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New First Tech Challenge Kit Uses Smartphones

This schematic shows how Android phones will work in tandem with the Modern Robotics modules. (Photo credit: Modern Robotics.)
This schematic shows how Android phones will work in tandem with the Modern Robotics modules. (Photo credit: Modern Robotics.)

Modern Robotics of Miami, Florida recently unveiled its new Android-powered robot platform. The system is designed for the First Tech Challenge, but can be purchased by anyone interested in building a bot that can be operated via cell phone.

Stephen Barker, CEO and co-founder of Modern Robotics, says leveraging the power of cell phones makes the new systems far more powerful, moving them from Megabits and Megahertz, to Gigabits and Gigahertz. Barker says the new system also offers a price advantage, noting that while the NXT and EV3 controllers sell for upwards of $170, a new prepaid Android phone can be purchased for as little as $45.

The Modern Robotics team has been working with First ever since the contest stopped using the Vex system. To create the latest kits, they brought Qualcomm into the mix, as well.

The new platform uses Java, so LabVIEW and Robot C are not required. This should bring down costs considerably for most teams. Hooking up hardware is easier, too. “If you want to add additional sensors, you can just plug it in!” Barker says. Everything connects via USB.

The new system is offered in two packages: the Base Kit or the Full Kit. “If they are a veteran team, then they already have controllers and so on from the previous year. So we have a package that includes the minimum amount of equipment they need to come up with for a competitive platform,” Barker says of the Base Kit. This kit includes a Modern Robotics Power Distribution Module, a Modern Robotics Legacy Module, and appropriate cables. The Legacy Module has 6 NXT compatible ports, so users can plug in any sensors or other hardware that works with an NXT system. The Power Distribution module works just as its name suggests, sending 12 Volts of power to whatever controllers the team adds to their system. Users can plug other modules into the  7 port USB hub, and also connect it directly to their Android phone.

“One of the reasons we wanted to include the hub in our system was that all USB hubs are not created equal. Many hubs don’t work very well, especially when trying to run multiple devices,” says Barker. The hub in Modern Robotics kits, he adds, has a “well proven design” that is ideal for First.

Rookie teams or those who want to fully switch to the new Modern Robotics system can pick up the Full Kit, which includes everything in the Base Kit, plus two motor controllers, a servo controller, a Core Device Interface, a touch sensor, an optical distance sensor, an IRSeeker V3 Sensor, and extra cables.