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Android robots spy, race, and mix cocktails

Nov 23, 2011 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 4 views

A startup called Romotive is readying a small, tank-tread “Romo” robot controlled by Android and iPhone smartphones that communicate to the robot via audio signals. Meanwhile, a prototype bartending robot called the iZac — based on a Motorola Xoom tablet and Arduino Mega controller board — has been created by developer Nick Johnson via the Android Open Accessory Development Kit.

Romotive, a startup run by Peter Seid and Phu Nguyen, has raised over $114,000 from more than 1,100 contributors looking to buy the company's first-generation Romo robots. The company, which launched the project on the KickStarter website, can now move forward on production of the motorized treadwheel robot — controlled by an attached Android smartphone, iPhone, or iPod Touch.

The Romo robots start at just $78, a price kept low by the fact that most of the robot's capabilities are already provided by a customer's own smartphone. One phone plugs into the top of the device, acting as its face, eyes, and ears, while another can connect via Wi-Fi as a remote control device.

Two views of the Romo with iPhone

(Click on either to enlarge)

The robot is comprised of a motorized, acrylic base with four wheels, tank treads, and a rechargeable battery. The smartphones plug into an accessory port, and communicate with a custom-made analog circuit board via audio frequencies that are translated into action via two motor outputs.

Romotive plans to release full detail on the design under open source license, and develop new hardware modules. Third-party developers are invited to do the same as long as they contribute their designs back to the Romotive community.

An app store is planned to sell apps for the Romo, but initially apps will be downloadable though iTunes and the Android Market. The robot currently offers a RomoRemote spy robot app that controls the smartphone camera, and can send audio "shout-outs." Also available is a Romo Kart multi-user racing game that includes the ability to send digital attacks, such as disabling an opponent's power, and deflecting incoming digital "bombs," says Romotive.

Romo components
(Click to enlarge)

A Drag and Drop Programming Module is also available for basic programming and execution, says Romotive. Features are said to include movement, conditional statements, loops, and function references. A more full-featured software development kit is said to be on the way, and it appears the device will be available in both kit form and fully configured.

No ship date has been announced, but in the meantime, more information may be found in the Kickstarter blog announcement, as well as the Romotive website and Romotive forum page.

iZac, the Android bartender

Because even robot enthusiasts can get thirsty tinkering with their devices, developer Nick Johnson created a open source, prototype bartending robot. His iZac "barbot" proof of concept uses a Motorola Xoom Android tablet to control an Arduino Mega controller board.

Google's Android Open Accessory Development Kit, which debuted on Android 3.1, handles communications between the Xoom tablet and the Arduino controller via a USB host connection.

iZac being demonstrated at Google Developer Days, with Xoom at left
(Click to enlarge)

Johnson recently demonsrtated the iZac at the "Creative Sandbox" event held at Google Developer Days (GDD) in Sydney, Australia, where the bot served up real cocktails for the attendees (see video farther below). The Android control software lets user choose from a list of cocktails for the iZac to mix. An "I'm Feeling Lucky" button picks three liquids at random, "leading to hilarious and/or disgusting results," according to Johnson.

Closer view of iZac in action

The iZac was inspired by the Drink Making Unit 2.0 robot from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, according to Zach Johnson's blog announcement. The iZac uses a battery powered aquarium pump somewhat similar to the Unit 2.0 to pressurize the Erlenmeyer flasks full of liquid.

For the outlet, however, Johnson used a different approach, creating his own laser cut pinch valve design to suction out the proper amounts of liquid based on the difference in air pressure. This design was chosen because it does not require interrupting the tubing, thereby making it "perfectly foodsafe," according to Johnson.

The tubing system is controlled by a digital scale that continually weighs the glass. The scale sits between two three-bottle turntables, with one spout attached per bottle. The turntable rotates to present the appropriate spout above the glass before dispensing the liquid.

Johnson designed his own Arduino shield — a small extension board — for the Arduino Mega controller module. The shield, shown below, includes an INA125 instrumentation amplifier, an LM317 voltage regulator, and dual 2n7000 MOSFETs that switch the pump for each turntable on and off.

The iZac's custom Arduino Mega shield

(Click to enlarge)

The turntables are also equipped with their own basic breakout boards, and the pumps are powered off the Arduino's 3.3v rail, says Johnson. This minimalist power supply approach is "a bit nasty," he concedes, since "that's generally reserved for logic; even with capacitors they probably inject a lot of noise."

Johnson notes other flaws in the design that could be fixed in future versions. Johnson's blog offers many more details on the iZac design. The blog also offers links to the design code and schematics available for free download under open source licensing.

iZac demo'd at the GDD Creative Sandbox event on YouTube
Source: Nick Johnson
(Click to play)

Another iZac demo onYouTube
Source: Nick Johnson
(Click to play)

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