In the future, we might be able to operate robots the same way that we play dancing video games. Taylor Veltrop, a software engineer living in Tokyo, has developed the Veltrobot, a small humanoid bot that you can control just by moving your body. The trick to getting the Veltrobot up and mimicking its master was connecting it via Wifi to the XBox 360’s Kinect 3D sensor. By standing in front of the Kinect and moving his arms, Veltrop is able to get his mini-me copy to perform push-ups, wave, and even do a bit of disco. You don’t want to miss the cool demonstration of the Veltrobot in the video below. I’m not sure what I like more about this clip: the amazing way that the robot copies its creator or Veltrop’s hilariously mellow narration.
Valtrop sets up the project and gives details about the robot in the beginning of the video. Feel free to skip forward to watch the robot perform push-ups (1:43), wave its arms (3:00), and fall down from exhaustion (5:45).
Sure it was launched in 2010, but as far as robotics are concerned, 2011 looks to be the year of the Kinect. The 3D Sensor designed by Microsoft for their XBox 360 system costs just $150, making it a prime target for engineers who want a cheap way to incorporate advanced sensing into their projects. Various open source hacks for the device have been developed, and there’s even a bundle of robotics related code for the Kinect on the ROS library.
In fact, the Veltrobot was actually created because of the ROS library and its recently announced competition to see who can build the coolest application using devices like the Kinect. With $8000 in prizes, the ROS 3D Contest is likely to draw in a wide-range of professional, semi-professional, and amateur applicants in the weeks ahead. The competition ends on January 23rd, and we’ll be ready to share the best and the worst of the results once the winners are announced thereafter.
In the meantime, feel free to copy Veltrop’s design and setup and produce your own Veltrobot. That’s right, because this is a ROS competition, all the code used in the robot is freely available and open source. Once the contest is over there will be a host of new packets of code that will fuel future Kinect hackers to create even better uses for the device. Practical applications for these endeavors are likely to be slim. Is there really a commercial use for a two foot robot that you can control by waving your arms? Yet the code developed for this contest could eventually make its way into other robots that use ROS. That includes cutting-edge humanoids like the PR2, prosthetic limbs, and even autonomous cars!
Projects like this get me pretty excited. Not only do they demonstrate how people with limited expertise can still make valuable contributions to robotics, they show how the declining costs of hardware (like 3D sensors) could revolutionize the industry. The Kinect is just $150 and it’s spawned dozens of these kinds of endeavors. Imagine what other ideas people may be able to explore when someone develops super cheap and efficient servos (the Kondo robot kit that Veltrop used typically retails at $1400+) or a better laser range finder, etc. Cheaper computer components alone are going to make a big difference in robotics at all levels. (Veltrop used a PC board in the robot and a host PC connected to the XBox.) As prices continue to fall, innovations will increase. It’s going to be awesome.