Toast-Bot Butters For You (Sometimes)

Sometimes — despite impracticality, safety, failure, and general good sense — one has an urge to see a project through for the sake of it. When you’re sick of buttering your toast every morning, you might take a leaf out of Rick Sandc– ahem, [William Osman]’s book and build a toast-bot to take care of the task for you.

[Osman] — opting for nail the overkill quotient — is using a reciprocating saw motor to hold the butter while the toast moves underneath the apparatus on a platform controlled by a linear stepper motor. The frame and mounts for Toast-Bot were cut out of wood on his home-built laser cutter — affectionately named Retina Smelter 9000′ — and assembled after some frustration and application of zip-ties. The final result DOES butter toast, but — well — see for yourself.

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What Is This, A Battle-Bot For Ants?

Instructables user [Team_Panic] — inspired by the resurgence of robot battle arena shows — wanted to dive in to his local ‘bot building club. Being that they fight at the UK ant weight scale with a cap of 150 grams, [Team_Panic] built a spunky little Arduino Mini-controlled bot on the cheap.

The Instructable is aimed at beginners, and so is peppered with sound advice. For instance, [Team_Panic] advises building from “the weapon out” as that dictates how the rest of the robot will come together around it. There are also some simple design considerations on wiring and circuit boards considering the robot in question will take a few hits, as well as instructions to bring the robot together. To assist any beginners in the audience, [Team_Panic] has provided his design for a simple, “slightly crude,” wedge-bot, as well as his code. Just don’t forget to change the radio pipe so you aren’t interfering with other bots!

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Zooids — Swarm User Interface

What the heck is a Zooid? A Zooid is a small cylindrical robot, measuring 26 mm in diameter and 21 mm in height, weighting about 12g. Each robot is powered by a 100 mAh LiPo battery and uses motor driven wheels — and these things are snappy at a top speed of about 0.5m/s. Each Zooid is able to know if you touched it via capacitive touch sensing. It has wireless capabilities through an NRF24L01+ chip. So, what’s it for, you wonder…

zooids-swarm-robotics-thumbOne robot might not do much but the idea behind the Zooids is the introduction of swarm user interfaces, a new class of human-computer interfaces that involves multiple autonomous robots to handle both display and interaction. In a joint work between the Shape Lab at Stanford University (USA) and the Aviz team at Inria (France), researchers developed an open-source open-hardware platform for what they called “tabletop swarm interfaces”. The actual interface involves a swarm of Zooids, a radio base-station, a high-speed DLP structured light projector for optical tracking and a software framework for application development and control.

In the demonstration video we can see some examples of use of the Zooids. Could the resolution be measured as, erm, ZPI? Near the end of the demo we can see a new level of interactivity where the swarm quickly works together as a team and sort of fetch the user’s phone. Now, if they can be made to scour the house in search of our keys, that would be something…

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Turbine-driven Robot to Navigate Inside Space Station

It may look more like a Companion Cube than R2-D2, but the ISS is getting an astromech droid of sorts.

According to [Trey Smith] of the NASA Ames Research Center, Astrobee is an autonomous robot that will be able to maneuver inside the ISS in three dimensions using vectored thrust from a pair of turbines. The floating droid will navigate visually, using a camera to pick out landmarks aboard the station, including docking ports that let it interface with power and data. A simple arm allows Astrobee to grab onto any of the hand rails inside the ISS to provide a stable point for viewing astronaut activities or helping out with the science.

As cool as Astrobee is, we’re intrigued by how the team at Ames is testing it. The droid is mounted on a stand that floats over an enormous and perfectly flat granite slab using low-friction CO₂ gas bearings, giving it freedom to move in two dimensions. We can’t help but wonder why they didn’t suspend the Astrobee from a gantry using a counterweight to add that third dimension in. Maybe that’s next.

From the sound of it, Astrobee is slated to be flight ready by the end of 2017, so we’ll be watching to see how it does. But if they find themselves with a little free time in the schedule, perhaps adding a few 3D-printed cosmetics would allow them to enter the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

Last week we covered the past and current state of artificial intelligence — what modern AI looks like, the differences between weak and strong AI, AGI, and some of the philosophical ideas about what constitutes consciousness. Weak AI is already all around us, in the form of software dedicated to performing specific tasks intelligently. Strong AI is the ultimate goal, and a true strong AI would resemble what most of us have grown familiar with through popular fiction.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a modern goal many AI researchers are currently devoting their careers to in an effort to bridge that gap. While AGI wouldn’t necessarily possess any kind of consciousness, it would be able to handle any data-related task put before it. Of course, as humans, it’s in our nature to try to forecast the future, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this article. What are some of our best guesses about what we can expect from AI in the future (near and far)? What possible ethical and practical concerns are there if a conscious AI were to be created? In this speculative future, should an AI have rights, or should it be feared?

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Tying Knots with Industrial Robots

We’re not ashamed to admit that we desperately want a pair of high-end industrial robot arms to play around with. We don’t know where we’d put them — maybe the living room? — but we know that we’d figure something out.
This demo aims to get Boy Scouts interested in robotics by applying the beastly arms to something that all kids love, learning to tie knots. (If you ask us, they’ve got it backwards.) Anyway, there are two videos embedded below for you to peek at.

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PVC Submersible ROV

[mark.brubaker.1] and his crew decided to make a submersible for a school project using PVC pipes as a frame. It has two motors on the back to provide forward thrust and steering as well as a horizontal mounted motor in the middle of the PVC chassis to provide up and down thrust. They used regular motors which they waterproofed by inserting them inside a case full of plumbers wax. We’re not sure how long this will hold at the bottom of the ocean, but it works fine for a school project in the pool. Here’s the instructions on how to make one.

The build is completely analog, the controller is a board with three switches which individually control the different motors. So if you want to turn left, you fired up the right motor. For right you do the opposite and fire up the left motor. Up and down, well, you get the picture. If you have a swimming pool, lake or some water body nearby and you’re looking for a weekend project with your kids, this is a great tip. It’s not an Arduino controlled robot fish, but it’s a first step in that direction; you can later on use the frame to improve on the design and add some electronics.

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