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Internet-controlled robots anyone can build

Re­search said to br­ing ro­botics to new lev­el of pub­lic us­abil­ity 

April 26, 2007
Courtesy Carnegie Mellon University
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists say they have de­vel­oped a line of ro­bots sim­ple enough for al­most an­y­one to build with off-the-shelf parts, yet soph­is­t­icated and able to link wire­less­ly to the In­ter­net. 

Qw­erk­bot, a three-wheeled ro­bot that can send im­ages over the In­ter­net, is one of sev­er­al ro­bots that can be built with the Telep­res­ence Ro­bot Kit (TeRK), a com­bi­na­tion of a ro­bot con­trol­ler, com­mon­ly avail­a­ble parts and as­sem­bly in­struc­tions de­vel­oped by the CRE­ATE Lab in Car­ne­gie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty's Ro­botics In­sti­tute. (Im­age cour­te­sy Ken An­dre­yo/CMU)


The ro­bots can take many forms, from a three-wheeled mod­el with a mount­ed cam­era to a flow­er load­ed with in­fra­red sen­sors, the de­sign­ers said. 

The ma­chines are eas­i­ly customiza­ble, they added, and users can con­trol and mon­i­tor them from any In­ter­net-linked com­put­er. 

The tools that would allow this are a sin­gle piece of hard­ware and a set of “recipes” that peo­ple fol­low to build their ma­chines. Both are part of the “Telep­res­ence Ro­bot Kit,” or TeRK, de­vel­oped Il­lah Nour­bakhsh and col­leagues at Car­ne­gie Mel­lon Uni­ver­si­ty in Pitts­burgh. 

Their goal, they said, is to make high­ly capa­ble ro­bots ac­ces­si­ble and afforda­ble for stu­dents and an­y­one else in­ter­est­ed. 

Un­like oth­er educational ro­bot kits, a TeRK ro­bot is­n’t sold as full set of parts. The recipes in­stead al­low for build­ing a va­ri­e­ty of ro­bots with parts com­mon­ly availa­ble through hard­ware and hob­by­ist out­lets, the re­search­ers said.

At the heart of each ma­chine is a unique con­troller called Qw­erk that com­bines a com­put­er with the soft­ware and elec­tron­ics nec­es­sary to con­trol the mo­tors, cam­er­as and oth­er de­vices, mem­bers of Nour­bakhsh’s team said. Qw­erk al­so con­nects the ro­bot au­to­mat­i­cally to the In­ter­net. 

“The In­ter­net con­nec­tion means the ro­bots are much more glob­al,” Nour­bakhsh said. Not on­ly can the ro­bot be op­er­ated re­mote­ly at any lo­ca­tion with a wire­less In­ter­net con­nec­tion, but it can al­so send pho­tos or vid­e­o, re­spond to news feeds, or ac­cess the In­ter­net to find in­for­ma­tion. “We’re hop­ing peo­ple no­tice that the sky’s the lim­it,” he added.


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Research said to bring robotics to new level of public usability Scientists say they have developed a line of robots that are simple enough for almost anyone to build with off-the-shelf parts, yet sophist icated and able to link wirelessly to the Internet. The robots can take many forms, from a three-wheeled model with a mounted camera to a flower loaded with infrared sensors, the designers said. The machines are easily customizable, they added, and users can control and monitor them from any Internet-linked computer. The tools that would make this possible are a single piece of hardware and a set of “recipes” that people follow to build their machines. Both are part of the “Telepresence Robot Kit,” or TeRK, developed Illah Nourbakhsh and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Their goal, they said, is to make highly capable robots accessible and affordable for students and anyone else interested. Unlike other edu cational robot kits, a TeRK robot isn’t sold as full set of parts. The recipes instead allow for building a variety of robots with parts commonly available through hardware and hobbyist outlets, the researchers said. At the heart of each machine is a unique controller called Qwerk that combines a computer with the software and electronics necessary to control the motors, cameras and other devices, members of Nourbakhsh’s team said. Qwerk also connects the robot automatically to the Internet. “The Internet connection means the robots are much more global,” Nourbakhsh said. Not only can the robot be operated remotely at any location with a wireless Internet connection, but it can also send photos or video, respond to RSS feeds, or access the Internet to find information. That combination opens a wide range of possibilities. “We’re hoping people notice that the sky’s the limit,” he added.