May 28, 2012 7:09 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when you want to do research with robots, but don't have the budget for decently powered robots? COTSBots!

Dr. Terry Soule of the University of Idaho wanted to get some robots so he and his team could try using genetic programming to evolve robot behaviors.

Terry found that you could either get inexpensive robots, that were so underpowered for his purposes they were useless, or you could spend north of $10,000 to buy a serious research robot that will still be behind the curve from the perspective of memory and cycles.

His team's solution? COTS Bots!

Requiring no soldering, and minimal tools, for ~$500 you too can have a robot for the price of an RC vehicle chassis, an Arduino controller and...the secret ingredient: a low cost computer with built in motion sensor, camera and GPS as well as lots of memory and fast communications channels.

Mefi-ites, start evolving your robots!
posted by BillW (7 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by Joe in Australia at 8:32 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I built pretty much exactly this for my final year project at University. Same design (less computing hardware), same motivation (mobile platform for navigational software testing) and in fact the exact same RC tank chassis as one of these.
Modular hardware design and matched modular software design.

I got a very low mark for it.
I'm a little bitter about that.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 1:54 AM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Interesting site. When I have illusions about my free time, I sometimes browse the DIY Drones site, which has some of the same design goals as these guys.
posted by Harald74 at 2:38 AM on May 29, 2012

If this is addressed in the main link, it's kind of buried, but this seems like a really weird "story" to me. I would have assumed that, of course, engineering students and professors doing robotic research would build their own stuff with off-the-shelf parts instead of buying some expensive pre-fab robot. Aren't there robotics clubs doing the same thing in half the high schools in America?
posted by straight at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2012

Two aspects are of interest: 1. There is very little to the assembly - no soldering because of pre-assembled Arduino controller and the use of a smart phone makes this possible. Second, the research he's doing is also interesting - he's using the OTS robot as a platform to evolve programs to run the robot.
posted by BillW at 3:26 PM on May 29, 2012

Hard to find the pricing info, but there are neat embedded systems a'la InHand that run a flavor of linux or windows, and are probably as good as a netbook. Granted, no keyboard, or display, but real programmers use the terminal anyway.
posted by k5.user at 10:02 AM on May 30, 2012

That website is real light on source code. I couldn't find the code for the ball-following they were doing.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 7:35 AM on May 31, 2012

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