🐛 This thing is a robot, name flatcat, and does – nothing ⁂

Very nice piece in German on Heise by Hans-Arthur Marsiske on robots as play companions. The article is part of a series on robots in everyday life and titled Robots in everyday life: The playmate. We are very excited to see flatcat discussed extensively including a video interview with Jetpack founder / CTO Matthias Kubisch, among coverage of Playful machines by Ralf Der ad Georg Martius, as well as a good sample of other playmate robots available on the market. In relation, this highlights the unique approach and character of flatcat within the larger robotics ecosystem.

Quoting as a teaser

This thing is a robot, is called Flatcat and does – nothing: It just wants to play. It is not capable of doing anything else at all. Its developers at Jetpack Cognition Lab, a Berlin-based company founded in 2019, have not equipped it with displays or other means of data input, nor with visual or auditory sensors. Flatcat only perceives forces acting on it, reacts to them and gradually develops a behavior from these experiences.

Anyone who brings this techno-pet into their home or laboratory will have the opportunity to follow the development of its thinking ability and thus of an artificial personality up close and in real time – just like a biological pet.

Hans-Arthur Marsiske, Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Recommended, thanks.

🐛 flatcat updates and more

Another day, another overdue update. What is happening at Jetpack Cognition Lab since we last wrote?

Main prototype flatcat2 is running smoothly on the new energy module for days. Last week we ordered the Lipo batteries to be used in your flatcats. They are standard cells (18650) that can be easily replaced in case of a battery failing. In the house already.

Box of 18650 batteries, three for each flatcat

Same goes for the motors, order has been placed with the manufacturer and we are waiting for the shipment, expected to arrive in a few weeks.

Development currently focuses on extending the basic behavior we have right now with more elaborate exploration algorithms which will lead to more diverse episodes of different things it does.

What started to impinge on us as a flickering halo quickly turned into a full out real global phenomenon, driven by our ~friends~ of #automotive: a global semiconductor shortage. For several flatcat related PCB designs we could not acquire the required chips and packages anymore. Too bad, so we turned forward and redesigned the boards to accommodate available packages. These will be sent to manufacture soon and comprise the last big chunk of supplies we need before we can finish the hardware aka flatcat chassis. This is how we roll.

Sensorimotor PCB with new chip package visible at the far end
Sensorimotor PCB with new chip package visible at the far end
Multiple sensorimotor PCBs lined up for further processing
Multiple sensorimotor PCBs lined up for further processing

The flatcat endurance poster is WIP and we will at some point come back with this specifically to get your early feedback on a few design variations.

On tangential notes, we had a TV crew in the house last week for shooting an episode to be included in the “Einfach genial” (Simply genius) format of German public channel MDR. The piece is going to be aired September upwards, keep you posted when it’s hot.

No one took a photo on the day 🥶 have to use this one instead

A new application for flatcat was discovered recently in the lab, which is realtime control of musical parameters through the force sensitive interface that the robot is. Here, we are sending 2 x 4 state variables from the joints to a digital sysnthesizer using OpenSoundControl. It works very well and was used in a public performance at the legendary and exclusive NNOI festival an hour north of Berlin on the weekend July 2-4, 2021.

Finally, if you want to read more, we have a fresh piece of techno-philosophy posted on the blog here.

Always love to have your feedback and learn what you are up to.

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flatcat. development white paper.

your next robot is a desktop research robot

Why flatcat?

We believe that modern robotics/AI needs a boost from the bottom, to take another two to three steps back and take the time to close the sensorimotor gap and look intensively at learning procedures before moving on to higher function such as assistance for humans.

That’s why we developed flatcat as an open, extremely simplified platform from the ground up to enable people from different scientific and research fields, as well as developers and engineers, to develop their own applications or solve research questions with a real robot. flatcat is designed to be inexpensive and highly simplified, making it accessible to many.

How flat?

flatcat is open-source in hardware, firmware and software. The circuits are just as studiable and expandable as the software. The mechanics are made of 3D-printed parts and can therefore be repaired and adapted over and over again. We use readily available off-the-shelf components as much as possible to ensure parts availability. The design is modular and expandable, e. g. more joints, different motors, new controllers, more sensors etc. The mechanics is portable and lightweight, i. e. results can be presented live, mobile use is possible, etc. The motion dimension of flatcat is 2-dimensional and the reduced complexity is initially very convenient for many problems, the robot can be maintained and operated by one person, (desktop research robot).

Spec flat

flatcat provides a Python/C++ interface for the development of applications. The host platform is a Raspberry Pi (Zero/W) with WiFi module which drives the motors via a symmetric, i. e. insensitive data bus (RS-485, 1MBaud).

The power supply can be 6-12V, the internal battery is a 2-cell lithium polymer battery with 7.4V nominal voltage (6.6 – 8.4V, low to high). A stationary power supply can also be connected.

The motor controllers are a Jetpack open-source development: called Sensorimotor. They have rich sensory feedback (bidirectional current, supply voltage, temperature, 300° position, and speed) and provide various control modes such as position PID and Cognitive Sensorimotor Loops (CSL). The motors can also be used for simple sound generation (Beta).