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K12 autonomous Botball contest taps Linux-on-Sitara design

Jul 9, 2015 — by Eric Brown 709 views

Gumstix and KIPR have used Gumstix Geppetto to design a new Linux-on-Sitara based robot controller for upcoming K12-focused autonomous Botball contests.

The nonprofit KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) has been holding regional and international Botball Educational Robotics competitions for K12 students since 2003. At this year’s international competition, which runs this week from July 7-11 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, KIPR joined with Linux embedded board manufacturer Gumstix to announce that the companies have designed next year’s KIPR controller device for Botball robots using the online, drag-and-drop Gumstix Geppetto hardware development tool.

A Botball design from an earlier event (left) and the iRobot Create 2
(click images to enlarge)

Competing would-be roboticists will use the new KIPR controller with the same hackable, Roomba-based iRobot Create robotics platform used this year. The new KIPR controller, to be manufactured by Gumstix and available by the end of the summer, is an alternative to the iRobot Create 2’s currently available Arduino or Raspberry Pi based add-in controller options (shown below).

Current Raspberry Pi controller option for the iRobot Create 2
(click images to enlarge)

Geppetto is a web-browser based “design-to-order” service that lets customers design and order a custom baseboard or SBC using a Chrome-optimized online GUI. A drag-and-drop GUI lets users choose the size of the board, and delineate which CPU modules, components, and I/O to include. Geppetto also alerts users to any requirements or conflicts, such as power voltage issues.

The new, Geppetto-built KIPR controller is designed around a Linux-controlled Texas Instruments Sitara AM3554, which is the default discrete system-on-chip for Geppetto, as an alternative to using one of the company’s TI OMAP35x based Overo modules. The KIPR board also integrates a control real-time subsystem based on an STM Cortex-M4 microcontroller, which is another of Geppetto’s chip-level options, and it also includes a 4.3-inch touchscreen. No photos were provided, but Gumstix shared the specs listed farther below.


The Botball Kits also include LEGO pieces, compatible metal parts, motors, servos, numerous sensors, and two cameras that hook into the built in computer vision system. Contestants will be given “all the tools required so that students can complete the mechanical construction of their robots without the need for power tools or a machine shop,” says Gumstix.

More Botball creations from previous competitions
(click images to enlarge)

At LIPR’s 2015 Global Conference on Educational Robotics (GCER) this week, more than 750 students will compete in teams representing 20 U.S. states, as well as Austria, Poland, Kuwait, China, Mexico, and Africa. The teams were among the winners from previous regional events that have run throughout the year. Each team is given a kit at the initial workshop and asked to build and program a demonstration robot within a few days.

The teams are then given a 7-9 week deadline to take home their kits and program two autonomous robots. The teams must document their developing process online through the Team Home Base hub, and are asked to connect with various students, teachers, roboticists, and hobbyists in the Botball community.

Specifications for the Botball KIPR Controller include:

  • Linux subsystem:
    • Processor — TI AM3554 (1x Cortex-A8 @ 800 MHz)
    • Memory — 512MB DDR3 RAM
    • Display — 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen
    • Wireless — 802.11 b/g/n WiFi; Bluetooth 4.1 and BLE
    • I/O – HDMI out port; 2x USB 2.0 host ports
    • Other features — 675mW speaker driver
  • MCU subsystem:
    • Processor — STMicroelectronics STM32F427 (1x 32-bit Cortex-M4 @ 180MHz with FPU)
    • Sensors — 9-axis STMicroelectronics IMU
    • Motor controllers — Quad DC motor and Quad RC servo controls (both with resettable fuse protected)
    • Main I/O — USB console interface; analog inputs; I2C and SPI interfaces
  • Power — 5.5V to 16V input with fuse protected, switching voltage regulator
  • Operating system – Linux

“Together with KIPR, we have focused on creating a platform that lets next year’s teams concentrate on the algorithms, the sensor data, the decision processes and path-planning,” said W. Gordon Kruberg, president and CEO of Gumstix, in a speech at this week’s conference. “Running Linux and providing also a powerful real-time processor, with multiple sensor pathways and motor control alternatives, multiple languages and software architectures are exposed. Autonomy is everything in robotics, and it happens in software.”

Botball on YouTube

Further information

The new Botball Kits will be available in late summer for Botball competitions through 2016. No public availability is planned. More information on Botball may be found at KIPR’s Botball site. More on Geppetto may be found at the Gumstix Geppetto page.

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