vEx

As a rest from all the evolving and analysing dynamical systems for learning behaviors, I have spent some time during the last 4 days working on an actual robot. The sad news is that it has been very exciting. So exciting it has kept me from coming back to my ‘real’ work.

At Randy’s lab we have been getting a number of different robotic set-ups. The idea has been to play with them as much as possible to figure out what is the best option for an upcoming robotics course. I happened to get my hands on a robotic kit from vexlabs.

So far I’m evaluating the kit as being quite good. Mainly for how easy it is to get started. The kit arrived on Wednesday. After several A not B errors I finished constructing the robot on Thursday. Installed their software (intelitek) and downloaded my first ‘easyC’ program on Friday. Installed extra software (MPLAB/C18) that allowed me to download traditionally-hand-written C on Saturday. Finally today I coded, downloaded and tested in the parking lot a simple CTRNN controller in C, with a 3 node chaotic circuit controlling the wheels.

The upsides:

  1. The parts are robust and the final assembled robot is quite robust as well (compared to their lego counterparts).
  2. I’m positively impressed with the life of the batteries (I haven’t had to recharge them after 4 days of relatively intense use).
  3. There’s a lot of room for extending the robot’s architecture.
  4. easyC has the potential to be a very useful tool for first-time-ever-programmers.
  5. For most others writing in C, compiling in MPLAB/C1, and downloading to the robot using (IFI/intelitek) should be straightforward.

The downsides:

  1. The add-ons are expensive (e.g. light sensor $20). But it shouldn’t be hard to make your own, so this those worry me too much.
  2. The kit comes with this massive cool looking radio transmitter control. This allows you to drive your robot around. But it only worked the first day I tried it. It hasn’t worked since. Possibly the crystals were faulty, which is not a good sign. Then again, what’s the point of controlling it yourself??
  3. Software is designed for Windows. Although far from ideal, this should not be a problem with the virtualization software for Macs.
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