Interactive is all about new technologies. As part of
Interactive, there is a show called Create which is free and
open to the public. The Robot Group had a sizable display
there that year, and I really wanted to be able to show off
Nomad with working sensors and collecting vision
information from the Kinect. Alas, it was not to be.
However, directly across from our booth was one for
Nvidia: the makers of video cards. Nvidia has an embedded
system called the Jetson and they had just come out with
their newest version: the TX1. The Jetson TX1 runs their
latest Tegra processor which consists of a 64-bit quad core
ARM processor and 256 Cuda GPU cores. This setup allows
for massive parallel processing. In short, this little board is a
video processing powerhouse.
In their booth, they were demonstrating how their
Jetson TX1 could be incorporated into a robot with a stereo
camera system to perform SLAM activities. To take it a step
further — thanks to the Cuda cores — they were able to
build a neural network on the robot so it would learn as it
went. My amateur hobby robotics mind was blown. This
was one of those, “stop talking and take my money”
moments. The engineer that was there gave me his contact
information should I have any questions and directed me to
their embedded developer page.
Two weeks later, my Jetson TX1 Evaluation Kit arrived
in the mail. A week after that, the Zed stereo camera
system from StereoLabs was on my porch. The evaluation
kit is significantly larger than the Raspberry Pi, which meant
yet another reconfiguring of the chassis. This time, I had to
build a larger box in which to house the Jetson and
associated electronics. While I was at it, I added dedicated
space for the power switch, an external Ethernet port,
power jack, HDMI port, and two cooling fans. For the Zed
camera, I also ordered a nice pan/tilt assembly from
At this point, I have to say how thankful I am to have
found the local hacker space here in Austin. This place has
been an amazing resource for building Nomad and so many
other projects. Between the laser cutters, 3D printers, and
all of the other tools available here, there is very little that
can’t be done. We’re even adding a CNC plasma cutter. So,
once the design is finalized, I might even cut a new chassis
altogether out of aluminum. And it’s not just the tools. The
people and talent is fantastic.
Without some of the expertise from the ATX
Hackerspace, I don’t know that Nomad would have made it
anywhere near as far as it has. If you haven’t already
availed yourself of your local maker or hacker space, do so.
You will be astounded at what you can get done.
Prepping the Jetson
With the majority of the physical build done (because,
let’s face it, you’re never really 100% done with any part of
a project like this), it was time to get the OS and software
started. Nvidia provides a pre-assembled package of OS,
drivers, and software called Jetpack. This package is
optimized by the engineers and developers for this board.
The installation for someone new to this process is not
necessarily a straightforward one. There were some
obstacles I had to work around that weren’t obvious.
Hopefully, my experiences will help you avoid some of the
same hurdles. These issues started right at the beginning ...
Initial Hardware Problems
Right at the beginning, I was having challenges in just
seeing what was happening. When I received my TX1, it
wasn’t blank. There was an initial OS installed. I didn’t play
around with it enough to see if a version of Jetpack was
already Flashed. I wanted to get it updated quickly to
make sure it had all of the proper drivers. So, I tried to
connect the board to a spare monitor I had lying about.
The monitor did not have an HDMI input which is needed
for connecting to the Jetson. Using an HDMI to DVI
adapter, I connected the monitor to the TX1 with no
It turns out the HDMI out from the Jetson is not
compatible with converters — at least not natively. So, next
I tried connecting it to a television with an HDMI input.
50 SERVO 01.2017
Cutting the new box on the laser.
Nomad’s new box, fresh off the laser cutter.