Robomintoner Badminton Bot To Defeat Amateur Humans

Watching robots doing sports is pretty impressive from a technical viewpoint, although we secretly smile when we compare these robots’ humble attempts to our own motoric skills. Now, a new robot named Robomintoner seeks to challenge human players, and it’s already darn good at badminton.

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How BB-8 Works Revealed At Star Wars Celebration Europe

Finally the workings of the official BB-8 that you’ve seen rolling around at various events have been revealed. Its makers [Matt Denton] and [Josh Lee] participated in an hour-long presentation at Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 just this past week where the various views of its internals were shown in action. It’s since had BB-8 builders (yours truly included) analyzing the workings for new ideas. We also now have the official name for it, red carpet BB-8.

For the first half of their talk they went over how BB-8 was implemented for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As we’ve long known this was done using 7 puppeted BB-8’s, though it was revealed that only 4 were actually used, including a stationary one called the wiggler whose purpose you can guess. Another thing we didn’t know is that they did consider building a working BB-8 for filming but decided they needed something bullet proof, that would work right every time without making a film crew wait for repairs, and so went with the puppets instead.

The second half of their talk contained the big reveal, the mechanism inside red carpet BB-8’s ball. It turns out to be pretty close to what many builders have been doing. If you’ve seen the DIYer’s guide to the different BB-8 drive systems then you’ll understand when we say it’s a pendulum drive (aka axle drive). That is, there’s a motorized axle that crosses the middle of the ball and the ball rotates on that axle. Meanwhile a large mass suspended below the axle acts as the pendulum mass.

BB-8 builders have known the importance of keeping as much mass as possible as low down as possible for stability, but it was revealed the great extent to which that has been done in the red carpet version. Motors for the head’s pitch and yaw are located at the bottom and their motion is transferred up to the center using what are maybe best known as bicycle brake cables. Another big reveal was a linear actuator for the body roll, tilting the center stuff with respect to the mass lower down. The actuator itself is located in the lower section. Also, BB-8 builders have been mounting the drive motors for rotating the ball with respect to the axle, in line with the axle. However, in red carpet BB-8 the motor is also at the bottom and its motion appears to be transferred up to the axle via belt and worm gears. You may mistake the gold cylinders on either side of the central gimbal system to be motors but they’re actually Moflon slip rings.

Those are just a few of the insights gained so far from analyzing the video below. Doubtless people will be noticing a lot more in the weeks to come.

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Ourobot: What Happens When a Snake Bot Swallows Its Own Tail

For all their joking about “reinventing the wheel”, the team behind Ourobot made a very cool robot (German, automatic translation here). The team, at the University of Applied Sciences in “Bielefeld, Germany“,  built their wheel out of twelve segments, each with its own servo motor, a 3D-printed case, and a pressure sensor mounted on the outside of the wheel. The latter, plus some clever programming, allows the robot wheel to vary its circular gate and climb up over obstacles automatically.

One link in the chain
One link in the chain

There are a bunch of interesting constraints in designing the control for this bot. The tracks on the ground, naturally, have to adjust their relative angles so that they lie each flat on the surface, even if that surface isn’t itself flat or level. The segments in the air are unconstrained, but the sum of all the servos’ interior angles has to add up to 1800 degrees, and these angles control where its center of gravity is.

Our head is spinning. The paper, “OUROBOT – A Self-Propelled Continuous-Track-Robot for Rugged Terrain” is unfortunately behind the IEEE paywall, but goes into detail if you can find it. Continue reading “Ourobot: What Happens When a Snake Bot Swallows Its Own Tail”

Simple Beetle Robot Uses Smoking Soldering Iron

As robot projects go, [creative ideas km]’s isn’t going to impress many Hackaday readers. Still, as an art project or something to do with the kids, it might be fun. But the reason it caught our interest wasn’t the actual robot, but the improvised soldering iron used in its construction.

The robot itself isn’t really autonomous. It is just a battery, a motor, and a switch. The motor vibrations make the robot scoot around on its bent copper wire legs. Some hot glue holds it all together, but the electrical wiring is soldered.

If you look at the video below, you’ll see the soldering is done with an unusual method. A disposable lighter generates a flame that hits an attached copper wire with a coil wound in it. The coil acts as a heat exchanger, and the wire becomes a soldering iron tip.

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Giant Spider Roams The Streets

There is a giant spider the size of  a house stretching its massive, delicate legs as it parades through the French city of Nantes. Is the Arthropod Apocalypse upon us? Fortunately not, for this arachnid is the latest in a series of performance pieces by a French theatre company, La Machine.

Like the rest of La Machine’s productions, this spider is a large hydraulically controlled model driven not by a computer with a single operator but by a team of operators perched inside and underneath the mechanism who turn the operation of the spider’s legs into a piece of complex choreography. They in turn are aided by a team on the street who ensure that any manoeuvres are executed safely. The spider only gives the appearance of walking as it is supported on a hydraulic arm from a wheeled vehicle that carries its power plant, so freed of the requirement for support from its legs it can move with extreme grace.

The video below shows the spider inching its way underneath a set of tram cables. There is more video on the page linked above.

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Code Craft – Embedding C++: Multitasking

We’re quite used to multitasking computer systems today. Our desktops run email, a couple of browsers in different workspaces, a word processor, and a few other applications, apparently all at once. Looking behind the scenes using a system monitor or task manager program reveals a multitude of other programs running in support of our activities. Of course, any given CPU is running a maximum of one program at a time. Multitasking is simply the practice of switching between active processes fast enough to give the illusion of simultaneity.

The roots of multiasking go way back. In the early days, when computers cost tons of money, the thought of an idle system was anathema. Teletype IO was slow compared to the processor, and leaving the processor waiting idle for a card reader to slurp in the next card was outrageous. The gurus of the time worked to fill that idle time with productive work. That eventually led to systems that would run multiple programs at one time, and eventually to more finely grained multitasking within a program.

Modern multitasking depends on support from the underlying API of an operating system. Each OS uses its own techniques, making it difficult to write portable code. The C++ 2011 standard increased the portability of the language by adding concurrency routines to the Standard Template Library (STL). These routines use the API of the OS. For instance, the Linux version uses the POSIX threading library, pthread. The result is a minimal, but useful, capability for building upon in later standards. The C++ 2017 standard development activities include work on parallelism and concurrency.

In this article, I’ll work through some of the facilities for and pitfalls in writing threaded code in C++.

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LEGO Monowheel Corners Like It’s On Rails

[Jason]’s at it again. This time the LEGO maestro is working on a LEGO BB-8 droid. As a first step he’s made a motorized monowheel that not only races along hallways and through living rooms at the peril of any passing people, but turns as well.

To drive it forward there’s an axle that runs across the center of the wheel and a motor that rotates that axle. He’s also included some weight bricks. Without the mass of those bricks for the rotation to work against, the motor and axle would just spin in place while the friction of the floor keeps the wheel from rotating. If you’ve seen the DIYer’s guide to making BB-8 drive systems, you’ll know that this is classified as an axle drive system.

LEGO monowheel interior shown while leaning to turn
LEGO monowheel interior shown while leaning to turn

For steering the monowheel left or right he has another mass located just above the axle. Shifting the mass to the left causes the monowheel to lean and move in that direction. Shifting the mass to the right makes the wheel move to the right in the same fashion. Being ever efficient, [Jason] has the motor that shifts the mass doubling as the mass itself.

As with any proof-of-concept, there are still some issues to work out. When turning the wheel left or right it can tip onto its side. Ridges on both sides of the wheel’s circumference reduce the chances of that happening but don’t eliminate it altogether. Also, the steering mass/motor doesn’t yet have a self-centering mechanism; after a turn it’s up to the person holding the remote control to find center. If the mass isn’t correctly centered after a turn, there tends to be some wobble.

As always, we’re looking forward to seeing how [Jason] solves those issues but first he’ll have to put it back together since, as you can see from the video below, it didn’t quite pass the stair test.

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