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TurtleBot: ROS Meets
Kinect Meets Create
by Tom Carroll
Turtle robots have been around since Grey Walter’s Tortoise of the late ‘40s.
When hobbyist robots started to be popular in the early ‘80s, robots such as the
Tasman Turtle (shown in Figure 1) were popular. They were easy to interface and
control by an Apple II or similar computer.
Newer turtle-type robots such as the BBC Turtle robot shown in Figure 2 or the Propeller-head Geek Turtle
robot shown in Figure 3 are still popular and are sold at
many hobby robot outlets. These robots are simple to
construct, interface, program, and operate as they are
usually differentially-driven and have a clear plastic shell that
shows the interior. They offer beginners a way to learn
programming techniques to control a basic robot.
The term ‘turtle’ has recently taken on a new meaning
with the introduction of two turtle-style experimenter’s
machines that are changing the face of hobby and advanced
experimental robotics. I’ve reviewed many robots over the
years, but have rarely come across two entirely different
machines at the same time that have really offered so many
capabilities and opportunities for serious robotics research.
Both machines have a long list of users who have nothing but
praises for their robot. With newer, powerful software suites
coupled with equally powerful sensors, these two advanced
turtle-style robots offer serious experimenters complete robotics
packages that would rival the most advanced university level
machines of five years ago — but at a fraction of the cost.
One is the Willow Garage ROS-based TurtleBot and the
other is Eddie from Parallax that is based on Microsoft’s
Robotics Developer Studio, RDS4. Neither of these two
robots actually utilize turtle shell construction and both
feature Microsoft’s powerful vision sensor: the Kinect. Each
robot actually has so many features that I will do a comparison
over the next couple columns. I’ll concentrate on the
TurtleBot this month. Next time, we’ll take a look at Eddie.
In reading emails and other news items (and talking
with WG personnel in early 2011), I heard rumors that WG
was developing a small robot to serve as a base for their
open source Linux-based software platform, Robot
Operating System (or ROS). When I visited their facility in
2010 and got to know their amazing PR2 robot, I was also
introduced to ROS which was the software for the PR2. I
knew that WG was anxious for the robotics community to
discover ROS and to implement it into various robot designs.
Willow Garage was formed in late 2006 by Scott
FIGURE 1. Tasman Turtle Robot
FIGURE 2. BBC Turtle Robot.
(Courtesy of Paul Silver at flickr.)
FIGURE 3. Propeller-head Geek
78 SERVO 01.2012