Open-Source Kitten Takes a Nybble out of Arduino Market
Nadia Krieger posted on November 05, 2018 |
Like SpotMini but for the DIY enthusiast – this robo-kitty can be programmed at home with a Raspberr...
Nybble is the first product of OpenCat, an open-source project that has been garnering a lot of enthusiasm on Hackster.io. (Image courtesy of Petoi.)
Nybble is the first product of OpenCat, an open-source project that has been garnering a lot of enthusiasm on Hackster.io. (Image courtesy of Petoi.)

After decades of sci-fi speculation and the likes of Doctor Who’s K-9 and Mega Man’s Rush, the robotic pet market is finally becoming a reality. Just this spring, Boston Dynamics announced that SpotMini will become commercially available in 2019. But with the advent of home-robotics tools like Arduino chips and Raspberry Pi computers, the amateur engineer no longer requires an MIT affiliation to build a robot pet in their own living room.

This is the idea behind Nybble, a small robotic kitty whose mobility is driven by an Arduino-compatible micro-controller. Although Nybble comes with some pre-programmed “muscle memory” movements, you can also program the robo-pet's cat-like behaviors yourself. Nybble’s creator, Rongzhong Li, recommends that you connect Nybble to an AI chip such as a Raspberry Pi, and code whatever tricks you desire from your silicon feline companion.

“You can program in your favorite language, and direct Nybble to walk around simply by sending short commands, such as "walk" or "turn left,"” reads Nybble’s Indiegogo page, which has already raised over 150 percent of its original fundraising goal. Not surprising, as Nybble has been verified by Arrow as a Certified Technology (a certification for online engineering projects which designates that it is “feasible for manufacturing").

Nybble is the first project of OpenCat, a two-and-a-half-year-old Hackster.io project which Nybble’s Indiegogo page claims is the platform’s “most respected.”

“I had a career change from physics to computer science,” Li explained in an email interview with engineering.com. “Now it’s changing again towards robotics. During those changes, I learned a lot from the open source community and tutorials, so it’s almost natural to conceive of my cat robot as an open project.”

Nybble’s team hopes that the robo-cat will help break the barrier between at-home roboticists and otherwise unaffordable robotics ventures. They also emphasize how these sorts of small, flexible projects are fantastic for kids and beginners who are just starting to learn the fun of coding and robotics. Li, more than anyone, understands how DIY projects can be pivotal to finding the next step in one’s engineering journey.

“In the unemployed season after graduate school, I was facing the same pressure that most young graduates would face. I just randomly decided to buy a Raspberry Pi for fun,” Li further wrote. “To me, robotics is not an independent major that I would pick as college major, but a playground where all my previous learning could merge and create a toy for myself.”

In particular, Li emphasizes the pan-tilt servo tutorial on Pi as a main inspiration in his choice to develop a robotic pet. He realized that it not only resembles an animal’s head, but also can be used to reproduce an animal’s motion.

Going forward, Li would like to find another, more effective servo solution for his next project. He is also hoping that the open source community can help develop better UI for Nybble, as well as define behavior trees.

Although Nybble can always improve, Li is pleased with the cat’s potential, and is releasing a (sold-out) early-bird model in time for Christmas this year.

“People with different skill levels should find something interesting with Nybble,” Li says. “From 3D puzzle solving, application level programming, hardcore data structure and algorithms, or even research level motion planning and dynamic walking. I just tried to make an affordable platform that has the potential to lower the barriers, so that more talent could join this playground.”

Assembly of the Nybble Kit is projected to take around an hour, with another fifteen minutes for calibrating sensors. (Image courtesy of Petoi.)
Assembly of the Nybble Kit is projected to take around an hour, with another fifteen minutes for calibrating sensors. (Image courtesy of Petoi.)

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