Monday, March 30, 2009

Scratch + iRobot Create?

I stumbled upon information regarding the mysterious Scratch Extension Protocol. This is very interesting.  It addresses a deficiency in Scratch that prevented integration with external things such as robots.

In my opinion, one of the greatest hinderances in getting kids involved with robots is the difficulty in programming them. The root of the difficulty is syntax: So you've got an iRobot Create, want to make it move? Use C, Basic, Python or whatever.   Scratch seems like a natural for this.

With the Extension Protocol, I can write a small piece of middleware that would talk to the Create via wireless (Bluetooth maybe?).

I'm not sure where I would put all of the Create protocol parsing and generation. The easy way would be to place it in the middleware, but there is something "just right" about putting it into a microcontroller that is attached to the Create.  I think I prefer that way because it offers a future hint of autonomy.  Adapting the Scratch Extension Protocol to Create Protocol can be more than a simple protocol translation excercise but evolve into a language of sorts. 

Imagine this: 
  1. You develop your ScratchCreate script in Scratch, first controlling an on screen Sprite that represents the iRobot Create.  
  2. You then launch the middleware and continue to debug the script but now control an actual Create wirelessly.  
  3. Once you've got it working the way you want, you download the Scratch script into the microcontroller running the Create. 

Voila, you now have an autonomous robot!

This is a powerful concept.  I know there are similiar commercial variations on this, but there is something that resonates differently here for me. I'll have to figure out what and write in more detail as to why.

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