Robots are no longer the stuff of science fiction, with new kits regularly being released to get more people building bots.
The latest is the MIND Kit, which allows users to create robots by clipping together pre-built electronic modules that add new abilities to their bot.
At core of the kit is Cerebrum module, the “brain” of the bot, which can be augmented with a range of modules, from a LiDAR sensor that helps robotic vehicles map and autonomously navigate the real world, to a tracked tank base.
Its makers, Vincross are pitching the kit as the “Raspberry Pi of robotics”, in the hope its modular system for building bots will inspire the same breadth of homemade projects as the best-selling $35 Pi computer.
Each of the add-on modules is available separately and is designed to be simple to clip together and start using, working on a plug-and-play basis with the MIND Operating System running on the Cerebrum module.
SEE: Raspberry Pi: The inside story of the $35 computer
The modules bundle specialized hardware and software that handle specific tasks, for example, the LiDAR module, which offers a 360° field of view and generates 14400 points per second at a resolution of less than 1mm, can utilize the MIND OS’ built-in SLAM algorithms for navigation and mapping.
Meanwhile the six-mic array and speaker has a built-in voice-recognition chip and the servo controller module can run up to 20 servo motor simultaneously.
Launching on Kickstarter today, the kit will offer a base Cerebrum module that controls the robot together with a power adapter for $99, a package that will later retail for $150. During the Kickstarter, the kit is available bundled with a variety of modules for $249 and $399. At the top end is the Robot Ultimate Complete Early Bird Kit, which costs $899 and includes the Cerebrum module, as well as a variety of including a servo controller, robot battery, USB-C sensors, servo motor, LiDAR, six-microphone array, rover base, tank base, and power adapter.
Despite the reference to the Raspberry Pi, the MIND Kit is far more expensive than the best-selling board, whose $35 price point was a key selling point and cheap enough that people were willing to experiment with the tiny computer without fear of breaking it.
Early creations using MIND Kit prototypes include a voice-controlled robot arm that passes the salt shaker, soccer-playing wheeled bots, and a robot tank that flies a kite.
Users of the MIND Kit, can use the MIND Skills Store to download skills for their bot, such as a walk forward skill for a legged bot, and write code to control their bots using the Go programming language. The MIND SDK (Software Development Kit) can also be integrated with third-party libraries like the Robot Operating System (ROS) and computer-vision focused OpenCV.
Vincross previously made the Hexa, a six-legged robotic crab that users could program to perform a variety of tasks. With the MIND kit, the firm hopes to make creating robotic hardware equally accessible.
“We saw a demand to make robotics development just as easy for both developing hardware and software,” said Tianqi Sun, CEO and Founder of Vincross.
“MIND Kit was a natural evolution from HEXA and hope to inspire more aspiring roboticists out of the classroom and building real world use cases for robotics.”
The core Cerebrum of the MIND Kit is based around a 1.2GHz quad-core Arm Cortex A53-based CPU, the same as found in the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B. However, the rest of the specs of the Cerebrum differ, with 2GB DDR3 memory, 8GB eMMC storage, and interfaces for 6 x USB Type-C and 54 programmable pins. The Cerebrum module also features an Arm Mali-400 GPU that Vincross says can decode H.264-encoded video at 30FPS at 4k and at 120FPS at 1080p, as well as encoding H.264 video at 60FPS at 1080p.
While Vincross says the board can handle a range of practical use cases for robotics, including navigating around obstacles, picking up objects with a robotic arm, or other robotic movements using SLAM, it says particularly complex machine-learning models will need to be offloaded to a cloud platform.
The robotics kit market is a crowded one, with an array of offerings for creating robotic arms and rovers, although Vincross is hoping the simplicity of slotting together ready-to-use modules, rather than wiring together boards, will prove a more fun and engaging way of building a bot.
MIND Kit Specs
Read more about single-board computers