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World’s smallest humanoid robot can run Linux

Nov 19, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 28 views

[Updated: Nov. 21, 2008] — Mobisense is shipping a Linux-ready, robot-targeted “MBS270-520” single-board computer (SBC) that can control small robots such as Tomy's i-Sobot. The 6.5-inch-tall i-Sobot has been dubbed “the smallest humanoid robot in production” by Guinness World Records, says Tomy.

(Click for larger view of the i-Sobot)

Targeting computer vision and robotics applications, the Marvell PCA-270-based MBS270-520 SBC is aimed primarily at small form factor, low weight UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), mobile robots, and “humanoids,” says Mobisense, a French developer of robotic guidance systems. (See below for more information.)

i-Sobot next to the MBS270-520
(Click to enlarge)

According to Mobisense, the board is small and low-powered enough to be used to hack Linux onto Tomy's i-Sobot. A project is underway called i-Sobot Hacking that is hacking the robot's servo protocols, with the goal of using the SBC to help extend computer vision to the i-Sobot.

Now selling on the web for less than $100, after debuting a year ago for $300, the i-Sobot won the Grand Prize at the 64th Tokyo International Gift Show last year. The i-Sobot is said to be “fully-articulating and bipedal,” and can speak and perform hundreds of “words, phrases, and preprogrammed actions,” says Tomy. Its repertoire is said to include over 90 kinds of sound effects and the ability to “play” five songs.

The i-Sobot offers four basic operating modes, featuring bipedal walking action and eight-directional movement. It also boasts individual actions including walking, dancing, martial arts, push-ups, and soccer moves, says the company.

The 12-ounce robot is equipped with 17 custom developed servo-motors, 19 integrated circuit chips, a built in gyro-sensor, 2 LEDs, and voice recognition, says the company. The package includes an infrared remote control and three AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries, which are said to run for an hour under typical use.

Mobisense MBS270-520 with power module plugged in
(Click to enlarge)

Mobisense MBS270-520

The MBS270-520 is equipped with Marvell's XScale-architecture embedded workhorse, the PXA-270, clocked to 520MHz, and comes with a Linux 2.6 board support package (BSP). The board also includes 64MB RAM and 32MB flash memory, says Mobisense. The board's signal processing is optimized using the PXA-270's Intel/Marvell IPP (Integrated Performance Primitives), which is based on the Intel/XScale Wireless MMX SIMD instruction set, says the company.

MBS270-520 block diagram
(Click to enlarge)

The SBC measures 2.8 x 2.0 x 1.0 inches, weighs only 1.6 ounces, and is said to consume only one Watt. There is also a “520L” version that is said to be even further “weight optimized.”

Peripherals are said to include 10/100 Ethernet, dual USB ports, and a wide variety of additional interfaces, from GPIO to SDIO. The SBC offers a “Quick Capture” camera interface that enables color and gray-level image real-time acquisition at up to 4-megapixels, says the company. By using Direct Memory Access (DMA), the whole image is accessible in SDRAM, without using CPU resources, says Mobisense.

Specifications for the MBS270-520 are said to include:

  • Processor — Marvell PXA270 520MHz
  • Memory — 64MB
  • Flash — 32MB; microSD card slot
  • Display — LCD and touchscreen support
  • Audio — 20-bit audio; stereo inputs and outputs; microphone
  • Camera — 10-bit camera interface with FFC connection for up to 4-megapixel captures
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet port
  • USB — 2 x USB 1.1 ports
  • UARTS — 3 x UARTs (full function, Bluetooth, and standard)
  • SSP/SPI — 2 x SSP/SPI/Microwire/PSP
  • Other comm. interfaces — I2C; SDIO
  • Additional peripherals:
    • 4 x PWM
    • 4 x 10-bit ADC inputs
    • Battery saved RTC
    • Up to 31 GPIOs, 4 LEDs, 4 micro switches
    • RC servo on any free GPIO
    • Power supervision signals
  • Dimensions — 2.8 x 2.0 x 1.0 inches (72 x 50 x 25 mm)
  • Weight — 1.6 oz (46 gr); 520L version offers lower (unspecified) weight
  • Power consumption — about 1W with full image processing
  • Operating system — Linux 2.6

The Linux BSP offers the following features, says Mobisense:

  • Full Linux 2.6 kernel source code (C/C++)
  • GNU EABI cross compilation tool chain
  • V4L2 API for image acquisition
  • Extra Mobisense robotics drivers for GPIO, RC servos, ADC, timer
  • Source code examples
  • Multi-thread applications, POSIX standard
  • Eclipse IDE and Gdb debugger
  • Open source community (Open Embedded, Angstrom…)

MBS270-520 with camera module and cabling accessories

Mobisense also manufactures a variety of camera and power modules that work with the MBS270-520, and also sells cabling accessories. In addition, the company sells “MBSnavigation” guidance software for service robots, which uses a real-time operating system (RTOS) called MBS, and is based on research conducted at HEUDIASYC Lab of Universite de Technologie de Compiegne in France.


The MBS270-520 is available now, says Mobisense. Pricing was unavailable. More information on the MBS270-520 may be found here.

More information on the i-Sobot, which is currently selling for under $100 at Hammacher Schlemmer, may be found here.

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