Columbia University students build a robot for under $1,000
December 4, 2012
Humanoid robots tend to be quite pricey, and the general rule of thumb is the bigger they are the more costly they become. That's not to say you can't cut corners – have it move on wheels instead of legs, for example – yet even then, most robots inevitably end up costing thousands of dollars. What kind of life-sized robot can be built for less than a grand, if you're an individual or a university lab on a budget? One possibility, which comes to us from Columbia University computer science students Marc Howard, Anton Mayr, Jason Ravel and Alexandros Sigaras, is not very pretty – but what Talos lacks in high tech sex appeal, it makes up for with bright-eyed enthusiasm.
The robot was built for just US$800 dollars, using various bits and pieces found inside their lab. It's part of a group project designed to put their programming skills to the test in areas like computer vision and path planning.The following list represents the robot's bare necessities:
- Microsoft Kinect sensor ($110)
- OWI robotic arms x 2 ($90)
- iRobot Create ($130)
- Cement holding tube ($20)
- Wooden pieces ($50)
- USB hub ($10)
- Speakers ($10)
- Macbook, used ($380)
Total Cost: $800
The guts of the robot allow it to do some interesting things. The Kinect sensor provides 3D depth perception, and its video images can be processed to recognize faces. All of its software, which includes open-source stuff like ROS and Google's Chatbot, is run on a gently used Macbook. And it all sits on top of the iRobot Create – the hackable version of the Roomba – which provides its mobility.
These components have already been combined with some success, thanks to Willow Garage's TurtleBot. What Talos brings to the table is a larger body, and the OWI arms – essentially toys capable of lifting only 100 grams apiece – that are there more for visual impact than practical use.
"It's the first low-cost robotic platform of its kind. We learned that we could engineer a fully functional humanoid robot capable of multiple tasks in the home for cheap, something that had never been done before," writes Jason Ravel, the project leader.
Next, Ravel says, the team plans to put together blueprints for the robot, which they will sell to the next generation of robot builders. You can see Talos in action in the video below.
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