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Oct
29

Frindo robotics platform review – A Raspberry Pi Robot

by Russell Barnes

If you’ve been inspired to build a bot, this brand new open source platform could be exactly what you’re looking for

Frindo is a new open source robot platform specifically designed to cater for users of Arduino, Raspberry Pi and similar mini-PCs and microcontrollers. The goal of frindo is straightforward – to take the pain out of starting a robot project so you can focus on what you want to achieve, be it just for fun, research or educational applications.

The package comes with mounting kits for both the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino platforms
The package comes with mounting kits for both the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino platforms

The basic package comprises everything you need to get started. Two pre-drilled acrylic chassis plates and enough screws, nuts and spacers to put the chassis together and mount both a Raspberry Pi and Arduino make up the basics. You’ll also find two high-quality Pololu micro-motors complete with compatible mounting brackets, wheels and a pan-and-tilt mounting kit. Add the choice between clear or black acrylic chassis and frindo is clearly the most comprehensive robot chassis we’ve seen.

Accompanying the basic chassis package for around £65 including VAT are two further models. For £110 the kit includes an Arduino Uno, a battery clip, power and USB cables and a Robotbits RobotShield, which is designed specifically for robot applications. The shield is entirely open source and caters for motor control, separate I2C, SPI and Serial connectivity, thermal overload protection, as well as providing three-pin connections for six analogue and six digital pins. The final package adds three Sharp infrared analogue sensors with mounting brackets, allowing you to walk away with a completely open source Arduino-controlled robot for around £160. Amazing value, especially considering the robust nature of the platform and the quality of the components on offer.

Regardless of the package that interests you, a surprising amount of care has gone into frindo. To ensure the kit is entirely solder-less, all frindo kits come with pre-soldered motors at no extra charge. Not only does this ensure these tiny motors can’t be damaged by some sorry soldering skills, but the motor pairs are hand-picked from the same production batches to ensure decent speed-matching. Since frindo uses popular Pololu robotics components and is made with Raspberry Pi and Arduino in mind, there’s plenty of scope to upgrade with sensors, shields and wheel encoders among other things.

Even with both a Raspberrry Pi and an Arduino mounted, its two-tier design ensures there’s still plenty of surface area to work with. Though the middle section houses the motors and the wheels, we found it easy to install a six-AA battery holder to power the Arduino and load the RobotShield with analogue and digital sensors. You can even fit a small-form- factor USB battery pack to power a Raspberry Pi too, if you’re careful with its placement.

The build process is relatively painless. The instructions carefully spell out the task in easy steps and offer illustrations clearly marking mounting points for the motors and your preferred controller. Beyond basic build instructions, though, there’s also a massive ‘Getting Started’ guide on the project website, which aims to provide insight and understanding to building your robot. That said, the platform is still in its infancy, so the focus is currently on Arduino and Raspberry Pi – dedicated sections for other platforms could follow, depending on demand.

In use, frindo performed admirably. Its thick, sturdy chassis plates and two-tier design ensure it’s very solid and stable and the provided motors and sensors performed perfectly. It’s clearly built to a high standard and could easily withstand the kind of punishment educational applications would undoubtedly entail.

Without doubt frindo’s strongest feature, though, is that the entire platform (from chassis to RobotShield to library and example code) is open source. A quick trip to the download section of frindo.org will reveal all the technical drawings, eagle files, code and assets you could ever need.

Verdict

5/5

While the platform is still very much in its infancy, its robust construction, open design, generous code listings and instructional guides will surely make it a dominant force in entry-level and educational robotics platforms.

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