Computational creativity and the future of AI

Brainlink adds new capabilities to store-bought robots


December 17, 2011

Brainlink is a module that can be added to existing household robots, allowing for the add...

Brainlink is a module that can be added to existing household robots, allowing for the addition of extra sensors, and smartphone or laptop-based remote control

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While "toy" robots such as WowWee's Robosapien already have some pretty impressive capabilities, they can now do even more ... if they have a Brainlink module installed. Brainlink is made by BirdBrain Technologies, which is a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off company. When attached to an existing infrared remote-controlled household robot, it will add a built-in light sensor and accelerometer to that device's quiver, along with the possibility of various other user-supplied sensors that can be plugged into its input ports. The Bluetooth-equipped Brainlink also allows robots to be controlled via the user's laptop or Android smartphone, which opens up all sorts of possibilities.

The main module itself is triangular, and attaches to various makes and models of robots wherever possible. It's powered by a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, and has an operating range of 30 feet (9 meters). An incorporated wired infrared LED, which should be mounted near the robot's infrared detector, is used to relay user commands.

Brainlink only allows for user-to-robot communications, so operators can't receive feedback or other information directly from the device (although the module does feature output in the forms of a full-color LED, and a buzzer). That said, sensors that are able to communicate on their own, such as wirelessly-transmitting video cameras, could be added.

The Brainlink module, mounted on a Robosapien

The addition of digital or analog sensors that measure changes in factors such as temperature or sound could also allow the robot to react autonomously to its environment. As suggested by the company, for instance, proximity sensors attached to a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner could be used to keep it from hitting walls. Additionally, if a smartphone were attached to the robot and plugged into the Birdbrain, the robot would then have access to the phone's camera, microphone and speaker, along with all of its computing power.

The module can also be used with other infrared-controlled devices, such as TVs or cable converters.

Brainlink can be purchased via the product website, for US$125. An open-source library of software that can be used with the module can be accessed through Carnegie Mellon's CREATE lab.

The video below illustrates the type of things that the system could make possible.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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