The UpDroid UP1 is a sub-$1,000, nine-pound robot development platform supports ROS.

The UpDroid UP1 is a sub-$1,000, nine-pound robot development platform runs supports ROS. Photography by Rafe Needleman.

If you want to get started doing serious development work on robots, you will likely find Lego Mindstorms and similar educational kits too limiting or frail. There are more serious hardware platforms, like the Nao humanoid robot, but for those of you who are looking at budget-busting numbers: The Nao is $9,500. Or you could build your own hardware, but that’ll bog you down in robo mechanics (if you consider working on mechanical issues getting bogged down).

The new UpDroid UP1, which is scheduled to launch next year, is a one-armed, wheeled robotic development platform. It should sell for under $1,000 (it’s $800 if you pre-order it now). Company co-founder Mike Lewis told me at a startup event that UpDroid has no idea what people will do with the UP1, and they don’t expect it to be the core of a consumer product. His goal is to “make robots more accessible to developers, so they can concentrate on software.”

The UP1's main boards, connected together. Left to right: the arm connector board, the board for the body, and the controller board. Photo: Rafe Needleman

The UP1’s main boards, connected together. Left to right: the arm connector board, the board for the body, and the controller board.

The UP1 is a fairly complete, robust, and standards-based robot. It’s got four ordinary wheels, a single arm (5 degrees of freedom plus a simple gripper), and it’s based on Intel’s Edison board.

UpDroid CTO Mike Lewis with his baby, at the Highway1 hardware accelerator demo day in San Francisco. Photo: Rafe Needleman

UpDroid CTO Mike Lewis with his baby, at the Highway1 hardware accelerator demo day in San Francisco. 

The bot runs the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS) because that’s the software Lewis says people should be developing on, and uses the Edison board instead of a Raspberry Pi or other board because its x86 architecture is the standard for robots, he says.

Other specs for the UP1: it can move at about 1 ½ miles per hour, has a 2200 mAH battery good for an hour of standby or 20 minutes of activity, has two forward-facing video cameras (for stereo imaging), and four IR sensors for obstacle awareness.

The smooth, white bot doesn’t look like it has hardpoints for attaching other parts or sensors, but we don’t think that will stop the determined developer. And the controller guts are at modular; Mike says he designed the boards to be easily swapped out.

What would you build with a basic bot like this? What development experiments could you use it for?