Let's Make Robots!
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This project was an attempt to create one of those “skype robots” which allow the user to navigate an area and communicate with people as if they were there themselves.  It has a camera in its “eye” that streams live video footage to the operator.  This camera also has a mic, so the operator can hear what the robot hears.  A walky-talky is mounted on the robot to allow the operator to communicate with people though the robot.  Overall it mimics the operation of the real skype robots.  However, because none of its controls are through the internet it has range restrictions that prohibit it from providing the operator with “remote presence” over very long distances like the skype bots it was based off of.  Still, it entertaining to operate the robot remotely using the camera and it only cost about $50 for all the materials, so for the price it was a success.

 

construction

         Sadly I don’t have any pictures of the robot before I put its paper skin on, but underneath the geometric cover its internals are mostly scrap.  The lower platform is made of thick cardboard.  Two powered wheels are mounted at the front corners and a caster wheel supports the back corner.  The two front wheels are powered by motors and gearboxes scavenged from a remote controlled car.  All three wheels are mounted wide for stability.  To control the movement the motors are wired to a rc receiver that came out of a toy hovercraft.  At the center a cardboard tube is mounted to support the head.  I wanted to be able to get a good view of the robots surroundings through the camera, and I found that a camera height of about 4 feet above the ground provided this.  The head is nothing more then a decorated camera platform.  To make control simpler the head cannot pan or tilt.  Instead I bought a three-dollar fish eye lens designed for a camera phone and mounted it to the camera.  This does distort the image a bit, but it allows the operator to see the ground and the face of someone standing a reasonable distance away all in one frame.  The final element to allow the operator to communicate through the robot is a walky-talky mounted in the base. 

 

price and drawbacks

         This whole project started when I discovered how inexpensive wireless cameras were.  I found one on Amazon for $30, and, other then a cheap set of walky-talkies, that was the only part I had to buy.  However, there is a reason why real skype bots cost thousands of dollars and this doesn’t.  For one, the range is restricted by three separate wireless devices, including the very limited rc controller.  As a result operating this from another building would probably not work.  In addition controlling this robot is quite cumbersome.  The video feed needs to be constantly adjusted to keep a crisp image, and you have to put the controller down to use the walky-talky and talk to someone.

Link to camera: http://www.amazon.com/Mini-Wireless-Color-Camera-Microphone/dp/B000YM2OIK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326406311&sr=8-1