As many good ideas, it all started with a group of friends having a beer in a bar near University Carlos III (UC3M) in Madrid.
We were studying the MSc in Robotics there and we all wondered how we could put our learnings into practice. We were convinced that there’s no better way to learn robotics than hands-on experience. So, why not create a venue where we could build and program our own robots? We quickly realised that the University’s student organizations would be the best vehicle to our initiative. The University provided a small space plus some funding to develop our projects. A student organization also would be a great channel to attract other students with the same curiosity and drive we had.
In January 2009 ASROB (ASociación de ROBótica) was born with the objective of promoting robotics, electronics, programming, and technology among the student community at the University. Our objective was to develop projects related to those areas and attract both undergrads and grad students (both MSc. and PhD).
We wanted to create an open community where everyone can learn from others. Hence, we opened the community to anyone who would be interested in joining, no previous experience nor requirements were asked. More senior members would help newer ones providing their advice, experiences and knowledge.
The way ASROB was organized was by a governing board and several work groups. The governing board was composed of the leaders of each working group. In the board meetings people would discuss which projects to work on, what activities to do, etc. The leads were responsible for the success and advancement of each working group. They also had to help newer members to ramp up with the tools and methodologies of the project. Members were free to work in any project of their interest, in fact many of us participated in several projects at the same time. The only limits were available time and energy.
An interesting part of the governing process is that any ASROB member can become a leader and member of the board. The only requirement is a commitment to work and develop a project. So the process is bottom-up, those interested in contributing will get more responsibilities. This is the complete opposite of traditional organizations, where leaders will select the bottom part of the organization.
After several years experimenting and learning, in 2016 we decided to improve ASROB’s management by increasing the flatness and openness of our society. The governing board was dissolved in favor of a democratic system in which all the important decisions were made by voting. This way, all members would have equal rights to participate and give their opinion. This new system was supported using several online tools. For communication and discussion of common matters a public Telegram group was created. GitHub, a platform originally intended for storing and managing code was 'hacked' to serve as a platform to keep an open track of the 'issues' that affected our organization, and discuss how to solve them. As a consequence, we observed that, after these changes, there was an increase in the participation and engagement of new members, as they could learn what were the issues being worked on at any time, and felt that their opinion was important and being taken into account.
Through these 10 years, ASROB projects have been related to 5 main lines of work: humanoids, mobile robots, drones, 3D printers and robot devastation.
Humanoids robots were one of the first lines of work in ASROB, and because of that, it has had different phases. The group is focused on low-size humanoids robots, shorter than 50cm. At the beginning of the project, the main platform used was the Robonova from Hitec. These robots were hacked by members of ASROB to participate in robotics competitions. We participated in some of them, like Robochallenge in Vienna and CEABOT in Spain, with encouraging results. In Vienna, the results were first position in sumo and second position in running. In CEABOT 2012 we obtained the second position.
After that, in 2012, ASROB acquired some Bioloid robots from Robotis, which were the base for a lot of undergraduate and master theses. Ceabot was the main workbench and target for the developments made, and because of that, for a long time we counted with a full-size replica of the official competition scenario.
In 2014, following the boom of the 3D printers, the group decided to create its own open-source 3D printable humanoids, MYOD, which stands for Make Your Own Droid. This initiative created four functional prototypes. These prototypes were so affordable that every member that would be interested would be able to build their own customized robot. Over the years, a lot of projects were developed including fields like locomotion, path planning, computer vision, electronic design, 3D modeling, etc.
There have been several lines of development of mobile robots in ASROB. One of the first projects was ECRO (Earth Civil Robot), whose objective was to create an autonomous mobile platform. The development included mechanics, electronics, control, communications and computer vision.
In later years, there was a particular group called RPC (Personal Competition Robots), whose main objective is to create small mobile robots for competitions. The electronics were based of arduinos and Raspberri Pi’s and most of the parts were printed with a 3D printer. In subsequent years, a similar initiative appeared as new members joined ASROB, the project Robot Factory
Aerial robots was another interesting and bold line of development. The original objective was to hack commercial drones to create an autonomous UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) that would stabilize itself and avoid obstacles automatically. This was really challenging and in later years, the group FENIX, focused on upgrading and modifying commercial drones and racing with them.
The group of 3D printers has been extremely successful. The original objective was to create 3D printers that printed other 3D printers. A large number of members participated in the initiative, giving birth to the Clone Wars community, which later became a spin-off from ASROB as a stand-alone society so it could reach a much bigger scope (in fact Clone Wars became the first and biggest Spanish 3D printing community). Any member of ASROB could print anything they wanted for free and so more than 100 3D printers were made. Many of the robots of ASROB were made with 3D-printed parts.
The objective of Robot Devastation is to develop a video-game with real robots… and the real robots that compose the game! The setup is that of a first-person shooter, where the environment is the first-person view of the robot you control, rather than some game map stored in computer memory. Robots are low-cost and developed by students, using components such as Raspberry Pi’s, webcams, hobby servo-motors, and of course 3D-printed parts. Currently, robots detect each other by means of QR codes placed as “licence plates”, through which they can identify if they are on the same team. Explosions are performed through augmented reality in the HUD the player visualizes, and sounds are very realistic (including the Original Soundtrack)!
In the next video, a summary of 10 years of development, fun and lots of robots is shown.
ASROB has been and still is an exciting organization. During these 10 years, a large number of students have come and gone, creating exciting projects and using their spare time to learn together.
Probably one of the reasons why the organization has survived all these years is its openness. Anyone can join, there is no experience or previous knowledge required.
There is a number of people that are not satisfied with just attending University and getting an engineering degree. The organization is the home to those that want to learn faster and make projects in the area of robotics, electronics and computer science. In ASROB, we call these people makers.
At its core, ASROB embodies the famous quote of Isaac Asimov: "Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is".
Since the beginning, the research group RoboticsLab at UC3M has been a strong supporter of ASROB, providing materials, economic support, space to have meetings and knowledge. Many ASROB members ended up doing their MSc and PhD theses in the group. ASROB will always be in debt for such generosity and support.