Rice University, Department of Computer Science
Frequently asked Questions
I receive more email than I can reply to. Please look here first to see if you can find the answer to your question before sending me an email. If you do send one, please be patient, I'm not ignoring you, I'm just busy...
When were you born? Where did you grow up?
Can you come speak at my program/school/museum/company?
The Ant Robots
Are there diagrams/schematics/plans for the Ant robots?
The Swarm Robots
Are there diagrams/schematics/plans for the SwarmBots?
NOVA ScienceNow Biography
If you've seen the NOVA show that featured the biography of me, then you might have some unanswered questions. Read on.
Why does your girlfriend have pet worms?
So then why do you have pet ants?
Was that you singing "The Flight of the Bumblebee"?
Why did the robots crash when playing back the "Star Wars" theme?
Why does your motorcycle sound like a lawn mower?
Can you send me a copy of your "dating flowchart"?
Can you give me time management advice?
May 28th, 2005, Michael B asked:
I am an aspiring roboticist/student. Is it possible for you iRobot guys to give me any information at all about building my own mini-swarm for personal use, enjoyment, and learning? Thanks for your time...
Sorry Michael, the Swarm design is not available. Also, it took myself and three other engineers at iRobot 4 years to build the Swarm, if you are starting out, it would be better to start on a smaller project. I recommend:
Use the included LEGO software for only a little while, then get online and look at all the other different programming languages that are available and learn how to expand the hardware and sensors. You can go surprising far like this. Visit http://jpbrown.i8.com/index.html
You can build a very nice robot using the Handy Board, and there is a lot of on-line support for it.
If you need more computational horsepower than either of the first two designs can provide, then this is the way to go. You would use two computers, one to control the low-level hardware, and one to do the high-level processing. This is how we structured the undergraduate class I just worked with at MIT.I hope this gets you started. Have fun and build cool robots!
June 12th, 2005, Nadir Sidi asked:
I was wondering if you could recommend a microcontroller. My only experience to date is with an OOpic controller (our group used Atmels but I was not involved in that programming stage).
If you are comfortable soldering and building circuitry, then I strongly recommend the Atmel AVR family of microcontrollers. I just used the Atmel ATMEGA8-16 for a project, and was very happy with it. Atmel makes a starter kit with an evaluation board called the STK500. I used this and was up and running in a few hours. You can buy it from Digi-Key, along with all the other electronic parts your heart desires.
The STK500 comes with a nice assembler (for writing assembly-language programs) and a simulator to test your software before you put it on the chip. I would not recommend that you program in assembly, but instead use C. You can download GCC for the AVR($0), download the WinAVR set of tools based on GCC ($0), buy the inexpensive Codevision C compiler (~$70, but the Atmel Engineers tell me it very good), or the expensive IAR Embedded Workbench for the Atmel AVR (~500(!) with academic discount). I use the WinAVR tools.
If you don't want to do as much hardware, then I would recommend the HandyBoard (http://handyboard.com/), which uses the venerable 6811 microcontroller. It's getting a little old, but is still very nice.
I also am learning java at school, if that helps in your recommendation.
You can run Java on a LEGO RCX brick! Lejos seems to be the winning option here.
This might give you more questions than answers. If none of this makes sense, then go towards the LEGO RCX brick.