RoboBoa... Dissected!Posted by Nocturnal on Monday, 24 March 2008
After much searching, I finally located a RoboBoa more by chance than by diligent effort. A friend of mine, who was aware of my obsession with all things Wow Wee, asked me one day out of the blue, what is a RoboBoa? I immediately interrogated him as to why he was inquiring, and it was finally revealed that he had seen one in a store. Lucky for me.
The first thing I noticed when I finally found a RoboBoa, was how big it is. Its significantly larger than I was expecting, at least twice as large as I was expecting, and is definitely more Boa than snake. You can get a feel for how big it is in this photo of it next to my RoboQuad.
Getting it out of the box was much easier than I expected, possibly the easiest one yet. Which makes a certain amount of sense, since the are no limbs that have to be held in place.
I don't think the RoboBoa will appeal to everyone, but it has one of the most unique systems of movement that I have ever seen. The rubber wheel on the end of its tail is used both to drive the RoboBoa forward, and by changing position, turn it around to face a new direction.
Cracking open RoboBoa was a bit of a challenge. I wasn't sure which segment to start with, or if it had to be opened in a particular order. Fortunately it turns out there is no order you need to follow to open him. There are really five different segments that can be opened, the head and neck, two body segments and the tail segment. I opened the head first, after my initial attempts to get the tail open failed. There are a lot of wires inside the head, most of them go to the RoboBoa's face, but there are also a few that go to the switch on top of his head.
After the head, I opened up the neck, still more wires, but also tucked away inside the neck is the speaker, as well as the light sensor. The light sensor is visible as a small hole on the back of the RoboBoa's neck. I was somewhat disappointed to discover that the light sensor is only used in "Hold Mode". It seems to me that sensing the light level could have worked in several of the other modes as well. According the the manual, "Hold Mode" can be included in programs, and acts to pause the program until there is a change in the light levels.
The first segment after the neck, when opened, reveals the main circuit board, and a whole lot of wire. Except for a handful of wires, all the wires on the right hand side of the circuit board are going to control all the LED's in the head.
The last body segment holds the wheels that allow RoboBoa to roll across the floor and one of the battery compartments. The tail segment holds the second battery compartment, and the wheel / power switch. You can also see in the tail segment, next to the battery compartment, and in the top shell of the second body segment, metal plates used as weights. The weights, along with the weight of the batteries, keeps the RoboBoa from toppling over while waving its head around.
There is also a tilt sensor circuit tucked away in there, see if you can spot it.
The three mechanized joints are all pretty much identical, they consist of a motor, gear box, and a potentiometer acting as a position sensor. These joints are quite simple, well designed and an absolute nightmare to get back in the correct orientation should you happen to remove one and not make any notes as to its original position in the torso. I have twice removed one of these joints, and both times it took me over an hour to get them back into the correct position. The joints are capable of rotation greater that 360 degrees, but are limited by a notch in the shell where the joints are inserted.
The wheel joint is somewhat similar to the other joints, but instead of having another attachment point on the other end, it has a rubber wheel. It also lacks any form of positional feedback. You may notice that this wheel seems very loose, its not, its meant to be like that. The wheel essentially floats around the power switch, I believe this is to allow it to make good contact with the ground at any point along its length.
The main circuit board is fairly simple, on the left side are the connections for the battery, power switch and motors, along the bottom are the connections for the variable resistors, tilt sensor, light sensor and head switch. Finally along the right hand side are the head connections, these are almost entirely to drive LED's, but also include the IR sensors. At the top of the main circuit board, is an empty header that connects to an empty chip spot on the underside. The labeling on the empty header leads me to believe this was originally for stereo sound, not sure if it was meant to be an input, output or both.
The tilt sensors are pretty standard, probably trapped ball bearing style that Wow Wee uses in almost all their products. The two tilt sensors (one on either side of the board) are in the second body segment, the segment before the tail, tucked in behind the battery compartment. This board reminds me a lot of the one used in the RoboPet, I wonder if they might have recycled it.
The circuitry in the head is almost entirely made up of LEDs and the resistors and transistors required to turn them on or off. Most of the LED's are single colour, but the there are three multi-colour LEDs, underneath the large lenses in his face. What is interesting about these multi-colour LEDs is that they appear to be Red, Yellow and IR in a single package. I've never encountered an multi-colour LED with an IR element inside it as well. In the center of the face, is the IR receiver.
The IR LEDs are mostly used for the RoboBoa's vision, but they can also be used to trigger a response in other Wow Wee products. I only tried it with RoboQuad, but according to the manual, the "Strafe" function can be used with the RoboPet, RoboQuad and other RoboBoas. The "Lazer" function is used with RoboRaptor and RoboReptile, and finally, the "Cannon" function is used for "stimulating bigger game" like RoboSapien and RoboSapien V2.
It took me a few minutes to get used to the remote. To access the primary commands (written on the buttons) you just press the button. To access the secondary "held" commands (written in black below the buttons) you hold the button for two seconds. Finally to access the "Mode" commands (written in pink below the buttons), you hold either of the pink mode buttons on the side of the remote, and then press the appropriate button. The remote can also act as a simple torch, turned on and off by double taping either of the mode buttons.
Its possible to manually direct the movements of the various segments using the direction pad and switching between the head and tail segments. It takes a little practice to get it right though, my RoboBoa had quite a work out, flopping and flailing all over the floor as I moved the wrong joints in the wrong directions, trying in vain to come to grips with manual movement.
[[page]]I noticed when examining the CPUs in the RoboBoa and its remote, that there are test pads near the epoxy blob. None of the previous Wow Wee offerings that I have examined have test pads on the CPU board. It makes me curious if these CPUs are not actually ROM based like most of the other ones, but reprogrammable, and these are pads used for programming. Perhaps they are just left over from the development cycle. Since there are no identifying marks on either CPU we will probably never really know what they are for.
Something new to Wow Wee's products, is the use of plugs with clips on them. Only the smaller plugs have the clips, but it certainly makes unplugging things a lot easier. Especially since with the clips, there is no need for Wow Wee to make my life difficult by covering all the plugs with, hard to remove, glue like they have in most other products.
While the RoboBoa is possibly not Wow Wee's most hackable offering, there is certainly ample room inside it to stuff in just about anything you could think of. I have a few ideas of some interesting hacks to try with it. The first thing I will probably try, and probably the simplest to do, is replacing the yellow LEDs with some ultra-bright white ones
Finally, I happened to glance through the manual, and I noticed a few entries in the "Troubleshooting Guide" that I thought were of interest.
Q: What are those holes along his body?
A: For mounting small cameras, ropes, mounting screws, and other items of interest and fun.
So mounting things to his various segments shouldn't be too hard, and since the holes are on the inside of the curved segments, anything mounted there should be somewhat protected when the RoboBoa rolls around on the floor. The last entry also happens to be the most important one.
Q: He’s weird. Where did the idea for him come from?
A: The alien thought control messages were very specific.
This only confirms what I have been saying for a while now, aliens have taken over Wow Wee and are planning on using their products to help take over the world. I personally welcome our new alien overlords and wish them and their slaves at Wow Wee all the best with their new regime.