Ayn Rand."

--- By having read this post, you have already agreed to the Mostly Open Posting License. You are hereby granted the generous authorisation to read this post, but only if you are not a Witch, the daughter of Bill Gates or a fat-cat billionnaire. If you have read this post illegally, in defiance of this read-through license, you must paypal ten thousand american dollars to the author of this post, before Big Ben has sounded the upcoming call of midnight.

Re:Military applications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991229)

Huggles all around!

Re:Military applications? (0, Troll)

Felinoid (16872) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991263)

I'm cynical.
Lagit freedom fighters (Not the terrorists in Iraq etc) wouldn't think twice about using low cost american technology to fight off an invaider and save there own lifes.

But for those whom life is a cheap throw away thing they wouldn't even consider using killer robots made by infedel americans.

However if this really is a case of freedom loving people not anti-american religous fanatics then they should have every right to use this technology.

In short it's all good. Let em have it.

Re:Military applications? (1)

ph0enix (87965) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991391)

Developers of killing devices won't use Linux, of course. The'll use the OS specifically licenced for these purposes: OpenBSD.
" which OpenBSD uses and redistributes must be free to all (be they people or companies), for any purpose they wish to use it, including modification, use, peeing on, or even integration into baby mulching machines or atomic bombs to be dropped on Australia." -- Theo de Raadt

Re:Military applications? (1)

CyricZ (887944) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991440)

That's a very interesting quote. I often hear Theo described as a cockfool or a fanatic. But that quote, if he really did say it, proves the opposite. It would suggest that he is one of the few people who truly understands the notion of "freedom", in that true freedom allows one to do anything one wishes. Could you provide a link to the mailing list archive or newsgroup posting or wherever it is that he says that? That quote shows the freedom that every open source developer should drive for.

Re:Military applications? (1)

ph0enix (87965) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991661)

That specific comment [] was made in regards to the removal of IPF. But this interpretation of the concept of freedom is strongly held by the whole OpenBSD development team; just have a look at the Lyrics [] page, which outlines some of the big issues behind OpenBSD releases:
  • 3.3 - Sun refuses to release full documentation for the UltraSparc III processor.
  • 3.4 - OpenBSD loses funding after no-strings-attached grant turns out to have strings attached limiting freedom of speech
  • 3.5 - Cisco attempts to assert patent rights on IETF [] standards (VRRP)
  • 3.6 - "Free" software projects becoming less free
  • 3.7 - Open wireless drivers and free firmware (OpenBSD is now the only free BSD. Ironic, no?)

Re:Military applications? (1)

ph0enix (87965) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991895)

And this [] is quite possibly the funniest (and oddly relevant to this discussion) email on the subject.

Re:Military applications? (1)

Master of Transhuman (597628) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991711)

Unless a terrorist can hijack a bunch of these for free, why use them when a stolen car and some C-4 or Semtex is a hell of a lot more effective and cheaper?

Oh, sure, I can think of scenarios where they would be useful, depending on how small they can get and still carry a lethal payload of something (explosives, gas, anthrax, whatever). But in general, it's unlikely anybody other than intelligence or military agencies of industrialized nations would use them.

The US military has a long way to go to get drones and unmanned robotic vehicles to actually be tactically useful, let alone strategically useful, for anything other than surveillance. So it's unlikely their opponents (again, other than other industrialized nations) will bother developing equivalent tech when lower tech can be used to render the US devices ineffective cheaply without any R&D expenditure (other than a few dead members while the new technigues are being worked out, of course.)

As for OSS, I could see licensing the software to prohibit military uses as a check against its use by countries adhering to the laws governing those licenses (are there any such countries?), but it would be useless against anyone else by definition.

Re:Military applications? (1)

patio11 (857072) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991898)

I've always been a little fuzzy on the concept of using a robot for something a real live solider can't do better. For recon, OK, it makes sense -- we need to see somewhere, its a dangerous job, send the robot to see and we don't care if it gets shot.

How many other operations are there for the military, though? Killing stuff? Great, we send the robot swarm somewhere with its little pop gun to... oh, wait. If we already know where the enemy is, we don't need to kill them with little pop guns. We kill them the American Way, by painting them with a laser and annihilating the area from the air (see how Saddam's sons died: demand surrender once, cordon off area, bomb). Every bit as effective, negligible danger to anyone we care about, and doesn't require any expensive capital investments in robots you're intending on using as smart-bombs anyhow.

Or maybe the enemy is somewhere we can't airstrike, like Baghdad Hospital? Then we'll end up sending in the marines, no matter what -- we can't tolerate SwarmBot 2015 mistaking a crippled kiddy for an insurgent because if we could crippled kiddy and insurgent would both be vaporized already. Same with remote operation of the robot -- as long as we've made the decision as a nation that innocent lives are sometimes worth more than our own that calculation is going to make robots a losing proposition every time.

Robots for remote demolition, now that I could see. They sure make a lot more sense than sending out members of the bomb squad.

P.S. The "freedom fighters" we're facing in Afghanistan and Iraq are largely foreign, killing for the freedom to impose an Islamicist Caliphate over people that happen to resemble them a little more than they resemble us (but not by much), so they can get back to doing that whole stoning women accused of adultery and collapsing walls on top of gay guys thing that us pesky imperialists went and interrupted.

Re:Military applications? (1)

floormasn56 (886278) | more than 9 years ago | (#12994051)

Why build a robot for $800? It's cheeper to tell a teenager he will get layed if he just blows himself up

Interesting equipment choice (4, Insightful)

Sv-Manowar (772313) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990947)

Its interesting that they chose to pair the Gumstix with the Acroname Brainsem. I've been working with the brainstem for mobile robotics as part of CSCS [] and found it extremely flexible for robotics development. In what we've been doing, we used the brainstem chained to Zaurus PDA's, to achieve a similar linux control environment for the actual board (as the TEA language used to program the brainstem is somewhat restrictive). This platform seems like a great way for people to start out with a known good set of equipment, something that would really have helped us when getting started. (We had a whole load of teething issues getting the PDA's and brainstems talking, not to mention creating working combinations of servos)

Re:Interesting equipment choice (2, Informative)

belphegore (66832) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991363)

I think they haven't yet got a Robostix [] , which we designed to be a replacement for the Brainstem at a much lower price, with a better feature set, and better gumstix integration. Still not much there on the software side for Robostix, but all your normal AVR tools should work great, and control of the robostix from userspace on the gumstix is just around the corner.

Re:Interesting equipment choice (2, Informative)

awkScooby (741257) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991581)

My Robostix was ordered last week, and should arrive next week. We'll be evaluating it to see how good a fit it is for the FlockBots, and how much effort there will be in switching to it (soldering ~40 pins per board adds up).

If nothing else, I look forward to a microcontroller that can keep up with the quadrature wheel encoders. Having to use polling on the Brainstem was less than ideal -- we had to slow the bots down a whole lot.

Re:Interesting equipment choice (1)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991395)

Well, a nice and fiarly cheap add-on are Polaroid Sonic Range/Distance Finders. Basically a poor man's sonar. I believe they only cost about $20. Get a good servo to mount it on and you can get some pretty decent 360 range mapping to add to the camera. This would allow much more detailed mapping to be done of the area that the robot is in for realitively little cost. There are some API's already in existance for the devices coded in C and other languages.

Re:Interesting equipment choice (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12995262)

The problem with sonar is that it eats batteries like there's no tomorrow. That's fine if you're runnng off of lead acid or li-poly like the bigger bots, but these guys are trying to run the bot for 4 hours off of a pack of 5 A's. Sonar's not feasible for this, but the excellent SHARP IR rangers they're using *are* feasible for it.

How about a (1)

jon855 (803537) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990953)

Home Defense Sentry Bot... Just think if it were fitted with some kind of bar code scanner, and it scans everybody that comes in a house without one and it will shoot up em up into bits. Of course, 12 Ga. and 20 Ga. fire system comes bundled with it. Now what's next? A MAN-HACK??? Tho that would work even better....



Woo Hoo! (1)

lifebouy (115193) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990959)

Now we can start playing R/C Pikmin.

niggA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12990975)

wouldA be a bad []

Like some anonymous coward said... (2, Funny)

myowntrueself (607117) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990981)

When the time comes to start smashing up robots, count me in!

Here come... (1)

Wiseleo (15092) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990984)

...The replicators!

Thor's beam won't save us this time, they are already here and are replicating through mental manipulation of the scientists' brains to convince them as if they are their own creation!

Re:Here come... (1)

Boglin (517490) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991387)

I feel the need to point out that it wasn't really Thor's beam. It was O'Neill that designed it (with the help of the knowledge of the Ancients). Thor just built the first unit.

My knowing this fact tells me that I really need to get a life.

Deterrent in the Field of Robotics (5, Insightful)

kai.chan (795863) | more than 9 years ago | (#12990995)

Having an Open Design is well and good, but I think there is still one main factor that prevents the field of robotics from flourishing. The problem stems from the lack of standard in both the development of the software, hardware, and mechanics.

Since there is no standard, someone can be using Microcontroller A with Motion Controller X using Programming Language N. Then finally combining these electronics with Servo K. When drivers for Motion Controller X has already been written under Programming Language M, developers have to spend time porting the code for another language for a different microprocessor, which might or might not work with the Servo.

When there are so many variables in robotics without any standard, a lot of development time are wasted either porting code, finding minor differences between devices and motors that causes incompatibilities, or choosing non-optimal parts for ease of implementation. In order for the field of robotics to advance at a faster rate, there needs to be a more standardized open environment in the software, hardware, and mechanical aspect.

Re:Deterrent in the Field of Robotics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991236)

... said the ignorant person who thinks 'servo' only refers to plastic RC controller actuators.

There's actually a lot of standards.. they're written by the IEEE for electronics.
You buy an encoder, and it has a standard pinout.
Opamps have standard voltages.

ANSI and SAE have mechanical standards on how mechanical bits are made, so you can typically buy a leadscrew, pick out a zero backlash nut for it, bolt on a pulley and have it driven by a standard belt.

There are even standards on how to solder, how to crimp, and how to select your wires.

I get the impression that the author of the parent article just wants to copy steal someone else's code, rip junk parts out of a floppy drive, and make some piece of crap which bounces around the room.

Re:Deterrent in the Field of Robotics (2, Insightful)

kai.chan (795863) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991347)

You completely missed the point of my post. The basic IEEE standards that you are refering to do not help the advancement of robotics.

For example, I wrote code for a motion controller to drive some motors, with UART, serial, all adhering to these standards. But guess what would happen to that code when the motion controller needs to be changed? I have to write new drivers for the new motion controller following the manufacturer's specifications. After writing the driver, there begins a process of testing.

Everyday electronics might have standards, but these standards that you are refering to does not mean that every microcontroller will have a Watchdog Timer, and not every motion controller will have the same states to drive motors.

Re:Deterrent in the Field of Robotics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991718)

If you're trying to control a motor over a serial port, you're designing things wrong.

Re:Deterrent in the Field of Robotics (1)

dj245 (732906) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991548)

Doesn't really matter IMO. These are really just sandbox research projects designed to generate some interesting results so that they can get more money to fund more sandbox research projects of this type. Which, in turn, must be used to 'gun for still more grants' as opposed to actually do something useful with the money. The fact that the majority of the time is spent porting code has little to do with the fact that right now the field of swarm robotics is mostly sandbox projects. I see no end to this until countries start spending less on military and more on scientific organizations.

Really What Robotic needs... (1)

nightwing2000 (539158) | more than 9 years ago | (#12994178)

Really What Robotic needs... is a high-level operating system and standard interface like normal computer OS's.

The navigation package, the sensor package, etc. need standard interfaces to a "driver" level; just like the different drivers for various levels of the OS - file systems, disk drives, etc.

The OS would output a command like "turn 30 degrees, go forward 3 meters." The drivers would implement these commands. Or maybe, "start turning left" and monitor the output from the "Positional" driver until 30 degrees is reached.

Part of the standard OS (RobOS? Rollux? )would include things like building the virtual map of surroundings and obstacles to calculate the necessary navigation requirements...; receiving things like computer vision or ultrasonics via drivers, calculating arm movement requirements, etc.

WTF?! (2, Funny)

MukiMuki (692124) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991005)

No "traveling beowulf" jokes?

Not a single Skynet reference?

Where the hell AM I?!

Re:WTF?! (1)

haakondahl (893488) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991032)

I, too, felt a little lost until I saw a "welcome...overlord" post. Everything is OK. You're safe now.

Re:WTF?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991120)

Imagine a Beowulf Swarm of these things!

Re:WTF?! (1)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991394)

Just imagine, a traveling skynet of these things...

Beowulf is beginning...

In Soviet Russia, Robots create cheap swarming YOU!

But the real question is... can it run linux?

Feel better?


Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991485)

Offtopic, indeed.

It's called HUMOR , you freaking clueless nimrods!!!

Before they're loose... (2, Funny)

nxtr (813179) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991027)

Make sure the switch is set to 'serve', not 'kill'.

Re:Before they're loose... (1, Funny)

haakondahl (893488) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991075)

"To Serve Man"

Can gripper? (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991031)

...seems the ultimate goal is to fetch another beer without leaving the couch (and without organizing the fridge). AI has officially arrived when that has happened.

Re:Can gripper? (1)

flash_kc (897632) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991430)

They way it stands write now.. u cant grip the beer bottle without a tactile sensor at the tip.Its impossible to pre-establish the forces required to manipulate a fragile object with dynamic feedback.

Re:Can gripper? (1)

flash_kc (897632) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991447)

*without dynamic feedback

Re:Can gripper? (1)

patio11 (857072) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991912)

If tea is more your fancy, there is a robot at the Aichi Expo that does exactly that. Its more for old people.

only you (2, Interesting)

jeffehobbs (419930) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991068)

Cheap swarm robots? Hopefully they can find the room to post this [] somewhere in their workspace.


Migrating bots (1)

MindPrison (864299) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991186)

Great! When I finally built one, it saw the other ones and decided to migrate to the south... ...I guess thats why they call them swarmbots

Why was this posted here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991257)

The capacity of most slashdot readers doesn't go beyond online gaming, porn and case moding.

looks exactly like (1)

t35t0r (751958) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991312)

our 2003 southeast conference robot entry, I mean exactly like ours. We had two basic stamp's on the multi level platforms, two wheels, and the shape was identical. Sorry I don't have pictures.

Re:looks exactly like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12994798)

There are plenty of round 5-7" mobile differential-drive robots: it's an extremely common design (though their recessed gripper *is* very nice -- no snagging!). However the big difference is that they are doing this for very cheap *and* are publishing to others how to do the same. That's pretty rare in the robot world (the only similar example I can think of is the COTSBots project, but those bots have very little in functionality -- $200 though!).

plugin idea (1)

relaxrelax (820738) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991358)

This is gonna give a new meaning to making a plugin to an open source project.

You really have to physically plug it in!

Nah, that's not right. There should be software written for the robot to install the plugin himself otherwise m$ will claim linux isn't user-friendly. It's gonna need to be a bit more friendly that windows installshield or we're gonna have some physical crashes and broken windows all over the lab - which would make Microsoft claim they're not the only one with *that* problem.

I'd be impressed to see a few of those swarms do a "put mittens on kitten's paws" competition. Or empty a bottle of ketchup. Or replace their own batteries. (-;

Second Variety, anyone? (1)

Leomania (137289) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991403)

Man, the moment I read the headline I immediately thought about Philip K. Dick's short story, "Second Variety". What a great story. I never saw the movie based upon it, "Screamers"; I wonder if it was any good? Hmmm, methinks the Netflix queue is about to get an update.

I didn't RTFA, but I'm going to assume there will be no deployable blades springing out from these swarmbots. I mean, it could be, but why take the chance and ruin a good nights' sleep?

Re:Second Variety, anyone? (1)

n54 (807502) | more than 9 years ago | (#12995509)

I've seen Screamers but I haven't read the P. K. Dick story (shame on me I know, everything he wrote that I haven't read yet is on my todo list). Anyway I highly recommend Screamers, it was very enjoyable. Afaik it is also one of the most true-to-the-book adaptations ever made and the differences that are there are imo added value (some hate the last twenty minutes while I think they follow a logical reasoning adding ambiguity I'm sure P. K. wouldn't neccessarily disapprove of). I'm confident P. K. would like Screamers better than any other of the movie adaptations.

So be prepared that the story wont be exactly the same and enjoy it for what it is.

Re: AI Minds for Robots (1)

Mentifex (187202) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991422)

What these robots need is Artificial Intelligence [] .

Tesla Wireless Power Needed (1)

Corpus_Callosum (617295) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991479)

Swambots are a great idea - the most useful purpose of which is construction, I would think. But power is a problem. Someone needs to ressurect Tesla's wireless power distribution schemes w/respect to Swarmbots.

Another approach... (2, Informative)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991642)

I can think of another sort [] of open source robots that cost well under $100 [] .

Am I Missing Something Here? (1)

Master of Transhuman (597628) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991666)

What are you going to do with ONE $800 "swarmbot"?

If you have more than one, what's it going to cost again?

I mean, yeah, it's better to cost $800 than ten grand, but I thought the point of a "swarmbot" is that you need LOTS of them to get anything done. If ONE costs $800 - or even $400 - I don't think anybody other than Bill Gates is going to be buying them any time soon - certainly not for "gripping cans".

Gripping hand grenades or guns, maybe...Anybody remember "Runaway" with Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons? I loved that movie - mostly because Gene was totally cool in it.

Cost needs to go down by a factor of 100 or more. (1)

argent (18001) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992923)

I could see $8.00 swarmbots being practical, but only for limited purposes... until they're cheap enough that there's no point in stealing them the really interesting applications are pretty impractical.

Re:Am I Missing Something Here? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12994891)

You *are* missing something. At $800 a swarmbot, you're looking at 15 swarmbots for $15K plus overhead equipment. This is *exactly* the right price point for small university research budgets. They're hoping to get it down to $500, at which point it becomes feasible for high school budgets too. While it'd be nice to have a $100 swarmbot (and there are plenty of robots in that category), at present such bots have no brains. What makes this bot impressive is the sensors and computational capacity it has for the price. Similar robots with similar capacity typically start at around $3000.

AIBO is under $500 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12991777)

I'm currently selling new AIBO's for 400 euro on There is an OPENR development given out by Sony.

These AIBO's have a much higher specification and are available now.

AIBO's are used a lot for RoboSoccer championships

George Mason university? (1)

payndz (589033) | more than 9 years ago | (#12991936)

Save LA from a nuke, get a university named after you. Cool!

So is season 5 of '24' going to be Kiefer versus the $800 terrorist swarmbots? Chloe'll have them reprogrammed in no time.

great-looking? (0, Troll)

sshtome (771249) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992038)

" It's a great-looking design and I think the cost could drop to $500 with vendors doing consolidation."

I'm sorry, did anyone follow that link?

These robots are stuck together with duct tape.

This is fine for academics, maybe for hobbyists. If I pay 800 USD forgive me for expecting something a little polished.

I say this not because I am predjudiced, but because prototype circuit boards are less robust, and robots that aren't well machined tend to fall apart.

Look at robocup, there the aibo league had made (forgive the pun) leaps and bounds, whereas the other leagues have failed miserably. Mainly due to hardware issues.

I'm sorry to be negative, but robotics needs to be stringent to become an industry. There robots aren't.

Re:great-looking? (1)

sshtome (771249) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992058)

Their, - sorry

- Please no more spelling comments -
(I wasn't educated very well at the circus)

Re:great-looking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12996844)

Look at robocup, there the aibo league had made (forgive the pun) leaps and bounds, whereas the other leagues have failed miserably. Mainly due to hardware issues.
As someone who's actually participated in RoboCup: you have no idea what you're talking about. The legged league is cute but the bots themselves are quite under-capacity. CMU's done a nice job with them but the AIBO is not all that sophisticated.

The sophisticated bots in RoboCup are the table-top "small robot" league with overhead cameras. Custom-machined omnidirectional high-speed bots, where Cornell has lately been dominating. The league is getting boring now, it looks like the problem is largely solved. The AIBO league has exactly the opposite problem: the bots are underpowered and the problem may be unsolvable.

I'm sorry to be negative, but robotics needs to be stringent to become an industry. There robots aren't.

Can you build something better that has a camera, quadrature encoded wheels, five range-finders, a gripper, a wireless linux box, and runs for 4-5 hours on A's for $800? Designed entirely from COTS to make it easy for others to make without a machine shop? No? I thought so.

This is a damn good start.

Too bad this isn't a poll (1)

HexDoll (778270) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992157)

Here's the breast option []

You can shave a lot off that $800 (2, Interesting)

Rxke (644923) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992411)

if you're willing to do some soldering.

A look at the list reveals some of the off-the-shelf stuff is very pricey (like the battery charger, boy oh boy, what a rip-off.)

I guess we'll see people come up with homebrew solutions to expensive off-the-shelf parts, and bring the price down to, say $400, easily.
Might be an interesting project to follow.

Re:You can shave a lot off that $800 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12996945)

battery charger, boy oh boy, what a rip-off
Interesting that you say this: the battery charger we picked was after months of searching, and at $30 it is the cheapest peak charger for NiMH packs we found anywhere. Trust me, we looked at a lot of 'em.

Obligatory Dr Who quote (1)

oPless (63249) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992509)


Are these African or Europien swarm bots? (1)

Chetchez (313249) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992698)

Interesting read on the can gripper feature - I didn't realize cans had husks. Or maybe they'd string them on a line, heald under the Acroname Brainstem motor controller?

Some other similar implementations... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12992763)

Can be found here [] .

Idea for a complementary bot (2, Interesting)

goodEvans (112958) | more than 9 years ago | (#12992897)

What you need is another, similar bot with a flat top and a forklift-type arrangement on front. Then you can get a lifter bot and a normal bot working in cooperation to get stuff onto a table etc.

Now imagine a tower of these things...

ps. I think I've just worked out where this idea came from. Remember the episode of Futurama, where Fry, Leela and Bender are trying to escape from the robot planet, and the robots chasing them start stacking themselves on top of one another, before crashing to the ground because the bottom one slipped on the shipment of lugnuts?

Sea Swarm (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12993679)

I'm working on an underwater version. Bigest obstacle is communications. Blue-green LED (as opposed to infrared for use above water) gets good bandwidth but fallback to modulated 50kHz when link fails is a royal PITA. Power requirements aren't too bad as B&W camera with blue-green light source sees pretty well under water. Failsafe for dead main battery is valvewhich opens when power is lost allowing bladder to inflate and fish to float, belly up, like a dead fish. Beacon on belly mounted antenna runs on it's own battery which is connected when valve opens. Basic RDF to locate the dead fish.

Not ready yet so no pix. Perhaps another 18 months ...

Commercial Kits Better and Cheaper (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12994082)

Outfits like sell pre-cut kits (eg "Botster") that run standard microprocessors. These kits are much better made, and well under $800 already! Depending on the processor, you can get 'em for under $200.

Re:Commercial Kits Better and Cheaper (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12996731)

How do I put this gently? No way, Jose. RoboticsConnection's bot is cute. But it's got some problems:
  1. It's much larger heavier, and much taller.
  2. It doesn't have quadrature encoders; it only has single encoders. This is quite inferior.
  3. The wheels are not zero-turn: as a result, the bot has quite a large turning radius (yuk). GMU's bot can turn on a dime.
  4. The bot doesn't come with nearly the sensor capabilities of the GMU bot, nor a gripper.
  5. The shown microcontroller (iCOP) costs $300. Not including the PDA shown ($400) or camera ($150). And the iCOP draws a whopping 920mA at 5V! Holy crap! They offer cheaper PIC controllers (Basic STAMP etc), but such things are much less impressive.
  6. It's not wireless unless you get that in the PDA.
  7. It... ugh... runs Windows .NET only.
To outfit this bot to be roughly equivalent to the GMU bot, I'd estimate a cost of well over $1200. It's a good shot. But the GMU bot is rather better designwise.

only a band of linux geeks (1)

claussenvenable (820336) | more than 9 years ago | (#12995075)

would include a soda-can gripper as primary equipment on an $800 swarmbot...
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