The August 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Brainlink Gives Any Robot a New Brain

For just $125, you can instill your old robot with some new smarts

2 min read
Brainlink Gives Any Robot a New Brain

Roomba is a reasonably clever robot. Heck, for a vacuum, it's brilliant. But compared to other robots, it's lacking some sensors and skills that are starting to become downright basic. Roomba could use a new brain, and since it's a robot, you can actually just go and do that now.

Brainlink is a little piece of hardware that can augment (or replace) the brain that's currently powering your robot. Yes, your robot. Any robot at all, pretty much, as long as it's controllable with an IR remote or a serial connector or some other common type of interface. Brainlink itself (the plastic triangle thingy in the above pic) talks to your Android phone (or a computer) via Bluetooth, enabling programming and wireless control of whatever it's attached to.

In addition to providing a new programming interface for robots that may not come with one, Brainlink can also be configured to use a wide variety of sensors. A three-axis accelerometer and a light sensor are built in, and there's a whole heap of digital and analog connectors that make it easy to plug in, say, proximity sensors to keep your Roomba from running into stuff. Watch:

The overall idea with Brainlink is that there are a bunch of robots out there (I'm looking at you, WowWee) available for very cheap with fundamentally sort of decent hardware, but no easy way to get them to do what you want. Brainlink provides these less-than-clever robots with a new level of usefulness that makes them suitable for anyone with desire and some basic programming skills to mess with. A Brainlink module will set you back $125, but I'd say that's not too much to ask for a brand new brain, right?

[ Brainlink ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

Keep Reading ↓Show less