Hello dear LMRers! Not long ago I launched a blog at ohmnivore.co.nr . For a start, I wrote about an idea I had in mind for a long time and that has me wondering; why are there so little RaspberryPi-powered robots? I post this to stimulate a discussion about the RPi (I'm aware a lot more people will see it here, not at my blog). I'm too lazy to edit all the links, so the original version with working links is here.
I have been long enough in the hobby robotics community (mainly letsmakerobots) to witness the popularity of some components such as the Arduino, Picaxe, PING, and the general-purpose servo. The advent of each of these components has brought hobby robotics up a notch, and the more they arrive, the better.
I think that the next step to make more functional robots is to innovate with computer vision and sound processing. This is mainly done with a wireless connection that uses a PC for all the computations. While it does work, it can be compared to an invisible tether. The robot loses part of its autonomy. Instead, single board computers allow full autonomy. But to be honest, who at letsmakerobots.com has used an SBC? Not many people, at least before RaspberryPi came out. And that’s the point of my article. I firmly believe that this open-source, low-cost, versatile,community-supported, efficient and small SBC is the future of hobby robotics. While it may not be great to support a robot by itself, it can be coupled to an Arduino for a complete awesomness overload. The Arduino can take care of interfacing with electronics, while the RPi computes sound processing, computer vision and AI, for example. What do you think?
I think there is an analogy with robotics between where things were in early to mid 1990s with computers in the workplace and home and where we are today with robotics. I think the IRobot roomba, scooba etc are sort of like those first PCs with dual 5 1/4" drives, 640 K of ram. At the time, they were kind of an expensive novelty but did some really nice stuff for their buyers. It took a bit for people to understand the value, but they did. Pretty soon, people couldn’t imagine their lives without them.
I am a PC developer, and I work in a very rich environment of services which just weren’t in place in 1994 on Windows 3.1. Back then, even creating a sorted list was a lot of work. Now, go online, find a template application that does something close and similar to what you need (trust me, it is out there!) drag, drop change a few lines, clip that, tweak that and you have close to what you want… With robotics, we have a mishmash of hardware and development platforms, none of which talk to each other, none of which can physically be connected to each other because there are no standards for connectors either. But the vision of how robots can enhance and change people’s lives is really, truly within reach. Having robots that can help care for the elderly, clean your house when you are at work, shovel your driveway when it snows is more than just whimsy. Today, Google’s car can drive your car for you. And in robotics, all of these problems are standard problems that could be off the shelf integrated components that interact smoothly with each other and anybody can easily purchase (Model T of robots!!).
So, the RPi, the Arduino, Pickaxe etc are all just stepping stones, the great, great, great grandparent to that integrated solution of hardware and software components that can solve whatever problem you want. I think you are right that an Arduino and a RPi together is great solution platform. Linux has huge number of services and software available to it, great development tools in C++ and Python (which is really nice to work in). The hobbyist such as myself, is not going to be putting together a robot maid in a weekend but is definitely a step on the way.
In the … ongoing…development of LMRv4 we have implemented a Wiki. The idea is that things like the R-PI should have a page in there, that everyone can contribute to. And then you can “include” this info / board in your robot projects that use the platform.
I am just saying this to contribute to the general knowledge (not becase I want people to ask when v4 goes on air - I tell you; We are seriously doing the last fixes these days - seriously!