In the past year alone, Swiss research institute EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) has brought us things such as a mini ionic motor for satellites, “nano velcro” that removes pollutants from water, and a system that allows paralyzed rats to walk again. While none of these items will ever likely be available to regular consumers, now there is a piece of EPFL-developed technology that you can get your hands on. It’s an open-source educational robot known as Thymio II, and it only costs a little over a hundred bucks.
Unlike some other educational ‘bots such as NAO or Zeno, Thymio II is not humanoid in form – if anything, it looks a little like a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. Although its variable-speed wheels are intended primarily for allowing it to scoot around, they can also be connected to user-supplied moving parts such as arms, propellers, winches, or just about anything else.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Besides those wheels, however, it also features a microphone and speaker, a 3-axis accelerometer, five proximity sensors, two ground sensors, a temperature sensor, and 39 LEDs which allow its body to illuminate in different colors.
It can accept programming via a USB connection (which is also used to charge its lithium-polymer battery) or a memory card slot. Programming is created using EPFL’s robotics-specific ASEBA language.
Using capacitive touch buttons on the robot’s top surface, it’s also possible to access a number of preprogrammed “behaviors” in which it does things such as following a moving object placed in front of it, exploring its environment while avoiding obstacles, following a line drawn on the floor, or responding to noises. Additionally, it can be remotely operated in real time using an infrared controller.
Other features include a trailer hitch, and a pencil support that allows it to draw on the surface that it’s traveling over – sort of like a Spirograph, remember those?
Thymio II is available now, at a price of 99 Swiss francs (US$106). It can be seen doing its thing in the video below.