Hands-On Review Of The New Hexbug/Vex Strandbeast Kit

Hexbug has taken another big leap in their micro robots product line. The company has revealed that they will offer a new type of "build-it-yourself" Hexbug kits. As we're huge fans of the Hexbugs robots, we decided to write a hands-on review featuring the new Hexbug/Vex Strandbeast kit. Special thanks to Hexbug for providing us with this amazing product!

The premise behind this project is that it lets kids tinker and build their own working robot. The kit includes parts such as snap-together pegs to the more advanced microcontroller.

After snapping a few pics of the parts and box for SimpleBotics' Twitter and Instagram, I began constructing the robot. The build requires the repetitive snapping of plastic pieces and following along the robot's instruction packet. It took me approximately three hours to build with breaks in between. I highly recommend taking breaks during the build. Not giving your hands a break could leave them looking a bit like this.

Image source: Spongebob, Nick

Though the build took some time, keep in mind that this Strandbeast kit is huge! Here's a size comparison of the robot next to an Xbox 360 controller.

Being a remotely controlled robot requires some sort of receiver. The kit comes with a Hexbug/Vex robotics microcontroller that acts as the "brain" of the robot. Wiring up the motors and sensors to the brain is simple. It consists of snapping little connectors to each other and can be done in less than five minutes.

In addition to manual control, the Strandbeast has an autonomous mode. This mode is dictated by the robot's sensors and can be programmed using the switchboard on the robot's brain. There are 64 different programs that the robot can follow.

The robot's motors and sensors plugged into the brain

Overall, Hexbug's Strandbeast kit delivers bang for your buck. For $90, this robot offers a fun building experience and an awesome, crawling beast in the end. You can also order it on Amazon.

MIT's Cheetah Robot Runs Around Untethered For The First Time

Image source: MIT

The cheetah is known as the fastest land animal on the planet. With the ability to accelerate up to speeds of 60 mph in a few seconds, cheetahs are masters at bounding. But so is their machine counterpart.

The MIT cheetah has been seen before. It's been tested on treadmills and has reached speeds of 13 mph. As an ongoing project, MIT has made some noticeable upgrades to their robotic cheetah. Without a tether and bound by only the limitations of battery life, MIT's robotic cheetah was able to run at speeds of 10 mph. The robot was also able to jump over a 33 cm object.

To accomplish this feat of engineering, MIT researchers designed what they call a "bounding algorithm." The algorithm allows for each of the robot's legs to exert a certain amount of force each time it hits the ground. More speed requires a greater amount of force to be applied to the ground. This bounding effect allows the robot to propel forward at faster speeds than traditional legged robots.

The robot contains custom-designed, bio-inspired legs and custom motors. The combination of the motors and the bio-inspired legs allow the robot to output certain amounts of force without the need of sensors.

MIT hopes to have their cheetah robot sprinting at speeds of 30 mph.

Source: MIT News

HEXO+ Is An Autonomous Drone That Can Carry A GoPro

Imagine shooting high quality aerial video without the need for a cameraman or pilot. The team behind the HEXO+ drone has made that a reality.

The HEXO+ is a hexacopter drone that is intelligent, autonomous, and has the ability to track moving objects (person riding a dirt bike) in real-time. The Palo Alto-based startup, Squadrone System, held a successful Kickstarter campaign back in July and raised over $1 million for HEXO+.

Here's the Kickstarter video.

So how exactly does this smart-drone work? The developers behind the HEXO+ have designed the drone to track the user via a smartphone app. From inside the app, users can set recording angles and flight settings for the drone. The app also behaves as a tracking device for the drone.

Selecting the angle in which the drone will record.

After the user has set a recording angle, the HEXO+ connects to the smartphone via MAVLINK, automatically takes off, and starts filming. The drone can predict the moving subject's trajectory and anticipate where the subject will move using it's special tracking algorithms. On the downside, the drone can't detect objects in its surrounded environment. This means that the pilot has to set the drone's flight path so it's clear of any obstacles.  The drone is also able to land automatically.

The drone's design is robust and perfect for filming action videos from above. It's six, 30 degree angled blades attribute to the drone's maximum speed of 45 mph and its ability to carry a GoPro. While these speeds would normally make the onboard camera wobble around, the drone's gimbal attachment allows for stable video recording. In addition to these features, the HEXO+ has a battery life of just 15 minutes (extra batteries are $25), a weight of approximately 2.2 lb, a range of nearly 2 kilometers.

Here's some specs from the Kickstarter page.

  • Easy to use: set the framing on your smartphone and lock your target, the drone does the rest; from auto take-off to auto landing.
  • Smart and autonomous: no remote control necessary; HEXO+ automatically follows your movements to maintain the framing you defined.
  • Designed for action: lightweight, foldable frame and legs, removable propellers and gimbal to fit in a backpack.
  • Extra fast flight: up to 70 km/h - 45 mph top speed to track even the fastest subject. Wind tunnel tested for improved aerodynamics.
  • Extra stable: hexacopter design and 2D brushless gimbal to ensure vibration-free, smooth filming. 
  • Safe: Fail-safe software features and six propellers mean a safe landing in case of a problem.
  • GoPro compatible mount: built for the best action camera out there.
  • Optional 360cam mount: aerial 360° photos and videos! About 360cam.
  • Includes The Director's Toolkit: HEXO+ comes with a Garageband-like app to create filming scenarios with drag and drop, combinable camera movements: crane, 360° around you, dolly, far-to-close/close-to-far. Unleash your creativity.

As the campaign is now over, the HEXO+ is now available for pre-order and the first shipments are to arrive in May 2015. Click here more for information and to pre-order your own autonomous drone!

Source: hexoplus.com

Amazon Feeds Your Obsession For Drones By Launching 'Drone Store'

To satisfy the fans of the growing industry, the leader in online commerce, Amazon, has opened their own 'Drone Store'.

So instead of just searching under a department such as "electronics" or "toys", buyers have a dedicated place to fulfill all of their drone needs. Looking for a case to carry your drone? Amazon Drone Store has that. Are you in need of some extra batteries, Amazon Drone Store has you covered. 

Though the store isn't really adding anything new in terms of inventory, this store just makes navigation and finding the right products a little easier.

Real 'Terminator' Robot Crawls Through Fire, Snow, And Gets Run Over By Car

Image source: YouTube

Yup, we're definitely screwed when the robot apocalypse happens. The squishy robot made at Harvard was recently put through a rigorous survival test. Fire, snow, and even getting run over by a car didn't stop this robot from crawling on.

Previous designs of the same rubbery-robot required a tether and were small in size. This version, however, is a .65 meters in length, requires no tether, and houses all the parts in order to run autonomously. Parts such as batteries, air compressors, and pneumatic tubing. More detail on how this works can be found here.

NewScientist reports that the team at Harvard tested their soft-robot against acid, water, snow, and flames. With the electronics in the middle of the robot, the elastic limbs were the parts being test. The team plans on increasing the robot's crawling speed and ability to crawl over obstacles.

Source: Soft robotics

Weekend Read - SimpleBotics

It was a busy week. We covered Dyson's robot vacuum on the day of its reveal. We held a Q&A with the developer behind 'Twitch Plays Robot'. We even covered news on Sphero's Ollie robot. So if you missed this week's coverage, here's a list of the best stories. Sit back and enjoy the SimpleBotics weekend read.

James Dyson Reveals The Dyson 360 Eye -

Last week, we covered a story that arose from a video teaser posted by the UK-based vacuum company, Dyson. The video was short, but suggested that a robotic vacuum from Dyson was in progress. SimpleBotics reached out to Dyson following the video's upload, and they have confirmed that they are indeed developing a robotic vacuum cleaner. Full story here.

Sphero's Ollie Goes On Sale - 

Orbotix made an announcement last year that their smartphone-controlled robot, Sphero, would be accompanied by a new and improved robot. Today, the Colorado-based company has made its new 'Ollie' robot available for pre-order. Full story here.

Q&A With The Developer Behind 'Twitch Plays Robot' -

Twitch Plays Robot allows users to control two robots right from their computer. Using simple commands, users can control the two robots through a maze and watch it all happen live on Twitch. We recently contacted Jillian Ogle, the developer behind Twitch Plays Robot, and asked her some questions on how it all works. Check out the full conversation here.

NASA To Wipe Memory Of Opportunity Rover -

She may be over 100 million miles away but that's not stopping NASA from doing some wireless maintenance on their Opportunity rover. CNET reports that NASA has been experiencing problems with the Curiosity rover predecessor, Opportunity. Issues such as worn-out cells in the rover's flash memory seem to be the problem. Because of these worn-out cells, NASA has had to reset Opportunity over and over again. They've even reset Opportunity's memory a dozen times last month. Full story here.

Drone Shoots Aerial Footage Over Apple's Spaceship Campus -

Apple's futuristic 'spaceship' campus is currently under construction. The 2.8 million square foot collection of buildings is being built behind high walls, but this GoPro-equipped DJI quadcopter had no problem flying over the construction site and capturing stunning aerial footage.

Image sources listed in the original posts

You Can Now Pre-Order The Smartphone-Conrolled Ollie Robot

Orbotix made an announcement last year that their smartphone-controlled robot, Sphero, would be accompanied by a new and improved robot. Today, the Colorado-based company has made its new 'Ollie' robot available for pre-order.

The Ollie robot, also known as '2B', is the latest flagship product from Orbotix. Like its older brother, Sphero, the Ollie is smartphone-controlled. But that's not anything new. The new features of Ollie include 2x the speed of Sphero, it's tube-like design, and it's ability to get airebourne when ramping off obstacles. The robot is said to also offer a lot more control than Sphero.

Ollie's ability to perform stunts and tricks can also be seen in the company's YouTube videos. With insane speeds of up to 14 mph, users should have no trouble getting Ollie to do flips, turns, and jumps. See video above.

Ollie is also customizable. Users can swap out wheel covers and even 3D-print their own accessories. Racing wheels and off-road wheels are available on Ollie's website.

The original Ollie is available for pre-order on gosphero.com or Amazon for $99 while the 'darkside' Ollie is being sold for $150. The shipments for the Ollie are set to arrive on September 15th. The Darkside Ollie will ship on November 1st.

We plan on having a review up on our site as soon as we get our hands on one.

Source: gosphero

James Dyson Reveals The 'Dyson 360 Eye' Robotic Vacuum Cleaner, And It's Better Than All The Rest

James Dyson with the Dyson 360 Eye

Last week, we covered a story that arose from a video teaser posted by the UK-based vacuum company, Dyson. The video was short, but suggested that a robotic vacuum from Dyson was in progress. SimpleBotics reached out to Dyson following the video's upload, and they have confirmed that they are indeed developing a robotic vacuum cleaner.

After 16 years of research and over $40 million worth of research and development by a team of over 200 Dyson engineers, the company has revealed the Dyson 360 Eye robotic vacuum cleaner. Unlike most of the robot vacuum cleaners found on today's market, the Dyson 360 Eye features advanced robotic navigation, powerful suction cleaning (not just spinning brushes), and a 360 degree panoramic camera. Can Roomba top that?

Quote by James Dyson:
 “Most robotic vacuum cleaners don’t see their environment, have little suction, and don’t clean properly. They are gimmicks. We’ve been developing a unique 360° vision system that lets our robot see where it is, where it has been, and where it is yet to clean. Vision, combined with our high speed digital motor and cyclone technology, is the key to achieving a high performing robot vacuum – a genuine labor saving device.”

This being said, Dyson has carefully designed their consumer robotic vacuum to overcome many of the common challenges previous robots have faced. Now lets take a look at the technical side of Dyson's 360 Eye.

An inside look at the Dyson 360 Eye.

As stated in their press release, the Dyson 360 Eye offers superior automated cleaning by using the company's patented vacuum design, carbon-fiber brushes, a panoramic camera, and all-terrain treads for mobility. The Dyson vacuum system inside the 360 Eye robot works in the same fashion as Dyson's regular vacuums. It houses multiple tubes that suck particles up from the ground without the need of a filter or bag. In addition to a powerful vacuum, the robot features carbon-fiber brushes that are designed to pick up dust and small dirt particles. This is a definite improvement in terms of cleaning power when comparing to robots like the Roomba.

The Dyson 360 Eye features a panoramic camera for navigation

But even with powerful suction technology, a cleaning robot's ability to navigate a room is just as important as their ability to actually pick up dirt. To overcome 'dumb' robot navigation techniques such as bump sensors, Dyson has implemented a 360 degree camera capable of recording 30 frames per second. This type of camera navigation should, according to Dyson, allow the robot track the room as it cleans and detect obstacles such as furniture. Nifty.

The tank-like treads perform better than wheels.

To improve on robot mobility, Dyson has played it safe by ditching the commonly used wheel. Plastic treads provide the Dyson 360 Eye with all-terrain mobility. This design allows the robot to clean carpet, tile, and hardwood surfaces with ease. Good thinking Dyson.

There's one other important feature that I don't want to leave out. This robot, like most technology made today, comes with a connected smartphone app. The app allows users to schedule cleaning times and activate the robot remotely. We'll update this post as we obtain a link to the app.

So how good is The Dyson 360 Eye on battery life and charging? To be honest, it's not that great when it comes to battery life. On a single charge you can expect 20-30 minutes of cleaning. When the battery's running low, the Dyson 360 Eye self-docks with its charger.

The robot docks itself to the charger when power is running low.

But I guess the 20-30 minute battery life shouldn't be that big of an issue. If the Dyson 360 Eye is as good as they say it is, 20-30 minutes should be enough time to get the job done. Dyson states that their robot will be available in Japan in Spring of 2015. Other countries can expect the robot to release later in the year. Could Dyson's new and advanced robot vacuum cleaner triumph over the success of the Roomba? More information can be found on the Dyson 360 Eye website. Post your opinions below.