Bistrobot: Make Me A Sandwich

Reading this article in the San Francisco Chronicle sounds very familiar if you’ve owned a hand-built robot of any kind. “Bistrobot” is a pretty sweet sandwich-making robot. It toasts bread on the fly and applies peanut butter, jelly, honey, apple butter, and/or a few other gloopy dispensable delicacies at the behest of human customers. Watch the video below and we guarantee that you’ll want to toss a couple bucks into it, even if you don’t like toasted PB&J sandwiches.

The video makes everything look peachy, like a 3D printer on a good day. Check out the jelly nozzle zig-zagging across the half-sandwich — it’s very familiar. Indeed the whole machine seems like something we could build. But as we all know, continuous duty has a way of finding the flaws in our designs. The Chronicle article is part triumph, and part tale of woe, with the builder being called in to repair the Bistrobot for the “zillionth” time.

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Autonomous Tractor Brings In The Harvest

[Matt Reimer] is a farmer in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It’s grain country, and at harvest time he has a problem. An essential task when harvesting is that of the grain cart driver, piloting a tractor and grain trailer that has to constantly do the round between unloading the combine harvester and depositing the grain in a truck. It’s a thankless, unrelenting, and repetitive task, and [Matt]’s problem is that labour is difficult to find when every other farmer in the region is also hiring.

His solution was to replace the driver with a set of Arduinos and a Pixhawk autopilot controlling the tractor’s cab actuators, and running ArduPilot, DroneKit, and his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Since a modern tractor is effectively a fly-by-wire device this is not as annoying a task as it would have been with a tractor from several decades ago, or with a car. The resulting autonomous tractor picks up the grain from his combine, but he reminds us that for now it still deposits the harvest in the truck under human control. It is still a work-in-progress with only one harvest behind it, so this project is definitely one to watch over the next few months.

Writing from the point of view of someone who grew up on a farm and has done her share of harvest-time tractor driving it’s possible to see both the strengths and weaknesses of an autonomous grain cart. His fields on the Canadian prairie are very large and flat, there is plenty of space and the grain makes its way from the field to the elevator in a truck. To perform the same task in the smaller and irregular fields of southern England for example with a mile round trip down country lanes to the grain store would be a much greater challenge. Aside from that it’s worth noting that his John Deere is a 220hp 4WD workhorse that is capable of going over almost any terrain on a farm with very few obstacles able to stop it. This thing can do serious damage to life and property simply by running it over or driving straight through it, so safety has a dimension with an autonomous tractor in a way that it never will with for example a vacuum cleaner or even a lawnmower.

Those observations aside, this kind of technology undeniably represents a step change in farming practice on a par with the move from horse power to tractors in the first half of the last century. However the technological barriers that remain end up being solved, it’s likely that you’ll see plenty more machines like this in the fields of the future.

The video below the break shows the autonomous grain cart in action. Plenty of big-sky tractoring action, and for those of you unfamiliar with farming it should provide some understanding of the task of getting grain from combine to store.

We’ve talked about robotic farming more than once here at Hackaday. The gantry-based Farmbot, the six-legged Prospero robot farmer, or another hexapod confusingly also called Farmbot, for example. But these have all been hacker’s solutions to the problem using the concepts with which they are familiar. What makes [Matt]’s project different is that it is a farmer’s solution to a real farming problem by automating the machinery he already uses to do the job. Farmers have been doing what we would now call hacking at the hardware of their craft since time immemorial, [Matt]’s work is just the latest manifestation of a rich heritage.

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Office Supplies Hexapod Tramples Your Excuses

We all have reasons why we’re not building cool robots. “I don’t have a lasercutter.” “I don’t have a 3D printer.” [JAC_101]’s hexapod robot dances all over your excuses with its tongue-depressor body and pencil-eraser feet!

Some folks like to agonize over designs, optimizing this and tweaking that on the blackboard. Other folks just build stuff and see what works. If you’re in the mood for some of the latter, check out some of the techniques at work here. Tongue depressors make a simple frame, and servos are lashed on with zip ties in place of fancy servo mounts (or hot glue). Photoresistors are soldered directly to their load resistors, making a simple light sensor. It’s all very accessible and brutally minimalistic, but it seems to walk. (Check out the video, below.)

Arduino code is available for you to play with, naturally.

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Impressive StarCraft 2 AI More Fair to Fleshy Opponents

There was a discussion in the comments when the Alpha Go results were released. Some commentors were postulating that AI researchers are discounting more fluid games such as the RTS StarCraft.

The comments then devolved into a discussion of what would make the AI fair to consider against a human player. Many times, AI in RTS games win because they have direct access to the variables in the game. Rather than physically looking at the small area of the screen where a unit is located and then moving their eye to take in strategic information like exact location, health, unit level, etc, the AI just knows that it’s at 120x,2000y,76%,lvl5, etc instantly. The AI also has no click lag as it gets direct access to the game’s API, it simply changes the variables and action queue of a unit directly.

So we were interested to see [Matt]’s Star Craft AI that required the computer to actually look at the game board and click. [Matt]’s AI doesn’t see using OpenCV, which in its own way is forcing the computer to look in a way that’s unnatural to it. He instead wrote some code to intercept the behind the scenes calls to the DirectX library.

The computer is then able to make determinations about what it is looking at using the texture information and other pieces sent to the library. Unlike AI’s that get a direct look at the variables, it has to then translate this and keep its own mental picture of the map and the situation. If a building is destroyed, for example, it has to go over and look at that part of the map, test what it’s seeing against a control, and then remove the building from its list.

The AI’s one big advantage are its robot fingers. Even though this AI has to click on the interface, it doesn’t do it with a weak articulated fleshy nub like the rest of us. This allows the AI to get crazy Actions Per Minute (APM) in the range of 500 to 2000.

The AI has only been tested against StarCraft’s built in cheater bots. So far it can win most games against the hard level bots. If you want to see a video of what the AI is looking at, check after the break.

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Pipe in (Robot) Hand

How do you make a robot hand? If you are [Robimek], you start with some plastic spiral tubing, some servo motors, and some fishing line. Oh, and you also need an old glove.

The spiral tubing (or pipe, if you prefer) is cut in a hand-like shape and fused together with adhesive. The knuckle joints are cut out to allow the tubing to flex at that point. The fishing line connects the fingertips to the servo motors.

The project uses an Arduino to drive the servos, although you could do the job with any microcontroller. Winding up the fishing line contracts the associated finger. Reeling it out lets the springy plastic pipe pull back to its original position.The glove covers the pipes and adds a realistic look to the hand.
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Resistance is Futile: Balancing Cubes Are Taking Over!

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a balancing cube, but as different companies and universities start making them, we’re excited to see how they continue to develop. This one doesn’t really have a catchy name, but its designers [Erik Bjerke] and [Björn Pehrsson] call it a Nonlinear Mechatronic Cube.

Very similar to Cubli — the first self-balancing cube inside of balancing cubewe remember seeing — this cube can jump up from surfaces, “walk” and balance in any orientation.

The system features an IMU to determine orientation, three gyros powered by beefy 70W motors, three bicycle brakes powered by servo motors, and a microprocessor to control it all.

The way it balances is quite obvious with the gyros, but the ability to jump comes from the rapid breaking of the “reaction wheels”, allowing for a sudden impulse of force that is powerful enough to reorient the entire cube. The interesting part is how both systems are actually controlled individually with separate control systems.

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Cockroach-sized Robots Pull Full-Size Sedan

Well, if you’re not scared about the singularity yet, how about now? Stanford robotics just demonstrated six MicroTug (μTug) minibots — weighing 100g together — move an 1800kg sedan on polished concrete.

The research is being performed at Stanford’s Biomimetrics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab by [David L. Christensen] of the Engineering department — the car being pulled? His. The tests were performed to determine the effectiveness of robotic teamwork — mimicking the behaviors shown by ants.

The robots use an adhesive technique as found in gecko feet to adhere themselves to the concrete, and use micro-winches to tug the car. Individually each μTug minibot can pull 23kg. The strength to weight ratio of the hoard of minibots is 18,000:1!

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