Meccanoid

Meccanoid is an advanced yet easy to use open source robotic building platform.


Forget it!

Since Meccano introduced its Meccanoid at the end of 2015, they still have to open their source. You cannot reprogram its controlling processor, called Meccabrain. All they gave away so far was a bit-bang protocol to control the smart servos and LED module, and a corresponding Arduino library for convenience.

As a toy, it may be quite impressive at first (after daddy spent at least 8 hours to build it), but my guess is that many Meccanoids will have gathered quite some dust by now.

In order to become a serious robotics platform, it will have to offer much more than just servos and LED modules that can be controlled by a microprocessor like Arduino. The included Meccabrain processor unit has 8 channels that, in theory, could control 32 Meccanoid devices (servos or LED modules that can be daisy-chained). Even if the company behind Meccanoid, Spin Master Toys, would allow the upload of custom code to the Meccabrain, I would still want to connect sensors and communication modules to it.

 

Apart from plastic parts, screws and bolts, my Meccanoid G15 KS now basically is: eight smart servos, one LED module, two DC motors and a closed source Meccabrain. Well, let’s see what a real open source platform like Arduino can do with it.

Wiring

Tim Surtell, who wrote software to control Meccanoid from a Windows PC via Arduino, explains the wiring to Arduino on his site:

source: https://meccontrol.com/help/software/devices/meccanoidservomotor

 

Testing Meccanoid control by an Arduino

This video shows Meccanoid’s left arm servo chain connected to my Arduino Uno, using a separate 6 volt power supply for the servos. The small test sketch does some arm lifting, always changing the color of active joints from green to red.

So, only 3 digital pins of the Arduino are needed to control all servo movements and LED colors of the robot. The DC motors in its feet can easily be controlled by using a dual H-bridge chip or a Motor Shield.

 

Now that I verified that Meccanoid can be controlled by Arduino, where to go next? Possible scenarios:

  • Replace the Meccabrain by an Arduino, and add some sensors and communication modules (wifi, bluetooth and/or rf) in order to make this a real robot that’s aware of its environment. And make it walk instead of roll!
  • Take the robot apart and use the servos and DC motors for future robotic projects.
  • Give away my Meccanoid G15 KS robot to some kid.

 

In case someone is interested, here’s my arm lifting sketch:
(the MeccaBrain.h library I used can be downloaded from http://www.meccano.com/meccanoid-opensource).