Our initial view of the Spy Video TRAKR “App BUILDR” site had us believing this would be an internet-based code editor and compiler, similar to the mbed microcontroller development tools. Delving deeper into the available resources, we’re not entirely sure that’s an accurate assessment — TRAKR may well permit or even require offline development after all. Regardless of the final plan, in the interim we have sniffed out the early documentation, libraries and standalone C compiler and have beaten it into submission for your entertainment, in order to produce our first TRAKR hack!
Last Friday we looked at Wild Planet’s Spy Video TRAKR programmable RC vehicle mostly from an end user perspective. Much of our weekend was spent dismantling and photographing the device’s internal works, and poring over code and documentation, in order to better gauge the TRAKR’s true hackability. Our prior review included some erroneous speculation…we can clarify a number of details now, and forge ahead with entirely new erroneous speculation!
At the Bay Area Maker Faire this past May, we had our first glimpse of Wild Planet’s Spy Video TRAKR, a $130 radio-controlled toy with some surprises under the hood.
On the surface, the Spy Video TRAKR — the latest addition to the popular Spy Gear toy line — is an R/C tank with a video camera and night vision, with the added ability to download new “apps” from the internet for extra functions. With a little detective work, one uncovers the TRAKR’s secret double life: it’s also an eminently hackable robotics platform! Prior Spy Gear toys have been popular hack targets, providing inexpensive, mass-produced sources of unusual items such as head-mounted displays. Rather than throw up barriers, Wild Planet has chosen to embrace this secondary market, with plans to release development tools and documentation making it possible to extend the device’s capabilities.
Read on for our image-heavy unboxing and initial impressions.
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.
This was the week that I accidentally taught my nearly ten-year-old son binary. And I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear.
It all started innocently enough. He had a week vacation, and on one of those days, we booked him a day-course for kids at our local FabLab. It was sold as a “learn to solder” class, and the project they made was basically a MiniPOV: eight LEDs driven by a museum-piece AVR ATtiny2313. Blinking lights make a pattern in your persistence of vision as you swipe it back and forth.
The default pattern was a heart, which is nice enough. But he wanted to get his own designs in there, and of course he knows that I know how to flash the thing with new code. So I got him to solder on an ISP header and start drawing patterns on grids of graph paper while I got the toolchain working and updated some of the 2000’s-era code so it would compile.
There’s absolutely no simpler way to get your head around binary than to light up a row of LEDs, and transcribing the columns of his fresh pixel art into ones and zeros was just the motivation he needed. We converted the first couple rows into their decimal equivalents, but it was getting close to dinner time, so we cheesed out with the modern
0b00110100 format for the rest. This all happened quite organically; “unintentional parenting” is what we call it.
While we were eating dinner, I got the strangest sense of deja vu. When I was around ten or eleven, my own father told me about the custom fonts for the Okidata 24-pin printer at his lab, because he needed me out of his hair for a while, and I set out to encode all of the Hobbit runes for it. (No comment.) He must have handed me a piece of graph paper explained how it goes, and we had a working rune font by evening. That was probably how I learned about binary as well.
Want to teach someone binary? Give them a persistence of vision toy, or a dot-matrix printer.
(Art is from a much older POV project: Trakr POV — a hack of an old kids’ toy to make a long-exposure POV image. But it looks cool, and it gets the point across.)
This is the first in our series of videos meant to spread the hacking goodness far and wide on the net. As you can see, it is a pretty silly video, hopefully you enjoyed the humor. This wouldn’t be hackaday without an appropriate writeup though!
Initially the idea was to make this as a device that my boss could deploy from his Tesla Model S. Ultimately, we missed the release of SkyFall, so the whole 007 theme seemed a little flat. However, we did just happen to have a wonderful woman in the office that agreed to be an “overly attached girlfriend”. Here’s a link to the meme for those who are unfamiliar. Even though we made her look like a crazy person, she was a great sport about it (Thanks [Stephanie]!).
The Goal was to have a radio controlled device that would send live video and audio to someone and had the ability to plant a small GPS tracker on the undercarriage of a car.
Here is [Voelker] showing off his FPGA-based camera hardware. He picked up an ov7670 camera on eBay for about $10 and set to work pulling pixels and processing the images. He’s now able to grab thirty frames per second and push them to his own Java display application. He’s using the Papilio board and if you want to give this a try yourself you might be able to snag a free breakout board (wing) for the unit.
[Voelker’s] approach is to grab each frame, and get it ready for quick serial transmission. The incoming frames are at 640×480 resolution. He scales that down to 80×60 and transmitted at 3M baud. The hardware resources used are actually quite light-weight. He wrote his own modules for transfer and photo processing using very little RAM for downscaling and one 128 byte buffer for data transmission. It sounds like he plans to use the camera to view and detect a line to create his own line-following robot.
Wondering where you’ve seen the ov7670 module before? It’s the part used on the TRAKR robot.