Robots don’t have to be expensive. In fact, if there’s a smartphone handy, a wheeled ‘bot can be built for around $50, according to Matthias Muller and Vladlen Koltun. The two Intel researchers are the coauthors of a recent paper titled “OpenBot: Turning Smartphones into Robots,” which proposes leveraging phones to equip robots with sensors, computation, communication, and access to an open software ecosystem.
Using off-the-shelf smartphones as robot brains confers a number of advantages beyond cost savings. Rapid upgrade cycles mean secondhand smartphones are readily available — an estimated 40% of the world’s population owns smartphones — and they’re constantly improving with regard to camera quality and processor speed. Moreover, even commodity models sport inertial measurement units, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular modems, and dedicated chips for AI inference, some of which outperform desktop processors.
In the researchers’ OpenBot design, a smartphone plugs into an electromechanical body for sensing, data