New robot project!

Last saturday I went to an auction of random old electronics. After some hours of boring junk and slightly interesting items being sold for way too high prices, there appeared what seemed to be a big robot on the stage. So my friends and I started a quick discussion on how much we were willing to pitch in together as a maximum bid, because we just could not let this beauty slip past us. You might be able to imagine that we were a bit disapointed when it turned out to be not a robot, but some weird video conferencing system. When the bidding opened I shouted the minimum opening bid of 1 Swedish crown from the back of the audience. Expecting the rest of the room to take over the bidding from there, I could feel my heartrate go up while a silence was all that came.

Wait, what just happened? I just bought this enormous yet awesome-looking thing for 1 kr? And how will I get it home? (I came there by foot, bringing a backpack for anything I would buy) And, what just happened? In the end I went to get my car and brought it home. (It filled the whole back side of the car)

So now I am the happy owner of a Tandberg Maestro. It seems to be in a near perfect condition, except for some dust and one broken power cable (easily replacable). The only problem for any intended use though is that it is incomplete. The biggest miss is the remote control, which according to the manual I found online, is rather crucial. As for the cables I’m not sure yet if I am missing anything more than a power cable, because the manual is not very clear on how everything should be connected.

A quick overview of the system:
– On top a good quality Sony camera with optical zoom and steppermotors for pan and yaw.
– Below that a 5(?) inch color display
– Next a set of speakers, which seem to be optimised for speech instead of music
– On the back side hidden behind an easily removable cover is the ‘codec’; the big black computer with a whole bunch of ports
– This is all mounted on a strong metal pole/frame that is attached to the base part of the frame which has a lot of empty space and some plastic wheels.

As far as I could test, all systems seem to work. I can get the video out of the camera from the s-video port. It also has a composite video port, but this seems to only give a black and white video. The steppermotors work, because they calibrate when they get power. The optical zoom can be tested by two buttons on the circuitboard of the camera. The speakers work directly when they get power. I have not figured out yet what the ‘out loop’ port is for, but I assume some kind of output of the same sound again? The screen was a little bit trickier to test. In the end it turned out that if I connect its data cable to the data1 port on the (powered) codec, the screen accepts input on the s-video port. I dug up my old laptop, which to my surprise has a s-video port, so I managed to connect the 5 inch screen as external screen. This also shows that the codec is not broken. But without the remote I will have a hard time testing anything more with it.

I have not completely decided yet what my plan is. At first I thought of building in a raspberry pi as the brains for the robot, but now that I found my old laptop with s-video port it could be an easier path to use that instead. I would like to get rid of the codec box, but then I need to find a way to fool the screen so that it works without it. Also I need to figure out how to control the zoom and movement of the camera via the ethernet cable that plugs into it. And I have not found yet how I will take the video feed as input into any computer system. Maybe a s-video to usb cable would fix that.

Some ideas:
– Motorized wheels! If this is to be a robot, it should be able to move itself around. The ‘desk chair kind of wheels’ on the back are a bit small and crappy, so those should get an update anyway. But motorized wheels might be best on the front?
– Some kind of computer as brain to control the different parts of the robot. Currently it is most likely to be old laptop.
– Wireless powersource, aka battery. The camera and speakers both like to get 12 volt, so maybe the battery should give that?
– Web based control
– Voice synthesis, or maybe an R2-D2 style of beeps. (Or both)
– A robot arm. The bar on the back is just to perfect to mount stuff on

What about a name? Maestro sounds quite nice, and is already printed in big letters on the front. (I can peel off the ‘Tandberg’ letters) Or would some number/letter combination be more nerdy? And what kind of function should this robot fullfill?

Stay tuned for more 🙂

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