Thursday, August 14, 2014

Make Your Android Phone A Programmable Robot

If you've got a recent Android phone with modern sensors, a current Kickstarter project aims to turn that phone into a programmable robot.
Hippo-ADK basic board

The Hippo-ADK (Android Development Kit?) is profiled on Tech In Asia in the article, "This startup turns your Android phone into a fully programmable robot." While previous coverage of the Hippo-ADK, such as this Hack A Day post, focused mainly on the self-balancing capability of a two-wheeled robot made with Hippo-ADK and a gyroscope-equipped Android phone, the Tech In Asia article makes it clear the concept is to make good use of whatever sensors are in the phone.
"The mass adoption of Arduino opened up hardware prototyping to the world, serving as a common platform and large community for millions of hobbyists and professionals. But even though an Arduino board only costs about US$25, finding and purchasing many of the other components can be time consuming and expensive. That’s why Shenzhen-based Hippo Devices is developing a new, easier to use controller board called Hippo-ADK. The device plugs into a user’s Android phone, allowing it to utilize the phone’s proximity sensor, gyroscope, Bluetooth, camera, and other features. “Everyone has a mobile phone, why not make use of it? Why not make use of these $300 worth of sensors that everyone already has?” says Hippo’s
Hippo-LEGO shield
marketing coordinator...Besides saving money on sensors, Hippo-ADK doesn’t require learning a new programming language like Arduino. Hippo offers a graphical drag-and-drop programming environment...the Java API...If you’re an Arduino junkie and you prefer to stick to your guns but would still like an easy way to take advantage of your phone hardware, it’s compatible with Arduino hardware and software...It comes equipped with several extra sensors baked into the board, including infrared, which can control home appliances like air conditioners and thermostats
Hippo-Arduino shield
As mentioned in the article above, you can put your Arduino knowledge to good use with the Hippo-ADK, but you might also feel compelled to expand into some App Inventor or Java programming if you pick up some of the Hippo hardware. Arduino seems almost to be used by Hippo as a marketing tool, saying that they are "combining an Arduino-like microcontroller board with Android." Their board uses an STMicroelectronics microcontroller, not an Atmel MCU. The Arduino hardware Hippo is providing at this point is the Hippo-Arduino, a shield that connects Hippo-ADK and Arduino (see picture at right).
Instructables Hippo

The Kickstarter original funding goal of $10,000 has been met, but this isn't one of the viral crowdfunding projects at this point. With 14 days left, the total raised as of the evening of August 14 is $16,457. One aspect that may have caused some people to hold off on supporting the campaign is that building a self-balancing two-wheeled robot will cost significantly more than the $39 (early bird) or $49 for the Hippo-ADK. It looks like it would end up being a couple hundred dollars for all the parts for a self-balancing robot, assuming you're starting with an Android phone that has a gyroscope you can use for robot balance control. If you're interested in building that self-balancing robot, Hippo posted an Instructables for that.

Here's a bit of what the Kickstarter page says about the Hippo-ADK:
"Hippo-ADK connects with your Android devices in real time through USB and Bluetooth.This allows you instant access to sensors,switches, accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, communication modules (Wi-Fi, GPS, GSM), cameras, and LCD screens without even having to spend a dollar on optional parts. It is all on your Android devices...If you want to expand the capabilities of our firmware you can use Arduino language and IDE to program Hippo-ADK...For beginners, use the graphical programming platform App Inventor to create your first “Hello World” Hippo-ADK project in less than 10 minutes. For the more experienced, enjoy the variety of high-level customization available by our Java API...For those who want to make even cooler stuff with Hippo-ADK such as robots and intelligent homes, we provide expansion boards and modules to facilitate more rapid development."
I like the concept of using the power and features of a smartphone to help power a robot. And the Hippo is certainly not the first -- there are other robots powered or enhanced with smartphones, including Romo and SmartBot. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) even had a January 2014 article titled "Smartphone Robots Could Be About to Invade Our Homes." The real question is what the killer app will be for phone-carrying robots. Part of the challenge for mass production is the huge array of phone sensors, features, processors and operating system versions on the billions of cell phones being used around the world. Connecting your phone to your robot will be commonplace when it has clear benefits, as opposed to doing it because you can. As the head of iRobot Corp. said in the WSJ article,
Hippo non-balancing robot
"...the challenge is to meaningfully integrate a mobile device and a robot. "Are you connected because of a fad or because the customer experience is greatly enhanced by the addition of this technology?"
I'm looking forward to the first phone-bot that figures out the answer to this question. Not only will our robots be able to do more and be more interesting, I'm betting our phones will see new innovations, sensors and capabilities if they're frequently used to enhance our personal robots.


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