Apr 3

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

roBlocks: Simple Blocks To Make Robots

roBlocksroblocks-real.jpg are small, computerized cubes that can be combined to make robots. They began as research project at Carnegie Mellon. They look like great fun for fooling around or teaching programming concepts.

The catalog page shows about twenty different blocks. Each of those blocks has a single purpose. There are four types of blocks: Sensors (light, sound), Actuators (movement), Operators (negative, min/max) and Utility (power). When put together they can be made to perform complex actions.

The creators provide an example of roBlock's interactions in their paper "The Robot is the Program: Interacting with roBlocks":

It is easy to understand the basic idea of roBlocks by considering a simple light seeking robot made of two roBlocks: a light sensor block placed atop a tread block. The sensor measures the ambient light level and produces a number. The tread block gets that number from the light sensor block that sits on it, and runs its motor with a speed that corresponds to the magnitude of that number. To make the robot avoid light, take the two blocks apart and insert a red Inverse block between them. This operator block takes the number produced by the light sensor block, inverts it and transmits it to the tread block at the bottom. The new three-block robot moves away from a light source just as the previous robot moved toward it. This sort of modularity is possible because each of the blocks operates independently without knowing its place within the construction.

The creators are going to be commercializing them later this year. To see the prototypes in action check out this video. or play with their online simulator . No word on whether or not they will open source the hardware.

The world of programmable hardware is expanding. Between roBlocks, IPRE (the open-source robot-kit that was at ETech), BugLabs (the programmable, open-source gadgets -- Radar post) , and Lego MINDSTORMS NXT there is starting to be something for every sophistication level and wallet-size.

tags: emerging tech, etech  | comments: 10   | Sphere It

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Comments: 10

  Ajeet Khurana [04.03.08 06:26 AM]

Once again proving that the difference between a man and a boy is the cost of his toy (or the extent of geek-complexity of the toy :)

  Sara Winge [04.03.08 04:38 PM]

They Might be Giants picked up on this trend six years ago, in "Robot Parade." The future is here...

In a future time
Children will work together
To build a giant cyborg
Robot Parade
Robot Parade
Wave the flags that the robots made
Robot Parade
Robot Parade
Robots obey what the children say
There's electric cars
There's electric trains
Here comes a robot with electric brains
Robot Parade
Robot Parade
Wave the flags that the robots made
Robot Parade
Robot Parade
Robots obey what the children say

  Ross Stapleton-Gray [04.03.08 05:37 PM]

I almost submitted a proposal to a Homeland Security cybersecurity solicitation, along these lines: imagine that you've got some disaster, whether man-made or natural (think Hurricane Katrina, or civil war in some developing world country)... if you had a simple set of basic building blocks, you could rapidly (re)create a municipal or regional command and control system, for emergency operations, replacing custom SCADA systems with something that could be cobbled up on the fly. Missing from the four types listed above is "commo," i.e., how the robot/controller/SCADA module would communicate with other systems.

  Ross Stapleton-Grayr [04.03.08 05:39 PM]

(Ah, I see that "Comm" is one of the Utility blocks. So never mind that comment.)

  Thomas Lord [04.03.08 06:31 PM]

Kill me now.


p.s.: not to compare myself to the great man but, yeah, i peaked over that mountain too. I might not make it there with ya... yadda yadda.

  Er sucht sie [04.04.08 04:56 AM]

If i need a robots, i write it by my self. But thanks for the articel.

  amy [08.15.08 10:18 AM]

i would like to know how to build simple robots...

  Halimeter [12.28.08 01:19 PM]

Cool things.
Very interesting.

Best wishes for 2009!

  Jean Sinon [05.11.09 04:19 PM]

I like the block. I think a good name for the site is

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