t.r.i. homepage toy robots initiative

current projects:

Personal Rover Project

personal rover project

The domestic robotics niche will not begin with vacuuming robots or lawn-mowing robots in our opinion. First, a community of creative roboticists will be able to invent using robots as a natural, robotic extension of the early Apple II's. The personal rover is our first step in this process, and a complete website describing this project is available here.

cerebellum motor controller

cerebellum motor controller

We have been frustrated that many off-the-shelf servo and motor controllers use proprietary code running on the PIC chip to which the buyer often does not have access. Cerebellum is a serial-downloadable I/O controller that controls several servoes, two DC motors, and has several digital and analog input lines. The Cerebellum is much less expensive than commercially available controllers. Most importantly, the schematics and all of the source code for Cerebellum are freely available. Visit the official Cerebellum website for details. 3Dmbot, shown on the left, uses one Cerebellum and one CMUcam board as its processor suite.

CMUcam Vision Kit

cmucam vision kit

One problem with inexpensive robots is that they are just not interesting enough, chiefly because they cannot really perceive the world. CMUcam is our first try at creating an inexpensive and powerful sensor for small, cheap mobile robots (and up). CMUcam can do many kinds of processing on the fly, including tracking colorful objects. Best of all, you can purchase one for about $100 from several distributors who have licensed this product and are selling it to the hobby robotics community. And now we have the CMUcam2 and most recently the CMUcam3- which offers fully programmable embedded vision. Go to the CMUcam website for more.

Palm Pilot Robot Kit

palm pilot robot kit

We need inexpensive and fun robots. What if you could build a robot that could be strapped to a Palm Pilot, or a GameBoy or TI Calculator for that matter? We have created one such robot, using exclusively off-the-shelf parts. The novice roboteer can build our pprk in about two hours after acquiring about $120 in parts. We have a website where you can find the bill of materials and step by step pictures and instructions for building your own pprk. The site also provides software and a few simple demo programs for your enjoyment.

Talking Trash

talking trash

Robotic technologies can bring pleasurable and effective learning to museum environments. This project is the effort of Marti Louw, who designed, fabricated and tested a series of interactive recycling stations at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum. Toy Robotics Initiative technologies enabled this device to detect the presence of children and respond with recorded sounds and speech. Here is a PDF slideshow describing the project design and evaluation, and "Designing for Delight: The Role of Wonder, Discovery, Invention and Ingenuity in Exhibit Design" is Marti's thesis document describing her rhetorical approach to museum exhibit design.

rc lego

lego rcx comm

Can two lego RCX bricks easily communicate over infrared? This question has a complex answer, and Rachel Gockley has worked out that answer. In the process, she has designed a remote-controlled RCX demonstrator, which is pictured at left. See this project's web page for more details, including source code written in NQC.

camera footage

The following Mpeg movie shows the RC lego remote-controlled:
Insect Telepresence

insect telepresence

Suppose we can make a miniature camera whose motion can be controlled by a human. Put this camera in a colony of insects, and the human will gain a whole new perspective on the insects and their biology. Blow up the image to scale down the human appropriately, and amplify the insects sounds as well, and you have a complete telepresent experience that is incredibly exciting and educational at the same time. Technically, camera technology, optics and manipulation are well up to the task. A complete insect telepresence exhibit is now being constructed for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's entrance, in collaboration with the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, by Stacy All, Angela Demke and Ben Shamah.

camera footage

The following QuickTime movies were taken with our first prototype:
robot emotion

robot emotion

The Toy Robots Initiative has performed research into models for believable robot agents by creating comedy improv robots. Now, Illah is working with a major toy manufacturer to instill their toys with emotional models that improve their robot-human interaction. A paper is available about the robot comedy improv project here.

robot locomotion

robot locomotion

A long-term goal of the initiative is to invent, prototype and demonstrate mechanisms for robot locomotion that are far superior to standard wheeled and legged approaches. If you want robots that can climb stairs and curbs, negotiate hilly terrain and operate exclusively using on-board power, then traditional wheels and legs are unsuitable. Ben has several good ideas and, together with Illah and Garth and others, is pursuing robots that roll, hop, bounce, skitter and even slide. You can view much more information about the hopping robots from Garth's website. Pictured to the left is Gyrover, a self-contained robotic wheel designed originally for lunar exploration. Click here for more information on the Gyrover Project.

human locomotion

human locomotion

Sports and recreational equipment are particularly enjoyable and healthful when they combine cardiovascular training with motions that are new and exciting for people. We have applied the bow leg technology (patent pending) to human augmentation systems. We have prototyped the BowGo series of jumping devices, enabling humans to jump higher and longer than is otherwise possible. Our Bowgo website is now open to the public. Current records include 42 inches of ground clearance for standing jumps as well as 9 foot jumps across 2 foot high obstacles. If you would like to learn more about this exhilarating human hopping machine, contact Ben or Illah.

office plant

office plant

Office Plant #1 (OP#1) is an exploration of a technological object, adapted to the office ecology, which fills the same social and emotional niche as a plant. OP#1 monitors the ambient sound and light level, and, employing text classification techniques, also monitors its owner's email activity. Its robotic, sculptural body, reminiscent of a plant form, responds in slow, rhythmic movements to express a mood generated by the monitored activity. OP#1 is a new instantiation of Michael Mateas and Marc Bohlen's idea of *intimate technology*, that is, technologies which address human needs and desires as opposed to technologies which meet exclusively functional task specifications.

potential projects:



The challenge here would to make a robot that can perceive its human "master," then give it the locomotion it needs to follow that human, over ledges, through grass, and ideally even up and down stairs. The direction locator technology is achievable using audio, radio, or color. The locomotion is harder, but Ben has several good ideas and expertise in this area. Imagine a robot that follows you on your run or hike; it can carry your keys for you. Imagine imbuing these robots with smart behaviors so that when they are next to two or more of their own kind, their behavior changes appropriately and interestingly.

video on X

video on x

The goal here would be to produce an inexpensive, low-power wireless camera that you could put on top of just about anything, complete with a viewing station. A 3-D version would be even better. Simply taking the system and putting it on remote control would make R/C races more exciting; there's a large hobby market that conducts R/C car races, this would be a wonderful telepresent step for them to take [they would be forbidden from looking at the car, only at the camera's output].

back to the t.r.i. homepage...

This site maintained by Illah R. Nourbakhsh. Page was last updated at 11:04 AM EST on Saturday, October 07, 2000. [count] visits since January 1999.