Chris Willingham and Andrew Remmers, both 19, are former FIRST robotics team members turned mentors, turned inventors who have teamed up on the development of the Netbot. The Netbot got its start as the Skypebotabout a year and a half ago, the brainchild of Chris, who wanted to see if he could create
his own remotely operated robot. Tinkering with Vex parts and a Netbook computer, Chris wrote the rudimentary code that allowed anyone using Skype to drive the computer. Beta testers included a friend in California and his sister, who was studying abroad in London at the time.
Eventually, Chris teamed up Andrew, who he knew through the FIRST community and the Skypebot blossomed into the NetBot, “ a generic open robot platform designed to be simple to modify to do whatever you want it to do. “
“The goal of the robot”, says Chris, “is to be a cost efficient way for you to play with bigger robots. “
The main feature of the robot is the processor, which can be pretty much any kind of netbook or laptop computer, bringing costs within reach of the everyday hobbyist, but also enabling the creation of a powerful, adaptable machine. The basic platform consists of a 3-wheeled omnidirectional drive system controlled by an Arduino, with a two foot diameter frame topped by a telescoping center laptop holder that will extend at least four feet in height. The developers’ goal is to make the robot available for under $1000.
If the robot owners don’t like the framework, Chris says, it’s a simple matter of reprogramming the Arduino as needed or desired.
Chris and Andrew, who plan to debut the Netbot at the Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire in March, shared a little of their story with us, and some of their hopes for the Netbot.
TBMMF: Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Andrew: I have been involved with FIRST since 2007 and through the great mentoring of multiple people have become very good at what I do. I first became interested in mechanical engineering in 2009 (my second FIRST FRC game) when my FRC team collaborated with another team here in Florida. I had been on a mission to learn CAD and more about mechanical engineering and a mentor on that team showed me how to do very basic CAD, ever since I have been teaching myself CAD and actually do it professionally part time for a few companies.
Chris: I’m also a former FIRST student. I currently attend St. Petersburg College and mentor Team Duct Tape, a successful FTC robotics team. I have been involved in FTC for 4 years and before that participated in FLL for 3 years. Throughout my participation in FTC, I taught myself a variety of programming languages, ranging from Java to C/C++ and Python and a couple of years ago, interned at AnyBots, a Telepresence robotics company in Mountain View, California. For the last few years I have been playing around with building a laptop controlled robot. I eventually showed Andrew a prototype I made out of Vex parts with a laptop strapped to the top. He liked the idea and came up with a good drive system, and we eventually it turned into a collaborative project. I work on the software, electronics, and budgeting (and a little PR) and he works on the mechanical side of the robot.
TBMMF: Give us some ideas of ways the Netbot might be used.
NB Team: The most practical application we have come up with so far is your basic Telepresence robot. Even though the robot is capable of far more, we have managed to control robots through pretty much every major video chat system including Skype and Google+. We will have Telepresence capability built into the robot so that no programming is required to use it as a Telepresence robot. With a basic Netbook or laptop strapped to the top, it is pretty much the most affordable Telepresence robot you’ll find.
However the robot is capable of far more. With a decent computer strapped to the top, it is possible to do advanced image processing, object tracking, face detection, or even SLAM algorithms . Or you could have it tell you the weather. The API can be accessed through almost any programming language, so pretty much anything you come up with, you can probably program the robot to do.
TBMMF: What’s your ultimate hope/goal for the Netbot?
NB Team: We would love to see this robot used in Maker Projects. While the robot still costs a bit more than we would like, it is one of the most affordable robots of its size and capability. We would also like to see this robot used in businesses as Telepresence robots, and colleges, as a low cost platform for robotics projects. We are developing this robot because we see an enormous potential for it, and we think others will, too.
TBMMF: Will we see a working model at Tampa Bay Maker Faire?
NB Team: You bet! We hope to have a prototype of the robot finished by the end of January and the API finished by the end of February. We are planning to have a fully programmable prototype of the NetBot running at the Maker Faire drivable through a web browser (and maybe it’ll be able to tell you the weather too). Keep an eye on our site . We will be posting updates as we continue to develop the robot.
TBMMF: We can’t wait to see what the NetBot Team brings to Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire!