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914 user experience - Jim Hinkle
Tuesday, 20 March 2007
Jim Hinkle (a.k.a. GoIrish) sent me some information on his 914 PC Bot experience to date and his aspirations for the future. If anyone has anything similar they’d like to have published then please let me know and I’ll make sure you get your share of front page fame.

Over to Jim, as follows:
I first read about the PC Bot in a newspaper article – I actually saw the picture of the device on a newspaper that had already been trashed in my office. I pulled it out of the garbage and wrote down the website address. Honestly, I’m a bit of an impulsive buyer, so I checked out the website and was ready to purchase, but decided to take a week to think about it – I liked the idea that at the very least, it was a second PC for the home.

The very original description talked of two cameras – one forward looking for navigation, and one upward looking for visual recognition. I assumed that the software that would come with the robot would support those applications. So, when friends asked the usual question, “What does it do?” I described the recognition features and originally thought I would rewire my condo with X-10 and program the robot as a voice activated TV remote.

A year and a half later, some of the feature sets on the bot had been stripped to a more bare-bones albeit a more robust platform. I sold my condo and now live in an apartment so X-10 is out. The initial software release with the bot wasn’t as complete as I had hoped, so visual recognition was out (for now). So far my first order of business was working with the almost out of the box telepresence ability.


I named the Bot Mush, in honor of Mush Morton.

Luckily, I had the support of some smart folks on the 914pcbots.com site to assist with some of the networking issues I hadn’t dealt with before. After friends on the other side of the country had driven the Bot a couple of times, I said, “Ok, now what?” Driving the bot with BRIAN wasn’t the best experience, and a lot of work went into driving the video lag time down. A bad video lag couple with Sensor Assisted Driving turned off (try as I might, the Bot kept seeing itself closer to objects than it really was – which doesn’t work in a small apartment).

Here’s what I envision:

Getting one of those LCD screens that fit into a 5.25 bay will be key to get the robot a face and an identity – I have buddies stationed in Japan who are looking at the feasibility of getting some to the US. Will keep the forum posted.

MS Robotics Studio – some people don’t like Microsoft, I do. After a bad Red Hat experience, I won’t bother with Linux again. I see the telepresence revolving around Windows Live Messenger. Imagine a friend being able to IM the bot, and having direct access to the robot’s video and controls. Furthermore, since all Microsoft products work well together, it shouldn’t be difficult (eventually) to be able to use you XBOX 360 controller/accessories with the bot. Also, I envision the bot being the MP3/video media hub of the house using Windows media center that links directly to the XBOX 360 so you can play your MP3s on your stereo. BRIAN served an out of the box purpose, but I imagine once the MS Robotics Studio drivers are out for the PC Bot, then the community will be able to develop a continually improving control application instead of three simultaneously running applications.

More processing power - I like the board included with the bot. It serves a purpose, but it can’t meet the demands I’ve tried throwing at it. I became irritated with the bot’s speech slurred by the speed, the long load time of apps, and the way the video heavy apps like RoboRealm choked. I’ve got my order in with BWI for the upgrade kit and Marc Miller for the capacitor mod.

More battery power - how to extend the life of the bot. I looked a small solar panels, but realistically, a self charging dock will be best option. I don’t know, but I don’t believe any other option than lead-acid provides the heavy current drain ability that the 914s motors require. Perhaps these new maintenance free gel cell batteries will compromise weight/life a little better. Also, I saw Sandisk just released a 30gig solid state hard drive that’ll be faster and consume 50% the power – a $350 price tag, but perhaps worth it.

GPS – hell, if I can get that mini-lcd screen, I’ll strap the bot into the passenger seat and use it for turn-by-turn directions in the car or geo-caching in the desert.

Classy alcohol delivery - look, everybody knows that the reason men invent robots is because women refuse to deliver them a beer ;-). I’ve put a tray with Martinis on the bot’s head, but still too much work. The bot needs an arm to grab one, and recognition to make sure it doesn’t grab the mustard by accident. While deployed, I designed (cocktail napkin style) a USB cocktail maker device centering around a USB motor controller that would run mini-pumps. Either one pump per bottle, or one air pump and a lot of solenoid controlled pumps, and a bunch of tygon plastic tubing. Give the bot the order, he sends it to the device over the network. Unfortunately, haven’t been able to find that many food grade mini-pumps or solenoid-valves at a feasible price.

I attached a picture of Mush - post surgery and half naked. The power supplies have been stripped in preparation for the capacitor mod for the new motherboard. He seemed depressed after the surgery…I hope he doesn’t do anything drastic.

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