Introduction: IRover: Remotely Controlled IRobot Create (or Roomba)

Not knowing about this iRobot contest sooner and with my boss riding me with overtime at work, I was not able to complete my desired project of an impressive autonomous security patrol bot. What I do have is an overly complicated, rather unimpressive remotely controlled iRobot Create. Robotics has been a long time hobby of mine. I have done most of my work with the Basic Stamp and the MIT Handyboard in other robotic projects. I took a break from this rather expensive hobby for a while after buying a house last year. Now that I am settled in and I've got my lab/work area set up, I am starting to get back to tinkering with various robotics projects. This iRover project is rather simple and does not require any advanced knowledge or skills to build. If the complexity of autonomous robotics seems intimidating, get started with something simple like the iRover. As you learn additional skills such as programming and microcontroller/sensor interfacing, you can add to the iRover to give it a more autonomous behavior.

For this iRover, I took an iRobot Create and added a laptop with wireless ethernet, a web cam, and some open source robot control software. Now I have an iRobot that can be remotely controlled over wireless ethernet or even the Internet. For those of you wanting something you can play with and not have to do any programming or electronic assembly work, this project is for you. If you have a Create or Roomba, wireless laptop, and web cam, it's just a matter of installing some software on the laptop and installing the laptop and web cam on the robot and you're in business.

Step 1: Install the Software

On the laptop I installed the web cam software, Microsoft C# Express, and the CreateOI open source Visualizer.

You can download MS C# Express for free directly from the Microsoft web site: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/express/aa975050.aspx

Visualizer is part of the CreateOI package. You can get this open source package from SourceForge.net: http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=186589

Once those are installed, you'll open the Visualizer project in MS C# Express and build/compile the project into an executable file. Copy it to the desktop or make a shortcut to it in an easy to find place.

If you don't want to use Windows Remote Assistance or Remote Desktop features to connect to the laptop remotely, then you will also need to download and install a VNC application to allow you to see and control the laptop desktop from a remote computer. RealVNC (http://www.realvnc.com) and TightVNC (http://www.tightvnc.com) are two possible alternatives. If using a VNC application, you will need to install it on both the laptop and the remote computer that will be connecting to the laptop.

Step 2: Install Laptop on Create

It doesn't take much to install a laptop on the iRobot Create. Use your imagination...velcro, zip ties, brackets, whatever you have available. I took part of the casing of an old failed ATX power supply and added some additional brackets to mount it to the mounting holes in the Create cargo bay and to secure the laptop to the top. Once installed, connect the web cam and mount it to the laptop or mount it to the front of the Create. Then connect the Create mini-din serial interface cable to the Create and the laptop. If the laptop has no serial port, you can also use a USB to serial adapter to plug the iRobot Create programming cable into a USB port. Such an adapter can be found at your local RadioShack: http://www.radioshack.com/sm-6-ft-usb-to-serial-port-cable--pi-2036258.html

Step 3: Connect Remotely

Initiate the Windows Remote Assistance from the laptop, or start your chosen VNC application on the laptop. On the remote machine you will accept the remote assistance request or use the VNC application to connect to the laptop. Once you have the remote desktop connected and you have full control of the laptop, fire up the web cam software and the Visualizer application on the laptop. Configure the Visualizer application and start the polling to give it control of the Create. The Visualizer has several forms you can open. The Sensor form and the Drive form are the two main forms you want open. You can view the realtime sensor data on the Sensor form. On the Drive form, double clicking the Safe or Full mode will allow you use the arrow keys on the keyboard to control the Create. That's all there is to it. Put your Create in another room and have fun chasing the cat :)

Comments

author
Timmers (author)2013-06-17

Have you seen this, could be a really cool creation.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/567971283/iroo?ref=live

author
jmilne2 (author)2012-02-24

I'm having trouble opening the visualizer project. I installed MS C# 2010 and then tried MS C# 2008. Both try to convert the visualizer file saying it was created in a previous version of Visual Studio, however there is an alert that the solution file cannot be converted because it cannot be modified. To convert the solution, change the permissions on the solution file to allow modification.

It's not apparent to me how I change the permission setting, or can anyone point me to the right version of MS C#.

author
Beergnome (author)2012-01-02

So quick stupid question to bump off you here.
I have a Irobot dIrt dog Roomba, and it does have a Programers serial port.

Could that be used for a project like this?

author
techgeek75 (author)Beergnome2012-01-02

Sorry I don't have any specifics for your Dirt Dog Roomba, but I think the short answer is yes. Different versions of the Roomba will probably have different sets of sensors and motion commands so there may be some things that won't be exactly the same as the iRobot Create. But I believe the programming port on your Roomba will interface the same way as the iRobot Create, or at least that use to be the case with older Roomba models.

author
Beergnome (author)techgeek752012-01-02

Yep, as far as know... the Dirt dog is the "shop-vac" of the roomba world. and ALSO AFAIK, the regular roombas have a dirt sensor in the vacuum cleaner bits to tell the roomba to concentrate on a certain area. and the dirt dog appears to not have those particular sensors. But it has all the other proximity sensors.

once again.. AFAIK, the create is just a roomba with out a reinstalled program, and missing the vacuum cleaner bits.

author
sinba (author)2010-12-27

SO AMAZING !

author
waramungus (author)2007-11-29

Hi.... I have a REAL use for this Robot ( besides chasing the cat ). It might lead to eventually making money with it. Let me know if your interested. waramungus

author

Then, presumably, you build it-
"instructables"
not
"marketables"

author
senseisean (author)2010-03-01

Seeing as how the only needed function of the robotic part is mobility with a USB or Serial interface to connect to the attached laptop... is there any kind of other robot kit that wire-connects to a computer to receive commands that may be cheaper than an iCreate?
Seriously, all I really need is USB wheels and a GUI.

author
senseisean (author)senseisean2010-03-01

Just found this:
http://www.pc-control.co.uk/motorbee_info.htm
Which may be an alternate option to the iRobot when paired with some servos, wheels, and a power supply.  Maybe not cheaper afterall.  Any suggestions? Or is the Create pretty much the best way to go?

author
techgeek75 (author)senseisean2010-03-01

I'm not aware of any robot bases that offer the ability to plug in and carry a laptop for any cheaper than the iRobot Create.  The only other place I can think of that offers some good quality robot bases at reasonable prices is http://www.zagrosrobotics.com.  The Zagros bases aren't going to be as plug and play as the iRobot Create, but most of them can navigate over bumpier surfaces than the iRobot Create.  If you're not familiar with interfacing microcontrollers to motors and sensors, then the iRobot Create is probably the easiest way to go.  If you don't mind doing the microcontroller interfacing and programming, then a Zagros base might be a better way to go.  If you don't need to mount a laptop to the robot base, Zagros also has smaller less expensive bases to use with microcontrollers.

author
evilgenius 398 (author)2008-08-20

400 $ isn't cheap

author

SUB $400, as in less than $400...and for a brand new one that had more than I needed at the time, that was (and still is) pretty cheap for a laptop. What would you consider cheap? They don't just give these things away you know :) I guess you can find them cheaper if you were looking for a used laptop. One could be had for much less if you check around in the classifieds or on ebay if you don't mind cosmetic defects and potentially hidden abuse from a previous owner. If I had the time, I would have used my much older laptop (166MHz Pentium I got off ebay for $25 a few years back) and installed a micro linux or BSD...but the learning curve on programming under linux and rewriting the Windows software to run under linux or writing my own linux version of the CreateOI, was just too much to accomplish in the short time I had. I was working 50-60 hours per week for a while when I was working on this robot, so I could afford it. I guess cheap is in the eye of the buyer...to each his own...

author

oh never mind

author
cotton (author)2008-05-04

perfect with night cam and anomunus ability so it cam be a guard robot

author
daveleb55 (author)2007-10-04

cool! I would put some foam rubber or something around the edges of the laptop to protect it from bumping into things. add a few sensors and you could easily make it autonomous. The ICreate makes a good readymade platform, the laptop supplies a lot of computing power.

author
zachninme (author)2007-09-10

Does everyone want to do this project, or what? :P

author
btop (author)zachninme2007-09-10

I'd love to build it! But those irobot creates leave a bit of a hole in your wallet, Must be worth the money, this, and all the other prodgects are great for the create! Good Work!

author
zachninme (author)btop2007-09-10

Well, I'm just saying, this idea of remote controlling/webcam is explored in multiple ibles.

author
techgeek75 (author)zachninme2007-09-14

Well, as of the time I posted the instructable, no other iRobot contest entries were like this one. As I stated in the second sentence of the first paragraph of this instructable, this is a rather unimpressive robot...just a remotely controlled rover. The iRover is simple enough for just about anybody to put together and use, and it demonstrates some of the same basic principles used by NASA and the Mars rovers. This instructable is for those that may be intimidated by programmming, microcontrollers, and electronics and let them build something useful that can be used to learn some of these additional skills. For those with more advanced knowledge, this same instructable could be used as the basis for a more complex robot that can be enhanced with additional hardware (sensors and microcontrollers) and programming to make the rover more autonomous...which was my original goal, but as I stated, I just didn't have the time.

author
zachninme (author)techgeek752007-09-15

I'm not blaming you, its a cool project. It just seems weird that this is the most explored concept :P

author
JoeCreate (author)btop2007-09-10

Compared to what you would have to go through for a comparable basic-bot, the Create is definitely worth it's money ($130). Adding the APS battery and the Docking Station (also worth the money) is what makes it pricey.

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