How Rovio Finds Its Way - The NorthStar System by Evolution Robotics

The up and coming Rovio by WowWee Robotics has certainly generated a huge amount of excitement. Everyone's wondering what the Rovio can do, how it works, if it's hackable, and much more.

The "big question" about Rovio is this: how exactly does it find its way through your home or office automatically? What technology enables it to know where it is at all times - and even follow a pre-determined path as programmed by its user? The answer: the NorthStar system by Evolution Robotics.

Background on the NorthStar System

NorthStar 2.0 was announced January 7th of this year, ushering in a new era of "smart" robots and technology. The WowWee Rovio is the first to employ this revolutionary advancement. What makes NorthStar compelling is that it works, in many ways, like GPS, Radar, and Autopiloting systems combined together. It's also very cost effective, and can be manufactured at 1/100th to 1/1000th the cost of similar systems used in other applications.

Dr. Paolo Pirjanian, in the official press release from Evolution Robotics, states that "these are aerospace grade technologies being introduced at consumer prices..." and that "NorthStar will have a very profound impact on the robotics market, starting with new products in 2008 and rapidly expanding in 2009." There's quite a few other applications that the NorthStar system could (and will) be used in, including next-gen "smart" toys with incredibly fast interaction times, and "cleaning robots" that are more efficient than ever before.

Now, for the "really big question": how does it do all of this great stuff?

How the NorthStar System Works

The core funtionality of the NorthStar system is a mathematical concept called triangulation. Basically, the device measures its relative position and its heading by detecting infrared light spots that are projected onto the ceiling. Each light spot has a unique "signature," so whatever device is using them can localize itself instantly. In addition, the unit won't have to "train" itself to find its way around, nor will its area have to be "mapped" prior to use. It isn't necessary for the CPU to be super-powerful to utilize the technology, which could have many benefits - including being more cost-effective. The NorthStar system is accurate, too; up to just a few centimeters in many applications! Utilizing a compact size, the NorthStar system is easy to implement in many applications. It's flexible and can be set up in multiple configurations. Finally, it's extremely fast - a single measurement time can take as little as 100 milliseconds!

Specifications of the NorthStar System

  • Dimensions: 3cm x 4cm x 1cm [1.2" x 1.6" x 0.4"]
  • Weight: 0.4 oz [12.5g]
  • Power: 3.3 VDC, 200mA
  • Communications: Serial in and out, 19200-115200 baud, 5V tolerant interface
  • Ambient Lighting Conditions:
    • Maximum ambient light, point source: 600 LUX
    • Maximum ambient light, diffuse conditions: 2500 LUX
  • Max Distance from Detector Plane to Light Plane: 6 m [20 ft]
  • Field of View (FOV):
    • Square Shaped Area, with width w
    • Recommended FOV:
      • w = 1.4 X distance from detector plane to light plane
      • Example: 2.5 m Ceiling, FOV = 3.6 m X 3.6 m [12 ft X 12 ft]
    • Max FOV:
      • w = 2.4 X distance from detector plane to light plane
      • Example: 2.5 m Ceiling, FOV = 6 m X 6 m [20 ft X 20 ft]
  • Single Measurement Time: 100 msec
  • Room ID Codes: 10
  • Spot ID Codes: 20

This exciting new technology is really promising to shake up the world of robotics - with the new Rovio and many other robots to come.

Meet the WowWee Rovio | Rovio Hands On at CES 2008

Your Rovio "Dream Hack" | The Official Evolution Robotics Press Release

Comments

RobosapienV2-4mem8's picture

Damn I look forward to this system, I wonder what WowWee/Evolution will bring out in the future.

FREEEK's picture

    That miniGPS thing was a very wrong. I knew that GPS doesn't work inside (if the house or  appartment has a ceiling made with armed concrete, because works like a Faraday Box and DO NOT let the GPS signal to be received) and GPS devices (most of newest devices have SiRFstar III signal processor with {accuracy}<2.5m) but this is to much for a general room dimension.

    This idea provided by NorthStar System is nice but I do not know how effective if you have multiple rooms, halls, bathroom and kitchen ... you need one for every room?!? (If we do how the robot will know in wich room is he if the Projectors for 2 separate rooms make the same kind of spot on the ceiling?)

    The robot has to be every time in a possition that puts the spot lights on the ceiling visible to robot sensors. So notables or furniture allowed in the room because the robot could not receive the signal OR no chandelier allowed because the height of the chandelier will make the spot invisible to the robot. If we look at the Projector it has a precise location in the room for full coverage. 

FREEEK's picture

    I agree that NorthStar had a exciting idea at a low cost i think ... but ... some mapping software will be a wellcomed dicovery , no? Surprised

MrScott's picture

Looks like the tech spec allows for multiple navigation beacons. That could cover multiple the problem with multiple rooms. That assumes that the Rovio has enough NorthStar feature support to allow configuring for multiple base beams. The big question then becomes....at what cost?

Looking at the spec.

  • Max Distance from Detector Plane to Light Plane: 6 m [20 ft]
  • Field of View (FOV):
    • Square Shaped Area, with width w
    • Recommended FOV:
      • w = 1.4 X distance from detector plane to light plane
      • Example: 2.5 m Ceiling, FOV = 3.6 m X 3.6 m [12 ft X 12 ft]
    • Max FOV:
      • w = 2.4 X distance from detector plane to light plane
      • Example: 2.5 m Ceiling, FOV = 6 m X 6 m [20 ft X 20 ft]
  • Room ID Codes: 10
  • Spot ID Codes: 20

 We wouldn't necessarily need or want another complete charging base station to provide navigation in other rooms. Just a projector of the navigation signal on the ceiling would be needed.

Peter Redmer's picture

Somehow I have a feeling there will be an easier or lower cost method of projecting the beams in other rooms.  I can envision a small wall plug with a beam or two coming out of it, rather than a whole new base.  It will be interesting to see how this pans out!

RobosapienV2-4mem8's picture

I agree, and cannot wait to tinker in this area,

roschler's picture

For those that land on this thread and are wondering about extra beacons, WowWee does indeed sell extra beacons. They are small self-contained units with a lens just like the primary beacon on the charging station, that have an AC adapter that plugs in to the wall. You simply set the extra beacon's ID to a number between 1 and 9 (0 is reserved for the charging station), making sure it's a number that you haven't used for any other auxiliary beacons you might have setup, and you're done.

thefishknot3's picture

Hi Roschler,

I knew WowWee made extra beacons. I read it every where. But, WHERE DO YOU PURCHASE THE EXTRA BEACONS?????????????
PLEASE ADVISE

thefishknot3

Nipahc's picture

Is their anything else that can read like a beacon light? Like IR LEDS? :D It would be geeky but could stick some of those around for reference.

Thanks for the info! :D Glad it was up here on the forum! Good need to know info!