Lollipops, a joystick, a bottle cap and a whistle fill out parts lists for low-cost robots in the African Robotics Network’s design challenge. One out-of-the-box thinker built a robot out of a cardboard box. During the last two years, the challenge has demonstrated that robot construction can be deeply creative, tinkerer-friendly and cheap.
Twenty-eight entries from around the world piled into the network’s first contest in 2012, and most hit the target cost of $10 to $20. Now its second year, the contest aimed to refine the robots and provide teaching guides for educators. Although the robots are aimed at students, fans of any kind can dive into the construction plans and programming guides for most of the entries posted on their sites.
We present three of the winning designs from teams at MIT and Harvard in the United States and iHub in Kenya.
[For more on AFRON, the network’s cofounder Ayorkor Korsah spoke with us and answered five questions.]
By: Ankur Mehta and a team from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Awards: 1st in Hardware, 2nd in Software, 1st in Curriculum
Cost: ~ $20 if you build four
Segway personal transporters – the ones that tourists use in beach towns – inspired this robot’s looks, and origami inspired its manufacturing process. Much of this robot can be cut and folded from a sheet of plastic film. Then you assemble the robotic guts, which include an Arduino Pro Mini microcontroller, servos, batteries and an optional breakout board to connect sensors and actuators, and you press it into the cavity in the center of the plastic housing. Other than a cutter, no tools or glue necessary.
Program the robot with a graphical, drag-and-drop, newbie-friendly interface using ArduBlock, which works with the Arduino.
By: Michael Rubenstein and a team from the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group at Harvard University
Awards: 1st in Software, 2nd in Hardware, 2nd in Curriculum
The Affordable Education Robot buzzes along on vibrating motors without the need for wheels or a gearbox. Its tail is a USB plug. It has optical sensors with no moving parts and its printed circuit board doubles as its body. For all that simplicity it doesn’t seem to photograph well, but it looks cute in this video.
It can detect objects and follow a colored line using ambient and infrared light sensors that face outwardly and others that face downward. And a rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers it. It charges and takes programming instructions through its USB tail.
The team behind this designed it for sale as a kit. Using the kit, assembly should take about two minutes and does not require any tools, although a small Phillips screwdriver would help.
By: a team at iHub in Nairobi, Kenya
Awards: 1st in Community Challenge, Honorable Mentions in Software and Curriculum
Composed of used and recycled office supplies, the PanyaBot goes a long way toward making robotics accessible as a do-it-yourself home project on a tight budget. The chassis is a PC mouse and the motors are stripped from DVD player. The bulk of its price stems from the Teensy 2.0 microcontroller and a Bluetooth module to talk to it. The rest of the hardware costs about $7.
The iHub team behind PanyaBot won AFRON’s Community Challenge prize by hosting a Kids’ Hacker Camp in which kids built similar robots around Raspberry Pi microcontrollers. The kids’ creations were wildly shaped and colored in part because they were built with found parts and in part because, well, the roboticists are kids.
Watch AFRON’s site and Google forum for updates on the next design challenge.