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iRobot Create Contest Winner: the DIY Personal Home 'Bot

Irobot_winner Congrats to Instructables user dttworld for bagging the grand $5,000 prize for the iRobot challenge. If you recall, we helped get the creative juices flowing with our iRobot iNstitute—a guide to getting started with the flexible Create kit. Something tells me dttworld wasn't in need of our help, though, judging by his winning home service 'bot: it can talk, recognize faces, control your TV, water your plants, and even remind grandma to take her pills! Check out more photos and video here. —John Mahoney

iRobot Create Personal Home Robot [instructables]

iRobot iNstitute

iRobot iNstitute Lesson 3: Add Custom Hardware to Your Create

Now that you’ve learned how to program your Create (see Lesson 1) and wirelessly communicate with your Create (see Lesson 2), it’s time to explore the iRobot Command Module expansion ports—and expand your create. Armed with four ports, dubbed ePorts, the Command Module provides unprecedented access to the I/O pins of its onboard Atmel ATmega 168 AVR microcontroller.

The only trouble is how can you tap into these I/O pins?

While the jury is still out on the iRobot Command Module Breakout Board (#4818; suggested retail should be $5.99), Element Products sells the eProto board which can plug into any of the four Command Module ePorts. Priced at $4.95, eProto is supplied as a two-part kit: DB-9 male plug and a sweet 1 3/16 x 1 1/4-inch PCB. What’s so sweet about a PCB without any components? Plenty, you can add your own.


Assembly is easy enough—just solder the supplied DB-9 plug to the underside of the PCB. Done. Hey, time yourself; you just assembled an electronic kit is less than 5 minutes.

Continue reading "iRobot iNstitute Lesson 3: Add Custom Hardware to Your Create" »

iRobot iNstitute Lesson 2: Bluetooth, or Sever the Tether Altogether

The Bluetooth specification is a low-cost, low-power radio standard that is used for wirelessly connecting devices. Global acceptance of this specification has helped incorporate limited range wireless communication into everything from automobiles to web players. Based on a nifty time-sharing architecture featuring frequency-hopping and tiny packet sizes, Bluetooth uses the 2.4GHz radio band with a range of approximately 30 feet.

Apple PowerBook G4 portables were the first big time, mainstream computers to offer Bluetooth 2.0+ Enhanced Data Rate (EDR). At that time, other computers were saddled with the older Bluetooth 1.x support. Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, while backwards-compatible with Bluetooth 1.x, is up to three times faster than the older standard. A maximum data rate of up to 3 Mbps is possible with Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. This throughput plus the peripheral nature of the connectivity feature has enabled some vendors to describe Bluetooth as “wireless USB.”


Lucky for you, the iRobot Create can be equipped with a Bluetooth Adapter Module (BAM) for enabling wireless control from any Bluetooth-equipped host. In fact, with very little technical expertise you can replace the Create USB serial cable with BAM for piping Open Interface (OI) command strings wirelessly to your Create. Take that:
128 132  140 0 4 62 12 69 12 62 36  141 0 
There, BAM, sever the tether.

Continue reading "iRobot iNstitute Lesson 2: Bluetooth, or Sever the Tether Altogether" »

iRobot iNstitute Lesson 1: Give Your Create a Brain


Classes are finally in session at Professor Dave's iRobot iNstitute. It's not too late to use your new education to submit an idea for a build to Instructables' iRobot contest: you could win $5,000! Hurry though, because if you don't already have a Create kit, Instructable is only taking "scholarship" concept entries until June 30. Regular contest entries are being accepted until August 31, so there's still plenty of time to apply your knowledge.

Be sure to come back next week for Lesson 2. Oh, and see the bottom of this post for a great video sidebar, in which Professor Dave reveals his robotic mad scientist side!—Eds.

The iRobot Create kit feature a special interface that enables users to control the robot’s behavior and locomotion as well as monitor its sensors. This interface is the iRobot Create Open Interface (OI). By using the OI, users can modify the functionality of a normal Create and build a new set of operating instructions—but without a brain, the Create’s interface is largely useless. So in this first tutorial, we’re going to show you how to get your Create thinking on its feet with a third-party microcontroller.


Overall, there are two distinctly different methods for transforming your Create from a vegetable to a genius: hard and easy. In the hard method, users must install a serial terminal program on a PC (e.g., RealTerm; http://realterm.sourceforge.net/), attach Create’s serial cable tether to the PC’s serial DB-9 port, orchestrate a series of nonsensical command strings, e.g.:
128 131 [RETURN] 137 1 44  128 0 156 1 120 137 1 44 0 1 157 0 90 158 -5
...then send the string and watch the action.

While achieving successful results with this hard method are possible, it does require keeping Create tethered to a PC. Doable, but yuck. And who’s got a DB-9 serial port these days anyway?

In the easy method, users can simply add an onboard brain. iRobot provides a controller called the Command Module, but many third-party controllers will also work and can provide different feature sets—here we’re using a chip called the Mind Control. Manufactured by Element Products, the Mind Control consists of an elegant lipstick-sized, removable mini-DIN controller module that plugs into the Create’s serial port and a special Mind Control programming board.

Continue reading below for much, much more info and a handy demonstration video:

Continue reading "iRobot iNstitute Lesson 1: Give Your Create a Brain" »

iRobot iNstitute: Classes Beginning Soon


In honor of the $5,000 iRobot Create Challenge being thrown by our DIY pals over at Instructables.com, PopSci’s How 2.0 blog will be hosting a series of tutorials on learning the basic fundamental techniques for using, programming, and hacking your own project together with the Create kit, hopefully sending you well on your way to the juicy $5,000 prize.

As you may recall, Create is the iRobot bot that doesn’t suck—or, slurp, for that matter—basically a vacuum-less sibling of the famous Roomba equipped with a bevy of ports and open interfaces, making it an ideal DIY platform for building your own robot.

Forget all that hardware wiring stuff about motors, controllers, and sensors, the Create’s base platform already has those things covered. Instead you can concentrate on learning how to add an LCD, finagle Bluetooth communications, or even add a weather prediction station to your new companion while grabbing some entertaining instruction from the elite PopSci team of “Create-tionist robotologists.”

We’re calling this series of tutorials, “iRobot iNstitute.” And each instructional entry will be dedicated to providing you with some helpful information for meeting, and hopefully, beating the iRobot Challenge. Our tentative schedule will cover everything from giving your Create kit a brain to teaching it to predict the weather. Pretty neat, eh?

Accompanying each topic will be some juicy hands-on instruction, maybe a design secret or two, and a jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping, Oscar-nabbing informational video that will give you a “once-around-the-shop” overview of how to apply your newfound ‘bot knowledge to a Create robot.

So save some space on your calendar for getting Create-ive (oh!) at the iRobot iNstitute in the coming weeks. —Dave Prochnow

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