RoboRealm Path Planning
Tuesday, 23 October 2007

RoboRealm have released several new modules recently including a vision driven Path Planning module.

This module uses an overhead camera to look at the robot from above, as well as several other markers on the ground. You can plot a path between the markers and have the robot follow them.

There is also a new Virtual Camera Driver module that allows you to pipe the video output of RoboRealm into other applications that support video capture. This could be used to record the processed output of RoboRealm, or maybe to send the video for further processing.

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Heathrow Airport PRTs
Sunday, 21 October 2007

I previously told you about Cybercars - autonomous taxis that are currently being trailed in the UK and Europe.

It has now been announced that Heathrow Airport in the UK will actually be implementing a very similar solution to the Cybercar called the ULTra PRT.

These Personal Rapid Transports will take travellers from car parks to the main terminal. Each PRT will seat four people, travel at 25mph and you will only have to wait twelve seconds for one to come along!.

THere's more over at Wired and the Telegraph.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2007

There is a new case study on the White Box Robotics corporate website about The Secondary Robotics Initiative at the School District of Philadelphia.

You can read the document in PDF format here: Application-Note_Philadelphia.pdf (112Kb).

It appears that rollers and paintbrushes were attached to a 914 PC Bot which then painted a picture, operated by artists via telepresence.

I wonder if they have any plans to make the 914 paint the picture by itself...?


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Missouri Innovation Academy prospectus
Sunday, 14 October 2007

The Missouri Innovation Academy 2008 prospectus has just been released. This is part of Missouri State University College of Business Administration and College of Applied Sciences - "Merging Science and Business together".

Missouri Innovation Academy have pretty much filled their prospectus with pictures of 914s which they clearly want to show off - there are many pictures of the 914 in a state of disassembly with students getting stuck in.

You can check out the prospectus in PDF format here. (1.46Mb)

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Promote Your School, College or University
Friday, 12 October 2007

If you would like to promote your school, college or university, then send me some info about how you are using your 914.

I've added a new module to the right hand side of the site to display links from specific educational establishments that have sent in content, this can be found just under the current survey.

As content is submitted I will add the school, college, or university's logo to the list which will always link directly to the project. The project will of course get it's fair share of front page fame, and also be archived in the Research and Education section.

There are many educational establishments that have 914's, so write in and let everyone know what you are doing!. Even if you don't have a specific project that you are working on, you can always send in some pictures and a brief description of what you do with your 914. Let me know if you are a student, a teacher/lecturer or a researcher too.

I have around three more features from universities and colleges which will probably appear next week, but there are probably many more to come.

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914 Large Monitor Project
Thursday, 11 October 2007

Ted Ronau from the University of Toledo sent in this project to attach a large PC monitor to the 914. Ted sent the following information about the project so far, as well as a video which you can view by clicking on the preview to the left, and some pictures which are below.

Ted says:

We took an alumni shelf that was being recycled for scrap and cut off a section. The tube is 1" hollow and it looks like two L shaped sections connected by a two one foot sections. The L shape is 8" horizontal and 20" vertical. It is connected to the plate with two bolts that required us to drill into the plate. This was spray painted black.

The two smaller brackets that hold the top plastic "dome" in place was bent to so the back screw that was holding it down is now screwed into the aluminium bracket. One half inch of the aluminium bracket in the back rests on the plate for added support. This gives the 'dome' a angle that make him look 'souped up' from a side view. Not all share the same opinion, but I like the look.

We purchased a 19" planar monitor that has an external 12 volt voltage converter. We used the external power plug available on the robot and wired the monitor directly to the plug for power, by passing the need for the inverter. Then we drilled holes into the upright portion of the bracket that lined up with the holes in the back of the monitor. We used bolts to attach the monitor to the bracket.

You can see in the video that the backside plastic doesn't snap back into place. We have since added a 90 degree VGA adaptor, so you can see in the final picture that the plastic now fits in place. The adaptor covers the serial port, so if you are using the serial port, you won't be able to use this adaptor. The adapter we used was like this one from L-com.

We put Velcro on the back of the bracket and stitched a UT patch and Velcro to a black dining table place mat. The mat was size and then attached to the back of EM.

We were planning to use EM to give a short speech and then show a short video. The problem is that every time we start the video, the CPU spikes to 75 - 100 %. We then purchased a flexible riser so we could install a VGA card into the PCI slot of the motherboard. You can't put a PCI card directly into the slot because of the height of the metal box the motherboard is in and there is no place for the VGA receptacle of the PCI card to go. (You would have to cut a hole into the metal box).

But even with a PCI video card, every time we start a video of even 2 minutes, it pegs the CPU to 100 % and starts skipping. I have unplugged everything non-essential to playing video and turned off all non-essential programs and still can't play a video. It is better, but no good enough. As I have been writing this, we tried using the VLC media player and it seems a little better...  

Ted is continuing his investigation for playing the video. I believe that the motherboard in the 914 is the Via SP13000 - so if anyone has any extra tips or knows of a video format/player that plays well then post them in the thread linked below.

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914 Poem
Tuesday, 09 October 2007

Here is a Poem about the 914 sent in by Ping.
I get the impression that it's not the most serious work of art, but it may be of amusement to some of you:

My nine-fourteen is white
My nine-fourteen is bright
White on his coat
And bright with his quotes

Many nine-fourteen's are different
But they have a similar suit
Much the same on the inside
Just like marzipan fruits

Developing on this platform
caused a metaphorical sandstorm
At college where I am learning
One day with robots I'll be earning

I made a speaker hack
To enhance the sound playback
Like I saw on the community site
Now my nine-fourteen sounds alright

Oh nine-fourteen, nine-fourteen
You are my life vaccine
Without you I'd do crime
Now study's like playtime!

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Odometry Man 005
Sunday, 07 October 2007


This is the third part in the current Odometry Man story.

Please click on the preview to the left to get this week's episode of Odometry Man full size (355Kb).

Comic episodes will are published each week on Mondays and remain archived in the 914 Comic Series section.

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Friday, 28 September 2007

Continuing on the theme of laser scanning range finders, I spotted an article about an autonomous taxi called the Cybercar, in the BBC news this week. The prototype Cybercar uses what appears to be a SICK LMS series laser scanner on the front to avoid obstacles.

This is a UK trial in Daventry as part of the European Commission research group CityMobil, and similar events are taking place throughout Europe. You can see the Cybercar in action by following the video link at the top right of the linked article, there are also a few videos up on YouTube of the Cybercar in action at other locations.

Of course this is a significant use of autonomous robotic navigation technology which is similar to that used in the DARPA Grand Challenge. It's good to know that this sort of research eventually goes to help the everyday public.

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Wednesday, 26 September 2007

You may remember that I previously showed you my SICK PLS101-312 laser scanning range finder, that I intended to use with my 914.

I've now mounted the laser on top of the robot using a simple flat piece of HDPE to replace the top chassis plate, with holes drilled appropriately. The SICK lasers have all sorts of threaded mounting holes so this was the easy part. I've also mounted two 12V SLA batteries on there too - because the SICK lasers run from 24V:

The laser is simply connected to serial port of the mini-itx board as it has an RS232 interface. The 914 is more than capable of carrying the extra weight, but as I previously mentioned, if I had the choice I would probably have bought a smaller laser to mount under my lifting head mod.

The laser's front is angled downwards which means actually diverts the laser scan in this direction too, so even though the laser is mounted quite high, it still cuts though objects like coffee tables that are just above the downward facing IR beak sensors.

My original intention was to use the PLS with the Player/Stage and it's various out-of-the-box navigation, path planning and localization algorithms. However, I have had quite a lot of trouble getting the laser to work which appears to be down to the 'sickpls' driver for Player - basically it doesn't support all the functionality of the SICK LMS series driver which means it won't work with the Player graphical utilities.

My intention now is to attempt to write a program to interface to the PLS myself, since it's only RS232 comms it shouldn't be too hard. I will probably write some sort of simple mapping and collision avoidance program using the PLS, although it probably won't be quite as good as the Player functionality. Of course it's possible that the Player 'sickpls' driver may get merged with the 'sicklms200' driver and it will get full support at some point in the future - if anyone is an expert on writing or modifying Player divers then let me know.

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Odometry Man 004
Sunday, 23 September 2007


This week Odometry Man has returns with his team to get to the bottom of the Odometry emergency that occurred last time. However, somewhere else in the time space continuum something odd is happening...

This is the second episode of a multi part storyline. Please click on the preview to the right to get this week's episode of Odometry Man full size (320Kb).

Comic episodes will still be published each week on Mondays and remain archived in the 914 Comic Series section.

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