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Northern Colorado Business Review article about RoBeDo Robotics November 16, 2010

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NCBR Article by Luanne Kadlub

From Robby to hobby, robots become helpers

November 5, 2010 — Remember how Rosie the Robot on “The Jetsons” was like a member of that family from the future? Or when R2-D2 – undeniably the most famous of movie robots – made its debut in 1977 in the first “Star Wars” episode?

If not, you’ve seen the reruns, or at the very least, heard your parents talk about them.

Now hop onto the time machine and jump to the year 2010 and the workshop of William Self. Here you’ll find the software developer/advanced hobby robot enthusiast hard at work creating one of his many robots that he sells to like-minded geeks. Potentially you. Yes, un-geeky you.

Time has come when robots no longer are the playthings of people with gobs of money. Robots are here and now. Yes, they still cost thousands of dollars, but we’re talking “within-reach” thousands, not “when-you-win-the-lottery” thousands.

What could you do with a personal robot? Imagine waking up to freshly brewed coffee served to you in bed. Or how about a bowl of popcorn waiting for you chair-side when you get home from the office? A pipe dream? Not in William Self’s world. If you can imagine it, or dream it, you can make it happen. Self owns RoBeDo Robotics.

“The name started from plans to build fully customizable robots that can accomplish actual tasks,” he explained. “So the theme became the name: *Ro*bots that will *Be* what you want them to be, *Do* what you want them to do. Ro Be Do.”

Working on robots that can help people is a gargantuan task. But if you look at them as machines – say a machine that washes dishes – it becomes do-able. And yes, Self said dishwashers, vacuums (Roomba, anyone?) and other appliances can be classified as robots.

He will happily sell you parts to make a robot or make it for you as long as you understand that you’re the one who will program it. Of course, you’ll need another commonplace item that once only existed in the movies – a computer. Self’s robots don’t care which operating system you use.

Self markets primarily to the advanced hobby robot enthusiast, a market that he says continues to grow. “The whole do-it-yourself market is just going crazy.”

Steven Gentner, founder of Los Angeles-based Roborealm, has worked with Self in developing robot software for the past six months. The partnership is “working quite well,” Gentner said. “He’s definitely a great engineer, he knows what he’s doing. I know the characteristics attributed to a good engineer and their passion and enthusiasm for the field and William definitely exhibits the traits.”

Gentner said the robotic industry is heading in the area Self has already mastered: PC-based robotics.

“The PC is getting cheaper every day, and given the advent of netbooks and the smart-phone market, devices that are smaller but incredibly more powerful than existing electronics typically used, comes more functionality,” he said. “If you look at it from a Robotics 101 application, ‘Get me a beer from the fridge’ is a complex task that’s not accomplished easily. Adding a PC, that’s what’s he’s been doing, and that’s what attracted us to him.”

RoBeDo Customer Video November 16, 2010

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Here’s a short video of RoBeDo netbook-driven rover, Three. The video was posted by a customer who got the customized ‘bot roving in under two hours! Go Ajay!

Morph Machine August 17, 2010

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We’re morphing into something big!

With our latest robot, Morph Machine, we’ve turned a corner from small rovers to a machine that is a programmable robot and a workspace. Intended for software developers, researchers and robogeeks everywhere, Morph is designed to accelerate the field of robotics. Potential applications include personal robotics, home automation, security, telepresence and any user-selected mashup of these exploits.

And get a load of this: the machine’s open frame design not only makes it easy to transform into the robot of one’s desire, naked, it has the good looks of Japanese or Mission furniture.

Design Information

* Mechanical construction allow users to add their own body onto the frame using metal, wood, plastic, paper mache, etc.

* Form factor is optimized for portable computers

* Workspace height is dynamically changeable from 30 inches to 42 inches

Tech Facts

* Operating system support: Mac, Linux, or Windows

* Users add the netbook or laptop of choice, up to 18″ screen size and weight up to 9 pounds

* Software interfaces are open, with native support for over a dozen programming languages


Metal or wood production versions will be available soon through pre-order, but why wait? Get a jump on the competition and order controllers and sensors now. When your production machine arrives, slap ‘em on; cue your code, and you, too, will be morphing into something big!

Currently on our design board

A safe, affordable solution for fetching items from refrigerators, freezers and shelves. Retrieval and delivery capacity is expected to be at least 3 pounds.


Product Information

Morph Machine

Frequently Asked Questions

An Easy Three June 12, 2009

Posted by williamself in autonomous robots, RoBe:Do Robotics, robotics, robots, Twitter.
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You’ve said you wanted a streamlined robot that can jumpstart and empower your robotics journey. You’ve asked us for a lower-priced model, even if that also meant fewer capabilities.

We heard you.

It took time (ten weeks to be exact) to design and build a robot that meets our production standards and which, we feel, answers your requests, but…

Hey! Here it is!

threeblog1Zoom zoom!

Our latest mobile robot can get you to warp speed in Three time.

Three. Three easy steps to robotics engineering bliss with a 3-wheeled robot called Three.

Step 1. Order a robot named Three.

Step 2. Set up these three: your favorite computer, software language and software tools.

Step 3. Calmly accept the delivered package, then, soon as the delivery person leaves, rip open that package just like a kid! Your new robot can be ready for programming in less time than it will take for you to read the rest of this blog entry. That’s like less than three minutes. Two if I would just shut up.



Really, unpack Three and connect the included USB cable to your computer. No need to wait for batteries to charge, as the USB controller can be programmed using power from the USB cable.

By the time batteries are charged, you can likely have sufficient software configuration to activate robot motor control and sensing. You, a robot named Three, and suddenly you’re in the fast lane.

Three gets your need for speed.


PS. You won’t hear this from many netbook enthusiasts, but you don’t actually have to own a portable computer to get started with mobile robotics. You can begin with a desktop computer. What’s required? A Mac, Linux or Windows computer with an available USB port. It’s so easy with Three.

Order here: RoBe:Do Robotics Three.




Worldwide Robots May 27, 2009

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Coppa Robot - Taiwanese Student Presentation

Coppa Robot - Taiwanese Student Presentation

Our recent Twittering robot pops and delivers popcorn video received tons of views on YouTube, plus the story and video was posted on dozens of tech web sites and blogs. Traffic and inquiries originated from countries all over the globe.

The most unique result came from a student in Taiwan wanting to use one of our robot images in his masters degree research presentation.  I love all these new connections. Isn’t the web great?

When You Own the Store, You Getta Do Fun Stuff! March 5, 2009

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Update 03-23-09: the sale is over… But don’t worry about missing out because there’s new fun for everyone just around the corner. We have new robots, improved automation, plus new vendor solutions coming soon.

Can I just be a little geeky? We’ve upgraded and improved our autonomous mobile robots and are, as the world’s best-dressed man, Prince Charles, might say, over the moon about it. (Translation: we think this is super peachy keen. We do.)

To celebrate the improvements, we’ve put the robots on sale.

Robot sale! Save $150 for a limited time!

Robot sale! Save $150 for a limited time!

Between now and March 21st, take 150 smack-a-roos off the price of a built-to-order ready-to-program RoBe:Do robot.

So hey, whatcha waiting for? You’ve got a robot to order!

RoBe:Do Robotics website

RoBeDo Robotics YouTube

This Video Has a Twittery Touch February 28, 2009

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Or: how to have fun using an iPod Touch, Twitter and a mobile robot

Here’s the scenario: a guy on his way home from the office sends a Twitter command, “Prep movie 15”, to his robot. The robot reads the command, waits for a bit, pops corn and queues up a movie.  Go ahead and read that again. Fun, eh?

Coppa Robot Carrying Popcorn

Coppa Robot Carrying Popcorn

I vowed to keep this entry simple, which in itself won’t be easy. The technology mashup involved in this video provided more enjoyment than I’ve had in twenty years of proof-of-concept projects. Even though I won’t let this become a 25-page technical paper, shop talk pegs the fun-o-meter, so if you’re dying to know the glorious technical data please post your questions.

As you’ll see in the video, we combined mobile communications, social networking software and, of course, one of our own mobile robots.

This scenario hints at our development trajectory. When you look at our robots, you think, ‘Oh, a wheeled robot’. But, you see, the robots are designed to grow in tandem with the user. They’re built with expandable and distributable control systems, powerful motors and strong metal. Plus they come with attachment mechanisms.

Soon, you’ll see our wheeled robots gaining new structure: arms, grippers and maybe even a humanoid torso. We’re not promising a fully capable R2-D2 or Rosie robot. Those would probably cost you $50,000. We are promising good technology and useful robots. Plus fun. Plenty of fun.

Key Project Components

  • Apple iPod Touch
  • WiFi networking
  • Twitter as a two-way, easy-setup, secure, mobile-accessible robot command messaging system
  • Automated setup of our entertainment center using a USB based infrared transmitter
  • Do-it-yourself hacking: popcorn popper setup built in an hour using a hot-air popper, foot switch & various parts
  • Simple yet repeatable robot motion control & sensing software code
  • USB based controllers and sensors
  • Netbook computer
  • Our mobile robot, Coppa
  • The fun & challenge of devising an actual task for a mobile robot

Put all this together and your next movie experience can be automated like never before.

Helllllo Tanzania! February 28, 2009

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My YouTube offerings are apparently rather popular in Tanzania. Or at least, according to my understanding of the YouTube Insight stats, we have lots of viewers in Tanzania.

Take a look at the stat map. Tanzania is dark because we had a huge viewer spike this week from there.




And hey, Tanzania, how you doin?



i-Sobot Humanoid Challenges Autonomous Robot February 19, 2009

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Video Description: Apparently unaware of its diminutive size, i-Sobot first insults then threatens the much larger Coppa Robot. Coppa watches before advancing. Will either robot back down from the challenge?

Today we enjoyed playing simultaneously with two of our robots. We also learned that a small, remote controllable robot can be a great way to test both software and sensor feedback.

In between capturing other technical and informational video scenes, we decided to have some fun. First, I made speed and timing adjustments to a new software module. Next we fired-up i-Sobot, started Coppa robot and began taping. As you can see in the resulting video, we had fun. And once again we were wowed by serendipitous events via uncontrollable environmental effects on mobile robot behavior.

The software module in use during this video is small and straightforward. The design’s main purpose is to stay 8 inches (+/- 2 inches) away from whatever is in front of the robot. Due to a combination of speed, timing, lighting, alignment and sensor feedback, Coppa ended up being a bit more hyperactive than expected. That turned out great for some video fun and useful system observations.

Early on Coppa maintains the expected distance from i-Sobot. As the two robots interact, though, Coppa closes the distance and actually nudges i-Sobot a few times before finally knocking and running over the smaller robot. From previous experiments with this software module, it’s clear to me that software timing pauses are the cause. Coppa simply wasn’t checking his data often enough, thus when the other robot moved, Coppa often ended up too close.

The remainder of the behavior in this video can probably be attributed to the sensor’s “grey area”. Because the sensor in use has a distance specification range of 4” to 30”, sensor values at 4” and closer are not expected to be either accurate or linear. Obviously the sensor values allowed an effective separation between the robots for quite a while, but then things changed. Over time Coppa became more “aggressive” and won the challenge brought on by the diminutive i-Sobot.


Tech Notes

Most of my robot software development and mobile robot activity is performed using a 1st generation Asus netbook. Besides the advantages of being small and weighing a mere 2 pounds, I believe developing on a highly constrained computer assists with performance and capability. Using this approach ensures the entire architecture of our robots will work great using almost every available new netbook or laptop. Nearly every new computer available this year has three times or more capacity and speed. :)

(Oh, as far as the Robot’s pan/tilt webcam in this video… It was simply synchronized to move along with changes in direction and distance. The webcam was not used for image recognition or object detection).

Computer & Programming Info

  • Computer: Asus Eee Pc
  • Cpu: 600 Mhz
  • Ram: 512MB
  • Disk: 4GB
  • Ide:  Eclipse
  • Language: Java

Robot Demo Serendipity January 30, 2009

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Just as serendipitous events in life can bring a smile, unplanned results during the taping of live robot trials can be quite interesting. In the real world robotics sensing often produces unexpected results, so why were we unprepared for the rare and actually helpful robot response during production of the above video? Humans are weird.

We chose to tape this demo in our sunroom. The location choice was based partially on size, but also for good lighting. But good lighting for video can be bad lighting for sensors. The same trial in a darker location will produce much more consistent results. We knew that.

On the day we captured this particular test procedure, we ran about 6 takes (not bad really). The previous day’s test runs were full of inconsistency because the sky was partially cloudy, and as the winds blew, resulting light fluctuations caused hot spots and shadows. But on this day, fate shone down in a more consistent manner.

That consistent sunshine influenced these strokes of pure luck:

1) The robot’s final turn was probably three times as far as previous turns.
2) This fact helped the robot end its ‘while’ loop in the exact center of the hexagon.

Cool, but why?

At times, bright sunlight streaming in from the west overwhelmed the sensor, causing exaggerated turns on the left –or sunny– side of the hexagon. Notice the first time around: the robot turns more than expected when on the left side of the hex. The second time around, it happened that the robot turned even farther and headed straight for middle ground.

Chance is part of life. Chance is part of robotics. Crisp examples of how chance applies in robotics are rare. For once, capturing a great illustration of sensor subtleties came as a free bonus, providing me with opportunity to coin a new word: chancenstance!

When did you last encounter interesting coding or robot development chancenstance?


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