Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Meccanoid App with Ragdoll Animation Review

The Meccanoid app supports the programming of replayable animations via a Ragdoll avator. Ragdoll programming allows you to control the robot by manipulating an onscreen avatar of a Meccanoid G15 or G15KS. The movements you make with the avatar can be saved and replayed.

We covered mentioned using Learned Intelligent Motion (LIM) in our first impressions Meccanoid review, this enables kids to actually move the Meccanoid to create replayable animations, that's a good thing to try before Ragdoll animation. We've also covered the use of Motion Capture to program Meccanoid.

This article uses screenshots from the Meccanoid app.

Update: Note that motion capture has been replaced by behaviour builder drag and drop coding in the app.

What Does Ragdoll Animation Do?

The simplest aspect Meccanoid's Ragdoll animation feature is that you can move the arms (and head for G15KS) onscreen and Meccanoid will mimic the movements.

There's more to this feature though and I think this is one of the areas where kids will spend a lot of time playing with Meccanoid in the longer term.

You can record the movement that you create a replay it. You can also control the movement of the feet. There's a timeline that allows you to overlay multiple behaviours so you can set Meccanoid up to move its feet and arms at the same time.

You can also control the colours LED lights on Meccanoid - one in each eye and also in the servos. This is a very useful feature.

Getting Started with Ragdoll Animation

You can use Ragdoll animation in offline mode to save battery if you want to or you can connect to Meccanoid first and have the robot follow along.

To begin Ragdoll animation choose the icon with the robot and arrows indicating movement.

Creating Ragdoll Animations

Move the square boxes to move Meccanoid. This is quite clever as it permits arm movements in 3D space in an intuitive way. The timeline lights up in red to show that the movement is being recorded.

You can also use arrows under Meccanoid's onscreen feet to control the robot's movement in the floor. Use both forwards arrows simultaneously to move forwards - just touching one will cause Meccanoid to turn. This is an accurate representation of how the foot motors are used to control movement, but some simple forwards, backwards and turn commands like the voice activation ones would have been useful. Note that you can also rotate the ragdoll - this is just in the app, it doesn't make the Meccanoid turn around, it just makes it easier to control front-back motion of the arms. 

The timeline allows you to layer behaviour so you can do one arm and then the other and then add foot movement. This does work. It would be nice to be able to build up a timeline from editable pieces though to make it easier to make changes to part of the animation. 

You can also touch the Microphone icon to record sound to go with the animation. Note that this sound plays from your device rather than from Meccanoid's speaker, this was unexpected. 

A really nice feature is the ability to change the colour of the LEDs during the animation. There are LEDs behind the eyes but also in the servos in the arms.

There's a huge choice of colours and you can change colour multiple time along the timeline. Just tap the point on the timeline where you want an LED colour change and then select the colours you want for the individual LEDs .

The eyes are controlled as a pair which is convenient, but it would be fun to be able to set them to different colours.

It took a while for us to understand the slider setting on the LED controls. If you slide it to the left then the colour will change instantly, the further you slide it to the right the longer it will take to gradually change to the new colour. 

There's also an alternative interface that allows you to control the motors and LEDs all on one screen. This works well in online mode where you can see Meccanoid respond to your actions, but isn't so useful in offline mode. 

Is it Programming?

No, the Meccanoid Ragdoll animation feature isn't really programming. You don't have the ability to create loops or specify movement programmatically. It's not far off though. 

It wouldn't be too big a leap from the current Settings and Timeline interface to a drag and drop blocks interface that would support proper programming of Meccanoid. This is something we'd really like to see. 

SpinMaster Meccano have said that they will be opening up the APIs for Meccanoid so if they don't add this feature then maybe someone else will.

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