Just when I thought there was an app for every possible task I needed, along comes MINDroid for Google smartphones running Android 2.1 or better. The free application turns an Android handset into a wireless remote control devices for robots built using a LEGO Mindstorm NXT kit. MINDroid quickly connects to an NXT robot over a standard Bluetooth connection. Once connected, the app uses the phone’s accelerometer to send directional controls to the NXT brick, which is the “brains” of an Mindstorms robot. Tilting the phone will activate motors on the robot to move left, right, forward or back, for example. An included Action button in the software can be used for other motor-based activities, such as shooting out an object from the robot or closing a gripper hand.
The timing of the new MINDroid app couldn’t be better in my household. My son and I are convinced that the “next big thing” is robots in the home. Indeed, in a recent GigaOM Pro article (subscription required), I examined in detail how such a future with simple robots in the home isn’t far off thanks to the rise of the smartphone. These mobile devices already offer enough processing power, battery life, connectivity and input options with sensors such as cameras and microphones to theoretically act as robotic systems. In fact, the original G1 Android handset is already the brains behind a number of homebrewed robot creations called cellbots.
Semi-autonomous robots are already available in a number of forms: the most notable being iRobot’s Roomba and Scooba line of single-purpose devices. And the new MINDdroid app isn’t going to replace such commercially available robots. But for now, my son and I can look into using a smartphone to remotely control the robot arm we built a few months back.
My guess is that such smartphone software is just the beginning of remotely controlling intelligent devices. We’re already able to remotely activate lights or the heating and cooling system in our smart home with a web connected phone, for example. With MINDroid and future apps with similar or extended features, I expect the smartphones of tomorrow to become even more central to our lives; either with or without robots.
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