Let's Make Robots!

Saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. (Dead robot)

Today, I looked around my workspace, and decided to retire a long defunct project.

I bought an ER1 back in the days when Evolution Robotics was clearing them out for about half price.  ($300 or so--I think.) For those of you who never heard of it, the ER1 was an all in one robot kit made up of some 8020 channel that provided a frame for a couple of wheels attached to some fairly beefy stepper motors, a controller, battery, and webcam.  The kit made up a cradle that supported a laptop.  The robot was capable of speech recognition, and could navigate around obstacles using the included web cam.

I didn't much care for the "laptop cradle" design, and I didn't have a laptop anyway.  I DID have access to a retired Hewlett Packard compact PC that ran off of an 18v power supply.  The aluminum channel was expensive, so I went to the local hardware store and bought some 1/8" aluminum angle and some bars, hacksawed them to length and bolted together my own frame in a cross shape that supported the 12 AH battery I had, the wheels and the castor, and the controller box.

Later I added the upright frames and cross pieces that supported the previously mentioned compact computer, its 18v power supply, a small cigarette lighter style inverter, the interface to a wireless keyboard mouse, which was needed to get the board to get past its POST, a microphone and amplified speaker, and a couple webcams.  I ran all the wires inside the channel and tywrapped them.

It worked out quite nicely for a while.  I could start it up, wait for it to make a wireless connection via VNC, and then teleop it around the house.  (My daughters hated that, and the dogs would always decide they wanted to be someplace else whenever they heard it start up.  I even had it working with a logitech steering wheel. I also had a foamboard shell that covered the frame, along with its head, it looked something like an Androbot--if anyone remembers those.

Then I outgrew the gui and didn't want to pay for the developers kit that ER used to give away for free.  I lost an auction on the arm accessory that was no longer available anywhere else.

I needed the battery for something else.  Then the inverter.  Then one day I noticed one or the other of the animals wandering around my house had chewed into the power suppy cord RIGHT where it enters the case, making it a pita to repair. . .The shell spent more time off and I have NO idea what became of that.

Then Radio Shack closed out the Vex Robotics line that I had been lusting after for a year, so I got a WHOLE lot of stuff at half price and my robot hobby went in a different direction for a while.

My ER1 sat in a corner as out of the way as possible for a LONG time.  Collecting dust and occasionally getting in the way.  This morning I decided to strip it and see if there was anything worth salvaging.

The frame, as it appears in the picture weighs in at 4.2 pounds.  I still have the controller and motors.  But no idea whether or not they work.  I've heard of a lot of stories about ER1s coming out of retirement dead.

The computer is an 800mhz Pentium (4, I think) class machine, with 128 meg ram and a 10 gig hard drive, with Windows 2000 professional installed on it.

I think I'm going to dig up a power supply which may or may not be in one of the drawers or boxes I squirrel things away in, and try to boot the computer.  If I get any joy there, I'll reconnect the ER1 controller and motors and. . .see what happens.  It's possible that things might not be as bad as they looked.

If the controller is dead. . .not sure.  The wheels and motors are nice, but I'm not sure I want to be bothered figuring out how to connect it to a stepper controller--that I don't own.

As for the frame. . .Well, ER1s space is going to be taken up by a forthcoming (backordered. *sigh*) Rover 5. I'm thinking of using some of the channel to possibly beef it up a bit, and perhaps make a simple framework for further enhancements.

ER1 robot parts and frame


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Well, it's a proprietary system, and only runs on Windows.  I've since moved on to Linux and I'm beginning to explore the Robot Operating  System.  I've seen a site which reports progress made on reverse engineering the controller.  Perhaps if I can use the very nice stepper motors and wheels, I'd feel that it wasn't a total waste.  Actually, it's not a waste.  It's just come to the end of its time.  I just felt that the memory deserved some reflection and transcription, and this seemed like an appropriate venue.

Thanks for commiserating with me.

Sorry you had to take it apart... I've been there a few times, as my Eric the butler robot went through 2 intercontinental shipments and I had several versions of it. I even tried to sell it but to no avail. I still have it assembled, functioning but not programmed, waiting for better days that may never come up. It's a pitty really, it was a good robot for it's days. I got the developer software from another ER1 owner, if you want, I have a Dropbox folder with all the goodies I could collect from the old forum and other sources. 

Perhaps the hardware will interest some R2D2 builder, we might have to try out their builder groups...