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Microbric Viper Review by Martin Meier
The Viper is a unique robot development kit from Microbric Pty Ltd. I say unique because, in addition to the kit's versatility and ease of use, its appearance is very stylistic, making it as much a work of art as a machine. The kit is built around an Atom microcontroller which is programmed in BASIC. Programs are downloaded to the robot via serial interface. Included with the microcontroller board are two motors, one buzzer, two LED modules, one button, one switch, two bump sensors, and one IR receiver. Additional sets to expand the starter kit are available.
What's in the box
Close-up of (left to right) an extension, a connector, and an IR receiver. Note the bare copper traces near the holes and the red alignment markers.
Where are all the wires?
What makes the Viper so unique is the complete lack of wires on your robot. The peripheral components are held onto the main board with three screws and a connector. In addition to making a very sturdy connection, this also provides the electrical contact. In my opinion, it also makes for a very sharp appearance.
How does it perform?
I had some initial frustrations while learning to assemble the pieces, but admittedly that was a problem at my end. In my haste, I attempted to rely on the pictures instead of actually reading the manual. Once I slowed down enough to understand how to assemble things correctly, all the pieces went together smoothly. My only real issue is that the size of the screws almost necessitates using a pair of needle nose pliers or magnetized screwdriver to position them. With this setup machines can be built up or stripped down very quickly.
The Simple Line follower
A More Advanced Version
As mentioned above, the robot is programmed through the Windows-based ATOM BASIC IDE, which is on the included CD-ROM. It installed on my computer without any fuss, and immediately detected the robot connected to it. I was impressed with how forgiving ATOM BASIC was. Based on prior programming experience, I was able to write simple yet original programs in about an hour.
Pictured on the left, is a simple line follower I built using the starter set and the supplementary Line Tracker set. The Line Tracker add-on includes one light-dark sensor which is seen as a digital on-off input by the microcontroller. The light-dark sensor has a built-in calibration mode, allowing you to use it on a variety of surfaces with minimal effort.
I was also pleased with how motor control was done. The individual motors contained a serial interface, making speed and direction control a matter of only a single line of code.
I was pleased with the overall performance and versatility of the Viper, and found it to be an unusual yet solid approach to the world of robotics. In fact, I was so pleased, that I'll be entering the above machine in the DPRG's spring robotics contest. While I would recommend that the person working with this have some experience in simple model building, I can also say it's suitable for a novice with little experience in electronics or programming.
The Microbric Viper kit as well as several of the extension modules may be purchased online through Dick Smith Electronics of Australia. (Yes, they ship anywhere!) For updates on availability, check Microbric's where to buy online page.
Want to know more ? Ive had a chance to get some info on the viper and its baby brother the ibot up at my site. Code fpr a segway style bot and a picture of it as well as info on hacking interfacing to fit the keyed bricks and more. Im working on the viper everyday and new programs are due out soon. microbric resources
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