More tea please.

Formica Kits!

Jeff‘s just finished giving his excellent presentation about the Formica robots at 25C3. We were really surprised by the demand to buy these things. We might be persuaded to sell some robots if the demand is really high enough — either as kits or fully assembled devices.

So, please send an email to rspanton+formica@zepler.net if you are interested in purchasing some in the future! We’ll get back to you if we receive enough interest.

Edit: Alternatively, register your interest by posting a comment below and leave your email address so we can get back to you.

Posted at 7:22 pm on Sunday 28th December 2008

17 responses to “Formica Kits!”

  1. David says:

    Demand is high (:
    Great talk btw!

  2. Flo says:

    Excellent presentation!
    It really sparked interest in this exciting field of research in me and I think also in a lot of other attendees.
    Thanks a lot and please consider selling swarms ;)

  3. 1b0tr says:

    thanks for your work!

    Reading your documentation i am wondering how the programmer is beeing connected to the bots?

    Also sme kits could be interesting for me too..

  4. rob says:

    Hi 1botr,

    We used a custom programming jig for our robots. We are aware that this isn’t really suitable for people who have a small number of robots. We had a quick brainstorm about this just a couple of hours ago in a restaurant near 25C3. We were trying to think of elegant ways that people could program these things without having to purchase some additional hardware.

    Since our robots have light sensors and can internally write to their own flash, we think it would be really cool if someone could either:
    1) Hold a robot up to their monitor whilst it literally flashes out the firmware to it optically.
    2) Print off some barcodes that contain the firmware and have the robot drive over it.

    The nice thing about this is that once you’ve flashed one robot, it can transfer its new firmware to other robots over it’s infra red interface.

    We would probably also change the PCB to include a programming connector so that one could plug an EZ340 programmer into a robot and do it that way. Yes! That’s the same programmer as the one that Travis Goodspeed gave a couple of presentations about. If you saw his presentations, you’ll have found out that the EZ430 is something like £12 — which I guess is something like €12 too at the moment.


  5. segfault says:

    Thanks for the nice talk! I would also happily adopt a few of these critters if there were kits available :-)

  6. Avinash Ranganath says:

    I am looking forward to take up a project in Swarm Robotics for my MSc dissertation. So I will try and persuade my university to pick up a few of these if offered at a good price.


  7. Pat Farrell says:

    Tried an email, it bounced.

    I spent a year and a half working on MSP430/Zigbee radio stuff in my day
    job. I agree that the 430 is a nice processor, and the new mashup of the
    Zigbee chip with a 430 into a SOC should be cool.

    Please add me to your “interest in the kit” list.


  8. Pat Farrell says:

    Would it break the theology of the swarm to have one or two robots that had different PCBs? So you could do something like have a few with the EZ430 connector?

    I assume your flavor of the 430 is one of the small ones, like the removable (non-USB) side of the EZ430. (its interesting that each EZ430 has to 430s on it, one big one to drive the USB side, and a little one that you actualy program and play with.)

    Also, any thought to using eight plate-through holes to connect to a JTAG programmer?

    On the project I worked on, we used a flex connector and had an adaptor cable from the TI jtag programmer’s cable to the flex connector. It was nice and robust, and not too big.

  9. roboter says:

    @Pat, yes why not have diffrent type of robots, for diffrent task – swarm focused.

  10. rob says:

    Hi Pat,

    I hope that in the future there are some different variants of Formica robot. To start with though, I think we’ll be sticking with one.

    Actually, the MSP430 used is in the MSP430F2254. The MSP430F2013 doesn’t have enough pins. The 2254 can be programmed with the EZ430 though.

    Luckily, we don’t need 8 connections for the programming connector. Spy-bi-wire only needs 4 pins.


  11. Pat Farrell says:

    Four plate thru holes to plug in the jtag would be small, and maybe a win for debugging. I’ve got a couple of the EZ430s, and the real TI jtag programmer is not too expensive.

    I was thinking about different flavors as part of an experiment in evolution. Imagine a mutation that makes some formica’s be better at detecting food, at a cost of say not being able to move food as well. Then the swarm of mixed, pushers and finders would do better than one of version 1.0 finders. I’d expect in some quantifiable way. Or, if it doesn’t help, then the food finder mutation would fade away.

    I see the kit as having at least three different flavors. perhaps more, but having more SKUs make distribution harder :-)

    1) just the PCB, since I don’t have a good way to make PCBs other then sending out the gerbers to a house, and that is more units than I want to start.

    2) all the parts in a bag, ready to assemble.

    3) the PCB and weird parts (ski’s, tires, separated motors, etc.) in the bag, with pointers to the other parts from Digikey, Mousser or another commercial distributor.

    Of course, if I buy the 430, caps, resistors, etc. in tiny volumes, the costs go up, but that may be a useful tradeoff. Ten PCBs, twenty motors and 25 or so tires would be my first “order”.


  12. roboter says:

    Hello Everybody, how can i register here?

    And i started a page where i post my project ideas(very basic ideas, but i think might be a click worth :-)

    Waiting for further Instructions … idle

  13. tulcod says:

    Dudes, seriously, you’re thinking way too small. If these kits would come with a good community and example code like arduino does, they will sell like grandma’s cake.

  14. Pat Farrell says:

    “too small”, makes me ask: is there a known swarm size that is needed? will a swarm of 10 work? or do you need 30? Clearly a swarm of one isn’t a swarm….

  15. tulcod says:

    @Pat Farell:
    Well, the more you have, the more it is a swarm. I think the research becomes interesting enough to call it a swarm at 3 units: no back-and-forth communication is possible, and the disadvantages of broadcast-only transmission will show.

    As a sidenote and motivation to the guys from this project: just think of the dozen of research groups around the world who would now be able to purchase cheap swarm bots. Add to that the infinite amount of hackers who also bought arduino. Any open source and reasonably priced hardware sells. A guy once made a small tool toshout off TVs en masse. The selled like crazy, and weren’t even reprogrammable.

  16. JP says:

    Very interested in building my own swarm/formica army!

  17. Florian says:

    Read an article about robot research and formica in a german computer magazine: http://www.heise.de/ct/Roboter-im-Schwarm–/artikel/144919 .
    I’m interested in a kit for the formica robot

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