Boston Dynamics has been in the news repeatedly over the years, due to their spectacular advances in quadruped and humanoid robotics that no other research organization of any kind seems to be able to match. You remember the Uptown Funk video we showed you a couple of years back, with the “Spot” robot dancing hilariously to the music.
The great thing about research in any field is that once somebody’s done all the heavy lifting of discovering the knowledge and techniques in the first place, some of the more clever among the geekdom DIY makers and builders can take that tech and try it out for themselves.
Enter Miguel Ayuso Parrilla, electronics experimenter, physics student in Madrid, Spain, and amateur roboticist, who has tapped into what Boston Dynamics has learned to create his own quadruped walking robot named CHOP, which is one of the finalists in this year’s Hackaday Prize on Hackaday.com.
CHOP is a DIY quadruped robot that uses a lot of the same design tropes as the Boston Dynamics quadrupeds do. It’s quite a lot smaller, and with that reduction in size comes a massive reduction in cost. Spot can be had for about $20 grand; CHOP’s bill of materials will run you a little under $500.
The entire project is open source, meaning that anyone can built their own version of it with off-the-shelf parts and some 3D printing. If you can’t get the hardware however, you can still play with the PyBullet simulation of the mechanics that were used during the debugging process.
The brain running the CHOP quadruped is the remarkable single board computer known as the Raspberry Pi. The current version of it runs fast enough to be your daily desktop if all you do is basic office tasks, and it costs less than $60. It talks to an Arduino Mega, which handles the servo moters and sensors. The Pi uses Python scripts to figure out how to process all that information and control the gait of the robot and move its four limbs in a coordinated fashion. To control the direction in which the body of the robot should accelerate, a Bluetooth remote controller sends commands to the Raspberry Pi.
CHOP’s entire chassis is 3d printed, so before you can build one, first you’ll need a 3d printer, along with the software and design tools to use one. However, the small size of the robot’s components means you can use something as cheap as an Ender 3 to print out the parts.
So far the robot can’t do sophisticated things like mapping its environment, or work on self-assigned goals. It’s not quite that smart yet – but it is designed to be expandable to make some of these things possible. Parilla is still working on it, and in another year CHOP should have more of the same skills as his much larger Boston Dynamics cousin.