How would you like to have a robot of your very own? Did you know there are several great options out there for hobbyists, professionals, and even just folks who would love to have a robot rolling around the house? Thankfully, there are plenty of great robots that you can bring home and enjoy. In fact, you can often modify and program them to do even more than they can right out of the box.
Indeed, robotics is one area of science that is only expanding now that we have achieved such headway in terms of microprocessing and robotic design. Even a relatively small robot can be equipment with an electronic brain capable of doing extraordinary amounts of calculations, making it possible to have it do a wide range of different tasks.
While some of these robots are quite expensive, others can be found well within the budget of your average geek. Thanks to some open source robotics projects out there, you can even build a remarkably robust robot on a budget — if you know what you’re doing.
The one problem with many robots on the market today is that they don’t often connect with us. Interacting with a robot often lacks that emotional connection so vital to us. If you add a face, and perhaps some expression, it’s easier to see a robot as something more than another gadget in the home that performs simple tasks.
Enter the Hanson Robokind robot. Not only does this robot walk upright like a normal human being, but it has a wide range of facial expressions that relay a number of emotional responses. Robokind is referred to as the “almost human” robot, and with two HD cameras in its eyes and an array of different sensors, it is also one of the most adaptable. Robokind is designed to be more than capable of competing in RoboCup, a soccer-like game played by robotic players in a test of dexterity, speed, and maneuverability.
You can pick up a Robokind robot for yourself at a price between $8,500 and $14,750.
Not long ago, Jake Ludington and I took a trip to the Anybot offices where we met up with several of the people behind the mobile robotic avatar you can log in to and operate using little more than a browser and a headset. These two-wheeled robots are easily controlled and can give you a physical presence even when you’re halfway across the world.
One remarkable feature about the Anybot is that it combines the balance and two-wheeled operation of the Segway with the kind of whimsical presence one might recall from Johnny Five of the Short Circuit series. A video screen located on what would be the robot’s forehead, which is typically elevated to eye level, makes it a natural way to speak to someone who isn’t physically available. You can see their face, hear them, and even walk around the building with them without having to lug around any equipment.
One of the robotic personalities we spoke with, Angela, mentioned that during a recent event her QB was fitted with a basket and she rolled around the office handing out snacks for everyone.
One thing the current Anybot line lacks is arms and hands, which would bridge that gap between presence and functional ability.
You can buy one of these yourself for around $15,000.
LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0
Why get one robot when you can have many? One of the founding principles over at LEGO is that you can build a multitude of different things with the right combination of parts. The NXT 2.0 kit comes complete with everything you need to build a variety of different robots that perform a variety of tasks ranging from shooting balls at intruders to dancing and picking up various objects.
This is a great kit for anyone wanting to get a start in robotics without a lot of know-how or programming experience. The NXT brick, the brain of any robot built from the set, is easily programed with a drag-and-drop bit of software that controls the robot through the NXT-G language. This doesn’t mean that you’re limited to simple functions. You can create a complex robot using NXT technology that reaches well beyond the limitations of the four pre-designed builds.
You even have the option to share and try out builds other users have made on the NXTLOG.
You can find LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 for less than $300.
So, you want a robot that does more than look cool? How about one that makes things? Yes, you read me right.
The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D Printer kit comes with pretty much everything you need to assemble a robot that acts as a personal craftsman. You can feed a 3D design to the Thing-O-Matic and it will create it before your very eyes. Not only will it create one thing, but it will keep printing as many things as you feed to it over and over. Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest little mechanical workhorses you could currently have in your home.
If you’re wondering what you should get that certain someone on your list for their birthday or some other holiday, you could put your 3D modeling expertise to work and design something truly unique. This is a cool product, and a great project for aspiring 3D artists who would like to show off their creations without having to drag their friends and colleagues to a computer screen.
This is also great for inventors who come up with really simple ideas and need working prototypes. Imagine being able to design your very own smartphone stand, print it, and use the prototype to generate some revenue for manufacturing and selling to potentially interested buyers on Kickstarter.
You can pick up a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic kit yourself for under $1,100.
Few household consumer robots have been as successful as the Roomba from iRobot. These little puck-shaped robotic cleaning devices keep your floors clean so you don’t have to give up time on the weekends lugging around a vacuum cleaner. The Roomba is relatively quiet and capable of picking up dirt, pet hair, dust, and other small debris on a variety of surfaces ranging from deep carpet to wooden floors.
I’ve got a Roomba for my apartment. While we certainly don’t use it as much as we thought we would, the little bot does work wonders while we’re scrambling to clean the place up before company comes over. We let it handle the hallways and home office while we concentrate on the living and bathrooms. Needless to say, we’re glad this little robotic wonder is in the home.
The iRobot Roomba comes in a variety of models at various price points. The one we use is a relatively inexpensive model that runs around $260.