}

5/20/2013

New Arduino robot kit unveiled at bay area Maker Faire

Arduino Robot


I was surprised to see the announcement of the Arduino Robot yesterday.  I guess I haven't been keeping up with Arduino news very well lately. Julian Horsey at Geeky Gadgets actually got his hands on one, as they were available for sale at the bay area Maker Faire.  

There is a link to the Arduino Robot at the Arduino site right now, but the robot won't be available through normal channels until July.  You can at least read a few of the specs and get a look at the hardware.

I haven't seen an official price on this robot yet, but I've seen rumors on Google Plus that the price will be $275.  I'm really hoping this is just a rumor, because that seems extremely overpriced.  

I do think an official Arduino robot is an awesome idea.  I've always thought a curriculum based around robotics, or more specifically, Arduino robotics, would be incredible.  A robotics curriculum could be tailored to encompass math,science, computer science, physics and shop - all in one.  If you have groups design and market a project, you could even throw free enterprise into the mix.

I'm not sure this Arduino robot is the best design, based on what I've seen so far.  While there are some things I really like, there are probably more things about the Arduino Robot that I think could have been done much better.

Things I like - the LCD panel, control pad and built in speakers are really nice for input/output.  I haven't used one of the Arduino branded LCD TFT's before, but it looks like a pretty good screen, and it has a nice library backing it up.  I also like the 3 pin headers going all around the robot.

There are two major negatives to this robot, however.  The micro controller and the the motors.  

The micro controller is an Atmega 32u4.  This is a fine controller, and is the same chip used on the Arduino Leonardo.  I would have much preferred to see Arduino use the Atmega 2560, the same chip used on the Arduino Mega 2560.  The Atmega 32u4 only has 32K of program space vs. 256K on the Atmega 2560.  There are also a ton more input/output pins on the Atmega 2560.

I initially thought that the Arduino Due would have made a better processing backbone for this robot, but the combination of being a 3.3V system and having sketchy library support would make it a bad choice.

I would normally consider the Atmega 32u4 to be a fine choice, but by the time pins and program memory are taken up by driving the motors and LCD screen - is there enough left over to have fun with?

One other major flaw I suspect are the drive motors.  I have no idea what motors they are yet, but from photos they appear to be cheap toy-class motors in white plastic housings.  Maybe they perform and survive better than they look like they will.

If this is a $100 robot kit, then my above criticisms are not really warranted.  If this is a $200+ kit, then I think Arduino could have done a lot better.  Until we hear what the actual price is, and I find out how good the motors are this is nothing but conjecture.

An Arduino Robot is a great idea, I'm just afraid this might be sub-par implementation.

The greatest thing about Arduino never has been it's hardware though.  It's always been the unified support of it's community.