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I'm interested to build Robot from my imagination, and I was looking to purchase a robotic kit.

I find the Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 really interesting for many reasons : You can plug whatever brick you want, and you can develop in the language you want.

I am a developer, and the use of this kind of robotic would be interaction mostly (not moving, so the servo motors are useless to me, at least now).

But regarding the spec of the NXT main component, I feel it's a bit low (proc, ram & rom).

That made me wonder if any of you know something similar (where I can plug whatever I want on it, and most importantly, program the reaction), but with a more powerful hardware ?

Price will also be a limitation : I like the NXT also because I can build what I want under 300 USD. I don't want to spend 10k USD on my first kit, but I would appreciate buying a better piece of robotic if the price isn't too distant from the NXT's.

Do you have some alternatives to check out ?

Thanks for your help ! :)

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closed as not constructive by Ian, Mark Booth Mar 12 '13 at 13:16

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This question is bordering on open ended, however I think you're criteria are specific enough to avoid it being closed. Just letting you know that such "make a list" questions are generally discouraged. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 24 '12 at 11:14
  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify what you are trying to do? More specifically, what type of robot are you trying to create? $\endgroup$ – DaemonMaker Nov 24 '12 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ All of the discussion this question is generating is precisely why we don't like shopping or list questions on stack exchange. Please ask a practical, answerable question based on an actual problem that you face. $\endgroup$ – Mark Booth Mar 12 '13 at 13:08
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I do not think you will find ANY kit better than the NXT 2.0. You may find components, and be able to piece together your own Robot, but there is nothing available as a kit that I know of in that price range (which BTW is $230 at walmart at the moment, pretty good deal). I also do not understand how you are planning to do very much without using servos. A robot that has no movement at all is pretty boring, and more like a refrigerator than a robot. The use of servos is IMHO an important part of robotics.

Exactly what is "a more powerful "AI"'? As a developer, I would not have expected that type of question. Are you sure an NXT does not have enough AI for your current robotic experience? Personally, short of some neural network stuff, I have never exceeded capacity with an NXT, and I was able to size that down and make it workable. Learning to be efficient is part process.

The NXT also open up great opportunities in mechanical design as well as pure robotics. There is plenty to keep anyone busy for quite a while, until college at least, then you step up to $1/2million dollar PR2s that someone else paid for.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your comment is interesting. By "AI", I was talking about hardware (but badly explained myself, sorry, I changed it). For the servo motors, what I want is a robot that can interact with me by analyzing it's environment, not by moving, that's why. For what I think I'll do, the servo motors would only be useful for rotating captors to a better place. What do you think of VEX ? $\endgroup$ – Cyril N. Nov 24 '12 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ The vex is a 'alternative' NXT, geared for competitions - It is slightly more able, but not enough to make a difference. Stick with the NXT, it can do plenty. Inverse kinematics, SLAM, IMUs with EKF filters, like I said enough to last you until college, then play with the big stuff (PR2 willowgarage.com/pages/pr2/overview). $\endgroup$ – Spiked3 Nov 24 '12 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ I passed college long time ago ;) But I don't have the "robotic knowledge" level of a student before college for sure ;) Thanks for your answers! $\endgroup$ – Cyril N. Nov 24 '12 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ haha - me too exactly. If I went back to school I would do robotics :) And I can say that the NXT has kept me busy learning robotics, and not chasing after wishful thinking. The Rasberry Pi will get there eventually (or something like it) but at the moment there is no comparison. And if you want to solder there are better choices anyhow. Good luck. $\endgroup$ – Spiked3 Nov 24 '12 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ @spiked would love to have gone to college where you are. I'm in a robotics research group and we can't afford a PR2 for our researchers, let alone the students :-) $\endgroup$ – ThomasH Nov 25 '12 at 22:29
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but with a more powerful "AI" ?

Firstly, no robotics kit has any AI built in. AI needs to be tailor-made for the situation, it's not like you import AI and everything just... works. You need to program your own AI every time you want a smart bot. That being said, some AI-related things like image processing can be found prepackaged for use.


Regarding kits, I don't know of there's any such kit that's better than the NXT. For "serious robotics", such kits will always prove inadequate as they're restrictive in many ways. What I suggest is to start using an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi fits your criteria more--it has a good amount of RAM, and runs Linux--so it's easier to work with (it's pretty much like programming a normal application, except you don't need to create a GUI for the app). It's extremely cheap, costs $25-$35. You can use whatever language you want here, as long as you have something to make the language run on Linux (gcc/python/java--generally these are all built in, though you can easily find APT packages for stuff like ruby). In addition, it's easy to find packages for tasks like image processing/etc. It also has 512MB of RAM, which is good enough unless you want to play Warcraft on it. You do have to get familiar with Linux to use this, though.

The Arduino's another good (possibly better) option. You can program it in C/C++/Java (and some other languages if you use some third party tools). It is low on RAM, though--you sometimes need to chain two Arduinos in a master-slave configuration to get stuff done.

The only issue is, you need to make your own sensors for the Raspberry Pi (sensors for the Arduino exist and some can be found here. In addition, there is some examples using NXT equipment here.) Generally not that hard (for example, a light/dark sensor can be made with a photodiode and resistor), though this is a big shift from the NXT (which was plug-and-play). You'll have to get your own servos and learn how they are controlled, and lots of other little things. You will have to get your hands dirty with soldering control boards/etc, and you will have to know a decent amount of electronics.

Otherwise you can just continue using the NXT, there are all sorts of premade sensors out there (though custom making your own sensor isn't that easy).

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    $\begingroup$ What are some examples that a rasberry Pi robot can do, that a NXT robot can not do? $\endgroup$ – Spiked3 Nov 24 '12 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Spiked3: Image processing, for one. NXT doesn't have enough RAM. Also, it's easy to add custom sensors to the RPi, but not the NXT. For serious robotics, the NXT is generally too cumbersome--the RPi is flexible. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 24 '12 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ not true at all. The NXT supports I2C and RS-485 out of the box, unlike a rasberry Pi. Also, there is a popular camera for the NXT, with software already written for it; nxtcamview.sourceforge.net - any similar link for the rasberry pi? For serious robotics, a rasberry pi is not even on the maybe list. A pure arduino yes, but rasberry has a lot of maturing to do before its ready. Google rasberry pi ROS to get a feel for the current state of things (not very good at the moment). Do not put down an NXT with something that does not work at all. $\endgroup$ – Spiked3 Nov 24 '12 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, by AI, I was thinking about hardware, I made a too direct link from hardware capacity to AI limitations, and I badly written it. I modified it in my question, but your answer is helpful. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Cyril N. Nov 24 '12 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @CyrilN.: OK, I see. Then that's different :) $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 24 '12 at 12:30
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If you look for more advanced kits than the NXT brick, consider picking any ARM board you like. For example the Raspberry Pi, the CubieBoard or the PandaBoard. All of them can be rather easily combined or expanded with electronics or sensors you like, some of them, like the RasPi have plenty of GPIO pins.

Considering hardware extensions, VEX Robotics have many different parts like structural elements, wheels, motors, sensors, nuts, bolts and sprockets who are standardized by the company to fit nicely with each other.

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    $\begingroup$ What is it with the cute little CPU recommendations? I googled CubieBoard and could not find one single working robot. Googling PandaBoard had one robot based on an iRobot. I've already commented on Rasberry Pi. How are any of these recommendations relevant? They don't or at least have not at this point in time done robotics, they are not kits. They are general purpose CPUs. Please answer the question, not preach your ideologies. $\endgroup$ – Spiked3 Nov 24 '12 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Spiked3: Aren't you getting a bit too worked up about microcontrollers &c? I find your statements about them not being "serious" robotics (They don't or at least have not at this point in time done robotics) rather presumptious--In my institute there's a lot of "serious" robotics done (mainly as part of the yearly tech competition), and I've mainly seeing it being done with Arduinos, Atmegas, and RPis (and the occasional EEEPC for the really complex bots). Just because they have wider applications than robotics doesn't mean that they're bad. And we aren't "preaching ideologies" here. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 24 '12 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, Googling CubieBoard doesn't help since CubieBoard hasn't been released yet. And Googlvine me enough robots using PandaBoard. Again, just because they can be used for other purposes doesn't mean they're not for robotics. Yes, they aren't kits, but kits can only get you so far. With regard to premade sensors, the RPi(and Arduino) is on the same footing as the NXT--you can get premade sensors off the Net for both. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 24 '12 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ No, I am not getting too worked up. Just tired of hearing people dismiss the NXT as a toy, when for teaching robotics it is much better suited than any of Microprocessors by themselves. There 3-4 mature development scenarios for the NXT and robotics (NXC, LeJOS, MRDS, RobotC), 0 for the uPs. They usually just run compiled code, not a robotic environment (ie ROS has not had success on the rasberry pi yet). If someone starts "learning robotics" with a rasberry Pi, they will probably choose a different career. Hooking up a photo sensitive transistor is not robotics. $\endgroup$ – Spiked3 Nov 25 '12 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Spiked3: We're not dismissing it as a toy--just that I've never seen much professional robotics done with it. I've already retracted my statements about having to "move on" at some point--a lot can be done with the NXT. If the OP wants something "better" (more RAM, etc), then he has to move to other boards. If you say that there aren't any mature development platforms for uCs, you clearly haven't worked with them. The Arduino IDE is pretty good; and the RS in itself), doesn't really need an IDE--you can install Debian, connect a monitor, and code directly. ROS is irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – Manishearth Nov 25 '12 at 12:02
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For a programmer, you might want to check out Gadgeteer. No soldering or electronics experience required. There is a wide range of processors that run .NET MF and interface with compatible devices. GHI is one of the larger purveyors of Gadgeteer devices.

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I'd stick with a BeagleBone for the brains plus an Arduino Leonardo for the brawn. This gets you a full computer capable of running Linux or Android with 512 MB of RAM and 800 MHz of CPU to write your AI and all the hardware capability that the Arduino ecosystem enables. Connect the two together over USB and use a remote control library like Reflecta or Firmata to turn the Arduino into a set of 'remote hardware ports' for the Beaglebone.

A new entry into this space is the PCDuino from SparkFun. Theoretically this combines both boards into one. I haven't tried it out myself to validate however.

You should be able to put together a robot based on these parts for around your price range of $300.

BeagleBone

BeagleBone

Arduino Leonardo

Arduino Leonardo

PCDuino

PCDuino

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