Twin Tweaks ...
ly compare with the agility and sophistication of bots like the Robonova-1 or
the Bioloid, but the V-Bot puts forth a
valiant effort. The spectacle of its
transformation certainly makes up for
most of the shortcomings in its
humanoid form — the V-Bot spins on its
waist, folds up its wings, and lies down
flat in a fairly fluid motion, and all to
the fanfare of flashing lights and music.
With such inherent coolness, we were
almost reluctant to crack it open, but
we quickly got over that.
The humanoid form of the V-Bot
brought back fond memories of the
humanoid robots we worked with in
the past like the Robonova-1 and the
Bioloid. Of course, these robots were
much more sophisticated (and, by the
same token, much more expensive)
than the V-Bot (which will run you
about $160), and that got us thinking
about what it was exactly that created
such classy bots.
We think one of the major design
elements that is conspicuously present
in the Bioloid and to a lesser extent in
the Robonova-1 that allows for such
sophistication is their modularity. The
humanoid form demands a high
number of degrees of freedom to
create a passable reconstruction, and
a modular design seems to be an
effective tool in achieving that end.
The Bioloid was so modular that it
was able to become a host of other
things in addition to the humanoid —
everything from a spider to a cat with
a flair for impressionism. With just a bit
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of programming, the Bioloid was
also effectively able to become a
transformer of sorts.
That got us to thinking — if the
modular Bioloid could be turned into a
transformer, could the transforming
V-Bot be turned into a modular robot?
We thought it could, or at least we
thought it stood a much better chance
than any run-of-the-mill RC car.
The V-Bot does give a rudimentary
emulation of the human form — it has
a head, two arms, two legs, and it
moves about in the upright position.
Being a humble RC car, it does take a
few shortcuts to achieve bipedal mobility. Firstly, the V-Bot doesn’t actually
walk — the bottoms of its feet are
equipped with wheels, so this bot
simply scoots around on a permanent
set of Heelies. Secondly, the V-Bot only
stands upright with some assistance in
the form of braces with wheels that
protrude from the back of its legs. We
don’t begrudge it the crutches though
— in our mission to make the Joinmax
robot dog into a bipedal walker, we
also relied on some extra support in
the form of a long tail.
Despite these forgivable simplifica-tions, we still think the essence of the
humanoid form captured by the V-Bot
lends itself to being modularized.
A remote controlled humanoid, no
matter how simplified, is bound to
have more degrees of freedom than
a run-of-the-mill RC car. The transforming ability of the V-Bot also bodes
well for its list of moving parts. Our
hope was that a lot of moving joints
would mean a lot of parts that could
potentially be split into modules —
an arm module here, a leg module
there, perhaps even a hand module or
a foot module.
But it’s no use counting our
modules before they detach, so it was
time for some demolition.
The Modern Robotic
Our last experience of trying to
pop open a bot (the Robopanda) didn’t
prove to be fruitful, but we were
confident that we would be able to
dissect the V-Bot. With the right
screwdriver in hand (a small Phillips),
we were ready to commence surgery.
The V-Bot is held together by a
copious amount of screws, but we did
appreciate the fact that the vast
majority were all the same size so that
we didn’t have to go about carefully
documenting where each screw went.
As we dissected the V-Bot, we
were repeatedly impressed with its
sophistication. Our standard for sophistication in RC cars was based on our
experience with cheap ones that we
would outfit with makeshift aluminum
weapons for “rumbles.” The V-Bot was
certainly more impressive than any of
those, and much of the elegance in its
design reminded us of the polish and
efficiency of the Robosapien clan.
Reflexive motion in the arms and a
busy circuit board equipped with
seemingly color coded sockets was
certainly a cut above your regular RC
car, but we guess we should have
expected it from something that can
play music from iPods.
Our hope with the V-Bot was
that its humanoid form would help to
create distinct appendages that could
easily be detached to form modules.
Things are never quite as simple
as they seem, though, and we soon
discovered that the V-Bot complicated
matters by keeping its brain in its chest
and its stomach in its feet. The poor
anatomical analogy aside, the V-Bot
created problems for us by having
the main circuit board stored in the
chest of the robot and the batteries
(six C cells) stored in the feet. We
can appreciate how the weight
distribution kept the center of gravity
low, but it made modularity more
difficult to realize. We could potentially section off the feet, but then the
robot would need both of its feet
to function at all. In that case, leg
modules seemed hardly feasible.
Thankfully, the arms of the V-Bot
proved to be another story. They didn’t
house any critical electronics or power
sources, but they did, in fact, house
their own motors, which made them
more of a meaningful unit. They were
also only connected by a few screws
and could be easily attached and
reattached — much more so than the