ARCO is a Real Robot that Lives in Virtual Worlds (Crowdfunding)

Hicat launched HICAT.Livera machine vision board for robotics projects on Kickstarter two year ago. The company second project is still related to robotics and machine vision, but geared towards a different target audience, as ARCO robot aims to offer an augmented reality gaming experience to kids, although it’s still hackable/customizable as we’ll see below.

ARCO ROVER AR RobotThe hardware part is mostly comprised of ARCO ROVER robot, and a Bluetooth controller that can be stored in ARCO’s inner capsule, where it recharges and communicates with ARCO through a magnetic pogo connection joint.  The listed specifications are rather limited:

  • ARCO ROVER
    • Bluetooth connectivity (nRF52 WiSoC)
    • 10 RGB LEDs
    • Battery – Good for about one hour
    • Power Supply – Via USB type C port
    • Dimensions – 8.9 x 7 x 6.5 cm
    • Weight – ~180 grams
  • Controller
    • Bluetooth (nRF52)
    • Sensor – 3-axis accelerometer for motion detection
    • Trigger and rocker
    • Battery – Good for about one hour
    • Dimensions – 5.2 x 3.3 x 2.5 cm
    • Weight – ~50 grams

There’s also an optional headset for your phone. The software part is what make the product stand apart. While you could use the robot 100% in the real world, the developers also designed AR games for mobile phones where the robot becomes part of virtual worlds, and you can use the controller to play against virtual targets.

ARCO AR Robot

The company has developed several apps so far including:

  • BATTLE GAME (shown above) where you are fighting against enemies like alien robot army, wild monsters octopus etc…  firing virtual laser beams using the controller
  • PUZZLE GAME where you need to solve clues to get virtual robot upgrades.
  • CODING GAME by visually setting a sequence of commands to control the robot.

ARCO’s AR system works with object recognition allowing your smart phone to track the location and position of ARCO,  and plane detection technology to place a 3D virtual environment directly onto any surface area.

There’s no information in the Kickstarter page about open source, or customization ability, so I asked, and Raymond Zhang, Hicat Co-Founder Hicat explained there were three hackable parts:

  1. The controller and ARCO it self can be connect through standard 2.54mm 4 pin pogo connector, which expose a 2 pin serial communication port. Both on the two pieces. This port can accept third party connections. That mean you could attach a sensor on controller and read the data, then let ARCO, the robot react accordingly.
  2. Both controller and ARCO use NRF52 series chipset, which means the firmware will be rewritable, and we will give out the BLE APIs for hacking all the functions like LEDs, motors, sensors inside ARCO.
  3. For the AR part, we will release a the MAP Editor later. User can design or modify map according to their imaginations. Basically it is like Minecraft AR version.

A early bird pledge of $79 or more should get you an ARCO kit with the robot, ARCO Android or iOS app, a USB type-C cable, and AR glasses. Shipping adds $20 the cost, and you’d have to be fairly patient however as delivery is planned for April 2019.

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Ken Cen

It looks pretty impressive. But I wonder if the AR game can run on my iphone6.