24 February 2007

Microbric Ai2 Review

Well I.ve managed to secure a Ai2 from the microbric range of robots and am impressed with what ive found so far.
To but this little critter into perspective ill relate it to the i-bot that first came out before the viper hit the shelves.
The i-bot, while cute and fun to play with lacked a few things to realy bring it up to speed for the school or hobby enviroment. First thing it lacked was a cable to program it. While you could program your own stuff using the GUI it required you to hold the bot up to the screen to read the flashing like a sort of barcode scanner, With the new LCD screenson computers , the IR receiver is having trouble seeing the difference enough.
The ai2 also uses the screen flash technique as well, but an optional cable is avaliable to program the robot, but at the moment the advanced firmware is bieng finalised to allow reprogramming via the usb to serial cable which is actually a aftermarket nokia type adaptor. (this means no serial port on the board reducing footprint, weight and cost.) so we have to wait for the cable to work...
The other main differnce you will see when you play with the bot is the addition of the LCD screen to the top of the robot, sometimes the screen may fade a little, this is due to it lifting slightly when you knock or handle it too much , and a little push around the edges to make sure its tight resaults in a readable screen again.
The screen is backlit for night time use and is a dot matrix screen so there is no constraints to drawing to it later on with the new software.
It would be good to see some open source projects to allow reprogramming of the robot with a text type editor rather then the icon based GUI but that dosnt look likely at the moment.
The robot comes preprogramed with some routines so some of the onboard memory is already used for that, so any user programs will have limited acsess to memory.
The advanced version might address this but then you loose the inbuilt programs if they do.
The other major changes to the modules include (apart from the obvious red color!) new allen key head (hex bolt) screws for the bric attachments instead of star screws, this makes tightening and inserting them really easy. New planetry gear boxs resaulting in a rim driven wheel assembly that also features a new motor control circuit which will work with new programing on the viper.(not the same as the viper motors)
The other change is the new sound module which is a flat square package meaning it will fit into project cases etc easier.
The power is via 3 aaa cells and the robot travels around about 1 in 5 secs ( ill check this later with a clock :P ).
The onboard programs let it function as an stay in line robot, bump robot, remote control robot and sumo robot ...oh and throw in a line tracker as well.
So even with out the newer software, the guys at microbric made sure it was still a barrell of fun from the first time you boot it up...pity they still insist on adding the south aussie fotty team tunes to it..How about the eagles or the dockers next time ..LOL,
So if your after a cute little robot keep your eyes peeled as soon microbric should have them out at educational experience and most likley at thier site.
If your after something a little more matured, try the viper with a text based BASIC programing enviroment it makes short work of preparing a micro processor based prototype or one off platform.
The microbric robot ranks have grown , and this little android has gone along way to competing with the bigger kits, like LEGO NXT or VEX.
so after my first few hours i would have to rate it about 4 out of 5 with the biggest problem being the wait for the new firmware, I cant wait to get into it and write some code.
An improvement over the I-bot for sure.