Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wakka Wakka: An Email Interview with Roomba Pacman Engineer Maciej Stachura

At And I'll Form the Head, I've been freaking out for the last couple of days over the the Roomba/Pac-Man project. The original article I read at cnet left many questions unanswered, such as "will the project ever make its way into the consumer marker", and "how cool would it be if I could play with their creation." I think everybody deserves to know that.

So, I emailed the team over at their homepage with some questions. In turn, the Email was passed on over to team member Maciej Stachura who quickly replied with thorough answers.

Maciej Stachura, aka "Clyde", is working at Colorado University and was in charge of different aspects of the project such as creating the interface to the Hagisonic Stargazer, creating an unscented Kalman fitler for navigation, and creating a joystick interface for controlling the Roombas. His input was invaluable, and he's just the person I needed to get in touch with (if I ever wanted to play with their magnificent technology).


Geeks Amongst the Meek: What inspired your team to simulate Pac-Man on the Roomba vacuum? Were you guys playing Pac-Man when the idea struck, or were you inspired by another Roomba? It's like the age old question, which came first, the chicken or the egg, but ten times more awesome.

Maciej Stachura: We've had the roombas sitting in the lab for over a year for an unrelated project, and we were just joking about using them for a Pac-Man game for a while now. This eventually led us to actually do it, and we decided it was also a nice way to demonstrate our UAV control software.
But the main motivation was just for the fun of it.

GATM: How long did the project take to become presentable to outside media sources? I say presentable instead of finished because I'm not sure if you guys are still working on Roomba Pac-Man. If you are, what kind of changes are you going to make?

Maciej S: It took about 3 weeks working on it in our spare time to get the system up and running. Our main goal was just to make the demo video, so the system worked fine to that point, but still requires our knowledge of the system to run it. We don't have any plans to make it into a product that anyone can use. Also, since most of the equipment was borrowed from other projects, we've since had to return it, so the system was taken apart.

GATM: How many Roombas were harmed in the making of Roomba Pac-Man? There had to be casualties.

Maciej S: The ghost Clyde was the only casualty after Pac-Man ate a pill, then turned on him. But seriously, nothing was damaged (luckily, since it was all borrowed).

GATM: Pac-Man and the Roomba seemed to be a match made in heaven. Do you think other games will lend itself so easily to the vacuuming platform?

Maciej S: We've been joking about making a Pong game with 3 roomba's (two as the paddles, one as the ball). Or even a Space Invaders game (we have 11 roomba's, so that might be enough). But unfortunately we have degrees to work on, so we probably won't have time for those, unless we can trick the university into giving a degree for that sort of thing.

GATM: Do you think this project can be produced for the consumer market? If so, how? If not, can I play Roomba Pac-Man at some point in the future with you guys? I swear I won't break anything. 

Maciej S: The one issue with producing it for the consumer market is the price. For example each roomba costs ~ $200, the on-board computer is $120, and the indoor positioning system is $900. So if you spread this around 5 robots, that's over $6000. There are cheaper alternatives to some of
these systems, but we used what was available to us. Also, we'd love to have you play it (we had a blast with it), but unfortunately like I mentioned earlier, we've had to take it down and return everything so other people can use it for their research.

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