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O'Reilly Network: TuxBot Programming with Python

Mar 24, 2001, 20:00 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Stephen Figgins)

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"Jonathan Pennington works with Legos. Specifically, he works with Lego Mindstorms, the robotics invention system. Pennington uses Lego robots and robots built with Handyboard kits to teach geological science to 8th grade kids -- in a program he calls Science Programs and Robotics for Kids (SPARK). The program has been good, but Pennington wants more power for his robots, more flexibility for the kids. He wants to program his robots in Python. He can't do it with Mindstorms. A small Hitachi microprocessor with only 32k of memory controls Lego Mindstorms. That's a processor so small, even the bugs are hunchbacked. It's too small for Pippy, the version of Python recently ported to the PalmOS. Even if Pippy fit a device that small, it wouldn't be the power bot Pennington imagines. What does Pennington want instead? He wants a PC running real time Linux. He wants Linux robots you can program with Python."

"That isn't too far fetched. He knows the controller he wants to use, a PC/104. PC/104 is a relatively new IEEE standard for creating embedded personal computers. They measure about 3.5" x 3.8". They're new, they're hot, and, unfortunately, they're still a bit pricey (about $250-$300). Undaunted, Pennington thinks that prices will soon come down. Available at a good price and accompanied by a simple Python interface, Pennington believes these Linux-powered robots with a Python interface will be an easy sell for educational purposes. He calls the project the EGg0 Educational Robotics System, and it is one of 100 finalists in the Embedded Linux Journal's "Hack Linux for Fun and Prizes" contest. It is one of a dozen or so Linux robot proposals."

"A recent discussion of robots, Python, and education on the Python Edu-sig mailing list made me curious about other Python robot projects. Lee Smithson created a Python tool called PyLnp. It allows you to communicate with your Mindstorms robot through your computer's infrared port. There's a catch: your Mindstorms robot has to be running the free alternative operating system LegOS and your IR equipped computer has to be running Linux. LegOS is a nice advancement over Lego's OS. With LegOS, you can program your robot in C or C++. If you have a little skill in C, you can write procedures, store them in the Mindstorms controller, then invoke them remotely from your computer using PyLnp. To pull this off you have to know some C, but it sounds like loads of fun."

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