TOOLBOX MAKE LOOKS AT KITS
Give Your Bot a Big Brain on a Tiny Board
RoBoard RB- 100 Starter Kit
The RoBoard (sold in the United States by
Trossen Robotics) is essentially a 1GHz
PC-compatible x86 board in a 96mm×56mm
×22mm ( 3. 78"× 2. 2"×0.85") package. It has
256MB RAM and all the normal ports you’d
expect on a laptop: microSD slot, USB,
Ethernet, VGA, PS/2, audio, and serial ports.
But it also includes the I/Os found on a
microcontroller: I2C and SPI serial, 8-channel
analog input, and 40 digital input/output pins.
Somewhat uniquely, it also offers hardware
support for up to 32 R/C servos. It does all this
while drawing only 2. 5 watts of power (5V at
The RoBoard can run any standard desktop
OS that fits in 256MB of RAM and onto the
4GB “disk” of a user-supplied microSD card.
At roboard.com, you can find good instruction
manuals for installing Windows XP and Linux.
You need an external USB floppy and CD-ROM
for Windows, or a USB flash drive to install
Linux. Installation is about as complex as on
a netbook, except that you must supply your
own monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I installed
158 Make: Volume 19
the recommended version of Debian Linux
without a hitch.
Netbooks like the Eee PC can be considered
competitors to the RoBoard. Netbooks run
a real OS too and have the added benefits of
wi-fi and more memory, but netbooks are still
about 10 times larger and don’t include all
those I/O pins.
Smartphones, like the G1 or iPhone, can
work as bot brains, but are even more limited
in their physical I/O connectivity. Wi-fi routers
running Linux make great robot platforms, but
are physically larger and have limited memory
and I/O; some I/O issues can be solved by
adding an Arduino board, but that increases
size and coding complexity.
The RoBoard sits squarely in the middle and
solves a lot of problems in a tiny package. Not
having built-in wi-fi is a big minus, but can be
remedied with a USB wi-fi adapter.
As a robotics hobbyist, I wish the price were
a bit lower, but if you need the RoBoard’s capabilities, it’s well worth the investment.
—Tod E. Kurt