EV3DEV Lego Linux Updated

The ev3dev Linux distribution got an update this month. The distribution targets the Lego EV3 which is a CPU Lego provides to drive their Mindstorm robots. The new release includes the most recent kernel and updates from Debian 8.8. It also contains tools needed for some Wi-Fi dongles and other updates.

If you haven’t seen ev3dev before, it is quite simply Linux that boots on the EV3 hardware using an SD card. You don’t have to reflash the computer and if you want to return to stock, just take out the SD card. You can also use ev3dev on a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone, if you like. There’s a driver framework included for handling sensors, motors, and other items using the file system.

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Converting a Robotic Motor For Lego Blocks

The Internet has brought a lot of advantage to life, not the least of which is access to really cheap electronic parts. [KarelK166] was buying cheap geared motors for projects, but they didn’t easily work with Lego blocks. He found an easy way to adapt them and–lucky for us–decided to share.

The process is pretty simple. The gearbox has two screws and an elastic band holding it together. Once the gears are exposed, you can drill a hole in two of them with a 4.8mm drill bit. This might take a little practice since the gear needs to hold still, but you also don’t want to crush the plastic teeth. You also need to enlarge a hole in the casing, but that’s easier to clamp down in a vise.

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Universal Robots Vision-Based LEGO Stacker

[Thomas Kølbæk Jespersen] and his classmates at Aalborg University’s Robot Vision course used MATLAB code and URscript to program a Universal Robots UR5 to stack up Duplo bricks. The Duplo bricks are stacked into low-fi Simpsons characters — yellow for Homer’s head, white for his shirt, and blue for his pants, for example.

The bricks are scattered randomly on a nearby table, while a camera mounted above the table scans the bricks and assists in determining the location, color, and orientation of the elements. This involves blob analysis which helps the computer decide what pixel is part of a brick and what isn’t. After running a recursive grassfire algorithm with 4-connectivity, the computer gives each pixel a number and assigns it to a blob.

To determine the orientation (the bricks are all assumed to be stud-side up and not overlapping) the blob is divided into quadrants and within each quadrant, the distance between the center of the blob and its farthest pixel is measured. This technique is not likely to work as well with a brick that isn’t square. Each brick’s location in pixels is translated into Cartesian coordinates, making it a cinch for the robot to pick it up. See [Thomas]’s GitHub for MATLAB and URscript code.

Looking for more UR5 projects? Check out the Sewbo garment-making robot we published last year.

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Chocolate Factory Simulation Makes Bars with LEGO

[Michael Brandl] got to visit the Milka chocolate factory in Bludenz, Austria and was inspired to build this simulation of the production process for the LEGO world 2017 event in Copenhagen.

The process begins with the empty mold riding on a double row of tank treads. Subsequent modules seem to fill the mold with LEGO ingredients, cool the bars, and remove them from the mold. The last two steps rock: [Michael] built a dispenser that drops a tiny cardboard box onto the line, sized to hold 3 LEGO bars. The box rolls to the end of the line and is picked up by a pneumatic gripper that picks up the box and places it on a pallet.

While more whimsical than the LEGO liquid handler we featured recently, there are a lot of interesting robotic techniques to be learned here. On the reverse angle video you can see more of what’s going on with the wiring of the various motors and sensors. There are six EV3 bricks scattered along the length of the assembly line. The bricks control 15 small motors, 2 large motors, 7 touch sensors, and 3 light sensors. [Michael] added some nice touches, like the combo of two color sensors, seen around 1:45 of the reverse angle video, possibly used to keep the factory operations synced.

Check out [Michael’s] Mindstorms sendup of [Anouk Wipprecht’s] drink bot dress. The LEGO version was built for Robotexotica. In addition, he has a lot of projects featured on his site.

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LEGO Train Explores a World of Sparkling Light

[bananenbuurman] converted his studio apartment into a glorious four-minute LEGO train course equipped with lights, motorized effects, and creative displays.

The train car sports a 360-degree camera, giving us a minifigure’s view of the whole course: a series of themed “rooms”—one papered in what appear too be Euro notes, while others have laptops, power supplies, motherboards, and other pieces of old hardware. You’re reminded of the train’s small size when it passes by various LEGO-scale elements like minifigures, looming as if they were six feet tall.

There are lights everywhere, from the LED indicators from various pieces of equipment, to holiday lights and an an impressive collection of novelty lighting. It’s almost like a Katamari Damacy level in terms of detail—the gate made of floppy drives is killer.

You can see more of [bananenbuurman]’s projects at Banana Neighbor.

[Thanks, MarkoeZ!]

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Sorting Two Tonnes Of Lego

Have you ever taken an interest in something, and then found it’s got a little out of hand as your acquisitions spiral into a tidal wave of bags and boxes? [Jacques Mattheij] found himself in just that position with Lego. His online purchases had run away with him, and he had a garage packed with “two metric tonnes” of the little coloured bricks.

Disposing of Lego is fairly straightforward, there is a lively second-hand market. But to maximise the return it is important to be in control of what you have, to avoid packaging up fake, discoloured, damaged, or dirty parts. This can become a huge job if you do it by hand, so he built a Lego sorting machine to do the job for him.

The machine starts with a hopper for the loose Lego, with a slow belt that tips individual parts down a chute to a faster belt derived from a running trainer. On that they run past a camera whose images are analysed through a neural net, and based on its identification the parts are directed into appropriate bins with carefully timed jets of compressed air.

The result is a surprisingly fast way to sort large amounts of bricks without human intervention. He’s posted some videos, one of which we’ve placed below the break, so you can see for yourselves.

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Giant Solderless LEGO NES Controller Gives Everyone Tiny Hands

If you were thinking “I should spend $130 on LEGO bricks and build a giant USB NES controller just to see what that would be like,” but you were afraid of spending that much money, [BrownDogGadgets] has you covered. He built a giant NES controller out of LEGO. The controller is designed in LEGO Digital Designer, which lets you create a virtual model, then get a full list of parts which can be ordered online.

The electronics are based on a Teensy LC programmed to appear as a USB keyboard, and the buttons are standard push buttons. The insides are wired together with nylon conductive tape. LEGO was an appropriate choice because the Teensy and switches are built on top of LEGO compatible PCBs, so components are just snapped in place. The system is called Crazy Circuits and is a pretty neat way to turn electronics into a universal and reusable system.

If that controller is too big, they’ve also used the same circuit with some laser cut parts for your own controller. If you do want to go even bigger, take a look at [Baron von Brunk’s] LEGO NES controller, which used the electronics from a real controller.

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