Treasure trove of swarm robotics research


The screen capture above shows a group of swarm robots working together to move the blue box from the left side of the frame over to the right. It’s just one of many demonstrations shown in the video clip after the break. The clip is a quick sampling of the many swarm robotics research projects going on at the University of Sheffield’s Natural Robotics Lab.

The main focus for all of the research is to see what can be accomplished by getting a large group of relatively simple machines to work together. Each device has a microcontroller brain, camera, accelerometer, proximity sensors, and a microphone. By mixing and matching the use of available components they can test different concepts which will be useful in creating utility robot swarms for real-world tasks. The video shows off the robots grouping themselves by like characteristic, a test called segregation (the purpose of this didn’t resonate with us), and group tasks like moving that box. The nice thing is that a series of white papers is available at the post linked above (click on the PDF icon) so that you may dig deeper if these projects are of interest to you.

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Used hard drive repurposed as a cotton candy machine


If you’re reading this website, you’re probably someone who likes to take things apart. As such, you probably also have one or more old computer hard drives just sitting around in a parts bin.  Of all the projects you could have for an old drive, here’s an interesting one – A Chinese engineer who operates a hard drive repair and data recovery center decided to turn a used drive into a cotton candy machine.

Possible sanitary concerns set aside, his creation is very cheap and easy to build. Most hackers probably have all the necessary gear just sitting around already. The only parts he used were: a hard drive that still powered up, a generic plastic basin, an aluminum can, a flat round metal tin, and six bicycle spokes.

It might not be pretty, but it works. If you want to create your own, be sure to check out the above link. There’s a full DIY guide complete with step-by-step photos.

[Thanks Fabien]

Adding Bluetooth remote control to PC speakers


[Andrzej's] plain old computer speakers are ordinary no more. He pulled off a fairly complicated hack which now lets him control speakers via Bluetooth.

He had a set of Creative brand computer speakers with a volume potentiometer that needed replacing. He was having trouble finding a drop-in replacement part and decided he would just go with a rotary encoder. Obviously you can’t just drop one of those in, he would need a microcontroller to monitor the encoder and translate the change into the appropriate resistance. He figured if he was going this far he might as well make the most out of the uC.

Above you can see all the stuff he crammed into the original case. The rotary encoder is seen on the lower left. An ATmega8 is on a PCB he made himself. The white part to the left is a digital potentiometer which feeds the resistance to the original speaker PCB. On the left is the Bluetooth module which lets him control everything from his phone. You can see a demo of that after the break.

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BigDog throwing cinder blocks


It’s as if giving cheetah-like speed to an advanced robot wasn’t good enough. The engineers over at Boston Dynamics must have been thinking to themselves, how can we make this thing even more menacing? The answer seems to be adding a highly dexterous articulated arm that gives the robot the ability to chuck objects as heavy as cinder blocks. We’re not kidding, look at the image above and you’ll see one mid-flight in the upper left. A quick search tells us that block probably weighs 30 pounds!

BigDog is a research project for the US military that we’ve seen navigating all kinds of terrain. It’s a heavy lifter able to carry loads where other machinery cannot. But now they’ve added an appendage that reminds us of an elephant’s trunk. It branches off of BigDog’s body where a quadruped’s neck would be. At the end of the appendage is a gripper that looks much like what you’d seen on industrial assembly robots. But enough talk, click through to see the action video. Oh, and if you didn’t pick up on the cheetah reference we made earlier you’ll want to check out this post.

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Car stereo hack gives your party tunes and an extra place to sit


With summer on the horizon it’s time to start thinking about outdoor leisure. [x2Jiggy] is chomping at the bit having recently completed this project. It’s a portable stereo that also gives you somewhere to sit.

Unlike several of these types of project, he didn’t build the system inside of a cooler. Instead, the chassis was built from scratch using MDF. This material is strong and easy to work with, but we’d bet the finished case is a beast to haul around because of the weight. At least there’s a heavy-duty handle on either side so that you and a buddy can split the burden. One nice perk is that it’ll make a sturdy yet comfortable seat thanks the padded and upholstered top.

The audio components that went into it are all automotive parts and shouldn’t mind being jostled during transport. A computer PSU provides the 12V needed by the stereo. But there are a couple of external rail connections if you want to haul around a 12V battery instead.

Homemade Bocce balls


For those unfamiliar with it, Bocce Ball is an outdoor game played with a set of heavy grapefruit-sized balls. We’ve never really thought of making our own set, but as you can see above, it can be done. These are six Bocce balls produced at home by [Horvitz444].

It seems the commercially available balls have a cement or clay core covered in a layer of high-impact epoxy. [Horvitz444] was able to recreate this starting with some vacuum forming. He built his own former out of peg board and a shop vac. The plastic stock he used was a light panel from the home store. After heating it up in the oven he formed a mold using what looks like two halves of Bocce balls. The mold halves were melted together using a soldering iron. After pouring in the secret concoction of cement ingredients and letting them harden, he removed the orbs from the molds and ground down the seams until smooth. They were covered in epoxy and painted. Most of these details were gleaned from his comments in the Reddit thread.

AVR VGA generator


This simple circuitry makes up the hardware for [Andrew's] AVR-based VGA generator. He managed to get an ATmega1284 to output a stable VGA signal. Anyone who’s looked into the VGA standard will know that this is quite an accomplishment. That’s because VGA is all about timing, and that presented him with a problem almost immediately.

The chip is meant to run at a top speed of 20 MHz. [Andrew] did manage to get code written that implemented the horizontal and vertical sync at this speed. But there weren’t enough clock cycles left to deal with frame buffering. His solution was to overclock the chip to 25 MHz. We assume he chose that because he had a crystal on hand, because we think it would have been easier to use a 25.174 MHz crystal which is one of the speeds listed in the specification.

Red, green, and blue each get their own two-bit range selected via a set of resistors for a total of 64 colors. As you can see in the video after the break, the 128×96 pixel video is up and running. [Andrew] plans to enlarge the scope of the project from here to make it more versatile than just showing standard images. The code (written in assembly) is available at his GitHub repository.

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