Black Line Follower: A Modern Bristlebot

It’s been a while since we’ve seen much action on the bristlebot front, which is too bad. So we’re happy to see [Extreme Electronics]’s take on the classic introductory “robot”: the Black Line Follower. The beauty of these things is their simplicity, so we’ll just point you to his build instructions and leave the rest to you.

The original bristlebot is a fantastic introduction to electronics, because it’s simple enough that you can cobble one together in no time. A battery, a pager motor, and a toothbrush head are all you need. But it goes where it wants, rather than where you want it to go.

Adding steering is as simple as tying two bristlebots together and firing one motor at a time to execute a turn. The Black Line Follower is of this style.

Of course, any good idea can be taken to extremes, as in this giant weight-shifting bristlebot, or this super-tiny IR-controlled bristlebot.

But that was more than five years ago now. What happened to the mighty engines of bristlebot creativity? Has the b-bot seen its finest hour? Or are we just waiting for the next generation to wiggle up to the plate?

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Build a light following bristlebot as a way to teach science


[Ben Finio] designed this project as a way to get kids interested in learning about science and engineering. Is it bad that we just want to build one of our own? It’s a light following bristlebot which in itself is quite simple to build and understand. We think the platform has a lot of potential for leading to other things, like learning about microcontrollers and wireless modules to give it wireless control.

Right now it’s basically two bristlebots combined into one package. The screen capture seen above makes it hard to pick out the two toothbrush heads on either side of a battery pack. The chassis of the build is a blue mini-breadboard. The circuit that makes it follow light is the definition of simple. [Ben] uses two MOSFETs to control two vibration motors mounted on the rear corners of the chassis. The gate of each MOSFET is driven by a voltage divider which includes a photoresistor. When light on one is brighter than the other it causes the bot to turn towards to the brighter sensor. When viewing the project log above make sure to click on the tabs to see all of the available info.

This directional control seems quite good. We’ve also seen other versions which shift the weight of the bot to change direction.

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Steerable bristlebot via IR control

Looking at the size of this bristlebot the first thing we wondered is where’s the battery? All we know is that it’s a rechargeable NiMH and it must be hiding under that tiny circuit board. But [Naghi Sotoudeh] didn’t just build a mindless device that jiggles its way across a table. This vibrating robot is controllable with an infrared remote control. It uses an ATtiny45 microcontroller to monitor an IR receiver for user input. An RC5 compatible television remote control lets you send commands, driving the tiny form factor in more ways than we thought possible. Check out the video after the break to see how well the two vibrating motors work at propelling the device. They’re driven using a PWM signal with makes for better control, but it doesn’t look like there’s any protection circuitry which raises concern for the longevity of the uC.

This build was featured in a larger post over at Hizook which details the history of vibrating robots. It’s not technically a bristlebot since it doesn’t ride on top of a brush, but the concept is the same. You could give your miniature fabrication skills a try in order to replicate this, or you can build a much larger version that is also steerable.

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Bristlebot mod never rubs you the wrong way


[Underling] sent in his bristlebot project that aims to put a new spin on controlling bristlebot movement. We have seen several attempts at bristlebot directional control in the past, but none of these methods really fit what he wanted to do. His goal was to use a single brush rather than two, and be able to aim the bot in any direction at will.

He tried several different designs, but settled on what you see in the picture above. The large brush head is fitted with a vibrating motor on the front as well as a cell phone battery near the midsection.  These pieces are placed in the center plane of the brush as to not influence the direction of movement.  A separate servo-like motor is placed on the back of the brush, and each side of the motor’s arm is attached to a paddle that extends down the sides of the brush. When the motor is activated, one paddle is pressed in towards the bristles, while the other paddle is pulled away. This causes an immediate shift in direction, and should provide for a relatively tight turn radius. It should be noted that he also took the time to remove bristles from the center of the brush where the steering paddles are located in order to improve turning performance.

Unfortunately [Underling] does not currently have a video camera with which to show off his work, but we hope to see some action footage in the near future.

RC bristlebot shifts weight for steering

This large bristlebot has no prolem steering itself by shifting its weight. It’s easy enough to watch the video after the break and see how this works. But there’s still the same air of “I can’t believe that actually works” which we experienced with the original bristlebot.

This is not the first attempt to calm a bristlebots movements, but we don’t remember seeing one you could drive around like an RC car. [Glajten] up-sized the bot with what appears to be a small shop broom cut in half, creating a catamaran design. The vibrating motor, which might have come out of a gaming controller, rides on the back of the bot, centered between the two bristle platforms. On the front a servo motor holds the shaft of a long bolt which has extra weight at the end of it. Steering happens when the weight is offset by a turn of the servo.

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Controllable bristlebot

[sprite_tm], whose projects we have covered in the past, took the popular bristlebot to an extreme and created a controllable version. A bristlebot consists of a small vibrating motor mounted with a battery on the head of a toothbrush. These micro-robots buzz around randomly, and he attempted to tame them. He used a platform of twin bristlebots and added an optical sensor from a laser mouse and an ATtiny13. The optical sensor is used to determine the relative motion of the robot, so that the motors can be adjusted accordingly. He also has a video of the bot using the sensor to find a mark on the floor and stay within bounds. Although it isn’t as accurate, it acts like a traditional line-following robot.

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Ethanol-Powered Arduinos

Following the time-honored YouTube tradition of ordering cheap stuff online and playing with it while the camera runs, [Monta Elkins] bought a Stirling engine that drives a DC motor used as a generator. How much electrical juice can this thing provide, running on just denatured alcohol? (Will it blend?)

The answer is probably not really a spoiler: it generates enough to run “Blink.ino” on a stock Arduino, at least when powered directly through the 5 V rail. [Monta] recorded an open-circuit voltage of around 5 V, and a short-circuit current of around 100 mA at a measured few hundred millivolts. While he didn’t log enough of the points in-between to make a real power curve, we’re guessing the generator might be a better match for 3.3 V electronics. The real question is whether or not it can handle the peaky demands of an ESP8266. Serious questions, indeed!

The video is a tad long, but it’s more than made up for by the sight of an open flame vibro-botting itself across his desk while [Monta] is trying to cool the cold side down with a melting ice cube. Which got us thinking, naturally. If you just had two of the Stirling enginesContinue reading “Ethanol-Powered Arduinos”