Rovio robots play soccer at NYU 
Thursday, May 7, 2009, 11:39 PM - Robotics
This past semester, I have been teaching an undergraduate course Introduction to Robotics. The first series of assignments included programming Arduinos to read sensors and actuate servos and DC motors. The second series included programming a Pololu 3Pi robot to follow a line (using a PID controller), and perform dead reckoning (coming home after following a line to its end).

The last series of homework consisted in getting Rovio robots to play soccer. I feel I should mention this here because the class page showing videos and pictures of the students' soccer-playing Rovios had been mentioned by a number of blogs, including Slashgear and RoboCommunity.

The Rovio robots can be seen as "Wifi webcams on wheels". The goal of the project was to push a tennis ball into a goal. The tennis ball is bright yellow, and the goal posts are red. The rovios are controlled by software running on a laptop which performs the vision and control algorithms. The software is written in our very own Lush language, which is a dialect of Lisp.

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Minoru stereo webcam now works under Linux 
Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 02:53 AM - Robotics
Thanks to Laurent Pinchart, maintainer of the uvcvideo driver, the Minoru stereo webcam now works on Linux.

If you are in a hurry to get it to work, here is the installation process under Ubuntu (or any Linux distro with kernel version 2.6.27-xx):
0. make sure you have installed the linux-headers package, probably called linux-headers-generic.
1. download Laurent's latest driver from (click on the .gz link near the top of the page).
2. do "tar xvf <the-file-you-just-downloaded>". This will make a directory named "uvcvideo-XXXXXXX" in the current directory. cd to that directory.
3. do "make", and "sudo make install".
4. plug in the Minoru webcam.

The left and right webcams will appear as /dev/video0 and /dev/video1 (unless you already have a video device plugged in). You can grab from both cameras simultaneously at 640x480 at 15 frames per second, or 320x240 at 30 frames per second.

Thanks to Laurent for the quick fix, to Jan Ciger for testing the patches, and to Steve Jamieson and David Holder from Minoru for being supportive.

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Universal Robot: Play at the Manhattan Theater Source + Panel Discussion (with yours truly) 
Friday, February 6, 2009, 11:06 AM - Robotics
The Manhattan Theater Source in Greenwich Village, just north of Washington Square Park (and two blocks away from my lab at NYU) will host the play Universal Robots, a liberal adapation by Mac Rogers of Karel Capek's classic play R.U.R. ("Rossum Universal Robots", this is where the word "robot" comes from). The play will run from Feb 12 to Mar 7.

A Panel discussion will take place on Feb 21st from 3:00 to 4:00 PM entitled Resistance is Futile: Exploring our Evolving Relationship to Robots in Today’s Wired World. Panel participants will include my friend Michael Littman (from Rutgers), and yours truly, as well as artists and scifi writers.

Sounds like fun.
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Amazing automatic book scanner made from Legos 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 12:38 AM - Robotics
The Make Magazine blog has a link to this amazing DIY automatic book scanner from Japan. It's made out of Lego Technics and turns the pages of the book automatically. Very nice indeed.

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ArduPilot (quasi-)available from Sparkfun 
Tuesday, January 6, 2009, 11:29 PM - Robotics
ArduPilot is a small Arduino-compatible board designed to be the centerpiece of a UAV autopilot. It has servo outputs, a receiver input, a GPS input, and an input for a PIR-based stabilization sensor (such as FMA's Copilot).

Sparkfun has the kit for $25, except that they seem to be out of stock right now. The SMD components are pre-soldered on the PC board.

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G-Dog: impressive robot dog kit from Japan 
Monday, December 29, 2008, 04:24 PM - Robotics
The G-Dog is a new robot dog kit from Japanese company HPI Robots, a division of HPI Racing, which sells R/C models and techno-toys of various kinds.

The G-Dog sells for about 70,000 Yens (about US$800).

This YouTube video shows the speed and agility of the G-Dog. It's much faster than the Aibo ever was. Then again, unlike the Aibo, it doesn't have a nice-looking shell, and has a rather simple on-board computer and few sensors.

It uses 9 custom servos, dubbed RS304MD, which seem to be controled through a TTL-level serial port. The CPU is based on an Atmel AtMega128, and includes a 3-axis accelerometer. It has interfaces for 2 gyros, and a wireless receiver.

The G-Dog weighs 570g, which is quite light, but could be made lighter with the use of LiPo batteries instead of NiMH.

If only this things became available outside of Japan....

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CNC router table for $600 
Monday, December 1, 2008, 12:26 AM - Robotics
The Probotix Fireball V90 CNC router goes for $600. Okay, for $600 you only get the mechanical part, not the stepper motors nor the controller boards. Still, it's pretty cheap. Add $300 to $400 for a 3 axis kit, and you are all set.

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Pixhawk: Beagleboard-based UAV autopilot at ETHZ 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 01:22 PM - Robotics
While we are on the topic of the Beagleboard, it is worth mentioning that a group at ETH in Zurich is working on a micro-UAV autopilot project based on the Beagleboard called the Pixhawk. The main difference with most other open source autopilot projects is that this one will include a camera and a vision system. The beagleboard OMAP processor is powerful enough for simple vision algorithms (the alternative being the Blackfin processor).
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CNC machine using modified R/C servos 
Thursday, October 2, 2008, 06:33 PM - Robotics
There is a new Instructable describing an XY table CNC machine that uses modified hobby servos. Apparently, they simply replaced the regular potentiometers in the servo by 10-turn pots.

The authors indicate that ServoCity sells Hitec HS-6965HS digital servo with the pot already modified for continuous rotation (with the pot hanging outside the case).

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Maze-Solving robot uses ATmega168 
Monday, June 16, 2008, 12:11 AM - Robotics
The forum has an entry describing a nice little robot that can solve mazes written on the ground with a black marker. There is a link to a YouTube video showing the robot in action.

The author used the Arduino IDE to program the ATmega-168 used on his robot. He mentions using a Pololu 3PI robot platform. This platform is not yet available from Pololu, but apparently will be soon.
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Off-Road Robot Video 
Saturday, April 19, 2008, 06:33 PM - Robotics
Okay, I'm about to switch into total bragging mode here.

This is an uber-cool video of an autonomous mobile robot that can drive itself in outdoors environments (parks, fields, forests) solely from vision. The sensors are plain cameras (well, stereo cameras). There is no laser range finders, radars, or ultrasounds of any kind. Just cameras.

Best of all, this little guy actually learns to recognize obstacles and traversable areas by driving itself around. It also learns it own dynamics.

Why the statement about bragging mode, you may ask?

Well, this is my project: I lead the team that built the software for that robot. This is one of the things I do for a living (when I'm not TechnoToying).

For more details, videos, technical papers and the like about this project follow this link to my labs web site at NYU.

By the way, this video was put together by Pierre Sermanet using Blender on Linux.

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Indoor 3D plane: flown automatically 
Saturday, November 24, 2007, 04:31 PM - Robotics
For quite some time, a few of us have been toying with the idea of building an autonomous 3D aerobatic plane.

A [video] by Jonathan How and his students at MIT demonstrates an indoor 3D plane flown automatically. Technically, it is not autonomous because the plane is controlled remotely (automatically) from a ground-based computer.

The plane has no on-board intelligence: it is remotely controlled, and its position is accurately measured by a Vicon motion capture system. This eliminates the need, not only for on-bord intelligence, but also for any on-board sensors and telemetry.

The use of a mocap system is a bit of a cheat because it basically eliminates the problem of estimating the position and attitude of the plane (the Vicon Mocap system has mm accuracy at over 60 frames per second).

Still, the control is quite impressive.

A longer video showing Jonathan How research on swarm UAV (using quad-rotor DraganFlyers) is available on this page. The video was shown at the last ICRA.

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FoxBoard: tiny Linux board from Italy 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 03:04 PM - Robotics
ACME Systems in Italy is selling the FOX Board, a tiny 66x72mm, 37gram board built around the ETRAX 100LX CPU from AXIS Communications. The board runs Linux 2.4.x or 2.6.x.. It has USB, Ethernet, and can support webcams through the spca5xx-le driver. It sells for 130 to 150 Euros, depending on the version.

The FOX Board can accept a daughterboard called FOX VHDL which has a 250K gate Actel ProAsic3 FPGA. Hmmm....

Some people have done pretty cool things with the FOX Board, including this hexapod robot.

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Qwerk: All-Inclusive ARM-based Linux robot controller 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:43 PM - Robotics
For some time now, Charmed Labs has been selling the Qwerk embedded robot controller ($350). It has a rather unique combination of features: ARM9 CPU with FPU, Linux and eCOS operating systems, a Xilinx Spartan 3E FPGA for fast custom I/O, ethernet, Wifi, USB ports with Webcam support, 4 DC motor controller (2.0 Amps), 16 servo outputs, 8 Analog inputs (12 bits), 16 digital I/O lines, quadrature encoder inputs. The software was developed at CMU. The Qwerk is the basis of CMU's Terk Telepresence Robot Kit.

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Lightweight webcam driver for embedded Linux 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:20 PM - Robotics
Michel Xhaard has developed spca5xx-LE, a lightweight version of the spca5xx USB webcam driver for Linux. This driver is useful for using webcams with embedded linux boards such as the FOXboard (based on the Axis ETRAX 100LX CPU).

Michel also maintains this list of webcams supported under Linux, particularly those supported by the spca5xx(-LE) driver.

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Yet Another Desktop Humanoid Robot 
Thursday, March 8, 2007, 02:30 AM - Robotics
Japanese company Plen has a cute little desktop humanoid robot with a USB interface that can skate. The noisy all-Flash website is a bit annoying, but the videos are cute.

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