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Skype + Robot Demonstration

[04-24-2010] - Note this page talks about an older demonstration I did where retrofitted my Roboquad robot act as a remote spy robot using Skype.  It was a custom hack that was never meant to be used by anyone but myself and a few others. It has been completely replaced by Rovio which was designed from the ground up to be a WiFi enabled mobile spy robot that is controlled remotely over the web.  Read more about Robodance’s support for this terrific robot on the Home page.


This page explains what I did and used to make the Robodance Remote Viewing demonstration video.  This system allows you to control a WowWee robot remotely, using just your voice, from anywhere in the world you have an Internet connection, thanks to Skype’s free video call service.

NOTE: Version 4 of Robodance is required to create the Remote Viewing system.  Do not buy any gear until you have subscribed to the mailing list and received the welcoming E-mail and read it, or you will most likely waste your money on your purchase!

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Although the scripting and voice control modules should be accessible to the average user, the WiiMote and especially the Skype Module are not.If you are a novice computer user or get frustrated easily when dealing with system driver problems and the like, do not get Robodance to run these modules! I simply don't have the time to help novice users with system configuration issues and you will be on your own if you are one of the unlucky folk that have trouble with your system configuration! In contrast, if you know how to diagnose system issues such as drivers and  do configuration tweaks, etc., I’m more than happy to help you work them through on the forum (not by E-mail).  Also, technical questions on the software or the required gear are only answered on on the forum.

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The Main Components


PREFACE: I had a world of trouble getting some of the components to work with any other operating system other than Windows XP; especially the video and audio digitizer, which is the device that converts the audio and video coming from the wireless camera/microphone and hands it off to the PC. I spent a long time struggling with driver problems until I finally gave up and switched over to Windows XP.  I therefore suggest you don’t use anything other operating system on your home computer when attempting to recreate this remote viewing system.  The remote device can be any device that is capable of running skype, as long as it can transmit voice and receive video. However, the only device I’ve tested so far is a laptop computer.  Caveat Emptor!

The graphic to the right shows the basic components that make up the full remote viewing system.

  • My laptop, which is running Skype and nothing else, places a Skype call to my home computer.

  • My home computer detects the incoming phone call and tells Skype to pick up the phone.  This computer is running Robodance.

  • Robodance tells Skype to pick up the phone and listens to my voice while it does a brief volume analysis.

  • It then tells Skype to start sending video to my laptop in addition to audio. The audio and video are coming from the wireless camera and microphone that are attached to my Roboquad Robot’s head.

  • Robodance switches on the voice control system.  Now when I speak, it uses speech recognition to convert what I say to robot commands.

  • The robot commands are sent to the UIRT which is an infrared transmitter and receiver.  The UIRT converts commands to the very same infrared signals the Roboquad’s remote control would send.

  • Finally, my Roboquad executes those commands, while simultaneously beaming video and audio back to my Home computer.  Since this is a Skype video call, I am now controlling my little remote spy robot from across the Internet, using just my voice.


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Additional Items


This system, while fully functional, does have one severe limitation.  It uses infrared instead of a true wireless link like the kind your laptop uses to connect to a wireless network. Infrared is a line of sight technology. This means that unlike a wireless link (radio signals), the infrared transmitter must be pointed directly or very nearly so at the infrared receiver on the robot. Otherwise the robot will not receive the signal and will be unresponsive.  This means that it is necessary to blanket the area with infrared signals for the system to be effective. 

I use the BSR X-10 PowerMid system to do this. The PowerMid system consists of a transmitter and receiver device pair.  The transmitter receives the infrared signal from the transmitter, the UIRT in our case, and converts it to a radio signal that is sent to the PowerMid receiver. The PowerMid receiver converts the radio signal back to the original infrared signal, and sends it to the robot.

While this does work it’s a very ineffecient solution compared to a true wireless link.  Since a wireless link is not a line of sight transmission medium it is a far better solution. The receiver can be behind a wall, furniture, or anything else.  As long as it is within range of the transmitter the signal will be received, barring any strong electromagnetic or competitive radio signal interference. Fortunately the PowerMid systems are cheap and can be found on eBay for about $20 USD last I checked.  But you need about 3 per room to get decent coverage and sadly X-10 does not sell just the receivers. This means you end up with a pile of unused transmitters since you only need one transmitter to service all the receivers. Even with this many receivers you can still run into “dead spots”  where the robot just won’t respond to you; especially if it buries it’s “face” in a wall or other object and therefore blocks the infrared receiver.  The Roboquad’s infrared receiver is in it’s eyes.

My hope is that WowWee will create a Roboquad Plus that will have a true 802.11 b/g wireless link, an embedded camera and microphone in the head, and a speaker that can transmit sound sent to the robot wirelessly. If you’d like to see this too, please send them an E-mail and let them know.

NOTE: The PowerMid system is a great way to extend the range of your home electronics remote control, making it much easier to control TV’s, digital video recorders, and a whole host of other gear.

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Parts List and Buying Information

  • Skype - free voice and video calls over the Internet

  • Roboquad robot - awesome and talented little robot (check eBay for bargains)

  • X10 PowerMid system (wireless bridge for infrared signals)

  • USB UIRT - infrared transmitter and receiver.  Great for home electronics control too. (check eBay for prices)

  • EasyCap - inexpensive video and audio digitizer for the wireless camera, but some people have reported having trouble installing it. Do not even think of installing it on anything less than Windows XP! (check eBay for bargains)

  • USB Wireless Camera (and microphone) - I’m not recommending a brand yet since I had a ton of trouble with interference and noise with the one I bought off eBay. If you know of a good one, let me know!


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Supporting Cast

Here’s a list of the robots you saw during the video, in order of appearance:

  • Roboquad - The star and a wonderful robot with advanced infrared scanning capabilities.
  • Robosapien V2 - Roboquad’s main nemesis and a very cool robot in his own right.
  • T-Rex - Small, mean, and funny dinosaur robot from the early Dinotronics toy series.
  • Robopanda - A great companion and teacher for young children to interact with.
  • Roboraptor - Predecessor to the more agile and vicious Roboreptile, but still a clever little dinosaur robot
  • Alive! Chimpanzee - He made a cameo appearance near the end, with Robopanda’s toy panda on his embarrased head.
  • Robosapien RS Media - Robosapien V2’s twin broth but with a ton of new powerful features. I saved him for a full fledged video of his own.
  • And many more robots to play with...

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The Robodance Remote Viewing system  is a truly fun and hilarious application, that you can use to spy on your own home from anywhere you have an Internet connection. However, it should only be used as an entertainment tool and definitely not as a real security system.  One other shortcoming is that most of the wireless cameras I’ve found so far chew through batteries at an alarming rate. Make sure you get rechargeable batteries.  You can pretty much count on the battery being dead if you’re gone from home for too long a time.

In a final note, I am obviously very eager to see if this system works with Skype running on an Apple IPhone or Palm Treo. What a fantastic form factor that would be for watching your robot patrol your home remotely, from anywhere in the world.



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