Starting a Revolution
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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-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.
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.