How cheaply could you build a robot?

Our friends at the African Robotics Network (AFRON)  are currently running a competition to design a low-cost robot platform. The idea is to create affordable robots to help ignite people’s interest in computing, science, maths and engineering.

While the ultimate target is to build a $10 machine, all prototypes that cost less than $100 qualify for entry. The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society are kindly sponsoring the cash prizes, and we’re also supplying some Raspberry Pis as prizes for the winning teams. The deadline for your entries is the middle of September.

Full details can be found on AFRON’s website. You don’t have to use a Raspberry Pi in your design – as long as your robot is cheap, it’ll qualify. Time to put your thinking caps on and get creative!



Parinux avatar

Hi from
GNU/Linux users’ group of Paris, France

Wombat avatar

Why dont we also launch a RPi great mouse race…. after all the original robot mouses compitition was in vouge when the BBC was around in schools!

William H. Bell avatar

What about a great egg race? The robots could try to carry the egg over an obstacle course, without breaking it.

dokurnon avatar

Will the Model A be available by September 15th to shave 10 dollars of the cost?

William H. Bell avatar

Liz said that one of the distributors had mentioned running a model A production in September. They are however still dealing with the backlog of model B boards. Therefore, model A boards might not appear in September. We will just have to wait and see.
Best regards, Will

Drew Farkas avatar

Just a thought, but if you use a RasPi, you should be able to tell them the model ‘A’ price, even if you use a model ‘B’ in your prototype, so long as your prototype doesn’t require any of the additional capabilities of the model ‘B’. Just state that the model ‘A’ will be used, once it is available in the near future.

Goose Igaly avatar

I don’t mean to be a pessimist because this competition sounds like an excellent way to get the ball rolling in the direction that they want to go, but isn’t $10 a bit unreasonable considering you’ll spend that much on a single servo/motor? I read the competition rules and it states that you can use parts that you have on hand if your robot is intended for someone with your level spare parts laying about.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this goes. Prior to the RasPi, I never would have believed a $35 board would be available right now. Good luck to anyone competing.

Will Klein avatar

This reminds me of One Laptop per Child and its $100 price point. It seemed like a pipe dream at first but it sparked a lot of thought and innovation. That $100 laptop/tablet has become attainable (yay!), but I agree $10 may be pushing it. Still, the spirit of the contest is a worthwhile pursuit.

J Heyes avatar
MobeyDuck avatar

Had one of those they are way more then $100 since you get a piece each month and some times its just one blue plate for the back

Nick avatar

I had one of those too. In fact I still have all the pieces for the first Robot in a box in the garage!

Jim Manley avatar

I don’t know about anyone else, but, do we really want autonomous machines wandering about that cost less than $100, not even considering below $10? Don’t we already know where this will lead, based on the results of excessive cost reduction going on all around us? How much longer will you have a job once robots that cost less than $100 are de rigeur, and can you imagine the apocalypse that will occur when our new masters, the sub-$100 robots, come under siege by an ocean of robots that cost under $10? If you think the current rhetoric about what illegal alien laborers are doing to our First World societies, just wait until we’ve been infiltrated by the cheap robots! You won’t want to be in the line of fire when the really chintzy $10 store robots arrive on Main Street and the $100-or-less robots go gunning for them (and if you think the NRA is an intransigent, heartless, malevolent organization, you ain’t seen nothin’, yet).

Someday long in the future, alien historians will be researching old archives of these postings stored in some deeply-buried, cold basement where the Foundation WordPress servers are located, and will discover this post as the missed opportunity to avoid the Armageddon that led to the extinction of our species. Mark my words … @#$%^&*(+?<~ …


Darkwombat avatar

Can I be the first to welcome our new sub-$100 mechanical overlords

AndyB avatar

If there winner of this competition is Skynet then run to the hills!!!

liz avatar

We have been watching the office’s box of Raspberry Pis closely for any evidence of naked Arnie. We’re keeping some sunglasses, a leather jacket, cowboy boots and a bike handy at all times. Unfortunately, none of us owns leather trousers, and the bike is a push bike.

Jim Manley avatar

Hi Liz! I figured you would either completely run with this one … or finally just ban me forever. I’m glad to see your sense of humor (and science fiction film history) are intact! Nice twist to come up with the Tronimator ;)

Greg_E avatar

Maybe in the near future there should be a raspi sumo competition with limits on the price for each weight class to try and keep it fair.

RMW5 avatar

OK here is an idea: £10 for an electronic pepper mill or salt grinder

All you need to do is build the robot to identify where the food is on the plate and put the salt and/or pepper on or off the food as required.

Oscar avatar

If you can convert this into a programmable robot you will win:

Morgaine avatar

If one needs 32-bit programmability at the lowest possible cost, Cortex-M0 is the way to go these days. Over on the Element 14 Raspberry Pi forums, we’re currently discussing this very topic —

The two cheapest entrants in the Cortex-M0 board race are from ST and Freescale:

– At £5.88 from Farnell, ST’s STM32F0-Discovery board —

– At £8.10 (but still awaiting delivery), Freescale’s Kinetis KL25Z Freedom Board — , and see Element 14’s preorder page —

The two cheapest Cortex-M* boards that still feature Arduino-type headers for compatibility with Arduino shields are the Freescale board I linked above, and Olimex’s Cortex-M3-based Olimexino-STM32 board which costs around £17 —


Isaac avatar

But it’s not programmable

dudo avatar

You can draw another line.

Tiago avatar

I’m happy to see this, I have been designing a complete and funcional robot for a robotic club for my university and my goal is a 50€ robot, with mass production I can probably get it to 30-35€ complete, with usb-serial interface for programming, the micro-controller is an atmega so everybody can use the multi-OS arduino IDE, it as included lipo batery and charger, has a tsop to sense remote control signals, can follow lines, can sing, has user leds and buttons and also spare pins for expansion.
It is possible to make a 25€ robot for sure if I could get contacts in china to handle the parts seeking, assembly and making of the pcb’s.

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