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Old 05-26-2006, 01:34 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Build Your Own Robot

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Feature: Build your own robot
Thanks to cheap technology, robotics is no longer the preserve of men in white coats

Mark Whitehorn, Personal Computer World 25 May 2006

I robot. You, robot. We should all robot. Why? Well, we could tell you that it is educational, and we will tell you it is an idea that has finally reached its time, but the main reason is simply that its fun, and now, more than ever before, is the time to become a robot hobbyist.

Robots have fascinated us since Fritz Langs Maria first danced for us in 1927 in the film Metropolis. Then they were an impossible dream it wasnt just the technology that was missing, think about the materials. That was an era when not only engine blocks but also pistons were still being made from cast iron.

Constructing even a basic humanoid robot has required advances in many different areas digital processing, memory, gyroscopic stabilisers, tiny motors, metallurgy, plastics, batteries, carbon fibre the list is almost endless.

The good news is that we are finally on the cusp of the robot age and, as with every major technological advance, from the aircraft to the PC, that cusp period is a wonderful time for hobbyists.

Of course, those advances can be used to build a whole range of robots from cute baby dinosaurs with personalities, through robots that can drive 130 miles through the Nevada desert, to the full-on android.

The fastest way to get started building your own is with a kit. Many of the robots you can build are programmable, and for this you can typically use a PC, some software and a USB port.

Obviously you need programming skills but, some argue, robotics is the best way of learning programming.

Where do you start?
Even easier than a kit, you can simply walk out and buy yourself a robot. There is the Robosapien, for example, that sells for about 50.

Its programmable with up to 84 program steps and no computer is required; all you need is the remote control.

Robosapien V2 is distinctly different. For a start, at over 60cm tall it is almost twice the size of the previous incarnation.

It also offers autonomous behaviour and the ability to interact with, and control, other Robonetics products such as Roboraptor. The bad news is that the price has also increased in stature prices range from 160 to 200.

If you want something a little fiercer, theres the Roboraptor. It isnt programmable in the same way, although it has 40-odd pre-programmed functions and can be driven using the hand controller or allowed to roam free. For about 70 you can start your own dinosaur dynasty.

A bit too fierce? Then what about Pleo? Hes a one-week old Camarasaurus from the Jurassic period. According to the website, Pleo is The worlds first life form, which is a bit of a blow for us humans, but I suppose well have to learn to live with it.

Further information includes the fact that: Pleo will let you know how he feels at any moment. Thats because he is capable of actual emotions including joy, aggression, sorrow, and fear. He can also yawn, sigh, sniff, sniffle, snore, cough, hiccup and sneeze. To be frank, this may not be a great selling point. Weve all see Jurassic Park; we know what happens when a dinosaur sneezes.

However, this guy does look very cute and will be available in the autumn for about $200 (115 approx). He isnt programmable but will have an upgradeable life form OS and personality system. That could be useful for some humans we know.

Looking for something a bit more complex and expensive? Then consider the Robonova-1. He costs about 590, is programmable and can walk, run, punch, kick and do many acrobatic moves. Hes from Hitec Robotics, which produces a wide range of optional components for the Robonova.

The Japanese also produce some excellent humanoid robot kits such as the 770 Kondo KHR-1, available from Robosavvy....
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