ROBOTIS Systems Overview

By C.N. Thai

     As a company, ROBOTIS Inc. had always impressed me with the continual R&D process of their products and since the founding of the company in 1999, they have released 27 hardware products by the end of 2017.  However from the point of view of instructors looking at adopting a particular ROBOTIS system for their instructional needs, this “freedom of choice” could become an unwanted difficulty.  I have used ROBOTIS products since 2007 to teach robotics to students from middle school to university freshman levels, thus in the next paragraphs I hope to share with you the lessons that I had learned the hard way over the years.

     For middle-schoolers and younger students, ROBOTIS offered 3 robot series IDEAS, OLLO and PLAY.  All three series (except for PLAY300) use the sturdier 12 mm rivet system which is better suited to motor skill levels of younger children.  The OLLO system is motorized and programmable while the IDEAS system is only motorized. Currently, the IDEAS and OLLO systems are available only for the Korean market, so they won’t be discussed further. 

     The PLAY series is available in the USA in 3 versions: PLAY300, PLAY600 and PLAY700.  The PLAY300 kit however uses the older 6 mm rivet system which will require more manual skills from the students, thus I would not recommend this kit to the youngest students.  The PLAY600 kit is only motorized and is quite popular for teaching wheel-based and linkage-based mechanical motions.  From Amazon reviews, most 6/7-year olds could handle this kit without adult supervision.  The PLAY700 kit is motorized with two continuous-turn motors and is equipped with 3 short-range NIR sensors.  The PLAY700 kit is programmable via smartphones and tablets, as well as via Windows PCs.  It can be programmed fully via mobile devices with its R+m.TASK and PLAY700 apps (in either iOS or Android OS) when the included BlueTooth BT-410 module is used.  ROBOTIS had released tutorial videos about using the TASK and PLAY700 apps.  In particular, the PLAY700 app allows a TASK program (running on the robot’s CM-50 controller) to use multimedia services on the mobile device.  Additionally, if the user has access to a BT-210 module, then the PLAY700 kit can be used with a Windows PC and interfaced to work with MIT’s SCRATCH 2 software which is quite a popular and extensive IDE allowing multimedia and event programming tasks to be integrated with standard robotics functions such as sensing and actuating.  I also had posted a few YouTube videos regarding the usage of SCRATCH 2 and PLAY700 app to help beginner users.  There is only a slim assembly manual that came with the PLAY700 kit, and Chapter 11 of my new Springer book provides the programming details for using the trio TASK/PLAY700/SCRATCH2, but unfortunately it is written for university level engineering students, as it covers other more advanced controllers also.  Thus this chapter may not be appropriate for middle and elementary school students to learn from, on their own.  Furthermore, I have developed the 2-day and 1-day short courses with the UGA GA Center as my response to these needs (well partially only, as these courses are still taught in the regular “face-to-face” manner).  I have shared syllabi and PowerPoint slide sets at other links on this web site and interested instructors are welcomed to use them to develop their own appropriate curriculum.  I hope to find some time in the future to write an e-book with video demonstrations as a Personal Companion Guide to the PLAY700 kit for these younger aspiring robotics engineers.

     For the next range of students from middle school to junior high school, there are two robotics systems based on the 6mm rivet system which is now more age-appropriate.  They are the DREAM and SMART systems.  The DREAM system is available for the USA market as 4 separate levels, from Level 1 to Level 4, or as combination sets A (i.e. Levels 1 + 2) and B (i.e. Levels 3 + 4).  From the cost point of view, the Sets A and B are definitely better deals.  Currently, the SMART system is available only for the Korean market.

    The DREAM system is a big upgrade over the PLAY700 kit, as it offers a more extensive range of sensors such as Touch, Color, Magnetic, Passive IR and Temperature sensors, and most importantly it can now use 2 additional servo motors (as compared to the PLAY700 kit) for Position Control applications such as a pan-tilt connection for pointing a NIR sensor or a pincer device to grab objects.  It works with the TASK tool and is also compatible with the PLAY700 app: i.e. the DREAM system can access the multimedia services of mobile phones and tablets, but for some reasons ROBOTIS is currently not advertising and supporting this capability for the DREAM system.  If the user wants to access these SMART DEVICE functions, one has to temporarily switch the controller setting inside the TASK tool to “CM-50” (i.e. controller for the PLAY700 kit) so that the Category Menu would now show the SMART DEVICE items which then can be used in the TASK program as usual.  However the user has to remember to switch the controller setting back to “CM-150” (i.e. controller for the DREAM system) before compiling and downloading the modified TASK code.  I have used the DREAM system to teach Duke TIP students for their Academic Adventures program and also week-long Summer robotics camp via the UGA GA Center, and my syllabi and PowerPoint slide sets are available at the previous web links for interested instructors.

     When available for the USA market, the SMART system would allow the next level of robotic mechanical sophistication with the use of a total of 10 motors where up to 8 of them can be servo motors which then can be used to design a robotic arm or a transformer robot that can have two configurations: a carbot and a humanoid robot.  The SMART system would also provide access to a software tool called R+MOTION which allows more sophisticated Motion Programming features to one’s robot.  The good news is that all the hardware of the DREAM system is 100% compatible with the SMART system, thus bringing in more returns on your “robotic” investment!

     For high school students, the BIOLOID series (i.e. STEM and PREMIUM) would be more appropriate and has more advanced capabilities, and of course along with higher costs also (from $350 to $1200).  The BIOLOID series use nuts and bolts as the fastening method for its robots construction, thus it takes more time to build a robot and also to dismantle it so that one can build another example robot.  The rivet systems of the PLAY/DREAM/SMART kits would require less construction times, although with less mechanical reliabilities than the BIOLOID series.  More sophisticated sensors (such as gyroscope and color camera) and actuators can be used with BIOLOID robots, with accordingly higher costs.  Currently the BIOLOID series use the CM-530

as controller which is compatible with the standard TASK and MOTION tools, but the CM-530 does not support the SMART DEVICE functions available on the PLAY700/DREAM/SMART systems.  There are rumors of an ENHANCED BIOLOID series to be released in late 2018 which would address these issues.  The CM-530 also supports Embedded C development for more sophisticated high school students.  For more Arduino style development, ROBOTIS also provides the OpenCM-904/C controller which is more open in architecture, hardware and software wise.  I have used the BIOLOID STEM system for teaching Duke TIP students in their Scholar Weekend program.  For teaching robotics to engineering undergraduate students, I had used the BIOLOID PREMIUM and MINI systems and the resulting instructional materials are collected into my Springer book.

     If one is more interested in humanoid robots around the $500 range, the ROBOTIS MINI system can be used with the standard ROBOTIS software suite - MANAGER, TASK and MOTION.  Or, if one likes to use SCRATCH or PYTHON instead with the MINI, the Edbot system needs to be investigated further, especially when it comes with lesson plans which are always time-savers for instructors! 

     I hope that this short overview has been helpful for instructors to decide on the appropriate robotic systems for their student needs and their own instructional goals.  Please drop me an email at roboteer@comcast.net for more detailed discussions of your specific instructional projects if needed.

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