I am excited to announce the release of our new Zumo 32U4 Robot Kit, a complete Arduino-compatible robot kit based on the ATmega32U4. We have, in some sense, been working on this robot for about seven years.
One of our major long-term goals at Pololu is to be making complete robots, and many of the parts we make are stepping stones toward that goal. The first real step toward the Zumo started back in 2008, shortly after we started carrying our micro metal gearmotors, when we released the compatible wheels shown at right. The intent was that they could be used with either tires or tracks and optionally with encoders, and that eventually they would be a part of our own robot.
A few years later we had assembled enough parts to release the Zumo chassis. We planned to use this as the base for a complete robot, but by releasing it first as a component, we got to see the community do a lot of interesting things with it. (Check out this Raspberry Pi Zumo, for example.)
It was not until 2012 that we were able to announce a complete robot, the Zumo Robot Kit for Arduino, which combined all of these parts with a new board containing a boost regulator, motor drivers, and inertial sensors. The board works like an upside-down shield: you plug an Arduino onto the top of the robot. We released a compatible reflectance sensor array soon after that, making it possible to use the Zumo for everything from mini-sumo to maze-solving.
So we sort of had a new complete robot, but it was not quite complete enough for us, since it still required a separate Arduino, which we did not manufacture. Also, the upside-down shield configuration blocked a lot of space for expansion and prototyping, we lacked a good solution for obstacle/opponent sensing (that’s important for mini-sumo!), and we had received lots of requests for encoders, which are hard to squeeze into the available space. A lot of our effort in 2013 and 2014 went toward components that we thought could be used on a more complete Zumo, such as smaller quadrature encoders and 38 kHz IR proximity sensors. And developing our A-Star 32U4 line of Arduino-compatible controllers based on the ATmega32U4 helped integrate the Arduino functionality directly into the robot.
So finally we had all the pieces available to make a new, much more capable Zumo that would be completely Pololu, the Zumo 32U4 robot:
The Zumo 32U4 incorporates many features of the A-Star 32U4 Prime LV, including an ATmega32U4 microcontroller with an Arduino-compatible USB bootloader and a step-up/step-down voltage regulator system. There is a handy 8×2 character LCD on top and a buzzer for simple beeps and music. Like the Zumo Robot for Arduino, our kit includes dual motor drivers, a complete 9-axis IMU, and line sensors, but the new integrated quadrature encoders and proximity sensors make this a far more capable platform.
We are initially offering the Zumo 32U4 robot only as a kit. Soldering is required, and it is intended for more advanced or ambitious electronics builders. There are a number of build options – two different kinds of IR LEDs are included and you choose your motor gear ratio – and the construction gives you opportunities to show off your craftsmanship. Some Pololu engineers, for example, have been 3D-printing custom LED holders that mount onto the blade of their Zumos. The Zumo is also expandable; almost all of the I/O lines of the ATmega32U4 and the power and ground nodes are available on arrays of through-holes at the sides and front of the board, and with its low-profile design (you can remove the LCD) there is plenty of room to build on top.
While we hope we have left enough room for physical customizations, the programming, with all the sensing options, is where you can really give your robot personality and make it your own. Modulate the IR emitters for more precise opponent detection, use the accelerometer to detect a bump or a flip (sans LCD, the Zumo can drive upside down), measure distances with the encoders, measure turns with the gyros, … we are looking forward to see what you will come up with!
As we gain experience with the Zumo 32U4 robot and collect feedback from the community, we plan to release more supporting materials and offer assembled options. Our goal is to get it to the point where we can recommend the Zumo to anyone looking for a high-performance programmable robot – hobbyists, students, educators, and others – so stay tuned! Please check out the product page for more details about the robot, and take a look at our example code on GitHub.