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Hackable Roomba integrates Raspberry Pi

Dec 11, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 6,752 views
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iRobot’s hackable $200 “Create 2” version of its Roomba robot for STEM education can be programmed with a laptop, or via an onboard Arduino or Raspberry Pi.

iRobot’s Roomba was the first — and still one of the few — major successes in consumer robots. Unlike more advanced iRobot designs, such as the Linux-based Ava 500 telepresence robot, the modest, vacuuming Roomba runs on a simple Motorola HC12 microcontroller. Now, iRobot has released a $200, non-vacuuming hacker version of the Roomba 600 called the Create 2 designed for K12 and college-level STEM education.

Create 2 (left), and controlled via laptop serial tether
(click images to enlarge)

By eliminating the internal vacuuming equipment, Create 2 leaves plenty of space for adding custom hardware components, including a Raspberry Pi or Arduino board, either of which can be used to control the bot according to pre-programmed routines. You can also tether the device to a laptop using a serial Mini-DIN port and a serial-to-USB cable for direct control, as shown above.

Detail view of Create 2
(click image to enlarge)

The round, 13.39 x 13.39 x 3.62-inch, 7.9-pound robot is based on the original Roomba 600 model, which can be bought for as little as $300. (Newer Roomba models range up to $700, in case of the top-of-the-line Roomba 880.) You can add electronics and peripherals with the help of 3D printing files. For example, there are instructions on how to replace the bin with a 3D printed cargo tray. A face-plate drill template is also supplied.

The Create 2 can run for three hours on rechargeable batteries, and will automatically return to its dock when it’s time to recharge. The device is equipped with sensors including IR transceivers. Like the Roomba 600, the Create 2 is capable of basic autonomous behavior, such as escaping cul-de-sacs and moving around obstacles.

The Create 2 ships with a Roomba Open Interface (OI) programming environment that interfaces with the Motorola MCU and other components. The Roomba OI lets you program behaviors, sounds, and movements and read its sensors through mode, actuator, song, cleaning, and sensor commands.

DJ (left) and LightBot projects
(click images to enlarge)

Programming examples and starter projects are available with varying levels of difficulty. These include a “DJ Create 2” roaming, robotic DJ that plays music streamed from a Bluetooth enabled mobile device, as well as a “LightBot” light-painting robot that creates LED images.

Raspberry Pi-based CameraBot project

There’s also a “CameraBot” project, which requires a Raspberry Pi. In this case you must drill a hole in the bin to route the camera ribbon cable out, and then build a camera bracket to externally mount the camera.


Conceivably, anything you can run off the Pi or Arduino, which you can integrate into the expansion bin, you can run off the Create 2 — assuming you supply sufficient power. Other possibilities include robot arms and grippers, says iRobot.

Pi camera integration on CameraBot
(click images to enlarge)

If you’re using a Raspberry Pi, the Model A is recommended, so you can run off the Create 2’s serial connector for power. “With the camera, it turns out there is just enough headroom in the on-board thermal resettable fuse to run directly off the serial connector,” says the site’s Raspberry Pi tutorial page. “If you use a model B, you will have to get power elsewhere. A model A+ or B+ should work, but we haven’t tried, yet!”

Raspberry Pi integration using the Adafruit board
(click images to enlarge)

The Pi needs an SD card of at least 4GB pre-installed with Raspbian Linux. You will also need a USB to WiFi module, a 5V to 3.3V level converter, a micro- USB male cable, a switching DC to DC converter, and if you want to mount a camera, the Raspberry Pi Camera Board. All this can be found at Adafruit and other sources.

The Create 2 is part of iRobot’s “multi-faceted” STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, which provides K-12 school systems, universities, and nonprofit organizations with resources to help bolster STEM learning, says the company. iRobot offers programmable technology, robot activity books, classroom visits, tours, and mentoring. iRobot also founded and organizes National Robotics Week, which will be held April 4-12.

Further information

The Create 2 is available for $200 in the U.S. starting on Dec. 10, 2014. More details including in-depth documentation on the OI programming interface and Create 2 hardware may be found at the iRobot Create 2 product page. More on iRobot’s STEM program may be found here.

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