I saw the Spykee robot at Costco and so I went home and researched what it was all about.
Then I decided to run back to Costco and pick one up before the US supply runs out. It was $229.99
Spykee was created by a French company, Meccano and is being distributed in the USA under the Erector brand. The robot has been available in the UK and Europe for some time – it was at one time called Spyke, but probably as a result of some trademark issues, now is called Spykee.
The basic idea is that the robot connects via wifi and therefore can be controlled either locally on the same wi-fi network, or remotely from any IP address. It’s sort of a remote-controlled webcam that you can drive around.
It’s supposedly a kid’s toy, but I’m not sure it’s going to be all that fun for kids, frankly. It’s very cool, and I hope to do some fun (and perhaps even interesting) stuff with it, but here are a few of my gripes:
- The building process is overall poor. The instructions are terrible. The fasteners that Meccano provide with it are really junk and awful for load bearing – I substituted my own nylon screws with nuts to end the thing falling apart at the slightest touch/bump.
- Meccano support sucks. Well actually, it just doesn’t exist at all. The toy doesn’t come with a CD or printed manuals. You have to download them. But the catch is that Meccano doesn’t seem to know how to operate either a web server or a mail server. Their web server takes users to the UK site with no links back to the US site, for reference, you can get to the US site by manually entering this address in your browser: http://www.spykeeworld.com/US/
- As I note, they can’t run a mail server either, apparently, because mail to the address they list for support bounces (and it has been this way for a long time, according to forums around the net).
- The robot looks like it has arms that move, but the entire body of the robot is just a frame to hold the webcam. It serves no function and doesn’t do anything (cannot be moved via remote control). The “active” parts of the robot are the base with the tracks and CPU etc. and the webcam “module” which also houses the LED light and microphone. The rest of it is inanimate, just for show.
- The Spykee is not very autonomous. It only does things while one is connected to it from the “console” software. You can’t activate a function, then log out, and expect it to do anything (like act as a surveillance camera).
- There is no web interface – the only way to connect to the robot and interact with it is to use a specific binary application (Mac and Windows supported). So that app has to be installed on any computer you want to use to interact with Spykee and those computers have to be a Mac or Windows PC (i.e. no iPhone or othe such).
- The name has the word “Spy” in it, but Spykee is not very stealthy. It’s not going to sneak up on anybody (It’s LOUD).
- You can theoretically talk beween the remote PC and somebody near the robot, but it doesn’t work very well, at least not on the Mac version. It has horrible delay and no echo handling, so is near useless. If you mute the mic on the PC side, you can use this feature to listen to sounds near the robot, but it’s hard to interact.
- The manual says the software is “open source” but it is nowhere to be found (people keep saying it will be released, but there’s no dates anywhere that I’ve found).
There’s a good YouTube video out there listing some of the above and a few other criticisms here.
I haven’t done anything with the Spykee yet except the “officially supported” things, which are actually pretty cool, but limiting. I want to connect to the device directly with my own software, with web services etc. Unfortunately, the protocols are not released, nor is the supposed “open source software”, so this will require hardcore reverse engineering. I haven’t spent any time on that yet, so I can’t provide any details yet.
In getting the remote control mode to work, you setup a name/password for your robot on SpykeeWorld.com and then connect from a remote place using that name. One thing I found out is that this name/password must be simple letters with no spaces or other punctuation. It will let you set a name with these characters, but when you try to connect, it won’t work (and the diagnostic “recipient not available” is not helpful). I have been able to use the remote access (from outside on the Internet to the robot behind a NAT/firewall) with the robot sitting behind many different makes and models of firewalls and routers, and I even tried two layers of firewalls and that worked too, which surprised me. I’m not sure yet how it gets through the NAT/firewall.
Like I said, I rushed out and bought it because I didn’t want to miss this wave of US shipments, but before you do the same thing, you might want to be aware of the above caveats.