Interactive Robot: Project Naughty Ball

A month before the Bay Area Maker Faire, there were ominous predictions the entire faire would be filled with BB-8 droids, the cute astromech ball bot we’ll be seeing more of when The Force Awakens this December. This prediction proved to be premature. There were plenty of R2 units droiding around the faire, but not a single BB-8. Perhaps at the NYC Maker Faire this September.

skeletonRegarding ball bots, we did have one friendly rolling companion at Maker Faire this year. It was a project by UC Davis students [Henjiu Kang], [Yi Lu], and [Yunan Song] that rolls around, seeking out whoever is wearing an infrared ankle strap. They team is calling it Project Naughty Ball, but we’re going to call it the first step towards a miniature BB-8 droid.

The design of the Naughty Ball is somewhat ingenious; it’s set up as a two-wheel balancing bot inside a clear plasic sphere. A ton of batteries work well enough as the ballast, stepper motors and machined plastic wheels balance and steer the ball bot, and the structure on the top hemisphere of the ball houses all the interesting electronics.

There is a BeagleBone Black with WiFi adapter, a few motor drivers, an IMU, and a very interesting 3D printed mount that spins the robot’s eyes – infrared cameras that spin around inside the ball and track whoever is wearing that IR transmitting ankle band.

As far as robotics project go, you really can’t do better at Maker Faire than a semi-autonomous ball bot that follows its owner, and the amount of work these guys have put into this project sends it to the next level. You can check out a video description of their project below.

Tin Spider is 13-foot Rideable Strandbeest

Arguably our best find at Bay Area Maker Faire this year was the Tin Spider built by [Scott Parenteau]. He constructed the 13-foot tall vehicle to take with him on his very first trip to Burning Man back in 2012. There’s very little information available online so we were excited that [Scott] spent some time speaking with us on Saturday.

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Robo Lamp is Too Damn Cute!

Remember the Pixar lamp? Well, [Rick] from [Phlegmatic Prototyping] decided to build his own.

It’s actually the third iteration of the project, the first being made from a cheap camera sensor, an ATMega328, a computer mouse and laser cut parts. The second iteration… sounds like it was the Pixar Lamp — and due to possible copyright infringement [Rick] decided not to show it off. Which brings us to number three, Robolamp the Third.

Quite obviously not the Pixar lamp now, [Rick] designed the whole thing in 3D CAD and had it printed at Shapeways. It uses a CMUCAM5 vision sensor that detects color hues, allowing the lamp to track colorful objects, like an orange, which ends up looking painfully cute. Just take a look at the video.

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SPARC: A Voice Controlled Robot Sings Sweetly in DTMF

One of the recurring themes of science fiction is the robot. From such icons as C-3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars to WALL-E and Eve, robots have always had a certain appeal. Inexpensive microcontrollers like the Arduino have opened up the world of robotics to more people. [JohnFin] has done just this. By linking two Arduinos as the brain, he has created a voice controlled robot he calls S.P.A.R.C. (Sentry/Project Assistant/Robot Companion).

It began when he received a robotic arm for Christmas and was disappointed by it. Instead of simply building a better arm, he got “carried away” and built an entire robot instead. The entire project took three months, most of which he spent learning programming.

SPARC has three sonar sensors for detecting obstacles and movement, an arm and a couple of interchangeable hands for holding objects, and an EasyVR Arduino Shield for the voice control. The robot’s “eyes” are an LED ‘KITT’ scanner and an AN6884 VU meter chip that flashes the “eyes” when the robot speaks. It carries an onboard smartphone to look up weather, play music from the phone’s SD card, and GPS functions.

SPARC can respond to a range of commands and games including “follow me” and “singing.” [JohnFin] has also added a “sequencer” function to record and playback a series of commands. A video of this feature can be found after the break.

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The Simplest Quadrupedal Robot Ever

Wheeled and tracked robots are easy mode, and thanks to some helpful online tutorials for inverse kinematics, building quadruped, hexapod, and octopod robots is getting easier and easier. [deshipu] came up with what is probably the simplest quadruped robot ever. It’s designed to be a walking robot that’s as cheap and as simple to build as possible.

The biggest problem with walking robots is simply the frame. Where a wheeled robot is basically a model car, a walking robot needs legs, joints, and a sturdy frame to attach everything to. While there are laser cut hexapod frames out there, [deshipu]’s Tote robot uses servos for most of the skeleton. The servos are connected to each other by servo horns and screws.

The electronics are based on an Arduino Pro Mini, with a PCB for turning the Arduino’s pins into servo headers. Other than that, a 1000uF cap keeps brownouts from happening, and a 1S LiPo cell provides the power.

Electronics are easy, and the inverse kinematics and walking algorithms aren’t. For that, [deshipu] has a few tutorials for these topics. It’s a very complete guide to building a quadruped robot, but it’s still a work in progress. That’s okay, because [deshipu] says it will probably remain a work in progress until every kid on Earth builds one.

Move Aside Boston Dynamics, ATRIAS is Coming!

ATRIAS has just taken its first steps outside on grass, marking an impressive achievement for this university robotics project.

Built by Oregon State University, ATRIAS is a bipedal robot whose name in jest stands for “Assume The Robot Is A Sphere”. It’s an old physics joke really, which describes how any complex scientific model can be reduced to its simplest form in order perform calculations — but sometimes (always) makes its application in reality a challenge…

We’re sure you all remember BD’s Big Dog and its impressive ability to throw freaking cinder blocks — but remember, it has four legs and a tail — or is it a trunk — an arm? ATRIAS on the other hand is a true threat to humanity and our unique ability to walk around on two legs. And the mechanism they made for it is pretty damn clever.

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DIY Tank Tracks Give Tons of Traction

If you’re building a robot for off-road or rough terrain, chances are you’ve thought about using a tank-tread style drive. There are a ton of kits available with plastic tread and wheels, but they are typically really expensive or pretty flimsy. Instead of going with an off-the-shelf solution, [Paul B] designed a heavy-duty tank tread made with common bike chain and conduit.

Some DIY tread designs we’ve featured just use a single bike chain on either side of the tread pieces. This gets the job done, but each section of tread is usually bolted through the chain. This means that you can’t use a sprocket to drive the chain since all the bolt heads block where the teeth engage. Instead, these designs typically use drive wheels inside the tread, which are prone to slip under a heavy load. [Paul B]’s design is a bit different: it uses a DIY double-wide chain so he can bolt tread segments to the chain and still use a drive sprocket.

Constructing the double-wide chain took quite a bit of work. [Paul B] completely disassembled a couple of bike chains with a delinker tool and then reassembled the chain in a double-wide configuration with M3 bolts instead of the original chain pins. Each section of tread (made out of cut pieces of plastic conduit) bolts on the outside section of chain, and a sprocket runs on the inside. His DIY chain approach saves him money too, since double-wide chains are pretty expensive. Since his sprockets directly engage the drive train, his design should be able to handle as much torque as his drivetrain can put out.