So This Is A Frodobot

What the heck is that thing?” It’s some­thing I hear via the built-in mic all the time as I’ve been dri­ving my new Frodobot around Nor­mal Heights. 

A Frodobot is a small, remote con­trolled robot designed to “crowd­source a mas­sive glob­al real-world robot­ics dataset” accord­ing to founder Michael Cho.

For most of us, it’s just a fun lit­tle RC robot to dri­ve around and won­der at the tech allow­ing you to con­trol a robot via an inter­net brows­er from any­where in the world. It con­nects via its own lit­tle built in cell phone, so as long as you’ve got cell ser­vice where it is, you can dri­ve one.

It’s kind of like the nice ver­sion of being one of those drone pilots sta­tioned in Neva­da, except instead of exe­cut­ing airstrikes you’re deliv­er­ing desserts.

You could also be explor­ing with your bud­dies; every Frodobot has 2 cam­eras (front & rear), a mic, and speak­ers. You could be in Belfast, your bud­dy could be in Kin­shasa, and both of you could be dri­ving robots togeth­er in my home­town of San Diego. 

Now, that’s not quite real­i­ty yet; Frodobots are still super new, and there are only two options to dri­ve one. First, you sign up to dri­ve one in the Frodobots fleet, which for the most part are all on an indus­tri­al build­ing’s rooftop in Chi­na that’s set up with a maze to nav­i­gate through.

The oth­er alter­na­tive is to buy your own Frodobot, which is what I did. In fact, I bought 2. They adver­tised $199 each, which was a lit­tle less than what I actu­al­ly paid, plus $236 in shipping. 

They shipped via DHL from Hong Kong, arriv­ing just 4 days after I’d ordered them; super fast!

Now, you might ask, “Nik, why the heck did you buy a Frodobot, nev­er mind two of ’em!?”

First off, I love geeky lit­tle things that are new. Sec­ond, I thought they’d be fun to use at my oth­er com­pa­ny, Paleo Treats, as part of a local mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy. Third, I think there’s some small income poten­tial here to rent out the bots to peo­ple from around the world. Fourth, I’m bet­ting that Frodobots is going to be a DePIN, and I’ve seen how impor­tant it is to start ear­ly on order­ing hard­ware for DePINs.

The first thing does­n’t need a ton of explaining. 

The sec­ond thing is pret­ty straight­for­ward; we’ve been using our lit­tle Frodobots to make mini-deliv­er­ies of our desserts to oth­er busi­ness­es. It’s a fun thing we can do to to col­lab­o­rate with oth­er busi­ness­es. Noth­ing crazy, just deliv­er­ing stuff via robot. You can check those out over on the Paleo Treats IG.

The third thing or fourth things are why you might be here. 

The ques­tion to answer there is: 

How do I make mon­ey with remote con­trolled robots?

It’s pret­ty sim­ple: Frodobots is set­ting up a mar­ket­place where you can rent out time on your Frodobots to any­one else in the world. A user will log in to some­thing like, pre-pay for time and prob­a­bly some insur­ance pay­ment, then they can select your bot, and as long as you have it on and charged up, they can dri­ve it around.

Now, I’ll get a lit­tle hand-wavy here and just guess at a cou­ple of rea­sons that dri­ving a Frodobot might be worth pay­ing for. None of these have been vet­ted by GK Legal, they’re just ideas.

The Maze

You could set up a local “maze” course in the park­ing lot (or ware­house) of your busi­ness and offer prizes for who com­pletes it the fastest, or, if you have more than one Frodobot, who com­pletes it first out of a group. The prizes might be mon­ey, or a coupon to shop at the busi­ness, or more time on the Frodobots marketplace. 

This seems the most real­is­tic, as Frodobots is already doing this in terms of rent­ing out time for mon­ey and then award­ing spe­cial roles as prizes. 

Local Gifting

We think it might be fun to offer up the chance for some­one to deliv­er a gift to their friend. Let’s say you live in Alaba­ma, but your bestie lives down the street from a busi­ness with a Frodobot. You might buy some­thing at the busi­ness, have ’em put it in the Frodobot bas­ket, then dri­ve it down to your friend’s place as a spe­cial deliv­ery. Since there’s a cam­era, mic, and speak­er, you get the fun expe­ri­ence of inter­act­ing with your friend through the robot. Sure, you could call ’em, but this is some­thing new: “I deliv­ered your gift myself, with a robot I con­trolled.” Not every­one can say that at a din­ner party.

Local Challenges

Giv­en local street lay­outs, it might be fun to do a larg­er ver­sion of the maze, where you cap­tain a Frodobot around to local mark­ers, “tag” them, and come back, all under a cer­tain time. If you’re an enter­pris­ing type, you could print up QR plac­ards that you affix to the entry­way to a busi­ness at Frodobot cam­era height. You could then auto­mate the whole thing, and award prizes based on when the QR was scanned.

Casual Walk

This was actu­al­ly one of the first ideas I had for this. My nephew lives over­seas and my par­ents live in oth­er states. I thought it would be cool to hand over con­trol of a Frodobot to them before I go on my morn­ing walk with the dogs. In a way, I get to take them along on my walk, get to chat with them and share the same things I’m see­ing; when I feed the crows with peanuts, what my lit­tle dog­gies are get­ting up to, and just have a slight­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence than they might have if I just Face­timed ’em and they had no choice in what they got to look at.

All those are just ideas of what you can do with a remote con­trolled robot. Let’s dig in a bit to the tech next, then we’ll fin­ish up with the “What if it becomes a DePIN?” question.

The Tech

Ok, so what’s in ’em? The com­po­nents are in two sep­a­rate areas; the sen­sor pack­age, which is up in the “head” (where the cam­era, speak­er, and mic are) and then the loco­mo­tion pack­age, which is down in the body.

I asked Chat­G­PT to help me go through what I saw up in the head:

On Main Board (labeled TC-RV2216 Core)

  • Rockchip RV1126: A high-per­for­mance AI proces­sor from Rockchip, typ­i­cal­ly used in smart cam­eras, AIoT, and oth­er intel­li­gent devices.
  • Rockchip RK809‑2 : This is like­ly a pow­er man­age­ment inte­grat­ed cir­cuit (PMIC) used to man­age pow­er require­ments of the device, work­ing in con­junc­tion with the main processor.
  • SEC 110 K4F8E30 : This appears to be a mem­o­ry chip from Sam­sung Elec­tron­ics (SEC), pos­si­bly RAM or flash storage.
  • SEC 149 C041 : Anoth­er mem­o­ry chip from Sam­sung, prob­a­bly an eMMC flash stor­age used for the oper­at­ing sys­tem and data storage.
  • YXC 24: This might be a crys­tal oscil­la­tor used for tim­ing pur­pos­es, with “YXC” being the man­u­fac­tur­er and the num­bers rep­re­sent­ing part code or frequency.
  • SP485EL: A low pow­er half-duplex trans­ceiv­er chip used for ser­i­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, like­ly RS-485.

Over by Modem (top right)

  • PAM 8610: A dig­i­tal audio ampli­fi­er chip, used for dri­ving speak­ers and pro­vid­ing sound output.
  • Fn-Link 6223a-ST : A Wi-Fi mod­ule pro­vid­ing wire­less connectivity.

Other components

  • Slkor LM2596S-12: A volt­age reg­u­la­tor chip, like­ly used to con­vert high­er volt­age down to 12V.
  • GG2302: This could refer to a spe­cif­ic part or chip on the board, but with­out more con­text, it’s unclear what its func­tion is.
  • But­tons for Pow­er On, Reset, Update
  • USB OTG: Stands for USB On-The-Go, a USB port that allows the device to switch between act­ing as a USB host or USB device, enhanc­ing con­nec­tiv­i­ty options.

Then, down in the body, the following. 

As you’ll see, GPT was­n’t sure what all of ’em are, but for some of the nerds who’ll read this they may make sense, so I’m leav­ing them in.

  • Espres­sif ESP32-S3-WROOM‑1 : This is a Wi-Fi + Blue­tooth mod­ule from Espres­sif. The ESP32-S3 is a series known for its high per­for­mance and ver­sa­tile appli­ca­tion range, includ­ing IoT, wear­able elec­tron­ics, and smart home devices.
  • ADB210 YRZ #713: This could be a part num­ber or a spe­cif­ic chip, but with­out more con­text, it’s dif­fi­cult to deter­mine its exact func­tion. It might be a part of a larg­er inte­grat­ed cir­cuit or a spe­cif­ic iden­ti­fi­er for a cus­tom component.
  • SS14: This is a Schot­tky diode, known for its low volt­age drop and high effi­cien­cy, com­mon­ly used in pow­er rec­ti­fi­ca­tion and as a pro­tec­tion device in circuits.
  • 4701, 2202, 1003: These are like­ly resis­tor or capac­i­tor codes, indi­cat­ing their val­ues. For exam­ple, 4701 could mean a 470-ohm resis­tor, and 1003 might be a 100 nF capac­i­tor. These com­po­nents are fun­da­men­tal in elec­tron­ic cir­cuits for con­trol­ling volt­ages and currents.
  • SS36: Anoth­er Schot­tky diode, sim­i­lar to the SS14 but like­ly with dif­fer­ent volt­age or cur­rent han­dling characteristics.
  • BAXY NO58: This appears to be a spe­cif­ic part num­ber, which could relate to a cus­tom com­po­nent or a spe­cif­ic ver­sion of a stan­dard part. The exact func­tion would depend on the device’s design.
  • T4: This could rep­re­sent a tran­sis­tor or a spe­cif­ic code for a com­po­nent. Tran­sis­tors are used for switch­ing and ampli­fy­ing elec­tron­ic signals.
  • IRFR7440: This is a pow­er MOSFET, used for switch­ing and ampli­fy­ing elec­tron­ic sig­nals in high-pow­er applications.
  • THP4 M51: Like­ly a spe­cif­ic part num­ber or iden­ti­fi­er for a com­po­nent, need­ing more con­text to deter­mine its function.
  • HIP4081AIBZ : A high-fre­quen­cy, high-volt­age full-bridge N‑channel FET dri­ver IC, used in motor con­trol cir­cuits and oth­er high-pow­er applications.
  • WCH CH240C : This might be a USB to ser­i­al chip, often used for con­nect­ing USB devices to ser­i­al interfaces.
  • MAX3485: This is a low-pow­er, half-duplex RS-485/RS-422 trans­ceiv­er, used for ser­i­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion in indus­tri­al environments.
  • JM32R LM259: This seems to be part of a prod­uct code, pos­si­bly relat­ed to a pow­er man­age­ment chip like the LM2596 (volt­age reg­u­la­tor), but the exact part is unclear.

Ok, so what are the take­aways from that? First, that the team at Frodobots is mak­ing lit­tle to no mon­ey on sell­ing hard­ware; at $199 this is a pret­ty darn good price. 

Sec­ond, the pres­ence of the RV1126 tells me that we’ll see obsta­cle avoid­ance as a fea­ture in the future, and I won’t be sur­prised to see some autonomous dri­ving capa­bil­i­ties like “Hey Frodobot, can you go down and pick up a loaf of bread at the cor­ner store” at some point in the future, where the route gets mapped out, sent to the Frodobot and it dri­ves the route on its own.

Third, the Fn-Link in the head (WiFi con­nec­tiv­i­ty) means we may see not only local pro­gram­ming pos­si­bil­i­ties wire­less­ly (though you can prob­a­bly just plug in to the USB port as well), but there may be some crossover with oth­er DePINs regard­ing map­ping out WiFi networks.

That brings us to the last of the rea­sons I bought this: 

What if Frodobots becomes a DePIN?

A “DePIN” stands for Decen­tral­ized Phys­i­cal Infra­struc­ture Net­work. It’s a new type of busi­ness mod­el where peo­ple (or busi­ness­es) buy hard­ware that pro­vides some kind of ser­vice. The ser­vice can be wire­less con­nec­tiv­i­ty, or weath­er data, or dash­cam imagery. What­ev­er it is, pro­vid­ing the ser­vice is reward­ed with tokens. Those tokens can usu­al­ly be trad­ed in cryp­tocur­ren­cy markets.

A good exam­ple is Heli­um Mobile, where you can buy a Heli­um Hotspot, pro­vide cov­er­age for peo­ple using a Heli­um phone plan, and be reward­ed in tokens for the amount of data that flows through your Hotspot. 

In the case of Frodobots, you’ve got to ask a few ques­tions: What is that they want? What is the most effi­cient way to get it? How would you build an incen­tive struc­ture to achieve that?

As founder Michael Cho has said, the goal of Frodobots is to “crowd­source a mas­sive glob­al real-world robot­ics dataset”. The DePIN play there seems pret­ty straightforward:

Pro­vide a way for peo­ple to earn tokens by gen­er­at­ing a real-world robot­ics dataset, and make that abil­i­ty glob­al­ly acces­si­ble, whether you’re the robot own­er, dri­ver, or fleet manager.

Of course, any pro­posed busi­ness has to have some val­ue, so how might be fig­ure out the val­ue of this mar­ket? Accord­ing to a mar­ket report from, “The glob­al AI in Com­put­er Vision mar­ket size is […] pro­ject­ed to reach $45.7 bil­lion by 2028, grow­ing at a CAGR of 21.5% from 2023 to 2028.” 

Of course, that’s just AI in com­put­er vision, which is only a part of what Frodobots can do. As Forbes has said, “Data is the lifeblood of mod­ern arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence”, and the real world data these robots can pro­vide at a large fleet lev­el may be staggering.

Again, from the Forbes article:

Get­ting the right data is both the most impor­tant and the most chal­leng­ing part of build­ing pow­er­ful AI. Col­lect­ing qual­i­ty data from the real world is com­pli­cat­ed, expen­sive and time-consuming.

-Forbes, Syn­thet­ic Data Is About To Trans­form Arti­fi­cial Intelligence

Frodobots may offer an alter­na­tive, or bet­ter yet, a sup­ple­ment to syn­thet­ic data that isn’t com­pli­cat­ed, expen­sive or time-consuming.

The val­ue of real-world robot­ics datasets lies in their abil­i­ty to reduce time, cost, and resources required for devel­op­ing, train­ing, and val­i­dat­ing robot­ics sys­tems and AI mod­els. You don’t have to look very far to see super smart peo­ple div­ing deep into fig­ur­ing out how to build foun­da­tion mod­els for robots to inter­act in the real world. 

Basi­cal­ly, if you have access to a large data set from the real world, and espe­cial­ly if that dataset involves the inter­ac­tions between humans and machines, that is poten­tial­ly a very valu­able thing.

Con­trary Research unpacks this idea in the Scale AI Report that we *used* to not have enough data. 

A long-run­ning issue with build­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and machine learn­ing appli­ca­tions was a lack of well-orga­nized data required to build models.

-Peg­gy Wang & Sachin Maini

Com­pa­nies like Frodobots may help to start alle­vi­ate that data short­age, help­ing to con­tin­ue build­ing our mod­els and under­stand­ing of the world in new ways. 

All of that adds up to why I bought a cou­ple of Frodobots. Frodobots rep­re­sents this fas­ci­nat­ing inter­sec­tion of tech­nol­o­gy, busi­ness, and com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, and I love being a par­tic­i­pant at that glo­ri­ous intersection.

If you buy one and are look­ing for a mobile plan, the best I found for unlim­it­ed data was a Heli­um Mobile plan at $20/month and $5 off the first month if you use that link or code KAS6KPL

Rock on!


10 responses to “So This Is A Frodobot”

  1. Thanks your thoughts on Frodobots! I dis­cov­ered them here and will like­ly be order­ing one or two using my Dis­cord discount.
    Here is a Red­dit AMA from the co-founder that has more infor­ma­tion about them

  2. Yeah, Michael did a great job over on Red­dit with those, thanks for link­ing ’em!

  3. NP!
    Nik, what IoT 4G car­ri­er are you using for your FrodoBots Zeros? I’m con­sid­er­ing Sora­com. Do you have any expe­ri­ence with them?

  4. I’m using a pSIM from Heli­um ( $20/month unlim­it­ed. $5 off first month with code KAS6KPL
    Mint Mobile has $15/month for the first 3 months but lim­it­ed to (I think) 15 GB.

  5. Thanks, Nik! Mint Mobile has an Unlim­it­ed Plan for $15/mo for 3 months rn. The same plan/price can be extend­ed too: “Once the 3 months are up, you can renew with a 3, 6 or 12-month plan to keep the sav­ings going.”
    I’m going to get two lines for two Zeros. I’ll update once every­thing arrives. ? ?

  6. Oh nice, I did­n’t see the unlim­it­ed plan option when I signed up. Nice find!

  7. Hey Nik! I got my Zeros and The Tech looks the same. There are some cos­met­ic dif­fer­ences though: my Zeros have a small 3‑D print­ed cap over the wires con­nect­ing the head elec­tron­ics to the body elec­tron­ics instead of the full stain­less pan­el that yours have. I like the look or yours bet­ter; not sure why it was changed (cost? repairabil­i­ty? both?).
    I acti­vat­ed one of my Zeros and the Mint Mobile Unlim­it­ed plan I used is only $15/month for 3 months; it dou­bles to $30/month if renewed for 12 months. I’ll like­ly be mov­ing to anoth­er car­ri­er in 3 months.

  8. Right on. I’ve thought a lit­tle about how to improve that side pan­el, had­n’t thought of replac­ing it with a 3D print­ed cap though. I was think­ing more of ham­mer­ing out a lit­tle chan­nel for the wires (though it’s clear­ly not necesssary.

  9. Hey, Nik. Do you hap­pen to have pic­tures of the back of the cir­cuit­board in the head? I’m run­ning my Zeros in a low band­width area, and I’m think­ing of adding phys­i­cal switch­es to dis­able one or both cam­eras so that not as much data is sent to the Ago­ra API. The two HD video streams are not nec­es­sary when I’m dri­ving using line of sight and they slow down the respon­sive­ness of the Zero. Hope­ful­ly in a future ver­sion of the firmware turn­ing off the cam­eras will be an option with­out using phys­i­cal switches.

  10. Yep, here ya go:
    back of Frodobot head

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