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Open source robot kit builds on Raspberry Pi 2

Feb 16, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 10,405 views

[Updated 3PM] — On Indiegogo, CoroWare launched a 4WD “CoroBot Spark,” open robot platform for STEM education, based on a Raspberry Pi SBC and a CoroWare controller board.

CoroWare Robotics Solutions’s CoroBot Spark is the latest of several open source robot kits that have used the Raspberry Pi single board computer. Recent examples include iRobot’s Create 2, a hackable version of its Roomba robot, as well as’s RPi-ready Frindo robot. Other Linux-based robot controller boards designed to integrate the Raspberry Pi include the Roboteq RIO, Mikronaut’s RoboPi, and the Calao Systems’s PinBall SBC.

The open source CoroBot Spark differs from the Create 2 or Frindo in that it’s a larger four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle. Like the Create 2, the Spark is designed for middle school and high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, as well as university research and education.

CoroBot Spark render
(click image to enlarge)

CoroWare’s Indiegogo campaign offers Corobot Spark early adopter kits for $275, and many more kits at $350, with shipments due in May. A $400 Educational/Developer package adds an Xbox controller, a USB flash drive, additional drivers, and premium tech support.

The kits include a Raspberry Pi board with camera, along with the chassis, motors, wheels, battery, sensors, and CoroWare’s CoroBot Pi Hat controller board. The Pi Hat supports peripherals including variable speed motors, and sensors for touch, ultrasonic, infrared, sound, and more.

Inside the CoroBot Spark: prototype (left), and render
(click images to enlarge)

The Indiegogo page mentions availability of both the older ARM11-based Raspberry Pi Model B+ and the new quad Cortex-A7-based Raspberry Pi 2 Model B. With the latter, it says, you can run either Debian Linux or the upcoming Windows 10, which to the surprise of many, landed on the RPI 2’s list of supported OSes along with Ubuntu.

CoroWare has long offered a line of four-wheeled, x86-based robots with Windows and Ubuntu support. Rolling robots such as the Ubuntu ready CoroWare Explorer EX-L added Robot Operating System (ROS) middleware extensions. The company’s last major Ubuntu/ROS model was the CoroBot Pro, a $9,000 robot development platform announced in 2013, which is currently in the process of being updated to a v2 model (see farther below).

CoroBot Spark exploded views
(click images to enlarge)

The CoroBot Spark’s software stack, including its cross platform GUI, was written entirely in Python. The stack will include open and cross-platform APIs, says CoroWare. Each Debian image will come preloaded with Anaconda, SciPy, iPython Notebook, and other tools.

“The CoroBot Spark platform is especially attractive because the chassis design, software and APIs will all be available through open source channels such as GitHub,” stated Lloyd Spencer, CEO of CoroWare.

The CoroBot Spark can be assembled in less than 30 minutes with the included screwdriver in a process does not require breadboards or jumper wires, claims CoroWare. The entire kit, excluding the Pi Hat, “is designed to be made at a local makerspace using 3D printing and laser cutting,” says the company.

The Pi Hat board is touted for its inclusion of Cypress’s PSoC 5LP system-on-chip, as well as two lesser powered PSoC 4 (4200 Series) chips. Built around an ARM Cortex-M3 microcontroller, the PSoC 5LP offers digitally reprogrammable logic, which is somewhat like an FPGA, but easier to use, says CoroWare. As a result, “you can customize which pins do what on the fly,” says the company.

The CoroBot Spark ships with a USB WiFi dongle for the Raspberry Pi, and does not require tethered operation to navigate. A desktop control application that supports Linux, Mac, or Windows, offers basic user input, sensor information, and a Python console for basic scripted commands. The Pi Hat board, meanwhile, is “preloaded with basic control blocks and will have many more freely available online that can be uploaded via PSoC creator,” says CoroWare.

Basic specs for the CoroBot Spark kit include:

  • Raspberry Pi Model B+ or 2nd Gen (RPi 2) Model B
  • RPi camera with pan/tilt mount
  • 3x ultrasonic sensors (2x front-facing)
  • Rear-facing ultrasonic sensor
  • Front-facing IR sensor
  • Audio sensor
  • Pi Hat controller board:
    • 67MHz Cypress PSoC 5LP SoC with multilevel DMA controller, 64KB SRAM, 256KB flash, 26x configurable blocks
    • 2x PSoC 4 chips
    • 7.4v 2200mAh LiPO battery with recharging
    • Motor controller IC (48MHz ARM Cortex-M0)
    • Encoder connectors
    • Servo headers for camera
    • GPIO
    • USB interface
  • 4x wheels
  • 4x discrete multi-gear DC motors and drivers (supports replacement with omni-directional wheels)
  • Frame made of laser-cut birch plywood

CoroWare promises to donate 15 percent of all Indiegogo contributions to fund program proposals submitted by schools, universities and non-profit organizations. If the “flexible funding” project surpasses the $45,000 Indiegogo goal, CoroWare will donate 30 percent of all contributions made above that, says the company.

CoroBot Spark in action

CoroBot Pro and upcoming v2 model

CoroWare’s CoroBot Pro, announced in 2013, is billed as “the most powerful member of the CoroBot family of smart unmanned ground vehicles (Smart UGV) and robotics development platforms for researchers and educators.” The company is now prepping a v2 version of the Linux-ready, four-wheel drive bot, according to CoroWare (see farther below).

Current CoroBot Pro model
(click image to enlarge)

The current version of the CoroBot Pro runs on a dual-core Intel Atom or a quad-core, 2.66GHz Intel i5-750 processor, which adds $775. The robot ships with Windows 7 Pro for an extra $495, or a dual-boot version with Ubuntu and ROS, which adds $575. The price ramps up from there with more RAM, and a variety of optional sensors, cameras, storage devices, and other features.

Another photo of the original CoroBot Pro
(click image to enlarge)

The water resistant CoroBot Pro can be fitted with one of several robot arms, one of which offers up to 5 degrees of freedom (DoF) and can lift up to 800 grams, says CoroWare. Specific options include the Point Grey Bumblebee stereo vision camera, the Microsoft Kinect, and a variety of HD webcams.

CoroWare had few details on the upcoming Corobot Pro v2, which appears to be close to completion. The new robot will add special mounting hardware that “allows for easy integration of additional sensors and payload,” says CoroWare. The company also hints that it’s a more rugged platform for outdoors use, presumably with greater extended temperature support.

CoroWare also says that long-range communications (perhaps cellular data support) will be standard. As a result of these and other improvements, the v2 version will start at $20,000, more than double the price of the current model.

Further information

The CoroBot Spark is available on Indiegogo through April 5 starting at $275 and $350, with shipments due in May. Developer kits and classroom bundles are also available. Full specs for the CoroBot Spark may be found at the CoroWare website.

More on the Corobot Pro and upcoming v2 version may be found here. The first generation CoroBot Pro starts at $8,995 at The Robot Marketplace, which has additional specs.

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