The Smartibot AI-robot with Ross Atkin

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In this Episode, we’re talking to Ross Atkin, the creator of both the Crafty Robots and the Smartibot. The smartibot is a cardboard robot that can be controlled via your smartphone. You can even use your smartphone as a brain of the robot and make it chase people, animals and vehicles using artificial intelligence. One very cool feature that you don’t often find in other robots: the parts of the Smartibot can be re-used to build proper robots out of almost anything.

What’s special about the smartibot, is that you first start building the robot itself. When you open the package, you’ll find a few cardboard templates – three in total – and you decide which one you want to build. The one I built is the Unicorn, a two-wheeled robot with a unicorn shaped paper element around the head. Everything that you need is included, except I believe the batteries, but you really are ready to go with just the box and the batteries.  

Copyright Smartibot | Ross Atkin – used with permission

Besides using one of the cardboard templates, you can use your endless creativity to build a robot out of whatever you can think of – for example there are examples of pineapple robots and potato robots up on the smartibot website. Check the shownotes below!

Copyright Smartibot | Ross Atkin – used with permission

Once a robot has been built, which involves the paper craft and connecting some motors and cables to the smartibot board, you’re ready to start your coding journey. 

Experienced coders can choose the Javascript-based Web development environment (just open a web page for this in a modern browser) to program the smartibot. Less experienced beginners can use a block-based programming experience, again web-based. You can even use a smartphone to program the smartibot! Either way, the smartibot is typically programmed via a Bluetooth LE connection – most laptops and smartphones are compatible.

Smartibot Technical Details – Copyright Smartibot | Ross Atkin – used with permission

The board of the smartiboard is very interesting. It is a true playground for tinkerers and makers. Besides the processor and BLE antenna, it features:

  • Two RGB LED’s which can look like the eyes of the robot
  • Two buttons
  • Capacitive touch electrodes – this means you can react to touching these electrodes or something that is connected to these
  • 4 DC outputs for controlling the wheels of a robot for example 
  • 10 servo connections (TEN) – a servo is a DC motor, a gear train, a potentiometer, an integrated circuit, and an output shaft – you can control the angle of the shaft very precisely, e.g. use it to wag a tail, blink some eyes or open a gate 
  • The board also includes expansion boards, the available expansions are
  • LED Matrix with … a ton of LEDs – you can use it to scroll text, it’s that big
  • Distance and Gesture Sensor

That’s a whole lot technical stuff now, what’s probably left to mention is that the community around Smartibot is a very active one. Programming wise, it’s based on Espruino, which is a javascript interpreter maintained by Gordon Williams, also UK, and therefore the large Espruino Community becomes part of this. Also, there is a project website that has a ton of great ideas. 


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