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Robots and the Linux Cafe
by Joel R. Voss aka. Javantea
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April 18, 2006 18:16 JST
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If you go one block west of the main ave on akihabara, you can find some pretty sweet stuff. You'll see normal fare which is pretty cool itself. It means that one block and even 5 blocks from the main strip of Akihabara there are more shops. Not only is Akihabara long and tall, it's also wide. In fact, most high energy spots in Tokyo don't end at all, they just slowly transition into the next big spot. From the Imperial Gardens to Suidobashi to Akihabara to Ueno is one massive area filled with cool stuff.

First, my good friend Disc0rd gave me a Google map of the Linux Cafe, which explained that it wasn't so much in Kanda station area as it was Akihabara area. It was actually really easy to find the Linux cafe from the Google map. My search for the address was not successful while Disc0rd's search of Linux Cafe near Tokyo worked.
Linux Cafe, cool

The second thing I was looking for yesterday was robots, which everyone is so terrifically excited about. There is an advertisement for a robot at Tsukumo eX on the main strip. If you ask about the Robots, they'll give you a map. The map is very simple and shows everything you need to get there, except that it is terrifically confusing if you don't know navigation at all. There is an advertisement at a place called Dos/V for robot, but it wants you to make a U turn and go 30 meters.
Robot Sign U turn 30 meters
If you count out 30 meters you will end up at the wrong Tsukumo. Around the side is correct one. The robot shop is the 3rd floor. And beleive me, it's as good as you could possibly imagine. Parts, robots, from small to large. Every hackable project that you find at Robot Store. The humanoid robots cost $1200, which is probably a very reasonable price. It is sadly out of the range of most people. They have rolling robots in the $10-40 range, including one that has bluetooth for only $20.
Entrance to the Robot store, picture of KHR-1

So why the high cost for the humanoid robots? First, the servos cost $50 each and there are 13 or so of them. Then there's the computer to control 13 servos which costs $500. The rest of the parts are quite expensive for their function.

But motors are really, really cheap. If you wanted, you could homebrew 50 robots from wheeled to walking to humanoid with cheap motors for the same cost as one of the humanoid robots. The electronics are actually pretty cheap if you can get your hands on them. I have an ATmega16 microcontroller with board as part of the Seattle Robotics Workshop bot. If a person had a good handle on soldering they could reproduce the board for under $20.

You don't have to go to Japan for motors, either. Many hobby shops in America have electric motors for $1-5 and if you find someone selling the bulk, you can get them very cheap. The tough part is controlling them, but like I said, a microcontroller and electronics can power a small motor very easily. The first $100 would be well spent on the Seattle Robotics Workshop bot to give you the basic layout of the electronics and a well made robot.

Not to discourage anyone who's got the cash, though. Those who want to develop on a humanoid robot can invest the $1200+ on this very sweet robot. Those of us who do not can build cheaper robots.
Everyone wants to build Gally a new body

A word to those people who wish to be a bit thrifty: shop around. We discount computer builders know it better than anyone: Dell will usually not give you the best quality for your price. Neither will other top N PC manufacturers. The idea that their tech support will make up for the extra price is an absurd notion. They NEVER, I repeat _NEVER_ will RMA anything that a manufacturer won't. There's absolutely no reason to pay more than you should for anything.

The same is true in Tokyo. On a main corner of Akihabara, there's a big electronics retail store. It'll have the cheapest batteries, right? No. The only recharger they had cost $40. The rechargable batteries cost $10. When you think about it, NiMH rechargable batteries can be recharged hundreds of times without considerable loss of usefulness. The charger allows you to use these batteries. Comparing this with normal batteries that you dispose of when finished, it makes sense that the rechargable should be GADS more expensive. (500 disposable batteries cost $500, so 2 rechargable batteries which replace 500 disposable batteries = $500). But that's incorrect. Going to the Robot Store, I found a recharge plus batteries for $10. $10 is the correct price for the batteries and recharger because it's the profit on the item that actually matters, not the profit off of old technology. A retailer that sells a charger for $500 may have 5000% profit, but they won't sell a single unit because the retailer that is selling at 100% profit will take all their sales. Saying that rechargable batteries should cost $500 is like saying that air shipment should cost as much as sea shipment just because sea shipment cost so much in 1900.

Akihabara is very interesting because it has quantity in retail that mail order places have on the net. So instead of going to Pricewatch and grabbing a motherboard, cpu, sound card, etc, you can go to Akihabara and grab a mobo, cpu, sound card, etc.

I have to say that even though Akihabara has what many mail order places lack, lacking selection in a few areas though. It seems like there are only two brands of wifi cards carried in the stores. Buffalo and a random other one. I'm going to keep looking. Buffalo does say on the box that it's using Atheros which is supported by Mad Wifi drivers. I'll update with my status, success or failure.

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If you are interested in traveling Japan, feel free to e-mail me.