White Box Robotics Pre-order

Gordon McComb wrote:

[...]
want
Sometimes I get picked on for spelling "mistakes". In my English classes I never got high marks for spelling, I did get high marks for my stories.
I remember an old English teacher (head master) who complained that his local church magazine's editorial had spelling and grammar mistakes.
I asked him what the article was about. He didn't know!
There are reason why some people have difficulty with spelling just as some people have dyslexia. Also sometimes as a touch typist I find my fingers sometimes misspell a word without my even being aware of it :)
-- John
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JGCASEY wrote:

This doesn't really explain the people who have difficulty using a spell checker.
Mitch
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Mitch Berkson wrote:

I don't have a spell-checker for my newsreader. Many people do not. Or can't be bothered. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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JGCASEY wrote:

I have dyslexia (as does my son and grandson), and I have always been a lousy typist. But still I try my best to spell words correctly. All we have to express ourselves here are words. A program like As-U-Type will correct on-the-fly, and works with most any Windows program (alas, not Netscape 3, which have returned to in order to avoid viruses). I assume there are similar programs for Linux.
I don't want to belabor this, as it's not cogent. I was trying to offer some constructive criticism to someone who once asked for pointers about getting published. Won't make that mistake again!
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

That's ok Gordon, just don't do it again :-) :-)
Just kidding. I hope you do continue to offer constructive criticism as it is most appreciated.
-- John
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Nope. I started to, but then I saw something shiny. My eyes glazed over, I started drooling, and went into fits of laughter while my fingers rapidly twitched in patterns that ended up forming words.
Sorry for the confusion.
Rich
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mlw wrote:

Actually I don't think anybody claimed that you *couldn't*, just that it is easier to do on a microcontroller.
Frankly you could do your PID calculations 1/second for the most part and get it done nicely.
My problem is that your motor controller seems like a Rube Goldberg device.
You have a DAC on your PC to create a voltage, which then goes into a controller which converts that into PWM to power your motor.
To me it seems *much* easier to buy a commercial motor controller. Or even to make one yourself. You can program in C.
I'm not saying that you *can't* do it: you've proved that your system works. I'm just saying that there are cheaper and easier systems out there for motor control.
I've seen people in rattlesnake bagging competitions and people who do bee-bearding. Not things *I* would do, but they proved it could be done.

Good luck to you. To me this seems to have been done many times before. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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D. Jay Newman wrote:

And, without opening that can of works, is a difference in perspective.

Well, that only works if you are controlling something of sufficiently slow response times.

Oh, man. That's just mean. :-)

This is a fairly standard methodology in a lot of industrial controls.

Again, we don't want that argument again, do we? We can both state a viable case where we can prove our own opinions.

Stop it, I'm laughing too hard.

Actually, it may have been done before, but I guess the thust of my project is to highlight the difficulties and the possible solutions. For instance:
int PIDControl::CalcPID(double target, double actual, double scale) { // Calculate the physical error scaled to compensate for // fluctuations in time base. double error = (target-actual)*scale; // Calculate the differential between last error from scaled values m_differential = error - m_error; // Update integral with the error (should average out) m_integral += error; // Save the last last error m_error = error; // Sum the raw PID components using the scaled values double rawpid (error*m_gain_error)+(m_integral*m_gain_int)+(m_differential*m_gain_dif); // Adjust for bias int pid = (int) round(m_bias + rawpid); #ifdef TRACK_PID if(m_logfile) { fprintf(m_logfile, "%f,%f,%f,%f,%f,%f,%d\n", target,actual,m_error,m_integral, m_differential, scale, pid); } #endif // Return clamped PID value return (pid > m_pidMax)?m_pidMax:(pid < m_pidMin)?m_pidMin:pid; }
In the above example, the "scale" parameter is absent in virtually every PID code I've ever seen, but it makes a difference in motor stability -- even on highly consistent system.

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<snip>

I wouldn't dismiss the looks of a robot being important. Are looks important to operation? Nope. But it is important to how people react to it. For me, I like to build my robots to operate around and interact with humans. I enjoy when I write some code and get my robot to self navigate from one room to the other, but really, what's the end result? It got itself from one room to the next. Big whoop. Now, if I can get the robot to enter the room, recognize someone, say hello to them by name, tell them a joke cause they know that person likes jokes, ask them if they would like something to drink and then go get it, then that would be a big deal.
Do you need looks for the above? Nope. But a robot that looks like something people imagine rather than a bunch of parts from my shop really seems to intrigue non-robot people 100x more. When my non-robot friends see my robots they think they are cool and amazed I was able to build it, but they don't connect with the robot itself. I whip out my old omnibot and they want to play with it, cause it looks like a "robot". To me, it seems that when non-robot people see my home made robots, they are thinking, that's great and I'm amazed, but I can't wait to see it when its done.
If you just want a truck chassis, there are several robot platforms and systems already available. I think there may just be a market for this Whitebox bot, not just cause its looks, but because it gives the consumer a robot that looks like how many people think a robot looks like and is pretty much ready to go. I'm not talking about you and me, but people new to robotics look and say, that's what robot I want, not an erector set or some small boebot type robot. Oh it runs Windows? I know how to use Windows. They don't need any tools. They don't need to build anything. Just plug it in and start playing with it, as they get more and more into it, they start seeing how it works, start seeing what limitations it has and start thinking of how they could modify it.
I know people that when they started into robotics, have spent more than this robot's cost getting parts, tools, and spending tons of hours researching and building just to get a robot that looks like an upside down trash can that can move around. Many of them ended up losing interest and/or just didn't have the time to devote. I think this robot has a place in the market and gives people a ready to run robot that looks like what they imagine a robot to look like. The cost might seem high to many of us, but that's because we have the ability, the drive, the space, tools, the time, etc to build our own. I think the draw to robotics for most isn't the idea that they get to spend hours and hours researching a bunch of fields they know nothing about and then cut and drill material and fashion a robot, just so they can get to the point of making a robot than can be made to do things. I think there is a large market of people that just want to get a robot and then make it do things. This does that and on top of it gives them a design that they and people they show it to will relate with.
-C
PS, when looking at the cost of this robot, its easy to look and say man, $1200 is way too much. But is it? What does the cost of all the parts cost? The motors, the wheels, batteries/charger, VIA board/CPU, memory, hard drive, camera, metal, etc. Now, if you built your own, you would need to have at least those parts. So the price of this robot is the delta. That delta might be easily worth the cost to many to get a fully built and well designed robot that took 0 amount of their time to get to that point and they get to focus on the part they want, making it do whatever they want.
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mlw wrote:

I remember them also. In some ways I consider this the continuation of that legacy.

Agreed. However, White Box Robotics are the people who stepped up and produced a commodity device.

Yes, but this attitude is what keeps a lot of people out of this hobby.
A base with an option that doesn't include a PC is just what we need, IMHO.

But the problem is that people need something they can actually go out and *buy*.

It was designed around using a Mini-ITX board for the main controller. There should be enough power for what sort of things you want to do.

I read the specs. It's in a link off of the original page.
http://www.whiteboxrobotics.com/special/documents/914Specifications.pdf

Yes. Until we can get a robot that can maneuver around the typical house, a large niche will be empty. I'm working on it, but I've got a few totally different ideas. I like the idea of a walker of some sort, but walkers are less efficient than wheeled robots. -- D. Jay Newman http://enerd.ws/robots /
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attempts to

of the

Litte more than those? Have you had a chance to work with each one of the HERO robots and the other robots from the 80's? The HERO's were and still are capable robots which still have new options being developed as add-ons. There was also quite a bit of software written for each one. From the research i've done the HERO 1 alone sold more units than most of the other personal robots combined and helped spark interest in robotics and engineering to a lot of people (myself included). The HERO 2000 was a complete redesign from the ground up and is an excellent robot! Easy to program, fun to use, and looks great.
The RB5X is going under upgrades/improvements and is also a nice platform which could acommodate newer brains, etc.
Some of the other personal robots like the Gemini and Newton were also sophisticated and had a lot more depth to them than mere toys. A lot can be learned from them and the history of the personal robot companies.
While some early robots were glorified "toys" quite a few were not.
How can you comment on how useful something is when you haven't had a chance to see what it actually will do??

need to

to be

[navigation
is not

buy
building.
Perhaps standardize all the algorithms and logic... With all the different platforms out there a generic version may be watered down too much to be useful. Getting navigation down is important.
Afterall, if a robot is mobile then it ought to be able to get around!
The "people like us" may just enjoy other aspects of this great hobby. I know several who would rather buy a viable platform then expand upon that. I like to do both!
For a finished product like the new WhiteBox it appears that it is marketed toward both robotic hobbyists and the masses. I've talked to Tom on several occations and he is very dedicated to robotics and is a nice guy as well. He believes in his product and is doing his best to see it take off. I've been involved in robotics for years and I wouldn't underestimate the importance of looks or having a finished product. That seems to be a requirement for anyone else than the hardcore robot hobbyists. Besides, it might even pull in and expose more people to the hobby that otherwise would have overlooked it...

Then
control is,

yet to

to be

is to

There
I've enjoyed reading your posts and it looks like you have done an excellent job on using mouse encoders as encoders for your main drive. I look forward to seeing the results of that and what comes out of the rest of the project.
The one thing I can do without is some of the harsh comments which have popped up in these threads and the point of view that there is only one way. As I see it there are many excellent solutions to the problems in robotics and it is best to keep an open mind. Linux, Windows, microcontrollers, all have their place.
Just my 2 cents....
Robert
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snipped-for-privacy@bizserve.com wrote:
mlw wrote:

need to

to be

To take this one step further...
I'd be happy with a generalized interface to things like path planning algorithms, but I don't see an agreement on the best alrorithm to use in order to standardize on one. There are so many -- A*, D*, Floyd-Warshall, Voronoi, and bunch others. Some robot nagivation systems use several algoritms at once, to interpolate the data for comparison, learning which is better in different circumstances.
Some (many?) of these algorithms are canned public domain routines. You can download them from AI, gamer programmer, and other sites. There's no consistent interface, though. At the very least, as a DLL you could just give it data, and it returns a path as a set of numbers. Not everyone is up to the programming level to create their own DLLs. I can well imagine the popularity of these kinds of libraries for the large number of students who rely on Visual Basic, for example.
Given the disagreements over engineering practices vis-a-vis the use of microcontrollers to offload critical hardware functions, I can hardly see the value of shoehorning more one-size- fits-all methodology into the mix. Who's software? Who's navigation algorithm?
-- Gordon
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snipped-for-privacy@bizserve.com wrote:

Yes, I played with a hero when they came out.

Did it spark an interest or ride a wave? I worked at Denning Mobile Robotics in the early/mid 1980s. There was tons of interest in robotics at the time, even investors! I even built my first "robot" in 1979 out of a mattel bigtrack and an RCA1802. I don't think hero sparked an interest, it was just the best of a fairly weak lot.

Yes, it did look great.

I'd like to see that.

As a person who was involved in robotics in the early days, there is much that can be learned by seeing what we did 15~20 years ago.

Depends on how you define "toy."

Why is it that people assume a contrary opinion is uninformed? If you want to discuss robotics technology or robotics history, that's fine, but if you want to state your assumptions of what another person knows or does not know, then you are acting foolisly.

The problem with non-existing standards is that there is no standard reference to know exactly where the standard is lacking.
For instance, would an API call for robotic movement resemble a LineDDA or a bezier curve? Should robotic motion be controlled by vectors?
It would be nice to standardize on this sort of API, that way, my $500 robot will allow me to develop software that will work on a very nice $5000 robot without changing.
A nice API certification would be nice, where XYZ robots could comply with RMAPI 1.0 (Robotic Motion Applications Programming Interface). If a number of robot OEMs supported a standard, it would be quite nice.

ok.
And this is the probem. It is (IMHO) to expensive for the hobbyist and lacks any well defined task for the masses.

I have no doubt.

He better, he put a lot into it.

Defined finished? Shouldn't it also perform a function? Roomba actually sweeps the carpets.

I would say roomba does a better job exposing robotics to the masses. Too bad it is a fairly weak application.

Thanks.
I do find it funny, if you go back and read what I've posted you'll notice that while I do enjoy controversy and debating a contrarian opinion, I try not to be the who creates a flame war first. It is impossible to defend myself against this without reopening the controversy that you reference.

Ahh, yes, "every one has its place." I think that is political correctness. The debate is where that place is, and there are some serious issues involved.

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mlw wrote:

What an incredible comment! Of all the '80s-era robots (discounting the fancy toys), the HERO undeniably sold the best -- a minimum of 20,000 units for the various versions, since the initial kit was first introduced in 1983. Entire robotics courses were created at the high school and university level around this robot.
Denning was incorporated just a year earlier, so it's hard to claim that HERO only rode the wave. The HERO was first to commercialize a number of concepts that the other players only announced in prototype form, including the trainer arm and voice.
You've already expressed your contrary opinion, so facts don't mean anything now, but there you have it.
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

I never said it wasn't popular, I just doubted that it "created" any sort of wave.

Denning, as you point out was incorporated a year earlier. So, the "wave" was before Hero, wasn't it? Right?
So, if the wave that helped Denning, and a slew of other robotics companies, get funding arrived before Hero, it is only reasonable to say that Hero rode the wave as opposed to created it. Wouldn't you agree?
When Hero came out it was a toy, that was our perspective. We were working on a 480 pound mobile robot security guard with a 24 ultrasonic sensor ring, 6 floor based ultrasonics, phased array ultrasonics, video camera, a digital radio link, syncro drive, and radar.
Maybe you guys thought it was a capable robot, but many of us in the industry at the time thought it was little more than cute. It is a matter of perspective.

On an educational level only.

When you want to argue facts instead of making ad hominem attacks, I would welcome the change.
Enjoying a vigorous debate, especially a controversial or contrarian one, does not imply that I am not interested in facts. To make the charge that "facts don't mean anything now," is basically an underhanded way of you trying to impuge what I write, implying that I have been less than factually accurate, a charge you should appologize for making because you know better.
I may hold different opinions, but I know my facts.
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mlw wrote:

Oh, right. Care to remember when Denning's Sentry product was announced? It was some six months *after* the HERO. Denning was still showing prototypes when Heathkit was already actively selling to schools and individuals. Besides the fact that Heathkit had been working on the kit for more than a year, and they essentially created the educational robotics market.
Denning had trouble selling their technology, and they went horribly in debt, but I have no trouble giving them their due for their contributions. But that's not the argument. The argument is your belief the biggest selling educational robot somehow never "sparked an interest." That has got to be the silliest thing I've read from you.
And then there's this doozy:

If "popular" doesn't mean "sparked an interest," what does? Who was buying $40 million worth of HERO products anyway?? No one with any interest in robotics, I'm sure.
-- Gordon
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Gordon McComb wrote:

Heathkit was making an educational product, Denning was attempting to create a securty guard robot that lived up to an expectation of performing a task.

Yup, that is very true. They had terrible internal problems as well.

Yes they did, I had left the company by then. It was my first professional job in technology. I had my picture in the paper, a robot I built for testing published in a japanese robotics magazine, I met some interestng people. It was a blast. Like the recent DotCom bust, the robot bust came just as certainly.

I'm glad you said that. There was lots of stuff that went on at Denning. Most startups fail, mostly not because of the technology, and as you said we are not discussing it.

Oh please, people were interested in robotics before Hero, Hero rode the wave of the trend and captalized on it.

I think you are confusing "cause and effect." There is no evidence that Hero caused anything. The Apple iPod is widely popular but it had nothing to do with the digital music revolution, it simply managed to captalize on it. Heathkit was popular with educaton and hobiests at the time. It is diffcult to remember how big Heathkit used to be before Zenith bought them.
IBM did not spark the PC market, Apple, Commador, and kaypro did, (maybe even imsai) but IBM sold the most.
There are so many examples of where the products that sold boatloads had very lttle to actually do with the market place. Sales is not a reliable measure. You are looking back over 20 years. The real "spark" was probably R2D2 in 1977. When the pioneers are asked what inspred them, it is usually R2D2, the lost in space robot, or the robots from "silent running."
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mlw wrote:

Nah. The real "spark" was Tobor the Great. Or maybe even the robotic Maria in Metropolis. Cute *and* dangerous. Yeah, that's it. We owe modern computing to the spark of interest created by the abacus. Oh, that and the female-sounding computer from Star Trek. "Comp-u-ting!"
-- Gordon
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mlw wrote:

Mobile
robotics
out of

interest,
the
20,000
high
sort of

Movies like Silent Running and Star Wars seemed to provide a lot of the ripples to create the wave. The HERO robot line from Heathkit didn't merely "ride" the wave. It amplified the wave! It was in almost every magazine article on robotics from that era (I have copies of most), appeared on TV shows like Newtons Apple, Computer Chronicles, Letterman show, etc. One of the HERO 1 robots even spoke in front of and addressed the US Congress. It was also one of the first robots that people were exposed to and got people to think about robotics.
The Androbots, RB5X, and others contributed too but there were only a fraction of those out there compared to the HERO's.

that
"wave"
companies,
Hero
Nope. I feel it is more accurate to say that none of them single handedly "created" the wave, most of them "rode it", and a select few like the Heathkit HERO's did a great deal to "amplify it". I wouldn't belittle their accomplishment.
Most of the early robotics companies folded before their prototypes were finished or after making a small # of their creations. They "rode" the wave and drowned in it. It really is a shame since some were fantastic and should have made it.

working
sensor
camera, a

matter
It all depends on which HERO robot you refer to. They each were targeted at different areas and had different features. To judge the whole lot on your impression of the inital offering isn't a fair comparison if that is what you've used.
Also, Heathkit had come out with enhancements/upgrades over time which address some shortcomings and improve reliability.
The HERO 2000 is a very capable robot and does lend itself well for upgrades and expansion. With the sonar on the head it can see as if there were a ring of 24 sonar sensors around it. The differential drive system works great and all of the motors are closed loop servo motors with quadrture encoding. There were quite a few goodies as add-on options. It can even write some of it's own code. It's great!
One of the options allows it to find the charger, dock with it, and recharge on it's own.

Let's assume we are talking about the ET-18 or ETW-18 HERO 1 robot.
Well that is cool since that is what it was "designed" to accomplish. They were pleasantly surprised by how many hobbyists were lining up to buy a robot of their own. People started creating all sorts of programs and suggestions that the kept on going.
The HERO Jr was targeted specifically for the HOME market and the HERO 2000 was targeted at educational and for advanced users.
I've done extensive work on all the HERO robots and will be happy to go over specifics or help anyone who owns a HERO keep their robot going. Any topics on that should probably be moved to a new thread though.
Best Regards,
Robert
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snipped-for-privacy@bizserve.com wrote:

Don't forget Creative Computing, November 1983. (And a couple others...)
At best the robots in movies serve as inspiration. Inspiration is important, and while that may get people dreaming, turning ideas into products needs a wee more. Let's consider that even today hobby robots have far more in common -- looks and function -- with HERO than R2D2. Or the Denning Sentry, for that matter, a product that never found its market because there was no market for a quarter-ton robot that posed a greater liability threat than any burglar. A classic example of hubris and too-little market research.
This "wave" is someone else's definition, and IMO, it's a poor one. Henry Ford didn't invent the automobile, but he capitalized on it and ushered in the era of mass production, which he also didn't invent. Still, Ford should get at least some credit. It's all irrelevant anyway, as the "wave" considers only the part of market dynamics this other person wants it to convey. No one can argue with the wave.
Exposure to actual hardware also played an important role in the rise of robotics, and this should not be ignored. The early commercial prototypes like Hubot, Odex-1, Sentry, and the others were just pictures in a magazine for most people. The HERO was real hardware you could find in most any college or university (and even some high schools). Its influence was far, far wider because of it. Take that, you wave!
-- Gordon
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