Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sphero BB-8 Unboxing and First Look Review

Is this the droid you've been looking for?

In keeping with Internet tradition, the first video on the new Watkins Robotics YouTube channel is an unboxing video which includes that other ubiquitous Internet staple, a cat.

The star of this product review and video is none other than the Sphero BB-8 Astromech Droid collectible from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The cat, however, is not the star and appears only as a product demonstrator.

There are many consumer versions of the BB-8 in existence. At least one version is inflatable which seems appropriate since BB-8 has been referred to as "the beach ball" of astromech droids. For me, the Sphero version is the most interesting and arguably the most solidly built. It is, however, probably the smallest; coming in at roughly four and a half inches in height.

The Hasbro model, while larger, has a more "toy like" feel to it. Meanwhile, the Sphero appears to be the more "high tech" option.

One thing, however, that the Hasbro model has over the Sphero is that it comes with a dedicated remote control which is a welcome addition compared to the Sphero's requirement that a smart phone application act as the remote control.

While leveraging cellphone technology does allow for automatic updates and future expansion of the BB-8 feature set, it seems that a collectible droid model of this quality should really be more self-contained. Cellphones are upgraded often and it seems that the usability of the Sphero should not rely on the type of cellphone a person owns...or whether they own a cellphone at all.

Another compromise with the Sphero model is that the sounds made by BB-8 come from the cellphone application rather than from the droid itself. Since the user will always have the cellphone in hand (or at least nearby), this little shortcoming doesn't end up being as noticeable as one might initially believe.

The Hasbro model generates its sound from within the BB-8 which tends to produce a more realistic experience. This might be more important if the BB-8 is purchased as entertainment for children. Under this scenario, there will often be a parent or another child controlling the BB-8 and having the sounds come from the model, itself, will seem more immersive to the users.

In any case, the Sphero model is the choice for me. The construction is solid, the movement is precise, and the programmers have captured the personality and spirit of the character from the movie. This unit is solid enough to bang into walls and even drop from heights without causing too much grief.

And, yes, it has been known to bounce down a few stairs without much concern. Normally, if BB-8 drops down some stairs or otherwise experiences a hard crash, it usually first loses its head and this lightweight piece lands safely off to the side. This leaves the very solid billiard ball of a body to bounce and tumble as much as the laws of physics may compel.

By Constant314 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Another neat feature which should be mentioned is that the Sphero BB-8 uses a wireless charging technique involving the use of a pair of inductive coils; one inside the charging base and one inside the BB-8 itself. These coils act much like a typical electrical transformer which also conducts energy via alternating electromagnetic fields. I really appreciate the inclusion of such technology into this intriguing little device.

The original Sphero "robot ball" was something I had been watching ever since its inception. It was the first commercially available "robot" to use a locomotion technique about which I had been pondering for a quite a while.

It just seemed to make a lot of sense that a robot without wheels would be able to navigate some terrains much more easily than a robot with traditional wheels or rollers. And, of course, creating a robot with actual legs is still quite a challenge.

By Nepenthes (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
I'd often wondered just how R2-D2 could have managed to travel through the sand and rocks of Tatooine on those stiff little legs with their embedded rollers. Roller skates do not move well on the beach. A beach ball on the other hand is made for the beach and can easily roll across the sand. To me, the whole idea of a beach ball shaped droid rolling through the desert just seemed brilliant.

I had been interested in getting one of the original Spheros but it was not until this version that I decided to make a purchase. This is not simply because it is a wonderful Star Wars based collectible. Rather, the inclusion of something reminiscent of a face somehow gives it a little more life and makes it infinitely more interesting than what otherwise would resemble a common billiard ball. There's probably some well established psychological theory standing behind this feeling.

I hope you get a chance to check out the BB-8 Unboxing and First Look video on YouTube. Please feel free to share it with friends and remember to subscribe for updates on future content.

Thank you for visiting The Watkins Robotics Blog. Keep coming back!

--Watkins Robotics

Sphero BB-8 - http://www.sphero.com/
WatkinsRobotics YouTube Channel - http://www.youtube.com/c/WatkinsRoboticsTube

Monday, December 28, 2015

New YouTube and Twitter Profile Artwork!

Thought I'd drop a quick note about the new Watkins Robotics YouTube and Twitter Artwork that has just been created and uploaded. See the section below titled "A Word about the Channel Art" for information on how these images were generated.

In a previous blog, I mentioned the establishment of a new YouTube Channel and a brand new Twitter account. These were created to augment this newly reborn blog and allow the Robotics, Electronics, and Technology information to be focused into a communications stream all to itself. 

The decision was made to create these new accounts as a result of research spawned by discussions with friends and colleagues. It seems rather universal that when people follow Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, and blogs, this is usually done because the viewers are drawn to a specific topic or series of posts. While it can be refreshing to see posts that are not specifically related to the original items of interest, this can sometimes serve to distract the intended audience. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Watkins Robotics!

Just wanted to wish everyone the best for this Holiday Season and may the next year bring you joy.

This year marks a return to active blogging at Watkins Robotics. It has been far too long since I've contributed to this community in any direct way. In the coming year, I plan to produce a series of tutorials on YouTube. Meanwhile, this website will serve to capture associated text descriptions, detailed instructions, links to resources, and behind-the-scenes thoughts on each and every tutorial and project throughout the year!

The success of this site and the value of the information it contains is the result of you, the viewers and readers. Please leave your suggestions in the comments section of the Watkins Robotics YouTube channel and at the bottom this blog. Let me know what you'd like to see covered in this year's tutorials and if there are any items of interest that you'd like me to investigate. Watkins Robotics can also be reached via Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/WatkinsRobotics.

In the meantime, please enjoy this short video Christmas Card from my other YouTube Channel...

Thanks for visiting the Watkins Robotics blog! Keep coming back!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Basic Stamp BOE Based Robotics Platform

This is an older autonomous robotics platform that I was experimenting with more than a few years ago. Some people may recognize it as being based on the Parallax BOE-BOT or "Board of Education" robot. That observation will prove correct. The BOE-BOT can be a wonderful platform on which to turn your ideas into real-life robotics experiments.

I thought it would be fun to dig up some of the old photos and videos of this project so that I could document the experiment and share it with others.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Quick Build Mood Lamp with Remote Control

While not a robot this nifty project employs the kind of components and resourcefulness that can be very useful when converting your own ideas into reality.  

Why build a remote controlled, tabletop, mood lamp that can produce over 16 million vibrant colors?
Why not?

It might be the ideal conversation piece for that table that needs just one more decoration.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Simple Arduino Robotics Platform

An inexpensive remote controlled toy vehicle, a handful of well supported electronics, and an afternoon of fun can result in you having built your own expandable Arduino based robotics platform for less than $80.  While this project describes a "sensor-less" platform it offers a great base on which to stage future experiments. A variety of sensors, servos and other types of actuators can easily be added to this roving chassis and integrated into the Arduino based software to expand and enhance your autonomous robot's capabilities.

This simple robotics platform was built from a radio controlled vehicle that can be purchased online for about $20 or less (check your favorite toy shops). The electronics added at this stage include an Arduino UNO and a top mounted DFRobot L298P Motor Shield. These items should cost around $30 for the Arduino and under $20 for the motor shield.  Both of these components, their datasheets, tutorials and sample code are available from a variety of online sources including Adafruit, Digi-key, and SparkFun.