Thin Client As Robot Platform


[Extra Ketchup] has a couple Neoware thin clients and thought they would make a good robotics platform. It’s a Geode based board that came with Windows CE. He built a small Gentoo system to fit on the 130MB solid state drive. He likes the idea of using it as a platform because the board has serial, parallel, and USB support. The best part is shown above; it can run off of just 4 AA’s.

20 thoughts on “Thin Client As Robot Platform

  1. This may be simple stuff for some, and this may seem like a noob comment….But seeing a computer run off of 4 AA’s blows my freakin mind.

    can’t wait to see what kind of robot(s) this will be used on.

  2. @brownsy67
    Yeah its pretty cool, just consider pocket PC phones though, Windows Mobile 6 is just a newer version of Windows CE, and they all run off one or two 3.7v lithium ion cells.
    Furthermore, those 4 AA batteries might not last all that long once Windows has to start working on robotic brain duties. I’m expecting an upgrade to a small sealed lead acid for longer life for that, plus for driving the motors.
    You could only expect a Geode to perform XP embedded or Windows CE roles, or light linux builds. Nowt more.
    You could put XP on if the binaries are compatible, but it’ll run like a dog, and forget Vista!

  3. He should be running this off of D cells instead. The platform needs 5 volts and anywhere from 2.5Amp to 4.8Amps This can drain 4 AA rechargeables @ 2500mAh in 1 hour or less.

  4. Just a couple of replies:

    The idea behind this project is to repurpose old equipment that was heading to the land fill. The computers are too slow for useful desktop computing, but for projects like a robotics platform, remote sensor monitoring station (using a solar panel), etc., these are a great option. Best of all, they are FREE to me!

    Regarding 4 AA batteries – this is what I had to test my theory that the board could run off of 4 1.2 volt NiMH batteries (of which I only have AA cells at the moment). This board draws about 1 amp at 4.8 V, not the almost 5 amps suggested. That said, it is definitely my plan to replace with D cells or multiple AA cells in parallel, with separate batteries for the motors (to keep noise off the computer PS).

    Anyway, what’s pictured is a “It can be done!” experiment, not the final product :-)

  5. I’m using an older zaurus as a robot platform. I’ve been scoring them for around $30 on ebay. I talk serial to my servo controller and use a wifi card to move photos and stuff to the network for vision processing.

  6. @stu: I installed XP on one of these exact units, and it was practically unusable. I then installed XP FLP, and it was usable, but not too speedy. I then install Win2K, and it ran like a “bat out of hell”… :) I used a 4GB 2.5” laptop drive and 44 pin 2mm IDC ribbon cable from an iMac and actually installed the drive inside the original case. It was a sweet micro PC until lightning fried it…

    “he could use the little solar cells out of calculators” – Yea, if you had about a 1000 of them…

  7. The best aa cells you can get are the lithium ions and they do 4800mAH each. This board is 5v 5w idle.

    Also someone needs to do a ATX 20P 12V controller. You can get 12V 50W ac-dc power supplies cheap, but those pico psu dc-dc connectors are like 40-60 bucks usd and are completely passive component based.

  8. Love it, great stuff!
    Anyone here got some insight into how you would go about controlling servo’s and motors with something like this?

    Would this be capable of performing like an arduino in terms of ‘talking’ to things? (like a gps module or wii remote?)

  9. My goal is to have this talk to Arduino (actually, the AVR Microcontroller itself, but Arduino is my prototype / experimenter). I’ve already written code for Arduino to control servos, read ADC, etc. via commands sent over the serial port. The AVR can handle all the low-end stuff like modulating the pulse to the servo while the mainboard can handle high-end stuff like decision-making, network comms, reading GPS, etc.

    This also provides a degree of isolation – an AVR is relatively cheap and easy to replace should it blow out. Blow out the mainboard, and well, I personally only have so many spares.

  10. You got enough spares to sell me one? ;)
    That sounds like the way to go, and you could program the avr with the main board couldn’t you?

    I’ll keep my eye on this one and look forward to seeing some nifty projects

    Thanks mike!

  11. I done this before but with mini-itx boards.
    A few years ago I used to use old COCOs running OS/9 as a cheap nearly free embedded controller but powerful recent uCs like the propeller make that obsolete.
    As for this board an old arm based PDA like a palm zire will be much faster and use less power and can could control devices by communicating though an audrino or propeller.
    The main advantage of the thin client board is it’s an x86 PC and comes with those PC ports.
    You can control a lot of stuff off the para port using just some latches and optical isolators.

  12. I’ve actually got a lot (75 or so) of some WYSE 3125SE Thin clients that have about the same specs. Been thinking about doing something similar. (Using it to do object tracking with a webcam and passing serial data to an Arduino to take care of the low level stuff). Way too many to use, if you guys some, let me know.

  13. Thanks to HAD inspiring me with Jim’s thin Client project, I just yesterday received my own thin client, a Maxterm 8300b running WinXPe, and surprisingly well I must say.

    I have different plans for mine, but It’s awesome to know that there actually are other folks exploring the uses of these old machines.

    I will have to take some pics and document my own experiments to add to the mix now.

    -perhaps this weekend…

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