3D Cable Robot Uses the Building as Its Exoskeleton.

There’s not much information about this commercial product, but it looks so interesting, we just had to share it. It doesn’t seem there is anything too magical happening here: some motors (presumably some type of servo or stepper with positioning feedback) some cables and pulleys, and an end effector of your choosing. Oh, and just some clever math to solve the inverse kinematics – not that inverse kinematics is all that easy! You can see the robot at work in the video after the break.

Most likely you’ve already seen the end results of such a three-dimensional cable driven system on your TV. If you’re a fan of most field sports, the SkyCam system is what’s used to deliver the stunning aerial shots that really put you into the game. We’ve covered this sort of mechanism before, but only in two dimensions. Usually we see the concept used as a white-board plotter like this extremely methodical Polargraph or one built with K’NEX.

We can’t help but wonder how this might be adapted into other situations?  Perhaps, you could use small light-weight cables (fishing line) and pulleys to make a living-room beer delivery system or TV remote retrieval claw?  Or could it become the mechanics of a really large format 3D printer? If any of you do rig up some sort of house-hold beverage fetching robot, be sure to let us know via the tipline.

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Robot Team Wins $100,000 in June; Visits US Senate in September

Could you build a robot to search for and collect samples on Mars? Team Cataglyphis from West Virginia University did. They won $100,000 last June from a prize pool of $1.5 million and are being honored in the US Senate on September 21st. The team, along with many others, have competed each June since 2012 during the NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The SRR, as it’s called by the teams, is a two phase competition. In Phase 1 the robot must leave the starting platform, collect a pre-cached sample, and return the sample to the starting platform. Phase 2 is more difficult because the robot must not only collect the pre-cached sample but search a park for 9 additional samples. The park is a typical urban park about 1.5 football fields large with grass, trees, and park benches as obstacles.

The Mountaineers team robot is seen after picking up the pre-cached sample during its attempt at the level two challenge during the 2015 Sample Return Robot Challenge, Thursday, June 11, 2015 at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. Sixteen teams are competing for a $1.5 million NASA prize purse. Teams will be required to demonstrate autonomous robots that can locate and collect samples from a wide and varied terrain, operating without human control. The objective of this NASA-WPI Centennial Challenge is to encourage innovations in autonomous navigation and robotics technologies. Innovations stemming from the challenge may improve NASA's capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation's robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Mountaineers team robot is seen after picking up the pre-cached sample [Photo Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky[
Since the robots are supposed to be on celestial bodies lacking magnetic fields like Mars or the Moon, they cannot use a magnetometer (compass) or GPS satellites to determine their pose, i.e. orientation and location. Add to that handicap grueling time limits of 30 minutes for Phase 1 and 120 minutes for Phase 2 and you’ve got a huge challenge on your hands.

The Mountaineers, as they were known in the robot pits, are the only team to collect two samples during the competition. Another team from Los Angeles, Team Survey, was the first to complete Phase 1 in 2013, but only managed, in 2015, to collect the pre-cached sample during Phase 2.

All the teams who have competed are waiting to see if there will be a competition in 2016 and I am among them. After the break you’ll find a couple of videos of the 2015 competition. One is about the Mountaineers but the other us from NASA 360. If you look quickly during the opening sequence of the NASA 360 video you’ll see two small black robots. One is on its side spinning its wheels; the other jammed under a rock. Those are my rovers from the 2013 SRR. I’m chasing the dream of a winning extra-planetary rover and you should too!

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There’s a Bug in My Robot

What has six legs, 25 LEDs, a Microchip CPU, can be sewn into clothing, and even plugged into a Raspberry Pi? The answer, it turns out, is the CodeBug–a low cost computer board aimed at the educational market. These board were crowdfunded and are now available for general purchase. [Mike Redrobe] took one of the boards, connected a few servos and used the CodeBug’s Scratch-like language to create a small robot.

You can see the robot in the video below. Programs download via USB (the board looks like a USB drive). You can also send commands over USB to operate in tether mode, or you can directly plug the board into a Raspberry Pi.

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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Artificial Muscles and Supercapacitors

For [Lloyd T Cannon III]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s doing nothing less than changing the way everything moves. For the last 100 years, internal combustion engines have powered planes, trains, and automobiles, and only recently have people started looking at batteries and electric motors. With his supercapacitors and artificial muscles, [Lloyd] is a few decades ahead of everyone else.

There are two parts to [Lloyd]’s project, the first being the energy storage device. He’s building a Lithium Sulfur Silicon hybrid battery. Li-S-Si batteries have the promise to deliver up to 2000 Watt hours per kilogram of battery. For comparison, even advanced Lithium batteries top out around 2-300 Wh/kg. That’s nearly an order of magnitude difference, and while it’s a far way off from fossil fuels, it would vastly increase the range of electric vehicles and make many more technologies possible.

The other part of [Lloyd]’s project is artificial muscles. Engines aren’t terribly efficient, and electric motors are only good if you want to spin things. For robotics, muscles are needed, and [Lloyd] is building them out of fishing line. These muscles contract because of the resistive heating of a carbon fiber filament embedded in the muscle. It’s been done before, but this is the first project we’ve seen that replicates the technique in a garage lab.

Both parts of [Lloyd]’s project are worthy of a Hackaday Prize entry alone, but putting them together as one project more than meets the goal: to build something that matters.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Rubik’s Solver Uses FAC Machine Building System

We love a good Rubik’s Cube solver and the mechanical engineering on this one is both elegant and functional.

This is the first time we remember hearing about the FAC system, which is a standard set of parts which can be used to make any number of mechanical systems. [Wilbert Swinkels] must be a master with the system; the layout of the machine appears simple and uncrowded despite the multiple degrees of freedom built into it. Those include an insertion platform for getting the cube in and out, a gantry for three color sensors, and two axes (three grippers in all) for doing the actual solving. If you’ve used FAC before we want to hear what you think of it in the comments.

[Maxim Tsoy] handled the software which runs on a Rapsberry Pi Compute module. You’ll want to watch the demo video below. First you place the randomized cube on the insertion platform which retracts after the cube is in the grasp of the grippers. These work in conjunction with the color sensor gantry to scan every side of the cube. After a brief pause to compute the solution the grippers go to work.

It is possible to build a solver with just two swiveling grippers. Here’s a really fast way to do it.

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Kids and Hacking: Blind Robotics

If you are a Hackaday reader, it is a good bet that when you were a kid there was some adult who infected you with the madness you have for science, engineering, tinkering, or whatever it is that brings you here. Maybe it was a parent or a teacher. For many of us, it was a local ham radio operator. But it was probably someone who had the passion for this kind of thing and you caught it.

Paying that debt forward can be very rewarding. Schools and youth organizations are always looking for people to share their passions with kids and at the right age and the right school, you could be that one push that moves a kid off a bad path.

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3D Printed Kinetic Art

Artificial muscles and soft robotics don’t get the respect they deserve, but [mikey77] is doing some very interesting work with artificial muscles that can be made on just about any 3D printer.

Like other artificial muscles and soft robotic actuators we’ve seen – like this walking sea slug and this eerie tentacle – [mikey77]’s muscles are powered by air. Instead of the usual casting method, he’s printing these muscles from Ninjaflex, a flexible plastic that is compatible with most 3D printers.

As they come off the printer, these 3D printed pneumatic muscles leak, and that means [mikey77] has to seal them. For that, he created a sealant out of Loctite fabric glue thinned with MEK. The addition of MEK dissolves the outer layer of Ninjaflex, allowing the glue to bond very, very well to the printed muscle.

So far, [mikey77] has created a pneumatic flower that blooms when air is added. He’s also created a muscle that can lift more than four pounds of weight with the help of a 3D printed skeleton. It’s a great way to experiment with flexible robots and pneumatic muscles, and we can’t wait to see what weird creatures can be created with these actuators.

Thanks [Lloyd] for sending this one in.