The Logitraxx Tracked Robot Kit Will Introduce You To A Whole New World Of Robot Construction

Have you ever wanted to build your own robot? In the past, you might've been pretty much out of luck unless you knew a few hardcore tech heads (or had a head for mechanics yourself). Today, though? There seems to be more robot construction kits on the market than one can keep count of. There's something for everyone, from the casual hobbyists to the hardcore robotics aficionado. The Logitraxx Tracked Robot Kit fits somewhere in the middle - and blows most of the kits on both sides of the spectrum clear out of the water.

Logitraxx is built around the Xlinx Spartan 6 Programmable Field Gate Array(more on exactly what that is in a moment), which allows it to autonomously navigate and interact with various sensors, all without running any software. Wait, what?

Yep. What makes Logitraxx unique is that it's built entirely around FPGA fabric .I...suppose I should explain exactly what that is, shouldn't I? 

According to the Logitraxx Kickstarter, Field Programmable Gate Arrays "are semiconductor devices based around a matrix of configurable logic blocks, connected via programmable interconnects. FPGAs can be reprogrammed to desired application or functionality requirements after manufacturing." Logitraxx is, at its core, designed to teach users how to successfully carry out the reprogramming process. 

That...doesn't really clear things up all that much, does it? Settle in, folks. It's time for a lesson on computing. Let's see if we can't clear the air a bit regarding exactly what these things are and what they do.

The first thing that it's important to note is that - as mentioned by Logitraxx's creator. Shane Lewis -  FPGAs are virtually unknown in the hobbyist world. Most programmers and robotics enthusiasts work with hardware that's entirely application-driven. What this means is that it requires a number of different application layers to function - firmware, operating systems, drivers, et-cetera.

Although these layers saddle their hardware with duties that have nothing to do with the project it's being used for, they're necessary before the hardware can perform even the simplest task. This is anything but ideal, explains Lewis; these layers eat up processing power on an "already overwhelmed micro."

This was not always the case. At one time in the past, many gadgets relied on straightforward logic gates in order to process data. Although efficient, these gates proved to be too simple for modern computing tasks, and the microprocessor quickly took over, pushing more and more operations onto the CPU. At least, that's how it went in the consumer world.

In the background of all the shiny consumer tech we enjoy nowadays, programmable logic devices have been quietly evolving. The end result is that the modern FPGA is incredibly sophisticated compared to the old-school logic gate, with a bunch of configurable hardware that can be assembled into a very powerful system. How powerful?

According to Lewis, FPGAs can be up to "hundreds of times faster than most traditional CPUs." Nice, right? 

Anyway, enough rambling about FPGAs and hardware. Let's talk a bit more about the construction kit. That is our focus here, after all. In addition to the basic kit, there are a number of 'shells' for Logitraxx that can be cobbled together using a 3D printer, including the Snow Cat and the Logitank. Although it's autonomous, you don't actually need to let the system navigate on its own - you can use Arduino (or any other micro-controller) to pilot the robot yourself.

Basically, this kit's giving you everything you need to build and customize your own remote-controlled robot. Of course, that's only the barest minimum of what you can do with it The possibilities are a little staggering; frankly, there are far too many to go over with any degree of detail here. Instead, I'll leave you with one final word:

Check out the Logitraxx Project on Kickstarter if you're interested in acquiring one for yourself.  The page also contains some handy step-by-step tutorials to help you get started in the event that you acquire a programmable robot of your very own.