Your Kid Wants a Thymio II Education Robot

This feature-packed education robot from EPFL can be yours for just $100

2 min read
Your Kid Wants a Thymio II Education Robot

How much robot can you get for a hundred bucks? Not much: $100 is about a quarter of a Roomba. A quarter of a cheap Roomba. Or, you can spend it on an open source education robot from Switzerland that will help your kids to learn how to do things besides not vacuuming the floor.

The Thymio II comes from those robot geniuses at EPFL Lausanne in Switzerland. It's an educational robot designed from the ground up to be easy and fun to mess with for people with very limited (or no) previous experience in robotics. It's also designed from the ground up to be cheap, at just about $100 USD. How is this possible, you ask? Apparently, there's pretty much no profit margin or distribution cost, and all you're paying for is the hardware and for some people to put it together for you into a working robot. Not too shabby. And this robot comes with a bunch of sensors and other goodies:

Yes, there's a trailer hook. So you can stop worrying about that. And those "mechanic fixation" points are Lego compatible. To program Thymio II, you can use a nifty graphical interface, or a simple programming language called Aseba that's similar to Matlab. And oh hey did we mention that this thing is open source from source code to hardware? 'Cause it is.

Seriously, $100 seems very cheap for a platform like this. It's cheap enough that a $1,000 grant could outfit an entire classroom with robots that are colorful, versatile, fun, and can be tackled with a GUI before graduating to writing code. There's lots more info along with examples of what Thymio II can do in a wiki that you can check out here, and you can adopt one of your own at the link below.

[ Thymio II ]

Thanks Markus!

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
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This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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