EPFL delivers an educational robot on the cheap
By Ben Coxworth
September 20, 2012
In the past year alone, Swiss research institute EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) has brought us things such as a mini ionic motor for satellites, “nano velcro” that removes pollutants from water, and a system that allows paralyzed rats to walk again. While none of these items will ever likely be available to regular consumers, now there is a piece of EPFL-developed technology that you can get your hands on. It’s an open-source educational robot known as Thymio II, and it only costs a little over a hundred bucks.
Unlike some other educational ‘bots such as NAO or Zeno, Thymio II is not humanoid in form – if anything, it looks a little like a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. Although its variable-speed wheels are intended primarily for allowing it to scoot around, they can also be connected to user-supplied moving parts such as arms, propellers, winches, or just about anything else.
Besides those wheels, however, it also features a microphone and speaker, a 3-axis accelerometer, five proximity sensors, two ground sensors, a temperature sensor, and 39 LEDs which allow its body to illuminate in different colors.
It can accept programming via a USB connection (which is also used to charge its lithium-polymer battery) or a memory card slot. Programming is created using EPFL’s robotics-specific ASEBA language.
Using capacitive touch buttons on the robot’s top surface, it’s also possible to access a number of preprogrammed “behaviors” in which it does things such as following a moving object placed in front of it, exploring its environment while avoiding obstacles, following a line drawn on the floor, or responding to noises. Additionally, it can be remotely operated in real time using an infrared controller.
Other features include a trailer hitch, and a pencil support that allows it to draw on the surface that it’s traveling over – sort of like a Spirograph, remember those?
Thymio II is available now, at a price of 99 Swiss francs (US$106). It can be seen doing its thing in the video below.