What if you could easily build the equivalent of a Turtlebot for under $300?
I’m going to show you how simple it is to convert a
Neato robotic vacuum cleaner into a fully functional training
platform in less than a day. Very little hardware skill or
special tools are needed. Everything is available COTS
(commercial off-the-shelf), and the software is all open
source. Let’s get started!
Here’s what you need to get, if you don’t already have
• A laptop or Wi-Fi connected desktop running Unbuntu.
This should be at least 14.04 and running ROS Indigo,
but it would be better to upgrade to the same versions
if running cross platform. ROS versions are usually
matched to Ubuntu releases.
• A Neato Botvac or equivalent (I have seen used XV-12s
for under $200, and new basic models for under
• A Raspberry Pi 3 (camera is optional but highly
• 6 gig SD card for Pi ~$10.
• Rechargeable 5V power pack (the kind for recharging
cell phones is fine) ~$20.
• USB cables for battery pack to Pi (micro) and Pi to
Botvac (can be mini or micro, depending).
• Small scraps of aluminum or tin from a can.
• Small scraps of flat plywood or acrylic.
• Velcro™, double-sided tape, or other easy-to-remove
Step 1: Modifying the Botvac.
Depending on your model, you may choose to ignore
any hardware modifications entirely. Then, if you mess up,
you can just use it to clean your house! I removed the
brushes, the dust bin, and used a strip of metal to disable
the bin detector switch.
Step 2: Preparing the Pi and
attaching to the Botvac.
Artfully arrange the Pi, battery pack, and optional
camera on a 6” by 6” flat piece of wood or plastic. Attach
with double-sided tape. On the bottom of the assembly,
attach a piece of Velcro or similar quick release fastener.
Attach the matching Velcro to the top of the Botvac’s
LIDAR unit. Lastly, plug in the USB cables. You might want
to charge your batteries. It would be a shame to have all
the software loaded and then have to wait to test it.
Step 3: Loading the software onto
At the time of this writing, an official version of Ubuntu
16.04 was not available for the Pi 3. I used the Ubuntu
Mate (pronounced “ma tay”) version. Instructions for
Several years ago, I wrote an article for SERVO showing how you could convert an
old Roomba vacuum cleaner and a Microsoft Kinect into a robot training platform
capable of teaching yourself ROS: the Robot Operating System from Willow Garage.
Willow Garage has now closed, and Clearpath Robotics can sell you a complete
brand new Turtlebot for about $2,100. Recently, OSRF and Robotis have announced
a less expensive Turtlebot, but this is still a bit out of the range for most serious
Roll Your Own
Turtlebot By Alan N. Federman (Dr. Bot)
54 SERVO 01.2017
XV- 12 dustbin removed.