Open Robots with Open Roberta

Kids, and Hackaday editors, love robots! The Open Roberta project (OR) takes advantage of this to teach kids about programming. And while the main focus is building a robot programming language that works for teaching grade-school and high-school kids, it’s also a part of a large open source robotics ecosystem that brings a lot more to the table than you might think. We talked with some folks at Google, one of the projects’ sponsors, about where the project is and where it’s going.

csm_Roberta_9e1215fc57Building a robot can be very simple — assembling pre-configured parts or building something small, quick, and cute — or it can be an endeavour that takes years of sweat and tears. Either way, the skills involved in building the ‘bot aren’t necessarily the same as those it takes to program the firmware that drives it, and then eventually the higher-level software that makes it functional and easy to drive.

OR, as an educational project, makes it very, very easy for kids to start off programming robots, but it’s expandable as the user gets more experienced. And since everything is open source, it’s part of a whole ecosystem that makes it even more valuable. We think it’s worth a look (along with something significantly more complex like ROS) if you’re playing around with robotics.

System Architecture

openRoberta.dotOpen Roberta is the user-facing middleware in a chain of software and firmware bits that make a robot work in a classroom environment. For the students, everything runs inside a browser. OR provides a webserver, robot programming interface and language, and then converts the output of the students’ programs to something that can be used with the robots’ firmware. The robots that are used in classrooms are mostly based on the Lego Mindstorms EV3 platform because it’s easy to put something together in short order. (But if you don’t have an EV3, don’t despair and read on!)

The emphasis is on ease of entry for the students and the teachers supervising the class. Everything runs in a browser, so there’s nothing to install on the client side. The students connect to a server that directs the robots, communicating with the robots’ own operating system, and uploading the students’ programs.

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Building a robot without using a machine shop

We usually avoid the prospect of buying new tools just for one project. In the long run we’re sure we’d use them again, but sometimes even with that outlook you can’t afford it. Case in point is our life-long-lust for a laser cutter; we just can’t justify the upfront cost but we sure would use it constantly if we had one.

If you do find that you’re interested in taking on a project that calls for laser cut parts, [I Heart Robotics] shows you how to do it with a few simple hand tools. The bot seen above is their TurtleBot. You can cut your own parts using a laser cutter, you can buy a kit from them, or you can bust out a ruler, compass, drill, coping saw, printer, and tape to make the pieces by hand.

It’s a simple enough concept. Print out the templates, tape them to your hard board, then start drilling and sawing. You won’t get the precision a machine tool can, but in some cases you don’t need to be all that perfect.

[via Adafruit]