BB-8 is real! But how did they do it?

BB-8 the new droid in the star wars franchise made his first public appearance (YouTube link) at Star Wars Celebration last week. While cast and crew of the movie have long said that BB-8 is real, seeing it up on stage, driving circles around R2D2 takes things to a whole new level. The question remains, how exactly does it work?

new petOur (and probably any other tech geek worth their salt’s) immediate reaction was to think of xkcd’s “New Pet” comic. All the way back in 2008, [Randall Munroe] suggested omnidirectional wheels and magnets could be used to create exactly this kind of ‘bot. Is this what’s going on inside BB-8? No one knows for sure, but that won’t stop us from trying to figure it out!

BB-8’s family tree may actually start with Sphero. Fortune reports  that Sphero was part of Disney’s accelerator program in 2014. Each company in the accelerator program gets a mentor from Disney. Sphero’s mentor was Disney CEO Bob Iger himself.

The Head

So if BB-8’s body is based on a Sphero, how does the head work? The Disney crew has been mum on this so far, but there is plenty of speculation! If you watch the video in HD, several flashes can be seen between the body and head gap. These might be status LEDs on BB-8’s electronics, but they could also be IR LEDs – possibly part of an optical mouse style sensor. Sensor fusion between gyroscopes, accelerometers and the optical flow sensors would make for a robust solution to the inverted pendulum problem presented by BB-8’s head.

How do you think BB-8 works? Is it magnets, motors, or The Force? Let us know in the comments!

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Robotic Player Guitar Rocks Out on Its Own

Back in 1988 [Ben Reardon] walked through the Japanese pavilion at the World Expo held in Brisbane, Australia. He saw a robot playing a classical guitar, and was in awe. Later in his life, he decided to learn guitar, and always thought back to that robot. After going to SIGGRAPH 2014 and being inspired by all the creative makers out there, he realized the technology was here — to build his own Robot Guitar.

He started small though — with a prototype robotic Tambourine. It helped flush out some of the ideas for coding that he would eventually employ on the Robot Guitar. The guitar features both an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi, along with six RC servos — one for each string. The biggest challenge with the project was getting the servos mounted just right — stiff, but with adjustment so each pick could be tuned for identical timing. He ended up using aluminum extrusion to mount the servos, three per side in order to leave space for the picks.

Once the mechanical portion was done — onto the coding…

In the end, it ended up being only 460 lines of code. Python and a bit of Bash for the Raspberry Pi — and of course a few sketches for the Arduino. But enough talking about it — let’s hear it!

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In Which Robots Fight the Console Wars

Though the names have changed over the years, the console wars wage on. [moop] must have been feeling nostalgic for the NES vs. SEGA days when he started his current project, Foobot, which is a tabletop football (soccer) game played by robots that are controlled with classic NES and SEGA controllers.

Each team has two robots that tool around on laser-cut perspex wheels attached directly to 16,000RPM motors. An SN754410 controls the motors, and each robot has an ATtiny2313 brain. They all communicate with a single transmitter over their 433MHz 1402 radio receiver modules. To avoid collisions, [moop] used a packet system, wherein each robot has an ID. The messages all contain a robot ID, message payload, and checksum. The robots ignore messages addressed to others, and any message with an invalid checksum.

[moop] has made everything available on his github, including the PCB layouts and CAD files for the robot chassis and transmitter case. Watch them battle it out after the break. If the Foobots have riled you up about vintage gaming, check out these sweet arcade hacks.

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SparkFun Stair Climbing Robot Challenge

In case you missed it, SparkFun recently held the Actobotics Stair Climber Challenge competition, where you could build a robot capable of ascending stairs and win some sweet SparkFun cash!

The contest is over now and the winners have just been announced — and some of the bots the contestants came up with are just plain awesome!

First prize went to the [Jaeger Family] who built a wheeled robot that can roll right up stairs without even batting an eyelash — it’s pretty cool to see. Check that out and more below.

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14 Wheel Drive Vehicle Climbs Over Most Things

What do you get when you cross 7 hobby gearboxes with 14 wheels and a LiPo battery? Instead of speculating an answer, we can just check out one of [rctestflight’s] projects.

He came across those hobby gearboxes and thought it would be fun to build a 14 wheel drive contraption. Each gearbox has its own motor and is wrapped up in a nice tidy package also including the axle and wheels. All of the wheels mounted on a straight board wouldn’t be much fun so [rctestflight] used heavy duty zip ties that act as a flexible frame to connect one gearbox to the next. This allows the vehicle to bend and climb over obstacles while keeping as many wheels in contact with the ground as possible.

14 Wheel Drive

All 7 motors are powered by a single cell LiPo battery. In the video after the break it appears the vehicle can steer or that it is remotely controlled, but that is not the case. Once the battery is plugged in it just goes forward. This isn’t the first time one of [rctestflight’s] projects has been featured on Hackaday, check out his Free Falling Quadcopter Experiment.

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Mini Robot Wars Looks Fun and Only Slightly Scary

“Ahhhh! They’re so cute! Wait a second, does that little robot have a spinning blade of death?!?!?”  Yes, yes it does.

Welcome to Bristol University 2nd Annual Robot Wars Tournament. It’s loosely based on the old BBC show Robot Wars, where contestants would design and build fighting robots. This pint-sized version is just down right fun to watch. But don’t let their size fool you, some of these little bots pack a mean punch.

This competition follows the “Antweight World Series Rules” and must fit inside a 4 inch cube with a max weight of 150 grams. There are some not-so-fun rules attached to that, such as “No flame based weapons” and “no use of electricity as a weapon.” But hey, it still looks like a blast.

We can’t help but to think that a contest like this would be an amazing thing for local hacker spaces to set up and organize. The playing field seems to be a reasonable size, such that it could be set-up and torn-down without too much hassle. And with RC transmitters/receivers available so inexpensively these days, and ebay flooded with little robot parts from China, now seems like a perfect time to start a local robot competition. It might be a great way to draw people into making and hacking. You can watch the video of the competition and meet the makers after the break.

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Terra Spider Repairs and Resurfaces new Frontiers

Is your landscape congested with toxic waste, parched, or otherwise abandoned? The Terra Spider may be your answer to new life in otherwise barren wastelands.

Bred in the Digital Craft Lab at the California College of the Arts, the current progress demonstrates the principle of deploying multiple eight-legged drones that can drill and deploy their liquid payload, intended to “repair or maintain” the landing site.

To deliver their project, students [Manali Chitre], [Anh Vu], and [Mallory Van Ness] designed and assembled a laser-cut octopod chassis, an actuated drilling mechanism, and a liquid deployment system all from easily available stock components and raw materials. While project details are sparse, the comprehensive bill-of-materials gives us a window into the process of putting together the pieces of a Terra Spider. The kinematics for movement are actuated by servos, a Sparkfun gear-reduced motor enables drilling, and a peristaltic pump handles the payload deployment.

It’s not every day that flying robots deploy drill-wielding spider drones. Keep in mind, though, that the Terra Spider is a performance piece, a hardware-based demonstration of a bigger idea, in our case: remote coverage and sample deployments in a barren wasteland. While, this project is still a work-in-progress, the bill-of-materials and successful deployment demos both testify towards this project’s extensive development.

With the earnest intent of repairing withering environments, perhaps this project has a future as an entry into this year’s Earth-saving Hackaday Prize….

Coming soon to a galaxy near you!

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