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Linux-based K-9 doppelganger treads ELC

May 1, 2014 — by Eric Brown 1,368 views

At the Embedded Linux Conference, Intel’s new Open Hardware Technical Evangelist showed off a Linux- and MinnowBoard based robot that mimics Doctor Who’s K-9.

The high correlation between science fiction fans and techies reaches its zenith with the BBC show Doctor Who. But who knew that showing off one’s inner Time Lord could actually be a winning career move? Last fall at the Embedded Linux Conference Europe in Edinburgh, Scotland, Red Hat engineer John “Warthog9” Hawley demonstrated a robot based on Doctor Who’s robotic dog K-9. His treadwheel bot runs Angstrom Linux on Intel’s open spec, Atom-based MinnowBoard single-board computer, the forerunner of the new MinnowBoard Max.

K-9 in action at ELC (left) and posing with its creator, John “Warthog9” Hawley
(click images to enlarge)

Last October at ELCE, Intel’s Open Hardware Technical Evangelist Scott Garman conducted a video interview with Hawley and his creation (see embedded video below). Six months later at the U.S. version of the Embedded Linux Conference, held this week in San Jose, Hawley is once again showing off K-9, but this time wearing Garman’s job title.

Hawley, a former Senior Systems Engineer in charge of data storage on Red Hat’s OpenShift team, is now Intel’s point man on the open source project and other open hardware projects. As for Garman, who has been a core member of the Yocto Project and has helped develop the MinnowBoard and MinnowBoard Max, he’s taking some time off, but is expected to continue his participation in the MinnowBoard community, says Hawley.

K-9’s MinnowBoard (left) and RoboteQ motor controller
(click images to enlarge)

In the ELCE video, Hawley told Garman of plans to improve the K-9 robot with new sensors, motors, image processing skills and enough basic smarts to follow a human around on its own. Yet, K-9 has been temporarily stalled, and has been “quietly keeping guard over my living room,” says Hawley. In the process of shipping the robot from Edinburgh, “Sadly, through a comical set of circumstances, K-9 got stuck in Birmingham, UK until finally making it home on February 12th,” he explains. “At that point I was already working on another project: building two portable starship bridges for a game called Artemis.”


Hawley also admits to having “run into a few limitations” with K-9, which draws upon the robotic dog from the 1980’s version of the show. These include a troublesome, home-built power supply, and the fact that the Kinect that forms K-9’s vision system is slightly too large for his head. Assuming he can find time in between playing Artemis and evangelizing the MinnowBoard to a tech world accustomed to ARM hacker boards, Hawley plans to move forward. “I’m getting a lot of interest in K-9,” he notes. “There’s some excitement about some possible future build projects.”

K-9 under development
(click images to enlarge; source: Flickr)

The mobile dog robot runs a Yocto-compatible Angstrom Linux build on the original MinnowBoard’s 1GHz Intel Atom E640. The SBC is equipped with 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and provides SATA, gigabit Ethernet, USB, HDMI, GPIO, and PCI Express interfaces. It also provides stackable expansion boards called Lures, one of which is used to power the 8-inch touchscreen built into K-9’s side. The robot also features two eight-foot tracks of 3-inch wide Lynxmotion track links powered by a RoboteQ motor controller and a pair of Cytron gear motors.

Hawley has yet to fully document the evolving K-9 design, but he put together a basic list of specs for us:

  • Processor/memory — Original MinnowBoard with 1GHz Intel Atom E640, 1GB of RAM, etc.
  • I/O:
    • OLink FT823H 8-inch, 4:3 touchscreen (open frame screen)
    • USB hub
    • Microsoft XBox 360 controller and USB receiver
    • 2x USB-powered speakers
  • Other features:
    • Garmin GLO (GPS/GLONASS)
    • PhidgetSpatial Precision 3/3/3 High Resolution 3-axis compass/gyroscope/accelerometer
  • Locomotion:
    • RoboteQ MDC2460 2x 120A 60V motor controller
    • 2x Cytron 12V, 430rpm, 15.57 oz-in. gear motor with encoder
    • 8-ft. (3-in. wide) Lynxmotion track links
  • Power:
    • 2x cellphone recharging batteries (RavPower 10,400mAh) for MinnowBoard
    • 12V 10Ah LiFePo4 battery for motors
    • Anker Astro Pro2 20,000mAh battery for screen and speakers
  • Operating system — Angstrom Linux (Yocto Project)

Hawley started working at Intel on Monday, and will soon jump into the job of getting the MinnowBoard Max out to the public. “I want to see what folks are going to do with it,” says Hawley. “I’ve had discussions about putting them in emergency communications channels, personal servers, TV entertainment, and sticking them in rockets and near orbital balloon launches. I’ve got a couple of new robotics ideas that are starting to take shape, too. People have been responding well to K-9, so I’m sure they’ll love where I got with the next builds.”

As part of the evangelization effort for the Minnowboard Max, earlier this week, Intel posted a survey on Internet of Things topics, offering a chance to win one of the open source boards. The Max moves up to a faster, more power efficient single- or dual-core Atom E3800 processor, and adds Android 4.4 support. The board supports up to 4GB of DDR3 RAM, provides double the SPI flash (8MB), and adds a microSD slot and a pair of SATA ports. Despite the name, it’s actually smaller than the original, with a more IoT-friendly 3.9 x 2.9-inch footprint.

Hawley and his K-9 at ELC Europe 2013

Hawley wasn’t the first amateur roboticist to take inspiration from K-9. Other K-9 based robots have included this recent design from Podpadstudios and this Djsures creation from 2008.

Further information

More information on John Hawley’s K-9 robot may be found at his Google+ page and this Flickr gallery. More on the MinnowBoard Max may be found in our detailed MinnowBoard Max article, and at

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3 responses to “Linux-based K-9 doppelganger treads ELC”

  1. Wilfred Diamond says:

    Amazing what is now possible with “budget” components and open source software, whereas the extremely expensive, but more lifelike, SONY AIBO went to the dogs.

  2. Mada says:

    To paraphrase Beyonce;

    Who run the world? (Nerds!)

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