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Small, cheap, off-the-shelf robot integrated with ROS?

asked 2013-06-01 16:12:48 -0500

lindzey gravatar image

I want to create an inexpensive testbed for multirobot experiments. In order to do this within my budget, I plan to centralize as much of the sensing and computation expense as possible: a single computer communicating with each robot wirelessly, and overhead kinect providing position and obstacle information.

For the robots themselves, I'm thinking something like Pololu's m3pi coupled with an XBee. My goal is to spend as little time as possible futzing with the hardware getting it to the point where it reacts to geometry_msgs/Twist messages. Does anybody here have any experience (or better yet, tutorials!) integrating a system like this into ROS? Do you know of other hardware that better suits my needs? Requirements:

  • Small: < 6" diameter
  • Cheap: < $200 each
  • off-the-shelf: I'm not really interested in designing my own robot and hacking it together with an arduino or Raspberry Pi, but that's an option of last resort …

I've seen these previous questions, and this list, but didn't find anything ideal.

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answered 2013-06-01 19:44:05 -0500

Have you looked into sphero? It is small, somewhat expensive for what you get ($130), but fully controllable out-of-the-box and readily available.

There are some ROS packages available (sphero_ros and ARL_sphero_command), but I do not know the maturity or activity level of either of these projects.

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Interesting! I think my main concern with this would be my ability to localize it sufficiently well. For a wheeled robot, I'd use some combination of odometry / cmd_vel history + motion model / April tag tracked by the overhead kinect. Does anybody know how well Sphero does at this out of the box?

lindzey gravatar image lindzey  ( 2013-06-01 19:59:49 -0500 )edit

I think localization based purely on Sphero sensors would be very difficult, but if you have an overhead Kinect, and the ability to control the Sphero illumination color, it may make for a very easy target to track.

mjcarroll gravatar image mjcarroll  ( 2013-06-03 10:42:52 -0500 )edit

Oh! duh! I'm very wary of the robustness of color-only tracking algorithms, but combined with extracting spheres from the depth image that should allow tracking multiple spheros at once =) Anyways - I've ordered one, and plan to play with it. (I'm also still in search of better options!)

lindzey gravatar image lindzey  ( 2013-06-03 12:15:12 -0500 )edit

You also may be able to just get an Arduino powered platform with the zigbee, especially if you aren't planning on doing to much sensing on board.

mjcarroll gravatar image mjcarroll  ( 2013-06-04 03:00:47 -0500 )edit

@mjcarroll 1) Post this as an actual answer? 2) Do you have a particular platform in mind? (My goal is to absolutely minimize hardware hacking, and I haven't seen anything yet, but there's a lot out there)

lindzey gravatar image lindzey  ( 2013-06-04 05:02:22 -0500 )edit

Are there any "real" tech specs for Sphero? That webpage is the worst marketing junk I've ever seen. All it seems to be is a glorified bluetooth receiver attached to a couple of motors. Without sensors of any kind, how is it useful for robotics?

Cerin gravatar image Cerin  ( 2014-09-12 12:38:32 -0500 )edit

Have you checked the API docs? Yes, it's simplistic, but I think multi-robot control using overhead camera and different-colored spheros would be pretty easy to jump in and get started. Like this.

Jeremy Zoss gravatar image Jeremy Zoss  ( 2014-09-12 15:22:29 -0500 )edit

answered 2013-06-04 06:22:35 -0500

mjcarroll gravatar image

I guess if your whole goal was to minimize unit cost, I would consider something like this:

It has motors and encoders, which is he minimum that you need to implement closed loop motor speed control on-board. Includes an ATMega328, and has a spot for zigbee.

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Asked: 2013-06-01 16:12:48 -0500

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Last updated: Jun 04 '13