Desktop Factory Teaches PLC Programming

How to train young engineers in industrial automation is a thorny issue. Most factories have big things that can do a lot of damage and cost tons of money if the newbie causes a crash. Solution: shrink the factory down to desktop size and let them practice on that.

Luckily for [Vadim], there’s an off-the-shelf solution for miniaturizing factory automation: FischerTechnik industrial training models. The models have motors, conveyors, pneumatic cylinders, and sensors galore, but the controller is not exactly the industry standard programmable logic controller (PLC). [Vadim] set out to remedy this by building an interface between the FischerTechnik models and a Siemens PLC. He went through a couple of revisions of his board, including one using rivets from the sewing store to interface with the FischerTechnic connectors. Eventually, he settled on more robust connectors and came up with a board that lets students delve into PLC programming without killing anyone. The video below shows it going through its paces; we can only imagine where playing with these kits as a kid would have led us.

As great as [Vadim]’s system is for training engineers, we can also see it helpful in getting kids interested in a career in industrial automation. We recently covered a similar effort to show kids big science using LEGO Mindstorms. Both of these can help get STEM kids to see the wider world of technical careers and perhaps steer them into automation. After all, the people who make the robots are probably going to be the last ones obsoleted, right?

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Experiments with Wheeled Legs

If you’ve been keeping tabs on recent developments in robotics, you surely remember Handle — the awesome walking, wheeled robot from Boston Dynamics. There’s a good reason why such a combination is a good choice of locomotion for robots. Rolling on wheels is a good way to cover smooth terrain with high efficiency. But when you hit rocky patches or obstacles, using legs to negotiate these obstacles makes sense. But Handle isn’t the only one, nor is it the first.

[Radomir Dopieralski] has been building small robots for a while now, and is especially interested in how they move. He is sharing his experience while Experimenting with Wheeled Legs, with the eventual aim of “building an experimental walking+rolling robot, to more efficiently kill all humans and thus solve all the problems”. His pithy comments aside, investigating and experimenting with different forms of locomotion to understand which method is most efficient will pay rich dividends in the design of future robots.

During an earlier version of the Hackaday Prize, [Radomir] snagged a coupon for laser cutting services. He used it to build a new robot based on a fresh look at some of his earlier designs. This resulted in the Logicoma-kun — a functional model of a Logikoma (a logistics robot designed to be a fast all-terrain vehicle for transporting weapons and ammunition) from “Ghost in the Shell: Arise”. Along the way, he figured out how to save some servo channels. For gripping function, he needed to drive two servos in sync with each other, but in opposing directions. This would usually require two GPIO’s and a few extra lines of code. Instead, he dismantled a servo and reversed the motor AND the servo potentiometer connections.

But this is still early days for [Radomir]. He is fleshing out ideas, looking for feedback and discussions on robotic locomotion. This fits in perfectly with the “Design Your Concept” phase of the Hackaday Prize 2017. He has already made some progress on Logicoma-kum by having it move in either the wheeled or walking modes — check out the videos after the break.

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Submersible Robots Hunt Lice With Lasers

De-lousing is a trying agricultural process. It becomes a major problem in pens which contain the hundreds of thousands of salmon farmed by Norwegians — the world’s largest salmon exporter — an environment which allows the parasite to flourish. To tackle the problem, the Stingray, developed by [Stingray Marine Solutions],  is an autonomous drone capable of destroying the lice with a laser in the order of tens of thousands per day.

Introduced in Norway back in 2014 — and some areas in Scotland in 2016 — the Stingray floats in the salmon pen, alert and waiting. If the lice-recognition software (never thought you’d hear that term, huh?) detects a parasite for more than two frames in the video feed, it immediately annihilates it with a 530 nanometre-wide, 100 millisecond laser pulse from up to two metres away. Don’t worry — the salmon’s scales are reflective enough to leave it unharmed, while the pest is fried to a crisp.  In action, it’s reminiscent of a point-defense laser on a spaceship.

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PUFFER: A Smartphone-Sized Planetary Explorer

Is there room on Mars and Europa for cute robots? [NASA] — collaborating with [UC Berkley] and [Distant Focus Corporation] — have the answer: PUFFER, a robot inspired by origami.

PUFFER — which stands for Pop-Up Flat-Folding Explorer Robot — is able to sense objects and adjust its profile accordingly by ‘folding’ itself into a smaller size to fit itself into nooks and crannies. It was designed so multiple PUFFERs could reside inside a larger craft and then be deployed to scout otherwise inaccessible terrain. Caves, lava tubes and shaded rock overhangs that could shelter organic material are prime candidates for exploration. The groups of PUFFERs will send the collected info back to the mother ship to be relayed to mother Earth.

We’ve embedded the video of the bot folding it’s wheels down to pass a low-bridge. You can get a view of the wider scope of functionality for the collection of demos on the project page.

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LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology

A career as a lab biologist can take many forms, but the general public seems to see it as a lone, lab-coated researcher sitting at a bench, setting up a series of in vitro experiments by hand in small tubes or streaking out a little yeast on an agar plate. That’s not inaccurate at all – all of us lab rats have done time with a manual pipettor while trying to keep track of which tube in the ice bucket gets which solution. It’s tedious stuff.

But because biology experiments generally scale well, and because more data often leads to better conclusions, life science processes can quickly grow beyond what can be handled manually. I’ve seen this time and again in my 25 years in science, from my crude grad school attempts to miniaturize my assays and automate data collection to the multi-million dollar robotic systems I built in my career in the pharmaceutical industry. Biology can get pretty big in a hurry. Continue reading “LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology”

Quadruped Robot Can Crawl Under Cars and Jump-Kick-Open Doors

The wheel is a revolutionary invention — as they say — but going back to basics sometimes opens new pathways. Robots that traverse terrain on legs are on the rise, most notably the Boston Dynamics Big Dog series of robots — and [Ghost Robotics]’ Minitaur quadruped aims to keep pace.

One of [Ghost Robotics] founders, [Gavin Knneally] states that co-ordination is one of the main problems to overcome when developing quadruped robots; being designed to clamber across especially harsh terrain, Minitaur’s staccato steps carry it up steep hills, stairs, across ice, and more. Its legs also allow it to adjust its height — the video shows it trot up to a car, hunker down, then begin to waddle underneath with ease.

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Robot Arm From Recyclables

A robot assistant would make the lives of many much easier. Luckily, it’s possible to make one of your own with few fancy materials. The [circuito.io] team demonstrates this by building a robot arm out of recyclables!

With the exception of the electronics — an Arduino, a trio of servo motors, and a joystick — the arm is made almost completely out of salvaged recyclables: scrap wood, a plastic bottle, bits of plastic string and a spring. Oh, and — demonstrating yet another use for those multi-talented tubers — a potato acts as a counterweight.

Instead of using screws or glue, these hackers used string made from a plastic bottle as a form of heat shrink wrap to bind the parts of the arm together. The gripper has only one pivoting claw for greater strength, and the spring snaps it open once released. Behold: your tea-bag dunking assistant.

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