Software Makes Cheap Dumb Robots Interesting - Bots_Alive
Written by Lucy Black   
Saturday, 28 January 2017

A project to make spider robots come alive via your smartphone has already reached its initial target on Kickstarter. A bots_alive kit transforms the remote-controlled Hexbug Spider into an autonomous, intelligent critter for just $35.

There has been an explosion of robotic toys but bots_alive takes a rather different angle. The idea is to bring the quality of being life-like to the already widely dispersed, inexpensive (sub $25), plastic Hexbug.





In this video bots_alive creator Brad Knox explains how psychology has influenced the project and the reasons for adding simple capabilities as a first step on the road to sentient robots: 

The bots_alive kit is a Apple/Anroid app which acts as the brains of the Hexbug spider, allowing it to make autonomous decisions, an IR Baster allows a smartphone to contro the robot. A normal Hexbug has a remote control that allows the user to "drive" it around which quickly becomes boring. The smartphone allows software to interact with the Hexbug. The smartphone's camera is use to detect markers that have been placed on top of the Hexbug Spider and on "vision blocks". There are  two types of block in the kit - red ones which the spider now avoids and blue which it actively seeks. This gives it a curiosity as it explores the world and learns how to navigate through mazes.



If you don't already have a Hexbug Spider toy and want to have fun with bots_alive the best choice of pledge to make is $85 which includes:

Everything you need for two autonomous robot creatures (not including your smartphone) 

When it ships in September 2017 youll receive:

2 Hexbug Spiders plus decals and an IR blaster

5 vision blocks (4 red obstacles and 1 blue target 

Add an optional $15 add-on pack of 10 obstacle blocks for building mazes.

The advantage of having two spiders is that if the campaign reaches its $50,000 stretch goal then the app will be extended to include a sumo wrestling feature.

Controlling two spiders is the app's limit which is something to bear in mind if you are tempted by the bigger kits. 



This is an interesting project and it will extend the interest in an otherwiser dead end toy. It won't, however, teach the user much about robotics unless the software is extended to allow additional features to be added. The user needs to be able to modify how the robot behaves - perhaps by programming it or by some sort of reinforcment learning. Extended in this way it could be hugely influential. In its present form it is just short term fun.

More Information

bots_alive website

bots_alive on Kickstarter

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 28 January 2017 )