Archive for August, 2011

The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Sorcerers and Apprentices 450

Innovation is what new technology is all about. Innovation is a tricky mistress. Where does one place their bets and their time and energy? How do you decide when a new technology might be ready for implementation? How do you spawn productive creativity in scientists, students, and engineers? These are questions those of us in new technology struggle with all the time.

Frank Moss, former director of the MIT Media Labs, has a new book out which is a fascinating look at the workings of the Media Lab and the innovation that has gone on there for the last 25 years. We were asked to mention the book to our readers and we think it is pretty darn relevant to our community so we recommend checking it out :)

The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices

From the Jacket –

If you’ve ever read a book on an e-reader, unleashed your inner rock star playing Guitar Hero, built a robot with LEGO Mindstorms, or ridden in a vehicle with child-safe air bags, then you’ve experienced first hand just a few of the astounding innovations that have come out of the Media Lab over the past 25 years. But that’s old hat for today’s researchers, who are creating technologies that will have a much deeper impact on the quality of people’s lives over the next quarter century.

In this exhilarating tour of the Media Lab’s inner sanctums, we’ll meet the professors and their students – the Sorcerers and their Apprentices – and witness first hand the creative magic behind inventions such as:

* Nexi, a mobile humanoid robot with such sophisticated social skills she can serve as a helpful and understanding companion for the sick and elderly.
* CityCar, a foldable, stackable, electric vehicle of the future that will redefine personal transportation in cities and revolutionize urban life.
* Sixth Sense, a compact wearable device that transforms any surface – wall, tabletop or even your hand – into a touch screen computer.
* PowerFoot, a lifelike robotic prosthesis that enables amputees to walk as naturally as if it were a real biological limb.

Through inspiring stories of people who are using Media Lab innovations to confront personal challenges – like a man with cerebral palsy who is unable to hum a tune or pick up an instrument yet is using an ingenious music composition system to unleash his “inner Mozart”, and a woman with a rare life-threatening condition who co-invented a revolutionary web service that enables patients to participate in the search for their own cures – we’ll see how the Media Lab is empowering us all with the tools to take control of our health, wealth, and happiness.

Along the way, Moss reveals the highly unorthodox approach to creativity and invention that makes all this possible, explaining how the Media Lab cultivates an open and boundary-less environment where researchers from a broad array of disciplines – from musicians to neuroscientists to visual artists to computer engineers – have the freedom to follow their passions and take bold risks unthinkable elsewhere.

The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices can serve as a blueprint for how to fix our broken innovation ecosystem and bring about the kind of radical change required to meet the challenges of the 21st century.  It is a must-read for anyone striving to be more innovative as an individual, as a businessperson, or as a member of society.

Orders Over $200 = FREE ground / Under $200 $7.99 Flat Rate.

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

free-groundThis post is pretty simple.

For the rest of August –

If your order is over $200 you get free ground shipping.

If your order is under $200 ground shipping is a flat rate of $7.99.

If your order is exactly $200.00 you will rip a hole in the time-space continuum. Don’t do it.

That’s it. Now go shopping for robots :)

Which Dynamixels to use? An overview on size and strength.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Apologies for the empty post Friday.  I pulled it down. Or tried to anyway. Apparently posting a blog is more permanent than building pyramids. Video format converting sucks. It sucks worse than the worst sucky thing you can think of. Now that the audio isn’t 15 minutes off by the end of the video here you go :)


It is late Friday night so I don’t have anything really funny to intro this video with. I can’t be funny all the time for you people anyway. I’m not some kind of dancing clown. I have feelings too. So I’m just going to give it to you straight and you are just going to have to cope. Maybe I’ll come back and post after a few drinks. On second thought, that would be bad. I’ll be hiding my keyboard and mouse in the freezer now to avoid any mishaps. Someone text me in the morning where they are because I’m sure I’ll forget.

A New Informative Video! Yay. Andrew goes over the full line of Robotis Bioloid and Dynamixel servos. This video should help people understand the general strength and speed of each model to help make design decisions.

Products Shown in this video:
Full line of Bioloid and Dynamixel Servos
Robotis Humanoid Robots

Help Vote for a Robot Grant

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Do something good today. Take 30 seconds and vote by text. You’ll erase some bad karma from that one thing you know you did…

RoboGames is up for a $25,000 grant to help bring robotics classes to underprivileged middle schoolers around the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can help!  Pepsi is offering large grants to non-profits such as the Robotics Society (the parent organization of RoboGames), but only the top few ideas will win.

You don’t need to give us any money, you just need to vote!  Please help us get funding to get more kids building robots for the 2012 games! We are poised to make this a great year for community centers, under funded schools, and a whole slew of other folks with your help!  If we win the voting, we can put robots in the hands of about 120 kids and provide them with teachers for a full semester of after-school instruction.  All leading up to them competing at RoboGames.  The classes will get kids autonomous robots, and teach them how to program and build the robots to
compete in multiple events in next April’s event.

And neither you nor the kids have to pay a cent!

Here’s the link to vote: or you can vote by texting 107947 to Pepsi (73774) to vote from your mobile phone.

And you can vote once per day!  So vote today, tomorrow, and every day this month!

This will barely take any time at all, but can impact the lives of a lot of kids who’d never get to learn about robotics otherwise.  We can inspire them to keep studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and all you have to do is vote!”

via Robots-Dreams

Community Member Jdoleki’s “Poor Man’s PR2”

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Occasionally we have our TRC members that are either locals or happen to be passing through town drop by to pay us a visit. The first thing they usually comment on is what a pretty man I am. Then they notice how bald Matt is. And how hairy Alex is. Then they notice our awesome collection of robots. Sometimes though, they bring their own robots.

Jdolecki is a long-time forum member who just  recently revealed himself to be a Chicagoan, so I threw him an invite to come hang out for a bit and check out our shop.  He mentioned bringing his robot, but mentioned that it’d only be worth it if we were on the first floor. I didn’t really think much of it, until I walked outside and saw the behemoth he had in his truck.

I present to you the “Poor Man’s PR2″ WIP project that Jdolecki brought by our office. It’s an old-school, and rather awesome Cybermotion K2A from the 80’s. According to Jdolecki, he scored it at a thrift store for a cool $500; considering the average price of these platforms still is in the several thousand dollar range, that’s a steal! This thing was beyond sturdy, made from cast-iron steel and sporting an advanced omni-directional drive system that looked like it could take a bullet and keep rolling. Check out the video below, and Jdolecki’s blog for more info!

–Andrew – “Robot Scientist”

New Robot Products

Thursday, August 4th, 2011
GS-12 2-Axis Gyro Sensor

GS-12 2-Axis Gyro Sensor

The GS-12 2-Axis Gyro Sensor from Robotis allows you to balance sensing to your Bioloid kits like the Bioloid Comprehensive Kit or other robot projects.

Dual VNH3SP30 Motor Driver Carrier MD03A

Dual VNH3SP30 Motor Driver Carrier MD03A

If you are looking to drive two high-power motors through one compact unit, these dual VNH3SP30 motor driver carriers are perfect for you. With these boards, it’s easy to get a medium-sized, differential drive robot running in no time.

Ollo Explorer Programmable Robot Kit

OLLO Explorer Programmable Robot Kit

The OLLO Explorer Programmable Robot Kit is an excellent starter kit for introducing kids to the exciting world of programmable robots! This is a reconfigurable robot construction kit for beginners ages 8 and up!

Ollo Inventor Programmable Robot Kit

OLLO Inventor Programmable Robot Kit

The OLLO Inventor Kit takes the OLLO Explorer kit up another level. With the added expansion kit kids can do even more.

Switches! We got all kinds of switches here!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

This is an introductory video of sorts. We are just going over some of the many different types of switch options that are out there. If you are a beginner new to Arduino projects or even if you are old school, you may find some new info in here about ways to detect wild animals, urban predators, office thieves, stalking lovers, escaping robots, stray zombies, skitters, elves, gremlins, or any thing else that may be roaming around the house.

Here are some great places to find unique switches for hobby projects:

Products shown in this video:

Seeeduino V2.2 (Atmega 168P)
Electronic Brick Shield V4
Harness for Arduino or Seeeduino Mega kit

Further Information on basic Arduino Programming:

Robocup 2011 Istanbul Trip

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

What some of you may not realize is that the life of a roboticist parallels the life of a total rockstar in many regards. That’s right- loud music, hordes of women, and international travel. Well, mostly just the travel aspect. Also, robots. There are a lot of robots involved. Just like a rockstar.

I had the pleasure of traveling to Istanbul, Turkey last month to attend the 2011 International Robocup. It. Was. Awesome.

The previous contender for largest robotics competition I had attended was the Korean Robot Games Festival in 2010, and I’m just going to come out and say it: Robocup blew it out of the water. I have never seen so many roboticists under a single roof; 3 massive conference halls were packed to the gills with robots and eager students and university faculty. I stuck to the 3rd hall almost exclusively, as it had what I love the most, humanoid robots. We had hundreds of Nao humanoids as well as hundreds of kid-size, teen-size, and adult-size custom humanoid robots. Another big thing to note is that the matches are significantly more exciting as the years pass, and this year was an amazing sight to behold. The kid-size humanoids were fast and agile, and the games had plenty of suspenseful and exciting plays. I watched a few Standard League (Nao) matches as well, but to be perfectly honest, the kid-size stuff was more entertaining. The Darwin-OP platforms would’ve literally run circles around the Nao. Industry competition is a good thing though, perhaps we’ll see some hardware improvements to the Nao in the next few years that will, literally, bring them up to speed.

Here are some pictures (taken on my iPad, unfortunately my camera didn’t survive being in checked baggage) of the event! The full gallery can be found here.

It’s worth noting that Virginia Tech RoMeLa took gold in the Kid-size league with their Darwin-OP based team. Check out their final match vs Japan below!

— Andrew – “Laser Scientist”

We Love it When…

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

We created “Matt’s Corner” as a place in the blog for us to entertain our fellow community members with a peak into the world of running a robot company. In this corner the posts mostly will wander off topic as I wax philosophical about small biz in America, colorful customers, and life in general. It is likely that this corner will have it’s fair share of rants along the path of my slow descent into madness. Like I said, entertainment. Our pain is your lunch break laugh. But we should also take a moment to tell people what we love. So here we go, a list of what makes all the madness worth it.


A customer calls up that has already done research on the products and is asking informed questions to help make a decision. When you do this we love you to death. When you don’t treat us like some kind of we-teach-people-electronics-for-free call center we have little floating hearts over our heads. The gentleman who called after hours one time asking about the Bioloid Premium kit and had already researched which controllers were compatible and what coding environments he might use. He got a discount on the spot just for being awesome.

We are at a conference or competition and we meet brilliant young kids who make us feel like the people who bitch about “kids these days…” just aren’t meeting the right kids. Some of these youngins will blow you away with their enthusiasm and self gained knowledge. These kids make us feel like everything will be just fine with the following generations.

When we talk with teachers that are going the extra mile to bring robotics into the classroom (or after school clubs) to get their kids excited and involved. This kind of stuff makes our day. It is why we are building this company. Sometimes we hear from teachers who can’t get the budget they need and buy stuff with their own money. We want to hug them through the phone.

When people understand that $11 for ordering something in your underwear in your house and having it shipped to your doorstep anywhere in the USA in a few days is a PRETTY GOD DAMN AWESOME part of modern day times and not an overpriced service.

Anytime we see the products we sell being used in some kind of fascinating form of innovation.

When people share! When people take the time to take pictures and videos and post their projects with details. We LOVE YOU for this and so does everyone else. We wish more people did. This is how the community as a whole moves forward together. There are all kinds of places to share your projects. Don’t let them sit in darkness alone! TRC, Instructables, Make Mag, Let’s Make Robots, Thingiverse.

When a customer has all their contact info on their PO including an email, lol. (Seriously people, faxes without emails? Why don’t you send it by carrier pigeon while you are at it :P)

So these are just some of the things we love. A special shout out goes to our community members who make the TRC one of the best spots on the globe for sharing and learning about advanced hobby robotics. We are blown away constantly at the projects we see and the high level of discussions going on. The PC industry was started in exactly this way 30 years ago and look what it became. Robotics is taking the same course and it is pretty awesome.

So, those of you out there being awesome. We love you! Keep it up!