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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Robotical's Marty the Walking Robot Review


We've received our Marty the walking robot kit from Robotical. Marty came to life through a successful crowdfunding campaign. We've been following along and got to meet Marty and his inventor at the Bett ed-tech conference earlier this year.

It's crowdfunding Christmas for us at the moment. We've recently received and reviewed Brixo (LEGO-compatible electronics bricks) and KANO's Pixel Kit (a programmable microprocessor with a coloured pixel display and sensors.)

Unboxing

Marty comes in a large printed cardboard box which opens out to create a football (soccer) pitch. Neat.



Assembly

There's an instruction booklet and errata (to fix an issue) included in the kit. But there are more detailed instructions and videos available online in the Marty Build Guide. We'd definitely recommend the more detailed online instructions.



Our Marty has arms which the basic model doesn't.

I built Marty with my 9 year old son. He was keen, but found it hard to do much of the assembly. It's very fiddly and there's not much room to manoeuvre. The suggestion of using tweezers just gave him an additional thing to worry about and resulted in pieces getting dropped. A screwdriver is included in the kit but we'd recommend swapping it for a magnetic one, that helps a lot!

My son was able to put some pieces together but we worked together on most of it. There are lots of identical pieces that must be assembled in specific ways. It's very easy to get things wrong.



I think we made pretty much every mistake possible when building Marty! My spatial awareness is atrocious, left and right don't come naturally and forget thinking about them in terms of a robot that you're looking at face on! Normally my older son helps with builds like this but it's the younger one that has been drawn to Marty which required me doing a lot more thinking!

We could have done with a lot more colour photos showing how things go together. It would have been even better if parts were different so that they couldn't be put together incorrectly. There are so many details that you have to get correct. A couple of times I made a mistake and then fixed it, but didn't realise that it made something else that I had carefully checked incorrect with respect to the new change!

Most people don't have my terrible spatial awareness, but I think Marty could do with more detailed instructions, especially as the box says age 8+. We could have done with a lot more colour photos showing how things go together. It would have been even better if parts were different so that they couldn't be put together incorrectly. There are videos online for some parts, but they weren't the bits we struggled with!

There's one picture in the instructions which appears late on as a 'sanity check', my advice is to look at this picture throughout the built and check everything against it rather than waiting until the end.

All the videos we could find were of the prototype Marty which was demonstrated during the crowdfunding campaign rather than the version that was shipped to backers, this made it hard to check against a correctly built Marty.

Getting Started

We turned Marty on, connected to him and configured the Wifi network. Then we went on to calibration and ... nothing. That was a disappointment after spending an afternoon building the robot. (When I had time to troubleshoot later I found the issue and was able to find and enter the IP address for Marty.) The scan tool has since been updated so this shouldn't be a problem going forward.

As I mentioned, we had made one or two (ahem) mistakes assembling Marty. These were pretty easily spotted and fixed. I got to understand how Marty is put together really well!

We were exhibiting at the Winchester Science Festival throughout the weekend after we built Marty so I only had a bit of time in the evenings to move forward with the troubleshooting.

Once Marty was correctly assembled and calibrated he took his first steps. Awesome!

We've had trouble getting the eyebrows to stay in an upright position after calibration, not sure what's going on there.

Stickers!

Marty came with a sheet of stickers which my 9-year-old very much appreciated. He was very pleased to find a moustache. He insisted on using as many stickers as possible. 

The top hat was not included. My son decided it was a necessary addition (he often wears a top hat himself.) There's nowhere much to attach add-ons to Marty so we used sticky tack. 



Coding

There's a great choice of coding options for Marty, from Scratch for beginners through to Python and Javascript for intermediate roboticists and on to ROS for advanced users.

We really like this approach as it means that kids can progress from the basics through to developing some really advanced skills using the same kit. It also means that multiple family members at different stages can use the same robot.

We've started with the Scratch X extension which worked immediately once we found the block to enter the IP address for our Marty.

We'll spend more time with Marty and try out some projects, but for now, we're very happy to make Marty do a victory wiggle when we press the 'w' key!

We tried playing sounds but could barely hear anything.


We have found that after a while we need to recalibrate Marty to get him back to his starting position.

Build Quality

The injection molded parts are really nice quality and the robot looks fab when it's (finally!) together. We'd seen a prototype Marty so we knew how big it would be, but it is satisfyingly big and chunky.

Marty coped with our incorrect build, problems are detected so that the servos don't get broken.

Adding a Raspberry Pi

You can give Marty access to more processing power by hooking him up to a Raspberry Pi. There's a custom image that you can download with ROS pre-installed. 

Crowdfunding Experience

Marty was a few months delayed from the original expected dates. I know some crowdfunding backers find this frustrating. But it's actually the norm. We take the dates in campaigns with a pinch of salt. (See our guide to backing kid-tech crowdfunding campaigns.)

The communication about progress has been fairly regular and as we got to see Marty in action we felt confident that Sandy and the team would deliver. 

The price that backers paid is significantly less than the retail price which is appreciated (Robotical are working on another production run.) It makes it worthwhile to jump in early rather than just waiting.

Marty in Action

Here's a video of Marty in action and being controlled from ScratchX. We left the fall at the end in as that does seem to happen occasionally when we use Marty for a while.


Verdict

Marty is awesome. A proper walking robot that can be programmed in a variety of languages. We think the instructions for assembly could be made clearer to make the build more accessible to beginners (and the spatially challenged!)

One thing we're a bit disappointed by is that Marty is clearly a boy robot. He's blue and referred to as a 'he' in the documentation. This seems so unnecessary to us. Each company that we talk to about these issues has reasons for choosing blue that they think they can justify, but the end result is so many blue robots. Yes, some girls will still enjoy Marty but couldn't the robot have been white and customisable with stickers (it does come with some stickers)? Note that you can 3D print parts and build your own Marty.

Overall, we're really pleased with Marty and the crowdfunding experience. It's fun to be in at the beginning and follow a project through.






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