High-end robotic systems are still out of price range of most individuals, and even many research labs. Smartphones, however, with an astonishing array of computing power, sensors, and networking capabilities, are commonplace and becoming more powerful every day. To leverage these abilities, Intel researchers Matthias Müller and Vladlen Koltun have come up with OpenBot, which uses an Android smartphone as the brains, and otherwise costs about $50 to construct.
The OpenBot software stack consists of a custom Android app, along with code for an Arduino Nano that connects to the phone over USB serial. The mobile device takes care of higher level processing, while the Nano handles lower level tasks, such as motor control.
So far the OpenBot design has been able to follow a human and navigate autonomously. As experimentation, plus phone technology progresses, it could potentially do even more in the future!
This work aims to address two key challenges in robotics: accessibility and scalability. Smartphones are ubiquitous and are becoming more powerful by the year. We have developed a combination of hardware and software that turns smartphones into robots. The resulting robots are inexpensive but capable. Our experiments have shown that a $50 robot body powered by a smartphone is capable of person following and real-time autonomous navigation. We hope that the presented work will open new opportunities for education and large-scale learning via thousands of low-cost robots deployed around the world.
Smartphones point to many possibilities for robotics that we have not yet exploited. For example, smartphones also provide a microphone, speaker, and screen, which are not commonly found on existing navigation robots. These may enable research and applications at the confluence of human-robot interaction and natural language processing. We also expect the basic ideas presented in this work to extend to other forms of robot embodiment, such as manipulators, aerial vehicles, and watercraft.