A few years ago, I had the pleasure to see a simple toy car transformed into an autonomous robot able to detect and avoid obstacles. Since then I realize that people love to hack toys, smartphones, a lot of other gadgets and even personal cars. Having powerful development platforms such as Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black, Intel Galileo or Arduino, any hobbyist and hacker can transform a simple object into an intelligent gadget.
The U.S. company iRobot has made a step towards education with a modular platform called Create 2. The iRobot Create 2 is a programmable platform that can host additional components and accessories in order to build custom robots.
If you already have a Roomba 600, you may recognize the details, sensors, and buttons. The iRobot Create 2 is only a remanufactured model of the Roomba 600 platform, but instead having cleaning equipment, the platform has enough space for add-on hardware and a plastic body that may suffer cosmetic modifications.
The Create 2 was made for hobbyists, students and hackers who love to program and build autonomous robots. The system is a good alternative to expensive wheeled platforms used as a simple learning environment.
In 2007, iRobot had the idea to release at an affordable price a hackable version of the Roomba 400 – the Create 1. This was the first experiment of the company with programmable and modular platforms for education and research.
The second version of Create was released with additional sensors, a modular body, a lot more instructions, and a wide range of projects. The 3D printing technology has not been forgotten by iRobot engineers, and they release tutorials and files that let you build new parts with a 3D printer.
You can communicate and send commands from a PC to the robot with a Serial to USB cable. The robot has a tool called Roomba Open Interface (OI) to control the platform. Through this software interface, you can have full control over the built-in sensors, actuators, or you can send cleaning commands.
If you love Arduino, you can run the Arduino IDE and use the development board to add additional components. If you’re a Raspberry Pi user, you can also program the board in Python or Scratch and add additional parts. In other words, you can combine the best prototyping platforms with the best robot vacuum cleaner.
Once you’ve got it, the iRobot Create 2 can be transformed into an autonomous robot that avoid walls and obstacles, you can control it wirelessly or via PC, or build any other robot inspired by the wheeled platform.
The Create 2 is available at a price of $199.99 USD, and it’s ready to run out of the box, which is pretty good considering the options. From the same prototyping area, the TURTLEBOT 2 is the competitor of Create 2. But considering the features and a huge price ($1,995), the iRobot Create 2 seems to be the best extensible robotics platform.
The iRobot Roomba series are household robots designed to work with dirt. The Create 2 is a platform engineered to work under your own programming and electronics skills. So, if you want to pay a decent price and to build a custom household robot, the Create 2 is the best choice for anyone who wants to get hacked.