Palm Pilot Robot Kit (PPRK) Review

Product Requirements:
PalmPilot Personal, PalmPilot
Professional, IBM WorkPad, Palm III, Palm V, Palm Vx, Palm VII?
100K+ free RAM



Robots just might be the next big thing, hobby robots are at the “Apple
II” stage right now. Between the $2500 Sony Aibo
and BattleBots,  robots are
starting to get a lot of attention.  I have been interested in robots for a
while and I have used the Lego Mindstorms
kit as an interview tool in my job for hiring semiconductor Applications Engineers
(“just build/program something, you have two hours; have fun!”).
When I heard about the
PPRK,  I had to play with one.

The Palm Pilot Robot Kit (PPRK)
gives a new meaning to the term “mobile.”  Developed at the Carnegie
Mellon University Robots Institute by
freshman Grigoriy Reshko and Dr. Matt Mason, the PPRK is a small robotics platform
that uses the Palm as the brains of the robot.   Is the PPRK a real robot
or just an expensive toy?  The answer is yes!


I purchased the PPRK Palm V Barebones kit from Acroname
in Boulder, CO.  Acroname has a license from CMU to sell the robot and they
have substantially improved the original design. The shipment was prompt and one
missing part (DB9 connector) was shipped out next-day at no charge.  I have
subsequently built a second robot with some upgraded parts that required a
special order with Acroname.  The customer service and tech support in both
orders has been outstanding – these folks are a class act!

The barebones kit definitely requires some basic mechanical skills and the
ability to read and follow directions.  The assembly
are comprehensive and complete. You need to modify (barebones
kit) and mount the servos and sensors, build the chassis, build (barebones) and
mount the Palm cable, and mount the controller and battery.  The barebones
kit is probably not for a 10 year old but anyone who has built an R/C Plane or
PC from scratch should not have any problems.  Acroname also makes an
kit if you don’t want to tinker.

What Is It and What Does It Do?

The PPRK is an autonomous robot, that means it is controlled by it’s own
on-board computer as opposed to Battlebots which have someone with a radio
control unit driving during the fight.  The kit comes with a servo control
(Pontech SV203
or module that connects to the Palm via RS-232.  It
has the ability to control 8 independent servos and also has 5 analog-to-digital
inputs.  The PPRK uses 3 of the servo channels for the wheels and 3 of the
A/D inputs for infrared distance sensors.  Model radio control servos that are
modified to rotate continuously drive the wheels.  The wheels (omni-wheels)
are unique in
that they allow motion in two directions simultaneously.   This allows
the robot to move and rotate at the same time (or holonomically
– you almost have to see it to understand…). 

Charger and NiMH batteries are included.

Given that you have the power of (and already own…) a Palm as the
“brains” of the PPRK, sophisticated programs for controlling the robot
can be written.  There are a number of programs at Acroname and CMU that
allow the robot to follow and map walls or follow a drawing on the Palm screen. Sample programs exist in
C/C++ and HotPaw Basic. The C/C++ examples at CMU are written to use Metroworks
CodeWarrior but they don’t compile out of the box with the trial version .
Any Palm programming environment that can talk to the serial port could be
used  to develop for the PPRK.  My primary project is to build a Java
library for the PPRK in either Sun KVM or IBM VisualAge.  With the
additional unused servo ports you could add grippers and with the A/D inputs you could,
for example,  add a compass
for dead-reckoning navigation.


There are a number of robot kits on the market and all look
interesting.  Some very sophisticated robots have even been built with the
Lego Mindstorms.  Though I like the Mindstorms, it just didn’t feel like
“real” robotics.  The PPRK does not have all of the mechanical
flexibility of Legos but it is a much closer to the real-world robots are
operated, both mechanical and electrically.  Given that my Palm V is
smarter than my Mac Plus that got me through college,  some serious
research is possible. The possibilities for expansion with the servos, sensors, the I/R in the Palm, or even
wireless with the Palm VII make the PPRK a good base for serious
experimentation.  There is a budding
of owners and I expect this to be a good platform for hobbyists
and students that will be around a while.

Price: $259 – $305

Well-designed and reasonably sophisticated kit for robot experimentation
You already own the “brains”
Great customer support and community!
People won’t laugh at you for playing with your kid’s Legos
Some assembly required

R2D2 or Bender it is not
Some assembly required
Orange plastic wheels skid (get the green
Poly wheels
You spent $275 on what for your Palm!?

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Product Information

  • Well-designed and reasonably sophisticated kit for robot experimentation
  • You already own the "brains"
  • Great customer support and community!
  • People won't laugh at you for playing with your kid's Legos
  • Some assembly required
  • R2D2 or Bender it is not
  • Some assembly required
  • Orange plastic wheels skid (get the green
  • Poly wheels!)
  • You spent $275 on what for your Palm!?

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