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Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The New Meccanoid G15 Robot - A First Impressions Review

We are now the proud owners of a Meccanoid G15 house robot. We've got lots of plans for the little guy and I'll be writing more about him in future, but for now here are our first impressions.

Meccanoid is a buildable robot from Erector / Meccano, yes the guys who make the metal construction sets. The G15 is the smaller version of the robot, but it's still really big at around 2 feet tall (61cm), the larger G15 KS is around 4 feet tall!

Meccanoid will be the 'big present' under the tree for lots of kids this Christmas. Let's take a look at what you can expect.

Meccanoid is intended for children age 10+ to build themselves. Younger kids will enjoy the robot but will need help with the build.

Update: The new Meccanoid 2.0 robots are now available for 2016. These robots have an upgraded more powerful Mecca brain and improvements to features. The batteries used are now D rather than C (many users reported battery issues with the smaller robot, these were often resolved by customer support, but hopefully we'll see fewer issues with the new version.)

Update: Behavior builder drag and drop coding has replaced motion capture in the app. This means you can now program Meccanoid.



The Box


First of all, Meccanoid looks like an impressive gift. The box is big and weighty. Not the most important factor, but it does add to the wow factor. 

The Build


Meccanoid is very much a robot that you build. If you want a ready built robot then try something like Miposaur. This is a Meccano robot, building it is a big part of the experience. 

Meccanoid is put together using standard Meccano nuts and bolts.  The required tools are included. 

Compared to regular Meccano the build is actually fairly straightforward. The pieces are sturdy polycarbonate rather than metal and this means that they can have indentations where the nuts go, this makes the process of connecting nuts and bolts fairly easy. The nuts stay put while you turn the bolts. 

The build time is long though, expect it to take several hours. You can speed things up by having more than one person working on the build, there are plenty of sections that can be built in parallel. 

My eight year old was capable of building the robot. More capable than me in many cases! But he wouldn't have had the staying power to built the whole thing. 

There weren't many spare nuts and bolts left at the end. More would have been appreciated as we're bound to lose a few over time and also to allow us to attach other things. You can use standard Meccano pieces though. 

The LEDs for the eyes seem oddly placed, they are quite far back and a lot of the light doesn't make it to the eyes. It looks like they can be repositioned though and we can always 3D print a part to keep the light in. 

Turning Meccanoid On


We connected up Meccanoid according to the instructions. Well not quite according to the instructions as the motor cables seemed to be drawn upside down in the instructions that we have. There wasn't any choice in how to actually connect them though so we did what worked. 

We turned Meccanoid on and it ran through a series of tests requesting confirmation that each action had working. Everything worked first time. 

I was very glad about this after several hours of assembly!

Playtime


When you turn Meccanoid on it runs through an introductory tutorial that explains some of the features. This works really well for getting started. My kids aged 8 and 6 were soon getting Meccanoid to tell (bad) jokes, leading him round the room by the hand and teaching him new routines using LIM. 

LIM is learned intelligent motion, basically you put Meccanoid into a record mode where it reads motion from the servos in the arms and can then play back the motion. This is really effective and fun. 

The Walk with Me function where you guide Meccanoid by his arm was a big hit with my 7 year old. Shaking hands and doing a high five work really well - Meccanoid actually senses your movement via the servos. 

Meccanoid responds to voice commands. We had trouble with some commands initially but after a firmware update via USB this improved but still requires several attempts sometimes. I felt like Meccanoid was training me to say the words in the right way. Our accents may be a contributing factor. Voice commands that we created ourselves worked pretty well. 

Meccanoid's eye colour is used very effectively to signal the mode he's in so it's easy to see what to do next. 

We had to turn the volume up to maximum to hear the voice above the sound of the servos.



Meccanoid G15 vs 2.0 Update

There are new Meccanoid 2.0 models available for 2016. There's a small version which replaces the G15 and a larger one that replaces the G15KS.

The new robots have an improved Mecca Brain, a different colour scheme and general improvements rather than radical changes. Note that the 2.0 smaller Meccanoid takes D batteries rather than C batteries. The larger version has a rechargeable battery (which is a very useful feature.)

We're really pleased that the new Behavior Builder coding feature is available for the older G15 Meccanoids as well as the new ones. This means that it may be worth picking up an older model if you find one discounted to a bargain price.


Conclusion


Clearly there's lots more to explore. We haven't tried the Motion Capture (now superceded by behaviour builder) or Ragdoll animation modes which require an app. We're also looking forward to Meccano releasing specs for 3D printable parts so we can customize the robot. And we're looking forward to being able to properly program Meccanoid once the open source APIs are available. And you can design your own robots using the kit too. 

But so far, for a £169 / $179 robot we're pretty impressed. There's a lot of good technology in here. The LIM technology works really well for recording movement of the arms. 

The robot feels solid though I'm going to keep tightening the bolts as I imagine they will work loose over time. 





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