BAMF2010: Spy TRAKR – No Lasers, $14,861 Cheaper

Maybe $15K for an elaborate balancing telepresence robot is a bit out of one’s league. In that case, another Bay Area Maker Faire exhibitor — Wild Planet — has you covered. Faire attendees got a hands-on sneak preview of the upcoming Spy Video TRAKR, a video-transmitting radio-controlled toy that’s programmable and extensively hackable.

The TRAKR has an impressive pedigree. It’s a collaborative effort between three successful and creative technology companies: Wild Planet, makers of the Spy Gear toy line; MOTO Development Group, designers of the Flip Video camera; and Making Things, software designers for the Make Controller.

So just how hackable are we talking? The Spy Video TRAKR is intended right out of the box to use downloadable apps, and allows development of new programs in C. The controller and vehicle each contain their own ARM9 processor, and the ’bot features 8 megs of RAM, an SD card slot and USB client and host (yes, host) ports. And that’s all with the cover still on. Pop the lid, and you’ll find links to online schematics and neatly-labeled breakout headers for deeper exploration.

The Spy Video TRAKR is expected to ship in October with a target price of $139 or less. Additional photos after the break.

43 thoughts on “BAMF2010: Spy TRAKR – No Lasers, $14,861 Cheaper

  1. Add a robot arm with a USB extension lead and you’ve got a useful corporate espionage tool. (Plant discretely in target office, wait ’til everyone’s left then motor over to nearest PC and jack in to give remote keyboard. Then wheel back a bit so the camera gets a view of the monitor. Et voila, pwned!)

  2. Wow, this could be a Rovio on steroids. The Rovio has recently released it’s firmware source code, but it’s not complete, and once cannot create a custom firmware yet. So, while you can hack around the unit with a little more understanding now, you can’t truly create your own modules. This seems to allow that from the get-go. Plus, a USB host would allow you to add additional sensors. In 4 1!

  3. @Wild Planet Kim – Sweet, looking forward to this. Is there any way this can be controlled via a PC, ie, can the controller plug into the PC to control the spy trakr or to view the camera feed from an inbound internet connection?

  4. Holly sweaty balls! This thing is amazing at that price range. Basically you are getting Ethernet router (with no ethernet :P, but with USB) + Robotic platform for one hundred bucks.

  5. The part that excites me here is the “links to online schematics and neatly-labeled breakout headers” inside the case. A nice welcome like this on the inside of the case saying “hack me” is brilliant. Marketing people for hardware companies all around pay attention to what is going on here. Embrace the nerds and in exchange get them to drive your product further and market it for you, for free. Such a welcome into the device makes me all gooey and warm inside. It is the opposite end of the spectrum from products like games console who take extra steps to try to stop nerdickery, and demonstrates that giving your nerd-base a big hug can be a benefit instead of a curse.

    Kudos to Wild Planet, and may more companies follow your lead.

  6. Looking forward to some more information on this! Bought the Woot Rovio a few months back, but this seems to have a lot more hacking potential to it. One question, does the handset have any sort of USB-out functionality? Easy to connect to computer w/o Wifi at that point…

  7. Jizz in my pants, I mean honestly connect this thing to a Smart House add Project Jarvis and something on the lines of Linux MCE and you got a security system + prank toy made in heaven.

  8. Wow – lots of great questions! I don’t want to give out any misinformation, so I’m going to run your questions by some people here (and at our partner groups) who are a lot more tech-minded than I am and get back to you as soon as I can, or have them respond to you directly. Thanks for your patience! -Kim

  9. Gabriel Dibble, hunternet93, Robert, Nick and Nolan,

    In response to your questions, Wild Planet’s lead engineer shared the following:

    RE: WIFI – Though that function is not enabled on the unit now, right out of the box, it’s something we’re planning on offering in the future. It’s in the works on our end here and we’re planning to make it backwards compatible.

    RE: Controlling via PC/USB: There is USB connectivity in the remote. The main purpose of this USB is to allow field upgrading of the firmware and we’re looking in to see what else is possible with this USB port. If/when we make it work; we’ll gladly share the details with the community.

    RE: Sharing documents: Yes, the source code will be available and we plan to put a lot of info on as soon as the site is ready for launch.

    Just 3 more months to go!
    Thanks for your patience. -Kim

  10. Good questions Jake.

    I asked our head engineer and here’s what I learned:

    1. There’s no technical reason not to have a battery pack, but they are very expensive and drive the cost up substantially, so the TRAKR would be more expensive if we added one. It’s something we’ve wanted to do, and we won’t rule it out forever, but it puts the final product out of reach for a lot of people (from a financial standpoint). Rechargeable batteries are imperfect, but they seem to be the best compromise for now.

    2. The cargo rack is pretty sturdy, and could easily be reinforced.

    3. At this point, we see the USB host in the TRAKR as having the most utility. However, we’re excited to see what you all do with the TRAKR. If it looks like there are a lot of interesting applications for a remote-side USB host, then we’ll definitely look into that as well.

    Hope this helps! Thanks. -Kim

  11. So is it not going to suck horribly like all the other “spy robots” or telepresence robots sold? Is the camera at least useable ir is it what looks like a $12.00 garbage special.

    This thing is an epic fail, or just a good toy for a 12 year old that has no real sense of what quality is.

  12. This could prove to be an interesting robotics platform. And I like that a company man is willing to come on here and talk to us, the end user.

    If you’re still listening, I have a few questions of my own concerning the programming of the unit.

    1) Will it be possible to make the unit work in conjunction with an Arduino?

    2) Will it be possible to have a basic “AI” to work with? Something that builders could take as a base and created “personalities” (much like the aibo’s did?)

    3) Will it be possible to cross-compile other robotics protocols into protocols that your unit will recognize?


  13. @TH3 WO1F, yes we’re still listening! I’m sorry, but I don’t know the answers to your questions. I’m checking with our engineers to see if they can help you out. Stay tuned… it’s almost the weekend around here and I’m not sure when they’ll get back to me. Thanks for your patience! -Robin / Wild Planet

  14. Hi @TH3Wo1F – looks like I caught our engineer before she started her weekend. Here’s what she has to say in answer to your questions:

    While the system isn’t designed specifically to support these things, there’s nothing to prevent a clever programmer from trying to figure it out. Here’s a little more information that might help such a person:

    – There’s an ARM-9 processor onboard, which can be controlled by custom apps.
    – There’s an accessible USB host port, so you could come in through there.
    – If the case were somehow cracked open(not that we would EVER encourage someone to do that), you have access to several I/O ports.
    – So, in theory, you could use an Arduino board and plug directly into the I/O ports and control things that way, or you could use the USB host and a custom app and work something that way.
    – We have not been focused on creating AI and personalities, but this should be something doable with the apps once the programming support is online.
    – I don’t know about cross compiling. That’s something that we’re not likely to support, but there’s nothing in the system to prevent someone from creating that functionality. If you figure this out, we’d be happy to help you share with other users.

    Hope this helps! -Robin

  15. this thing is awesome! but is the camera color or B/W? If it is color, you could do facial recognition and process the picture before it is sent back, like pointing out recognized people in a crowd.

  16. Looks cools, I going to get one too but may have to wait till I’m in the overseas next or can get them locally in down here in AU.

    Plugging the controller into a PC is a big selling point for me. It would also be good to be able get the video stream out via USB or be able to use a cheap A/V receiver.
    I would love to get OpenCV (or Roborealm) controlling this little guy.


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