Review: EZ-Robot Six and the EZ-Builder Software

Starting a Revolution

EZ-Robot has a full line of kits and parts

EZ-Robot has a full line of kits and parts.

Back at Maker Faire Bay Area in 2013, EZ-Robots founder and CEO DJ Sures provided a sneak peek of his new EZ-Builder software. Today, EZ-Robots has a full product line of ‘Revolution Robots’, parts, software and a robust support community… the Revolution has begun.

Revolution Six Robot

The Revolution Six Robot arrived (mostly) fully assembled.

The Revolution Six Robot arrived (mostly) fully assembled.

EZ-Robots loaned me a fully assembled Revolution Six robot for review. I have to say right up front, this robot was a blast to play with! I charged up its battery, downloaded the EZ-Builder software, loaded the example project for Six and was making it walk, dance, move to music and navigating with the on-board camera within an hour.

Parts

All EZ-Robot parts include plastic EZ-Bits connectors that allow you to assemble robots quickly and easily. The Clip’n’Play male and female connectors on the EZ-Bit parts slide together with a firm friction fit. I found them a little stiff at first, but they worked fine and never slipped or loosened.

EZ-Bits attach with Clip'n'Play connectors.

EZ-Bits attach with Clip’n’Play connectors.

The EZ-Bits on Six are high quality injection molded parts and look very good. Although a nice feature is that EZ-Robots lets you print your own EZ-Bits right from their free software if you have your own printer.

Robot Controller

Under the hood... the EZ-B v4 Robot Controller.

Under the hood… the EZ-B v4 Robot Controller.

The EZ-B v4 Robot Controller includes 24 digital I/O ports and 8 analog input ports, all with 3-pin servo (GND-PWR-SIGNAL) configuration. There are also 3 UARTs ports, 3 i2c ports, and a dedicated camera port. You connect to the controller over WiFi.

Power

Six came with a 1300mAH 7.4V LiPo battery and included a balance charger. The system has a battery monitor that automatically prevents over-discharging. When the battery gets low, Six announces that its battery needs charging and stops responding to commands. The power system works well, though I’d have preferred a charging port to the short cable protruding from the robot shell.

Balance charger attaches to a short cable on the underside of Six.

Balance charger attaches to a short cable on the underside of Six.

Worth noting is that the PWR pins on the digital outputs of the EZ-B v4 are battery voltage. This provides full power to the servos. If you want to run a 5V device, for example an ultrasonic sensor, you will need to regulate the voltage separately. However, sensors you buy through the EZ-Robots store include an on-board regulator, as well as a nice molded plastic body with Clip’n’Play connectors.

Servos

Six’s Heavy Duty servos have metal gears and ball bearings. Despite this my loaner Six experienced three servo burn-outs while I was evaluating it. According to the EZ-Robot product manager, they are aware of the issue. The few customers that have contacted them about servo problems have been shipped replacements immediately.

So I do have a slight concern that there might be a quality issue with these servos, but at least EZ-Robot’s customer service is being very responsive.

EZ-Builder Software

An important thing to understand is that the EZ-Robot controller must work together with a controlling computer running the EZ-Builder software or a mobile app you buy or write yourself. It will not work independently like an Arduino or a PICAXE. This took me some time to wrap my head around, but once I understood the philosophy behind it I found things easier to follow.

Within EZ-Builder, you set up your project, add controls, configure the controls and optionally add scripting.

EZ-Script

The EZ-Script programming language behind EZ-Builder is pretty easy to understand if you have any programming background at all. They’ve included plenty of built-in functions. All of the controls you can add can have scripting added to them.

Controls

The example Six project that comes with EZ-Builder includes controls for the camera, a microphone and Six’s soundboard, and even a Wii Remote. There are multiple desktop panes, one of which has a custom control panel giving a single control for Six’s most common functions.

Actions and Frames

One of the controls in the example Six project is AutoPosition. AutoPosition lets you move Six forward, backwards, left or right with your keyboard arrow keys. A set of pre-defined actions like ‘Fast-Forward’, ‘Strafe Right’, ‘Wave’, ‘Attack’, and a collection of cool dance moves provide more options and give Six a lot of personality.

Each action consists of a set of frames. For example there are four frames named Walk 1, 2, 3, and 4, each of which sets Six’s legs into certain positions. The Forward action cycles through those frames in order from 1 to 4. The Reverse action cycles through the same four frames, only backwards from 4 to 1.

You can easily create you own frames and link them together into an action. Or you can custom script movements for an action using EZ-Script.

EZ-Robot Community

EZ-Robots has an active user community that shares designs and helps each other. When I found myself a little lost trying to program Six as an automomous rover, I posted a question on the forums. Another community member responded with a helpful answer in just over 20 minutes. I can’t say if that is typical or not, but I was very impressed.

Conclusion

EZ-Robot has developed an impressive set of products in a relatively short period of time, and continues to refine their offerings. There is an active and growing community, online tutorials, downloadable manuals and built-in help functions in their EZ-Builder software to get you started. If you are looking for an all-inclusive robotics solution, this is definitely worth a look.

The EZ-Robot Developer’s Kit; humanoid JD, tracked Roli, and of course the hexapod Six robots are available in the Maker Shed.


From The Gift Guide: The Cutest Intro To Robots Ever

detail-robots-ObstacleRobot

If you’ve always wanted to get into robotics but found the pricing to be prohibitive, this adorable little kit is exactly what you need. Heck, even if you’ve got no interest in robotics whatsoever, you’d find this thing enjoyable as it scurries around bumping into things and backing away to find another route.

gg-prettyWhile the cardboard body may not last forever, the lessons in simple robotics construction that you would learn from assembling it certainly will. The instructions are clear and the whole process only takes a few minutes. No soldering necessary.

Perfect for use as a stocking stuffer, or ultimately a pet amusement device, it is only $16.00.


From The Gift Guide: Robots For Everyone!

robots-things

Robots are taking over the world. They’re everywhere you look, including our Ultimate Makers Gift Guide! Our editors sorted through tons of robots to bring you their favorite selections for this holiday season.

gg-prettyThere are bots for absolute beginners, like Brush bots or the adorable Cardboard Cutie obstacle avoiding robot. The incredibly popular Darwin Mini makes an appearance, if you want a bot that has the moves to impress on the dance floor. Or maybe you’re looking for a robot arm? There are a couple of those in the list as well.

There are actually 24 items in the robot category this year! Surely there’s a robot there for you.

 

bot


Isn’t It Time To Bring Home A Drone?

quadsIf your mental image of this holiday season includes drones buzzing around in the air, you have to check out the drone section of our Ultimate Gift Guide. We’ve got something for all levels of experience.

gg-prettyIf you’re just a beginner, the Parrot Spider Drone is a great place to start, with its ability to bounce off of obstacles without damage. The more experienced pilot may be ready to take on the Discovery Pro by Team Blacksheep, a long distance quadcopter for aerial video.

It isn’t all multi-rotor kits in the guide. Enthusiasts who already have their own flying platforms can find upgrades, like this 3 axis gimbal controller, or even scurrying ground drones like the Dash Beta Robot.

With 20 suggestions in this years drone section, you’ll surely find a way to get those props buzzing in your life!

bot

 


Ambulance Drones Could Change The Future For Cardiac Arrest Patients

Within the next five years, the chance of survival from cardiac arrest could rise from an 8 percent survival rate to 80 percent due to drones. Graduate student Alec Momont of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands designed an unmanned, autonomously navigating hexacopter that can deliver a defibrillator to a scene in less than half the time it takes an ambulance to arrive.

The drone would track the patients location from their mobile phone signal and use GPS to get to the location. Because most deaths from cardiac arrest occur within the first four to six minutes due to brain death, the time it takes to arrive on scene is crucial. These ambulance drones can get to a patient within an almost five-square-mile zone within one minute. Essentially a “medical toolbox”, the drone is equipped with medical equipment that anyone can use. Via a live stream webcam and audio connection, the drone connects to an emergency operator who can see what is going on at the scene and provide the person there with instructions on how to apply the defibrillator.

For more information on the future of this project, click here.


Hands-On With DJI's New Inspire One Transforming Drone

DJI’s latest quadcopter is one of the most impressive flying rigs we’ve yet to see.

A couple days after last week’s announcement of the Inspire One, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging Eric Cheng brought one of the test units to the Make: offices to show us its capabilities. The drone is quite a step up from the ubiquitous DJI Phantom — most notably in its physical design, with an ominous white fuselage and glowing red lights mounted to an articulating carbon fiber frame. The booms are angled down as landing gear during takeoff and landing, but pull upwards into a V-shape during flight to move them out of view and lower the rig’s center of gravity.

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The Inspire sports large 13″ props coupled to powerful brushless motors. The pop-in-place battery carries 22 volts of juice – more than most cordless power tools sport. Downward-facing sensors optically track the terrain to help the craft stay in a fixed position during flight, even when GPS signals drop out, and help with soft, automatic landing and takeoff. And a bottom-mounted camera and gimbal rig allows for 4k video and 12 megapixel stills, capable of unobstructed views from any angle during flight. With its built-in Lightbridge wireless transmission capability, the footage is instantly viewable in high-definition on your radio-mounted tablet.

All of these pieces add up to an overpowered aircraft in a small, sleek package. At $2900, it’s not cheap, but it lives up to its cost with performance. During flight tests, Eric whipped the Inspire up from a low hover to a lofty perch with incredible speed. More impressively is how responsive its electronic speed controllers are, stopping the quad as quickly as it jetted off.

The company has really dialed in the camera and gimbal aspect as well. Its lightweight form means the camera needs less effort to keep steady. With the Lightbridge transmission, this becomes very apparent, especially when put into the fixed-point mode, where the camera maintains focus on a certain spot no matter how the drone moves in the air. While moving and spinning in the air, the tablet screen showed what seemed to be a still image of the neighborhood, until I realized the cars on the street were moving. We were flying on a fairly windy day, as you’ll see in our ground-based video. It took quite a bit of in-air thrashing to get the camera to register movement, and even then still kept the horizon level.

The radio has been redesigned as well. The prototype unit we saw had a black case, but the official ones will be DJI’s standard white. Two standard sticks allow the pilot to move the quadcopter as usually seen, while various pushbuttons and jog dials on the top edge interface with the camera’s position and shutter. The radio also has HDMI output, and various other connectors for tablets and additional controllers (for two-pilot use, autopilot functions, and more).

Overall, it’s a system very much geared toward professional photographers and videographers. The camera resolution is catching up with that of GoPro, but the compressed HDMI keeps it still just a tad behind — although the lens selection gives a wider, more standard and useable perspective.

The immediate connection to the maker community is a little less obvious, but with a modular, quick-release camera system, and the amount of hacking and customizing that has happened in with the Phantom users, it won’t be surprising to find people adding their own touches to this.

Meanwhile, if the high price point make you nervous, follow our HandyCopter UAV how-to project from our Homegrown Drones issue, and build your own low-cost, gimbal-mounted quadcopter.


Teaching kids to program with wooden blocks

BannerThis post is coming to you live from the Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire being held today at the London College of Communication.

The Primo robot (back) and instruction board (front).

The Primo robot (back) and instruction board (front) with commands in place (coloured tiles).

How do you teach programming to children with no prior programming experience? How do you teach programming to children that can yet read or write?

What is Primo about?

Primo kickstarted at the tail end of last year with the goal of building a robot that was programmable using a tactile interface. Children place coloured tiles representing simple directional commands (forward, back, left, right) as well as a function command—which calls the last line of commands in the board every time it is encountered.

Not only does this teach children programming, it changes their perspective on problem solving and logic in general.

I talked to Valeria Leonardi from Primo about the robot, and why they brought it here to Maker Faire.

Talking to Valeria

The Primo is available for pre-order and should be shipping in April next year, but if you can’t wait that long all the instructions, source files and other things you need to make your own are available online.

The Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire is being held at the London College of Communication from 10am till 6pm. Entry is free to children (under 16) and students, tickets are £5 otherwise and available on the door.


Engadget Expand: Pensa Labs DIWire

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-BYbhUg6YA

Marco Perry tells us about the DIWire, wire bending machine. Showing off some of the first prototypes, he takes us through the history of the design.

 


Engadget Expand: Beam Robotic Telepresence

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7i1NVO5lhRY

The Beam robotic telepresence system allows you to be in two places at once. Running on wifi or 4G, you can see the robot allows for moving around, talking easily, and possibly even dancing!


Engadget Expand: Poursteady, A Robotic Pour-Over Coffee Machine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zduE50ELJ74

This machine makes coffee. It isn’t just your typical coffee machine though. The pour steady replicates the process of pour-over coffee, a method that yields incredibly tasty results. Baristas can control many aspects of how each batch is made, allowing for fine tuning the results for your customers. Made in Brooklyn the Poursteady coffee machine has been a big hit at Maker Faire New York for a couple years now.