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  • What's new in my robots pages?

    Wednesday, apr. 6th, 2005 :
    Updated the Toys page with pictures and details for a few new toys.

    Sunday, feb. 6th, 2005 :
    Updated the Fujitsu, Nec and Promet pages with pictures, text and a video.

    Wednesday, sept. 8th, 2004 : BN-1
    Added a Bandai BN-1 page to my real robots collection. Also updated the Wonderborg page a bit.

    This feature will soon be available

    Bandai Wonderborg
    :: Under construction ::

    I've received a Bandai Wonderborg i won at an internet auction on July 2004. It is a simple, yet appealing little robot! As it was apparently never distributed outside Japan, it remains quite an obscure toy. That's a shame, since it is a really cool initiation to robotics and programming.

    Below are three videos i've made of my first Wonderborg experiments. I will also add a few pictures to this page soon.
    For the videos, check the "programming the wonderborg" part below.

    What is the Wonderborg ?
    The Wonderborg is a little "autonomous robot" (stated so by Bandai) made by bandai in the shape of a 6 legs insect with 2 antennae. It was only released in Japan, partly due to the fact that it only work with the Wonderswan game system that Bandai only distributed in Japan.

    Openning the box
    openning the box, the wonderborg appears as a kit. Several set of parts allow for different Wonderborg shapes. Elements includes : a set of hard plastic legs, hard plastic antennae, a set of wheels, and flexible material that can be used as replacement legs or antennae.
    Building the basic wonderborg (either 6 hard pastic legged or wheeled version) is very easy : just assemble the legs, antennae, put the batteries in and the cover on, you're ready to go!

    Switching it on
    There's a small switch on the back of the robot to switch it on/off. When turning the robot on, it will do nothing but wait for an order. Orders may then come from 2 ways : either by the button on the back of the device, or from the IR port on the device's front. The button on the back has a simple function : it will launch or stop whatever program is loaded in the wonderborg's memory at that moment.
    The IR port is the real key to controlling the robot. The thing is : the wonderborg will do nothing by itself. It does not come with any built-in program nor controller. It is thus far from "autonomous" unless turning around ceaselessly (what mine does when i pressed the "launch" button right after putting batteries inside) means expression of it's autonomy.

    Controlling the wonderborg
    As the wonderborg comes with a built-in IR port and no controller, you might think that the controller has to be acquired separately. You'd be right! The required controller is the bandai Wonderswan, a japan-only GameBoy competitor that eventually commercially died in Japan because of it's limited success. The wonderborg actually comes with a dedicated Wonderswan cartridges which also include an IR port, and which offers several options to control, test, and program the wonderborg, as well as a built in saved memory to store programs. Gathering a wonderborg and a wonderswan is thus the key to hours of fun!

    Supplied software
    The supplied wonderswan cartridge holds the following set of features : program, test, and pet. I'll start with the PET option, since it's the first one i've tested!
    Well i'be been a little deceived with it. Loading the program into the wonderborg's memory is quite long, thus indicating the program is also quite long. But pressing the "launch" button was quite disappointed : the device just stands still, emitting what seems to be a random set of beeps from time to time; and no more!
    I was expecting it to start behaving autonomously with various possible user interactions. As a matter of fact, running the wonderborg in "pet" mode is much more like playing with some evolved Tamagotchi (remember the tamagotchi was bandai first experiment in "virtual pet" systems) than playing with a robot like an Aibo, for instance.
    The way to actually play with the "Pet mode wonderborg" is to use the Wonderswan console and send several orders like "feed", "praise" and so on. Reactions of the machine seem to be pretty poor, and as far as i've been able to test, i've obtained no movements of any kind from it.
    Without further inquiring (or maybe having the manual translated), i currenly consider the Pet option totally useless and funless...

    Now that i mention translating : the wonderborg's box hold the indication "japanese/english". That's partly true. The cartridge itself is actually fully translated and offered a language choice; but the supplied manuals are only partially translated to english. So maybe there's an explaination of what the "pet" function is supposed to do; but if there's one, it was not translated in the few english pages...

    The "test" option can be used to directly send orders to the wonderborg, which will immediately execute them. Orders are actually basic operations like "go forward", "turn left"... However, they all also apparently mean "and do it forever". So it's not possible to just operate the wonderborg step by step this way. Cancelling an order is only possible by pressing the "launch" button.
    The last option is the "programming" mode.

    Programming the Wonderborg
    Wonderborg comes with a programming language that's very similar to Lego Mindstorm's Bricks programmings language. Simply choose a command or a condition from a list and assemble them together in order to build a sequence of program.
    Conditions are based on values obtained from any of the Wonderborg's built-in sensors : antennae act as contact sensors (2 antennae mean right contact and left contact detection are differenciated), there's also a lightness intensity sensor, a microphone used to recognize preset tones, the IR circuit is used a promoximity/ground sensor...
    The Lego mindstorm comparison hit me quite soon actually. A simple motion mechanism, a set of sensors and a central computer whichi with load brick-made program by IR beam... The only thing is that Lego allows for more complex motion mechanisms, but the counterpart is that the Wonderborg comes with a set of sensors that's apparently more than a single Mindstorm control system can handle.
    Both systems are equalily interesting on the programming side anyway; but the fact that the wonderborg is a fixed mechanism will make it even more focused on programming, since Lego offer much deeper robotics and cinematics possibilities.

    Videos : Wonderborg in action !
    These two videos show the wonderborg in "6 legs" mode running a simple program on a tabletop. The program is : if there's nothing in front of the device, go forward. If there's a wall in front, make a u turn . If there's a hole in front, go backward then make a turn, randomly to the left or right. The program also includes emitting different sounds when detecting either a wall or a hole.
    You may notice that the machine will erratically detect unexistant holes, then apply the according behavior. This is because the legs movements induces large height variations of the robots "head" where the sensors are located. In this case, the floor sensor may just detect that "there's a hole in front" whereas is just the head being higher than expected.

    Video 1 Overhead view of the walking Wonderborg.

    Video 2 Side view of the walking Wonderborg. The robot finally ends up falling from the table, as quite usual!

    It is possible to learn the wonderborg programming basics by using the "training" option offered in the cartridge. This well executed program simulates an on-screen wonderborg that needs to be programmed to adapt to different environments. The principle is simple : the virtual wonderborg evolves in an onscreen area and must go from the "start" point to the "finish" point. The user has to properly program the sensors and movements so that the machine will avoid obstacles and make the turns it takes to reach the finish. The first playgrounds are really basic : just go forward, make a right turn, go forward, and you're there; but pretty soon you'll have to make use of ground sensors, proximity sensors, "pheromone" sensors, and so on. At each stages, only the necessary commands and sensors are available in the programming mode, so that getting used to what they do and what they can be used for is made easy.

    In real life, though, there are much more limitations than in the virtual playgrounds of the training mode. First, the world that the machine has to adapt to is much more complex than the virtual playgrounds. This means that for example the limited conditionnal jumps possibilities, the fact that no variable can be used only allow for much simpler programs than imagination could conceive! It is quite challenging, though.
    But there's much more to the real life limitations : both the sensors and the movement controls have relative efficiency. Going "straight forward" for example is quite approximative. Making a 90 degrees turn is even more. On the other hand, sensors are both demanding and also approximative : they're demanding like in they won't detect a hole in the ground if it's not straight forward ("straight forward" being a fuzzy notion in the first place, by the way!), and they're approximative since, for example, some of the unit's moves can make the ground sensor "believe" there's a hole whereas it's just the robot taking an angle because of it's legs configuration.

    Video : Wonderborg on wheels
    Replacing the 6 insect-like legs with the included set of 6 wheels is a quite different experience. First, the programs have to be adapted, as the movements are significantly different. Turning, in particular is much faster. There's also a weird side effect when going forward : the robot slightly slides on one side, making it very hard to anticipate how it will actually react to the programmed movements. From that point of view, the wheels are not more efficient than the legs, which is quite disappointing.
    The good side, on the other hand, is that using the wheels totally eliminates the sensors side effects that occur with the legs; yet movements on wheels are so fast that the sensors and the interruption systems react too slowly and the machine often detect obstacles when it's too late ("there's a hole!" well, yes, and you're actually falling into it!).

    Wonderborg on wheels video see how it moves too fast to allow it's sensors to prevent a crash!

    As a conclusion, the wonderborg is still an impressive programmable kit, but one may regret that Bandai has chosen to enhance the insect-like digital pet form factor rather than building a steadier platform that would allow for more accurate programming. As such, the wonderborg is neither an evolved virtual pet nor a completely reliable programmable platform. In both cases, it appears to be somehow frustrating. It remains a nice addition to my robots collection, and i'm quite happy i got one!