Twilio Evangelist Builds Popular Phone-Powered Rolling Robot, Hints Flying Bot Is Next
So here's something you may have seen floating around on Hacker News or elsewhere, but we thought it was cool enough to share in case you're looking for something to do with your weekend. After all, there are few of us who don't love stories that end with robots. Especially robots controlled by phones. Robots have indeed fascinated many of us since childhood, and thanks to modern technology, those imaginations and tinkerings of yore are now increasingly becoming reality. Thankfully, in the hands of those smarter (and less inclined to hatch plots to take over the world) than I.
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So here’s something you may have seen floating around on Hacker News or elsewhere, but we thought it was cool enough to share in case you’re looking for something to do with your weekend. After all, there are few of us who don’t love stories that end with robots. Especially robots controlled by phones.

Robots have indeed fascinated many of us since childhood, and thanks to modern technology, those imaginations and tinkerings of yore are now increasingly becoming reality. Thankfully, in the hands of those smarter (and less inclined to hatch plots to take over the world) than I.

Jonathan Gottfried, Twilio’s resident developer evangelist, recently posted a tutorial on the company’s blog that shows developers how to build a basic robot that can be wirelessly powered with your phone, using Twilio, Arduino and Node.js.

The developer evangelist told us that the primary motivation was, of course, to get developers excited about the possibilities of hacking on Twilio. So, he pulled out his old Arduino, which he’d experimented with before, in attempt to connect it to the Web to learn how to do it himself and to support the community with an in-depth tutorial. From the results, he was more than successful, as he tells us that the post has turned into one of the most-trafficked blog posts in Twilio’s history.

The interest led to Gottfried and friends demo-ing their hack at NY Tech Meetup several days ago, which you can check out here. (Fast forward to 1:06.) You can also check out the final product in the video below.

To oversimplify, the robot was created around an Arduino board and runs thanks to the help of Node.js and Twilio’s VOIP APIs. The robot is controlled via keyboard commands over VOIP, allowing users to press “2″ to get the robot moving forward, “6″ to turn, etc.

Gottfried goes into some serious detail as to how this is all possible on Twilio’s blog, and he’s put the full source code on GitHub here. The idea is to showcase Twilio’s role in making the robot roll, and he offers examples of code so that hackers can follow along.

He also lays out all the part he used, which tinkerers can opt to use themselves, or not. Boiled down, the essential parts that made it possible just entail an Arduino Uno, a WiFly Module, a Wireless SD Shield. Throw in a breadboard, some wheels, and a chassis, and you’re cookin’ with robot.

But we also used the opportunity to ask Gottfried if there were any other motivations here beyond demonstrating how easy it is to hack together a phone-controlled robot or showcasing the power of Twilio’s APIs.

Gottfried had a really interesting response, some of which I’ll share below. The main take-away: He thinks that the interest in the hack points to the disconnect between the web development world and the hardware hacking world — and that developers are always eager to find exciting ways to bridge the two. Food for thought?

I’ve always been fascinated by the bridging of the physical and digital worlds, especially since the majority of emerging startups tend to be focused on software and not hardware. There are some consumer offerings out there, but a lot of real innovation is being done by hackers in their spare time and not by consumer electronics companies … [The TwilioBot] turned out to be much more popular than we expected … and I tend to believe this is because of a real disconnect between the web development world and the hardware hacking world — anything combining those two is bound to find interested developers.

He closed by saying that, based on this conclusion, he’s now working on two additional, follow-up tutorials that combine Twilio with Arduino hardware solutions. As a teaser, he says that one of them involves flying.

It seems the Dark Knight returns, and rises.

Twilio How-To here.



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