In this post, I'll take a look at the SRV-1 robot from Surveyor.com. The SRV-1 Starter Kit costs $375 (additional robots are $295, and educational discounts are available). The kit comes with the robot, USB wireless connection and recharger, pictured here:
The SRV-1 is the first robot offering from Surveyor. It is tread-driven, small, and sturdy. The SRV-1 falls into a new niche in advanced robots for education and research in that it has a low-cost camera that requires no additional special hardware, except for the included USB wireless connection. In the past, if you wanted to use a camera on an autonomous robot, your choices were generally limited: you could use an onboard webcam (which required a laptop); or you needed an analog wireless connection with a special "frame capture" board.
The SRV-1 comes with a 60 MIPS ARM7 32-bit processor, a digital video camera, infrared (IR) sensors, and a Zigbee 802.15.4 wireless communications connection. All of this fits on a dual-motor tracked mobile robotic base. The camera can used with resolutions from 80x64 to 320x240, with the prospect of increasing that to 640x480 later. The IR can be used for obstacle detection, or for finding a beacon. The beacon could be a static IR signal, or another SRV-1.
The robot is controlled through a serial-over-wireless communication protocol that is easy to use. It comes with a Java client for quickly testing out the robot. In addition, it also comes with a server so that the robot can be controlled from anywhere on the internet. This web connection allows anyone to use the robot as a live video feed. Keep an eye on those cats while you're at the office! All of the source code is provided.
Setup wasn't too painful, but required a firmware upgrade before I could get started. This required placing a jumper across two pins and downloading and loading a new compiled firmware server on SRV-1. Under Windows, the USB wireless required a couple of drivers, but installed easily. Under Fedora Core Linux, nothing was required---it worked without installing anything.
The company is great at providing information. It hosts an on-line magazine/blog, forum, and FAQ.
The SRV-1 is undergoing rapid development from an enthusiastic company. This is good and bad. The bad news is that the SRV-1 is still rough around the edges. For example, you need to know that the switch position marked "CHG" really means "OFF". The good news is that the company is very responsive to requests, and is very engaged with its users. When I had questions or comments, Surveyor responded very quickly, any time day or night. I expect the SRV-1 to get even better soon.
One can write programs, upload them to the SRV-1, and run them directly on-board. I didn't test that out yet, but I did write an interface that allows the SRV-1 to be controlled remotely via Python. (We'll be releasing those interaces soon for our system Myro, and Pyro.)
Surveyor is also planning an interface with the Microsoft Robotics Studio. This will plug the robot into a variety of additional software capaibilities.
For use in a CS1 environment, I did wish that the SRV-1 had a few enhancements. I wished that it had a speaker for at least making beeps, and wished that it had a small screen or LEDs for easy debugging while it was running. Also, those interested in robotics may find the lack of wheel encoders limiting. (Wheel encoders allow the robot to keep track of roughly where it is, so that it could do mapping or other tasks based on localization.) However, it does include some clever vision-based obstacle detection code. In addition, Surveyor has also said that a future SRV is in the planning stages and may include wheel encoders.
The SRV-1 looks like a great platform for research or education, with a good price. It comes ready to use (no assembly like the LEGO Mindsotorms). Although it costs quite a bit more than the Parallax Scribbler, you do get a wireless connection, camera, and internet-based vision.
Keep a watch here for future work on the SRV-1, including a soccer match...