Thursday, 21 August 2014

Meccano Spykee

From the start, it’s fairly clear that the Meccano Spykee Wi-Fi spy mechanism doesn’t bear a lot of similitude to the Meccano of recent. unremarkably I’d expect to be ready to take it apart and build a train – however lately the Meccano name is being employed for a brand new breed of academic toy.

The Spykee could be a clever mix of things I’m at home with and things that youngsters square measure at home with. It combines sensible and abstraction skills with fashionable technology: web, wireless management, voice replica, video-camera ‘eye’… that kind of issue.

There’s not an awful heap of building concerned, though. There square measure 3 totally different configurations that you simply will build, and you'll stick the arms on and take them off once more, however that’s concerning it. the miscroscopic haywire and bolts square measure an equivalent thread and specification because the original Meccano bolts created at the flip of the last century, thus you'll add recent bits of Meccano to the mechanism if you prefer.

But this can be the difficulty with operating with electronics: you can’t see the operating bits. You’re handling a closed module, and that’s the huge departure from the Meccano of recent.

It’s quite fun to play with, though. If you get the web association right you'll management your mechanism remotely. thus if you’ve got a disciple living on the opposite facet of the road, you'll use it to speak to him and management it in his house from yours, or the other way around. You each have to be compelled to go online, slightly like enjoying a web game.

Meccano Spykee Wi-Fi spy mechanism

You see - on your computer - what the Spykee sees with its camera. Once it's started you'll have it in another area, or another building, and spy on folks

Children lately square measure wont to the logic of computers: dialogue boxes and filling stuff altogether the time. Meccano has considered what the typical eight- to ten-year-old will do, and what they’ll realize stimulating.

But a ‘spy’ mechanism could be a bit voyeuristical, rather like having a little camera on your cat or dog’s neck and causing it off, except here you’re at the controls. You see – on your computer – what the Spykee sees with its camera. Once it’s started you'll have it in another area, or another building, and spy on folks.

And you'll speak through it yet, or record and deliver messages with a series of silly science-fiction sound effects.

The software system that comes with it permits you to provides it directions through your laptop, yet as having the ability to steer it with the keyboard.

In reality it’s not subtle enough to use as a real spy mechanism – and anyone being spied on may hardly miss it – however you'll fake.

The extremely clever issue concerning it's that once it’s obtaining low on juice, it mechanically returns itself to its charging station. It is aware of wherever it's and it simply reverses onto it. The battery life is sweet, too – when 2 hours it had been still going robust. You don’t have to be compelled to leave it long to recharge either.

I think that mistreatment the mechanism outside in something aside from good weather would be a foul plan. If you drive it over rough ground it’ll in all probability go over. Also, it suffers from the Dalek downside – it may ne'er conquer the universe as a result of it can’t manage stairs. However, the build quality isn’t dangerous – really, it’s pretty strong.

There’s plenty to find here, over I found within the time I had. It’s clever stuff – what is going to Meccano do next?

Even though Spykee turned out to be less friendly to modders than anticipated, there are many possibilities by now:
  • Writing your own software to control the robot. This is something that a couple of people did already, notably leading to SpykeeFX (found at the devmods site) and ISpykee. Unfortunately, SpykeeFX is not open- source. However, ISpykee is, so at least part of the communication protocol is available and reverse engineering is not obligatory.
  • Probably a whole lot easier is to replace the firmware on the robot with something that is more to your liking. As the toolchain for making the firmware became available (found at the official website), a number of replacement firmwares were created. One of the additions is for example the enabling of telnet on the robot. The URBI firmware by the French robotics company Gostai seems to be the most attractive: together with the URBI library (in C++) it should be an easy way to write your own computer programs to control Spykee. It supports track speed setting, led on/off (but only in pairs), camera readout and all other features that you’d expect.
  • Add hardware! Most people that add actuators use the LEDs to control them, either directly or via a controller (eg a Arduino board). One of the most attractive additions is an actuator to move the head up and down, in order to see where the robot is walking (although it is probably also possible to achieve this by changing the body). In theory it is possible to add whatever actuator you want though! It should also be possible to use the USB and serial connectors. This can be useful if you would like to add sensors, but probably will be quite involved on the software side. Adding a USB disk is easy though, see the devmods wiki.

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