The biggest argument against buying a Monoprice robot vacuum for ROS hacking is that I already know how to build a two-wheeled robot chassis. In fact two-wheeled differential drive is a great simple test configuration that I’ve done once or twice. Granted, I have yet to build either of them into having full odometry capability, but I do not expect that to be a fundamentally difficult thing.
No, the bigger challenge is integrating sensing into a robot. Everything I’ve built so far has no smarts – they’re basically just big remote-control cars. The ambition is to ramp up on intelligent robots and that means giving a robot some sense of the world. The TurtleBot 3 Burger reads its surroundings with a laser distance sensor that costs $180. It’s been a debate whether I should buy one or not.
But at this past Monday’s SGVHAK meetup, I was alerted to the fact that some home robot vacuums use a laser scanner to map their surroundings for use planning more efficient vacuum patterns. I knew home robot vacuums have evolved beyond the random walk vacuum pattern of the original Roomba, but I didn’t know their sophistication has evolved to incorporate laser scanners. Certainly neither of the robot vacuums on clearance at Monoprice have a laser scanner.
But there are robot vacuums with laser scanners and, more importantly, some of these scanner-equipped robot vacuums are getting old enough to break down and stop working, resulting in scavenged components being listed on eBay… including their laser scanner! Items come and go, but I found this scavenged scanner for $54 and clicked “Buy It Now”. The listing claims it works, but it’s eBay… we’ll find out for sure when it arrives. But even if it doesn’t, Neato vacuums are available nearby for roughly the same price, so I have the opportunity for multiple attempts.
The unit off eBay was purportedly from a Neato XV-11 vacuum and someone in the ROS community has already written a package to interface with the sensor. The tutorials section of this package describes how to wire it up electrically. It looks fairly straightforward and I hope it’ll all come together as simply as I hope it will when the eBay item arrives in about a week and a half.