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Hardware Hacking Robotics Technology

Hardware Hacking In The WSJ 104

NaDrew writes "The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece called "So Your Roomba Vacuums ... Does It Also Take Pictures?" (No reg. req.), profiling a couple of hardware hackers. Phillip Torrone has modified a laptop-brained robot to follow his Segway, which he is modifying to follow a pink ball. He's also modded his Roomba with a built-in Webcam. The article goes into a bit of the history of hardware hacking, from the CueCat to Andrew 'Bunnie' Huang's Xbox hacks."
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Hardware Hacking In The WSJ

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  • Phillip Torrone and his wife share their Seattle house with five Sony Aibo dog robots, two Segway motorized scooters, a suitcase-size robot whose brain is a laptop computer, and dozens of other gadgets.

    Man, I can't wait till I'm rich enough to blow my money on useless, expensive crap so I can waste my time breaking them.

    • ...Mr. Torrone, who is on sabbatical from his day job in advertising...

      Apparently his day job in advertising pays considerably better than my day job in software engineering.
      Of course, they don't mention his wife's job. Maybe she's a dot com gazillionaire.

      GMail invites for iPod referrals [slashdot.org]
    • Phillip Torrone has modified a laptop-brained robot to follow his Segway, which he is modifying to follow a pink ball.

      I'm sorry, but anyone who modifies a Segway scooter to follow a pink ball has way too much time on their hands. On the other hand, it would be pretty funny to see the reactions on people's faces if a Segway trundled by, riderless, on the pavement.
      • A riderless segway with the handlebars turned backwards @ steve jobs funeral procession? Seems appropriate.
      • by plover ( 150551 ) *
        Right. Only someone who modifies their Segway scooter to follow a RED ball is making progress. Following pink balls is frivolous.

        Come on, the guy is hacking for the joy of it. So he comes up with a cool toy. What if in his hacking he comes up with an idea that can be turned into a prosthetic arm control for the handicapped? Or a bomb-disposal robot, or a street sweeper, or perhaps even a Roomba with enough suction to actually clean a part of the house instead of rearranging the dust?

        And you even ad

    • Man, I can't wait till I'm rich enough to blow my money on useless, expensive crap so I can waste my time breaking them.

      Then finish up that Computer Science degree, my young friend! The IT industry is a vast expanse of opportunity these days!

  • Eek (Score:5, Funny)

    by StevenHenderson ( 806391 ) <stevehenderson@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @09:46AM (#10188379)
    With the help of small digital video cameras, Mr. Torrone is modifying the Segway to automatically follow a pink ball.

    Better make sure you don't walk around the house naked or the Segway will chase your nutsack. :)

  • by 1gor ( 314505 )
    He's also modded his Roomba with a built-in Webcam

    Gives new angle to those dinner parties...

  • Spy-Blimp (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ImaLamer ( 260199 )
    It took me a few minutes to find it... but I've always wanted one of these (R/C Flying Saucer) [robotstore.com] from Mondo-Tronics Robot Store. It's basically a blimp.

    The page says: "As a rule of thumb, one cubic foot of helium will lift one ounce of cargo." So get a bigger ballon for heavier cameras...

    I actually wanted a big house to go with this and pictured myself sitting by the pool spying on the help this. It would just be cool to greet people in the foyer with it... maybe a speaker and mic to round it out.
  • ...more on that here [engadget.com].

  • He hacks apart Segways because he has the money. I hack my TuneCast FM transmitter, that certainly puts things in perspective.

    I could only dream of OWNING a Segway (which is awesome to ride if you have never done so) and he risks destroying them.
    • That was my reaction, too. I'd have to own at least 3 of the things to risk destroying even one of them. And I'd want it to do something useful, like bring me a beer from the fridge, not chase some ball! Anyway,


      has pics of me riding on a somewhat-neutered Segway, it's a blast even when it's crippled...
      • In what way was the Segway crippled? Is that the slow mode?

        I went to an art expo a few weekends ago, and they had it available to try. It's pretty fun to use but I asked them to take photos of me riding it and GOSH I look dorky doing it.

        That might be why it hasn't proved more popular. Well, that and the price.

        • Yes, apparently there's a "slow" mode, the normal mode is a lot more fun, both are safe as hell IMO (safer than walking, almost).

          Everybody anticipates a lower price on them, and Segway has done not-the-best-job of marketing at times, but they'll survive. I want one, but not at this price.
      • I'm not in this one (though I have done the tour), but it's a pretty well done video of some people riding the Segway around Epcot at DisneyWorld.

        Video Link [robbalvey.com] (Zip file containing movie, someone should tell them those things just don't compress...).
  • Roomba pic site (Score:4, Informative)

    by CodeWheeney ( 314094 ) <JimCassidy@mai l . c om> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @10:02AM (#10188494) Homepage
    Here [textamerica.com].
  • Why bother with pictures when I can just use the 3D models it makes for me? Geez, pictures? What is this, 1994?
  • Many hobbyists experiment with automobile computer settings to increase performance. Some manufactors have coded in inhibitors for emissions and safety which some people try to remove. The codes arent public domain, so there are various web sites with instructions.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All those who immediately thought "scissors?" please raise your hands.
  • Try the robosapien. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Thinkit4 ( 745166 ) *
    Great little robot for around $40h. Geeks will be immediately disappointed by the six step limit on the program. IR codes are already available on the web though.
    • what i want to do is take that little guy replace all the IR hardware with RF, if its built well enough get rid of the damn remote and do it all with a strong RF signal and a laptop, hell, if you can get a PDA in there (which wouldn't be hard) get a wifi card on him and a low res camera that you can attach to the PDA make him follow a pink ball and pick it up when it stops
  • 1) carry my wireless/cellular phone and follow me in the house. 2) come to me when I make a whistle.leave me along when I make another one. 3) bark when a stranger comes in. 4) ... 5) profit!!
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @10:12AM (#10188576) Homepage Journal
    roomba with a view?

    thank yiou, All be here all week!

    Don't forget to tip your sysadmins.
  • by Gudlyf ( 544445 ) <gudlyf@@@realistek...com> on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @10:12AM (#10188577) Homepage Journal
    "Phillip Torrone and his wife share their Seattle house with five Sony Aibo dog robots, two Segway motorized scooters, a suitcase-size robot whose brain is a laptop computer, and dozens of other gadgets."

    Phil Torrone has an actual, flesh in blood wife?! Are we sure that's Phil Torrone's wife, or one of the robots he put together by beowulfing sixteen PocketPC's, a Garmin eTrex GPS, three Aibos, a Roomba and a Segway together?

  • by HAL9OOO ( 682857 )
    I notice that the device carries an "iRobot" logo I think the MPAA might have something to say about that you know (snicker!)

    "Say it with Flowers" (send her a Triffid!)
  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @10:20AM (#10188628) Homepage
    I was pretty surprised that no registration was required for the online one - nice job NaDrew - BTW, this article ran on the front page of the print edition.

    For those that actually read the article (this is /. after all), I think the writer failed to mention the influence on the Internet of hacking. They talk about a "Hardware Hacking" book, but I'd argue that the easy/free exchange of information via the Internet has really caused hacking to increase. The picture next to the article is of a long-range wi-fi attenna ... and we've seen a bazillion of the "pringle can" options too, again, all abetted by the easy, quick sharing of lessons learned.

    I also think they fail to point out this influence in other non-technical areas. For instance, I have a fairly decent web page about how to convert your BBQ Grill from LP to NG [komar.org] - based on Email I have gotten, lotsa folks have used this - I certainly will never write a book about it - ditto for my home made manometer [komar.org] - these are both "hacks" that are useful,

    BTW, Blondie (from the comic strips) would love to use this device on Dagwood to curb his late night eating: While he was working at the computer-security company AtStake near Boston four years ago, Mr. Grand says too many colleagues were taking food that wasn't theirs from the office refrigerator. So he put the fridge into the cabinet of a big, unused Digital Equipment Corp. minicomputer. To the inside of the door, he bolted a custom-made circuit board that read employees' identification badges and unlocked for authorized eaters only. The setup was also rigged so Mr. Grand could log onto a Web site and monitor who was having late-night munchies.

  • by tod_miller ( 792541 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2004 @10:26AM (#10188672) Journal
    "a Segway, which he is modifying to follow a pink ball"

    If only Kamen knew of this, he could have sold so many more...

    What is the point really? Although *penny drop* a segway robot is basically a unipedal/bipedal (how you define it) robot with self righting, low center of gravity, and a nice platform to place things.

    So I guess if you could get it to follow you over any terrain, using GPS, that would be like...

    The luggage!

    (currently reading the light fantastic... ook!)

    Only with less legs. Now if I scrawl wizzard onto my tinfoil hat I will feel complete!
  • No Gateway touchpad? No $10 disposable digital camera? No Linux-hacker.net?

    Wow...I can think of alot of hardware hacking I've done that wasn't even mentioned in that article.

    Visit http://www.linux-hacker.net if you want to see some cool ass hardware hacking.
  • This sort of thing is becoming so common that O'Reilly is coming out with a magazine targetting this audience. The currently sparse site is at http://make.oreilly.com/ [oreilly.com].

    You can draw your own conclusions from the fact that I already know about it. ;-)

  • Shouldn't be news to those who care about hardware hacking, but Ed Felton has a good blog if you don't know about it already called www.freedom-to-tinker.com [freedom-to-tinker.com]
  • Compare

    Johnny [johnny-five.com]

    Ginger [walksf.org]

    I wonder if someone has case modded thier segway to look like Johnny Five!
  • Webcam? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jozer99 ( 693146 )
    I met the designer of the Rhoomba, and had the pleasure of him explaining in detail the workings of that robotic vacuum cleaner. How one would put a webcam on it I do not know, because the device has only 256 BYTES of RAM. Thats right. The new models have more but I think that it is still too little. The only way he could get a webcam on one of those would be to velcro or duct tape a laptop with wireless card and webcam on top, which is not a hard engineering feat, plus it might make the device too heav
  • What kind of a lame title is that!? Roomba is a vacuum cleaner, and as such, it sucks! Call spade a spade: "So your Rooomba sucks..." would have been both more appropriate and more catchy. To hell with political correctness.
  • When will they learn? It's 'cracking', not 'hacking'!
  • "Phillip Torrone and his wife share their Seattle house with five Sony Aibo dog robots, two Segway motorized scooters, a suitcase-size robot whose brain is a laptop computer, and dozens of other gadgets."

    Okay, so hes basking in wealth. I wonder if he tips well. Ive been asking that question a lot lately. Food service is utter hell, and many of the people involved make less then minimum wage. I try to tip well, or not eat out. Tip size is a good measure of person-type.

  • I am modifying my Wall Street Journal with a camera to see the person on the other side of the table and present the picture on a PDA beside me. That way I don't miss any of the breakfast table action.

    I'm modifying my coffee cup to signal my wife (if I ever get one) that it is nearly empty.

  • Is it just me or is this article an example of how out of touch the "business world" is from the technical world.
    People have been hacking consumer electronics for decades, and mechanical hacking has been going on well over a century.
    If this is worthy of front page news (I submtted an article about this but it was rejected) on the WSJ that just now people are hacking hardware no onder techies are ignored int he marketplace.
  • "He's also modded his Roomba with a built-in Webcam. "

    Anyone know what the details of this creation? Cause I have to ask, "where's the innovation?" There are so many [2.4Ghz] wireless cameras out there that all you need is some bucks, 8 AA batteries, and velcro tape. Some cameras even offer wide angle views, pan and zoom. Of course you need a receiver and PC.

    Now, if he had hack the camera to pan/zoom [away from a wall] via say an R/C servo as the roomba detected an approaching wall (looking at a wall 2 ft

  • Rhoomba man is merely quest for porn. (upskirts)

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.