Taking Control Of Your Furby

Furbys have been around for a while and they are an interesting (if annoying) toy that will teach the kids to be okay with their eventual robotic overlords. In the meantime, the latest version of the robotic companion/toy/annoyance uses Bluetooth LE to communicate with the owner and [Jeija] has been listening in on the Bluetooth communication, trying to reverse engineer the protocol in order to run code on Furby.

[Jeija] has made a lot of progress and can already control the Furby’s actions, antenna and backlight color, and change the Furby’s emotional state by changing the values of the Furby’s hungriness, tiredness, etc. [Jeija] has created a program that runs on top of Node.js and can communicate with the Furby and change its properties. [Jeija] has also discovered, and can bring up, a secret debug menu that displays in the Furby’s eyes. Yet to be discovered is how to run your own code on the Furby, however, [Jeija] is able to add custom audio to the official DLC files and upload them into the Furby.

[Jeija] points out the all this was done without taking a Furby apart, only by sniffing the Bluetooth communication between the robot and the controlling app (Android/iOS device.) Check out a similar hack on the previous generation of Furbys, as well as a replacement brain for them. We just hope that the designers included a red/green LED so that we will all know when the Furbys switch from good to evil.

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Lego Boosts Their Robotic Offering

Kids often have their first exposure to robots in school using Lego Mindstorm kits. Now Lego is rolling out Boost — a robotic kit targeting all Lego builders from 7 years old and up. The kit is scheduled to be on the market later this year (it appeared at the recent CES) and will sell for about $160.

[The Brothers Brick] had a chance to try the kit out at CES (see the video below) and you might find their review interesting. The kit provides parts and instructions to build five different models: a cat, a robot, a guitar, a 3D printer, and a tracked vehicle. You can check out the official page, too.

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Brain Controlled Tracked Robot

[Imetomi] found himself salvaging a camera from a broken drone when he decided to use it in a new project, a tracked robot with a live video feed from the mounted camera.

… I had a cheap Chinese drone that was broken, but its camera seemed to be operating and when I took apart my drone I found a small WiFi chip with a video transmitter. I (decided) that I will use this little circuit for a project and I started to buy and salvage the parts.

Being a tracked robot, it can negotiate most types of terrain and climb hills up to 40 degrees. It is powered by two 18650 lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 2600 mAh and the remote control is based on the HC-12 serial communication module. You can control it with a joystick and watch the camera’s live-stream in a virtual reality glass. That’s pretty neat but it’s not all.

[Imetomi] also used a hacked Nacomimi Brainwave Toy to make a brain controlled version of his robot. The brainwaves are detected using sensors placed on the scalp. To actually control it the operator has to focus on the right hand to move right, focus on the left hand to move left, blink to move forward and blink again to stop. There is also an ultrasonic sensor to help navigation so the robot doesn’t bump into things. It’s not very precise but you can always build the joystick version or, even better, make a version with both controls.

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Sentry Robot Turns Bad Cat to Good

The household of [James Watts] has cats, and those cats have decided that various spots of carpet are just great for digging up with their claws. After some efforts at training the cats, [James] enlisted a robotic cat trainer with remote wireless sensors. The automated trainer does only one job, but it does that one job reliably and tirelessly, which is just what is needed in this case. A task like “automate training the cats to stop clawing the carpet” is really made up of many smaller problems, and [James] implemented a number of clever ideas in his solution.

First of all, the need for an automated solution has a lot to do with how pets form associations, and the need to have the negative reinforcement be in the right place at the right time to be effective. A harmless spritz of water in this case is used for correction and needed to be applied immediately, consistently, and “from out of nowhere” (instead of coming from a person.) Otherwise, as [James] discovered, spraying water when the cats clawed the carpet simply meant that they stopped doing it when he was around.

There were a number of tricky problems to solve in the process. One was how to reliably detect cats actually clawing the carpet. Another was how to direct the harmless spray of water to only the spot in question, and how to rig and manage a water supply without creating another mess in the process. Finally, the whole thing needed to be clean and tidy; a hackjob with a mess of wires strung everywhere just wouldn’t do.

base_frontTo achieve all this, [James] created a main sprayer unit that is wirelessly connected to remote sensor units using NRF24L01+ serial packet radios. When a remote senses that a trouble spot is being clawed, the main unit uses an RC servo to swivel a spray nozzle in the correct direction and give the offending feline a watery reminder.

The self-contained remote sensors use an accelerometer to detect the slight lifting of the carpet when it’s being clawed. [James] programmed the MMA8452Q three axis accelerometer to trigger an external pin when motion is sensed above a certain threshold, and this event is sent over the wireless link.

For the main sprayer unit itself, [James] cleverly based it around an off-the-shelf replacement windshield washer tank. With an integrated pump, tubing, and assortment of nozzles there was no need to design any of those elements from scratch. If you want to give the project a shot, check out the github repository — probably worth it it since one night is all it took to change the cat behavior which explains the lack of any action video.

Pet projects usually center around automating the feeding process, but it’s nice to see other applications. For something on the positive-reinforcement end of training, check out this cat exercise wheel that integrates a treat dispenser to encourage an exercise regimen.

Say Hello to our New Robot Overlords

Well, that’s it. If SkyNet goes live once this 4-meter tall Avatar-style mech suit is in production, we’re all doomed.

Named [Method-2], the bipedal giant towers over the engineers testing it at Korea’s Hankook Mirae Technology, where they appear to have done everything possible to make this thing look terrifyingly awesome. The first video below shows the mech with a pilot on board, putting the arms through their paces. We count at least six degrees of freedom on each arm, not including the five digits on each hand that look like they could punch through a brick wall. Later in the video we see a tethered walking test with no pilot, but we also found a webcam video that purports to be the first walk with a pilot. Either way, the 1.5-ton machine shakes the floor with every step.

This is still a development phase project, as evidenced by the fact that the mech seems to be getting its power from an umbilical. But this company has dumped a lot of money into this thing, and we’d bet they intend to capitalize on it. Once it can run untethered, though, watch out. Until then, we’ll settle for this mecha-baby costume.

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Alexa Robot Coffee Maker Brews Coffee, Speaks For Itself

To keep hackers fueled and hacking, why not hack a coffee maker into a coffee brewing robot? [Carter Hurd] and [David Frank] did just that at The Ohio State’s Hack OHI/O 24 hour Hackathon. They even won the “Best Hardware Hack”. The video below shows it in action but the guys sent us some extra details on how it’s made.

To give it a voice they put Alexa on a Raspberry Pi. Using an audio splitter they have the voice go both to a speaker and to an Arduino. The Arduino then uses the amplitude of the audio signal’s positive values to determine how much to open the “mouth”, the coffee maker’s hinged cover. As is usually the case, there’s some lag, but the result is still quite good.

The brewing is also controlled by the Arduino. They plan to add voice control so that they can simply ask, “Alexa, make me coffee”, but for now they added a switch on the side to start the brewing. That switch tells the Arduino to work one servo to open the cover, another to insert a coffee filter, and two more to scoop up some coffee from a container and dump it into the filter.

They replaced the coffee maker’s on/off switch with a relay so that after the Arduino closes the cover again, it uses the relay to start the brewing. The result is surprisingly human-like. We especially like the graceful movement achieved by the two servos for scooping up and dumping the coffee. Full disclosure: they did admit that it would often either not scoop enough coffee or scoop enough but spill a bunch on the group.

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From IKEA Lamp To Robot Arm

We’re used to projects that take everyday household objects and modify or enhance them into new and exciting forms that their original designers never intended. A particular theme in this endeavour comes from the IKEA hacking community, who take the products of the Swedish furniture store and use them for the basis of their work.

A particularly inventive piece of IKEA hacking is a project from [anastas.car], a low-cost 3D-printed robot arm based on Ikea Tertial lamp. The lamp in question is a relatively inexpensive spring-balanced desk lamp that when looked at in another light has all the metalwork ready-cut for a 5 degrees of freedom robot arm when combined with 3D-printed servo holders for five servos at its joints. The resulting design has all files available on Thingiverse, and judging by the video we’ve posted below the break makes for a rather effective arm.

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