Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality

There’s a harsh truth underlying all robotic research: compared to evolution, we suck at making things move. Nature has a couple billion years of practice making things that can slide, hop, fly, swim and run, so why not leverage those platforms? That’s the idea behind this turtle with a navigation robot strapped to its back.

This reminds us somewhat of an alternative universe sci-fi story by S.M. Stirling called The Sky People.  In the story, Venus is teeming with dinosaurs that Terran colonists use as beasts of burden with brain implants that stimulate pleasure centers to control them. While the team led by [Phill Seung-Lee] at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology isn’t likely to get as much work from the red-eared slider turtle as the colonists in the story got from their bionic dinosaurs, there’s still plenty to learn from a setup like this. Using what amounts to a head-up display for the turtle in the form of a strip of LEDs, along with a food dispenser for positive reinforcement, the bionic terrapin is trained to associate food with the flashing LEDs. The LEDs are then used as cues as the turtle navigates between waypoints in a tank. Sadly, the full article is behind a paywall, but the video below gives you a taste of the gripping action.

Looking for something between amphibian and fictional dinosaurs to play mind games with? Why not make your best friend bionic? Continue reading “Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality”

Intel’s Vision for Single Board Computers is to Have Better Vision

At the Bay Area Maker Faire last weekend, Intel was showing off a couple of sexy newcomers in the Single Board Computer (SBC) market. It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that SBCs are all about simple boards with a double-digit price tag like the Raspberry Pi. How can you compete with a $35 computer that has a huge market share and a gigantic community? You compete by appealing to a crowd not satisfied with these entry-level SBCs, and for that Intel appears to be targeting a much higher-end audience that needs computer vision along with the speed and horsepower to do something meaningful with it.

I caught up with Intel’s “Maker Czar”, Jay Melican, at Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend. A year ago, it was a Nintendo Power Glove controlled quadcopter that caught my eye. This year I only had eyes for the two new computing modules on offer, the Joule and the Euclid. They both focus on connecting powerful processors to high-resolution cameras and using a full-blown Linux operating system for the image processing. But it feels like the Joule is meant more for your average hardware hacker, and the Euclid for software engineers who are pointing their skills at robots but don’t want to get bogged down in first-principles of hardware. Before you rage about this in the comments, let me explain.

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Arise, Chicken, Arise!

A couple of months ago, [Mike] started saving bones from all the fried chicken he had been eating. If that’s the opening line, you know it’s going to be good.

This Cyborg Chicken project grew out of [Mike]’s love for battlebots, and an immense dearth of battleborgs. The difference, though small, is distinct: a robot is simply a machine that carries out instructions either automatically or via remote control. A cyborg, on the other hand, contains both organic and biomechatronic body parts. Since [Mike] was saving chicken bones, he stumbled upon the idea of creating a cyborg out of trash, a few servos, an MSP430, and some other parts sitting around in his junk drawer.

A continuation of an earlier remote controlled food project, the capabilities of these chicken battleborgs are about what you would expect: they roll around on wheels and flail their drumsticks wildly. [Mike] has already built at least two of these devices, and the result is accurately described as Rock ’em Sock ’em Borgs. Check out the video below for the action.

On the hardware side of things, [Mike] picked up an MSP430, and whipped up a bit of code in Java. Three billion enterprise computing systems and, now, two cyborg chickens run Java. The motors and drivers come from Pololu, and control is provided over IR with a pair of Atari joysticks.

You can check out the videos of these cyborg chickens below. If you have to ask why, the answer is always, ‘because’.

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Evezor Robotic Arm Engraves 400 Coasters

When you’re running a Kickstarter for a robotic arm, you had better be ready to prove how repeatable and accurate it is. [Andrew] has done just that by laser engraving 400 wooden coasters with Evezor, his SCARA arm that runs on a Raspberry Pi computer with stepper control handled by a Smoothieboard.

Evezor is quite an amazing project: a general purpose arm which can do everything from routing circuit boards to welding given the right end-effectors. If this sounds familiar, that’s because [Andrew] gave a talk about Evezor at Hackaday’s Unconference in Chicago,

One of the rewards for the Evezor Kickstarter is a simple wooden coaster. [Anderw] cut each of the wooden squares out using a table saw. He then made stacks and set to programming Evezor. The 400 coasters were each picked up and dropped into a fixture. Evezor then used a small diode laser to engrave its own logo along with an individual number. The engraved coasters were then stacked in a neat output pile.

After the programming and setup were complete, [Andrew] hit go and left the building. He did keep an eye on Evezor though. A baby monitor captured the action in low resolution. Two DSLR cameras also snapped photos of each coaster being engraved. The resulting time-lapse video can be found after the break.

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Robot Lives in Your Garden and Eats the Weeds

You can’t deny the appeal of gardening. Whether it’s a productive patch of vegetables or a flower bed to delight the senses, the effort put into gardening is amply rewarded. Nobody seems to like the weeding, though — well, almost nobody; I find it quite relaxing. But if you’re not willing to get down and dirty with the weeds, you might consider deploying a weed-eating garden robot to do the job for you.

Dubbed the Tertill, and still very much a prototype, the garden robot is the brainchild of some former iRobot employees. That’s a pretty solid pedigree, and you can see the Roomba-esque navigation scheme in action — when it bumps into something it turns away, eventually covering the whole garden. Weed discrimination is dead simple: short plants bad, tall plants good. Seedlings are protected by a collar until they’re big enough not to get zapped by the solar-powered robot’s line trimmer.

It’s a pretty good idea, but the devil will be in the details. Will it be able to tend the understory of gardens where weeds tend to gather as the plants get taller? Can it handle steep-sided raised beds or deeply mulched gardens? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this Australian weed-bot.

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Balancing Robot Needs Innovative Controller and Motor

A self-balancing robot is a great way to get introduced to control theory and robotics in general. The ability for a robot to sense its position and its current set of circumstances and then to make a proportional response to accomplish its goal is key to all robotics. While hobby robots might use cheap servos or brushed motors, for any more advanced balancing robot you might want to reach for a brushless DC motor and a new fully open-source controller.

The main problem with brushless DC motors is that they don’t perform very well at low velocities. To combat this downside, there are a large number of specialized controllers on the market that can help mitigate their behavior. Until now, all of these controllers have been locked down and proprietary. SmoothControl is looking to create a fully open source design for these motors, and they look like they have a pretty good start. The controller is designed to run on the ubiquitous ATmega32U4 with an open source 3-phase driver board. They are currently using these boards with two specific motors but plan to also support more motors as the project grows.

We’ve seen projects before that detail why brushless motors are difficult to deal with, so an open source driver for brushless DC motors that does the work for us seems appealing. There are lots of applications for brushless DC motors outside of robots where a controller like this could be useful as well, such as driving an airplane’s propeller.

Upgraded Roboceratops Still Not Extinct

We first heard about [Robert Stephenson]’s robotic baby dinosaur a few years ago, and recently he made some upgrades.

Roboceratops V2 uses 10 servos in the jaw, neck, tail, and front and back legs with 16 degrees of freedom—the two front legs each got an additional degree of freedom in the upgrade. [Robert] is currently in the process of swapping out the Hitec HS645 MGs for higher-torque New Power XLDs.

The older version had aluminum legs covered with upholstery foam, but [Robert] has refined the design. The head, body, and legs are made from laser-cut MDF sanded to give a more natural, bone-like rounding. Finally, to better make use of the new servos [Robert] rewrote the gait engine, giving Robosaurus a more natural motion as it adjusts its center of gravity with each step.

So, for the next version are we all on board for simulated skin?

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