Hello Pololu and friends,
I was just curious if in the future Pololu would consider combining the Wixel and the Orangutan series robot controllers to give a complete wireless robot package that has the ability to control AND power motors and servos and is completely programmable using the Pololu libraries. The main thing is that the product should not require any additional bits and pieces - or software apps for serial comms. I think this would be a fantastic addition to the Pololu range. I know I would definitely buy several of them if you could produce a solution for sale for less than $40.
I think it would be great if you could produce something that can compete with what Lego Mindstorms has to offer with their NXT robots. I’m not talking about replicating it or being better than the NXT range. I just think it would be really great for budding young engineers who have grown up competing in FIRST lego leagues and other robotics competitions to have something that functions similarly to the way the Mindstorms robots do that will gradually introduce them to C/C++ programming, controlling motors and servos with PWM. It is currently a massive jump from programming the Lego Mindstorms to programming something that is not made by Lego. I believe there is a massive market for it - especially with so many schools using the NXT platform, but nobody has really tapped into producing competitive hardware yet. I think the size of the Wixel and the Baby Orangutan is a huge selling point for those who want to make a robot that is very small, does limited ‘thinking’ (i.e. teleoperation via wireless comms). The second huge selling point is that the Pololu range is so much cheaper than the Mindstorms range. I know why Lego Mindstorms is so expensive, but some things on the system can definitely be sacrificed for some robot applications. For instance, once you’ve build a robot out of Lego, some people want to never take it apart! This defeats the purpose of Lego and so there needs to be some cheaper solution for those who want to build a robot (say for a first year/freshman university engineering project) and want to keep the robot at the end for a keep sake. This is where I believe Pololu can trump Lego.
I know there are many other robot controllers out there also. but none of them come even close to the power of what can be done with the NXT. Basic Stamp 2 and Picaxe were classics, but they are still too much of a learning curve for newbies to make a serious robot that is up and running in one day’s worth of work.
This is just my thoughts and my aim here is just to generate some discussion on the future direction of products that I would like to see in the future. I don’t mean to criticize anyone, especially not Pololu or any other companies I’ve mentioned. I really enjoy the Pololu product range and so I thought I would share with others what I would like to see from Pololu in the future.
Thanks for your feedback and suggestions. We do not have any specific plans to make an Orangutan + Wixel kind of product, and there are several logistical issues with complete integration that make it unlikely to happen any time soon. However, we will probably make more explicit provisions for adding Wixels as an accessory to future Orangutan-type products. Your $40 price point will be difficult to hit, though, since just the Wixel pair already costs that much.
Regarding the NXT “power”, what do you mean? Are you talking about computational power, or something about the motor drivers, or some less literal meaning? I think it’s very difficult to make something much simpler than the BASIC Stamp 2 while having more computational power or complexity of features (e.g. integrated motor control).
Of course, I don’t pretend there are no problems with producing a product like i’m envisioning. But I just know that I think something like that would be incredibly awesome =) You guys are way more informed when it comes to producing products and overcoming the challenges it presents, I am merely giving you my visions on what I would love to see. If you could add built in wireless capabilities to the orangutan controllers - perhaps maybe bluetooth? - a buyer would not need to buy the controllers in pairs (assuming most computers and laptops these days have bluetooth capabilities) which means only buying one controller under $40. wireless comms are not just useful for teleoperations, its also useful for real-time feedback on mobile autonomous robots.
Yes, I was meaning a less literal term for power. I really meant versatility. The NXT controller can be used for all kinds of robots, but most of the time not all of the features are being used at once on any given robot. However there are some features that are useful on almost all robots. The ability to drive and read positions of at least 3 motors (2 motors only really gives you a robot that can drive around, not interact with anything), read sensors and send/receive wireless communications. There is also versatility in the ease of programming with a GUI interface, but I think you guys are already well on top of that with your comprehensive library and examples like the ones given with the 3pi robot.
another advantage you have is the orangutan robots are not limited in that they must be housed to be able to connect with other lego bricks. a few holes for screws is all you need for this product.
anyhow i know you guys are going to continue to come up with great new products even if this is not what you ultimately end up with. I’ve always been satisfied with what guys have for purchase and look forward to you future products. Hopefully others might consider suggesting some ideas of what they would like to see themselves. we could start a bit of a brainstorm maybe!
Greetings Jay and Jan!
I teach a course that introduces students to computers at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. I have utilized the BOE-bots from Parallax in the past. It is a great system, but they are way to expensive for the students to buy (~$150). I have also done a lot of leg work to create my own robot kit based on the Arduino and components through Parallax. By the time the bookstore got done putting their cut on top, the cost is about $100 to the student. While this is a great value compared to a half-inch thick book that they will never read again, it is still expensive. I really would like to get a programmable autonomous robot with a breadboard and some learning components in the $50-70 range. That would leave room for shipping and for the bookstore to put their cut on top and make the price to the student be less than $85.
On the programming side, if the students can use understandable English words, there usually isn’t a problem (as opposed to pure assembly language or hexadecimal). I just tell them what it is for and they ask me if it will be on the exam. If it’s not on an exam, they are far more relaxed about programming robots. I guess what I am saying is if the robot has free software that they can download at home and is easy to set up that would be even better. For instance, I agree with Jan that the BASIC Stamp 2 is a classic and very easy to understand. I transitioned into the Arduino, and it was not as easy for the beginner to understand as the BS2, but it wasn’t a bad experience because of all the example code included in the software. If the students have trouble installing the software, that would be a deal breaker.
Thanks for starting the discussion,