Lollybot is a $10 Robot Made with a USB Gamepad and Chupa Chups
I attended Barcamp Chiang Mai 6 yesterday, and sessions dealt with a wide range of subjects ranging from SEO and web development to things like nuclear energy, VMAT2 God gene, or Edward Snowden. There were just four talks somewhat related to the subjects I usually write about in this blog:
- Project Manhattan – An interactive TV infrastructure project for TV operators based on open source libraries (but not open source itself). They provide both back-end software and a mobile app (Android or iOS) for smartphones and set-top boxes. They had an Android set-top box, but unfortunately there was no time for demo. There’s no project website, but the solution is said to be used by horizon-tv.tv (in Russian).
- A Raspberry Pi session which I could not attend
- Firefox OS – Keng is the owner of a mobile and web development company called opendream, but he’s also one of the 4 Mozilla core developers in Thailand who mainly work on Thai language support, and gave a presentation about Firefox OS. I also had the chance to play around with Firefox OS Developer Preview Phone (Keon) which was pretty cool.
- Lollybot – A joystick hack to make an ultra low cost robot, and the subject of this post.
Thomas Tilley gives software engineering lectures at Payap University in Chiang Mai, but he’s been pursuing an interesting hobby for several years: joystick hacking. This led him to participate in the AFRON “10 Dollar Robot” Design Challenge where participants had to design a very cheap robot to serve as an educational tool for African students in one of three categories:
- Tethered (Programming and Control connected to PC)
- Traditional (Programming with PC, roaming free)
Thomas took part in the tethered category and won by hacking a cheap dual shock compatible USB gamepad which you can buy for about $3.5 US in Thailand, and adding two Chupa Chups ($0.5 per piece), as well as a few low cost or scraped components and parts to meet the $10 target ($8.96 exactly provided you don’t start to stuff yourself with lollipops). He initially called his creation “Suckerbot”, as Chupa Chups comes from the word meaning “Suck” in Spanish, but he was later asked to change the name, and went for “Lollybot”.
The basic idea is to use the vibration motors inside the dual shock controller as motors for the two wheels (actually container lids), and the lollipops are used as bump sensors in order to know when the robot hits the wall via the analog thumbsticks. There also a bit of electronics to do. Everything is explained in details on Suckerbot page.
One the software task, one of the first thing was to reverse-engineer the USB protocol with a USB sniffer, and then he wrote a control program using Object Pascal in Delphi. Since this was limited to Windows, and later on Delphi only had a paying version, he decided to go with node.js and HTML5 to provide a open source and cross-platform solution.
Lollybot’s telemetry & control software is available from Lollybot Google Code page. You can watch the robot in action in the video below.
As a first trial 100 to 200 Lollybot will be manufactured in Africa, with maybe more on the way. AFRON (African Robotics Network) has started a new challenge this year entitled “Ultra Affordable Educational Robot” to improve on last year designs, and especially the lollybot in 3 categories:
- Hardware – Enhance the Lollybot hardware design, simplifying assembly, increasing robustness, adding useful features.
- Software – Extend and improve the open-source software for Lollybot
- Curriculum – Create exciting lesson plans using the Lollybot.
There’s also a “Community challenge” where you have to build one of the winning designs in collaboration with students, and document the whole process.
You have to submit your improvements by the 18th of September 2013, and winners will be announced in October 2013.
Full disclosure: Although this post is not officially sponsored, I did receive a free Chupa Chups lollipop during the presentation 😉