Making Dumb Robots Evolve

Evolution is a fact of life, except in Kansas. It is the defining characteristic of life itself, but that doesn’t mean a stupid robot can’t evolve. For his entry into the Hackaday Pi Zero contest, [diemastermonkey] is doing just that: evolution for robots built around microcontrollers and a Raspberry Pi.

[diemastermonkey]’s project is a physical extension to genetic algorithms. Just like DNA and proteins have no idea what they’re actually doing, microcontrollers don’t either. Instead of randomly switching up base pairs and amino acids, [diemastermonkey]’s project makes random connections pins depending on the values of those pins.

The potential of these crappy, randomly programmed robots is only as good as the fitness function, and so far [diemastermonkey] has seen some surprising success. When putting these algorithms into a microcontroller connected to a tilting table mechanism and a PIR sensor, the robot eventually settled on a bit of code that would keep a ball in motion. You can check out the video of that below.


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The Raspberry Pi Zero contest is presented by Hackaday and Adafruit. Prizes include Raspberry Pi Zeros from Adafruit and gift cards to The Hackaday Store!
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Petite Package Provides Powerful Robot

The Robot Operating System (ROS) is typically associated with big robots but [Grassjelly] decided to prove differently by creating Linorobot. This small, differential drive robot is similar in appearance to many small Arduino based robots often used for line following. Linorobot packs a lot more computing power with a Teensy 3.1 connected to a Radxa Rock Pro. The Teensy handles the motors, reading their encoders, and acquisition of IMU data.

The Radxa, new to us here at Hackaday, is a single board computer based on the quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 1.6 GHz CPU. It may not have been seen on our pages but if you’re at Hackaday Belgrade you can attend a session on building a cluster using it. The ability to run Linux is key to using ROS, which is an open source system for controlling robots. With the Radxa running ROS it interfaces directly to the Neato XV-11 Lidar’s dedicated controller board.

The Linorobot packs into a small robot the capabilities usually seen in much larger and expensive robots such as the Turtlebot 2. With this diminutive robot hackers can learn about doing SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) and autonomous navigation, plus the other capabilities of ROS.

[Grassjelly] has a tutorial on building the robot which is also a good introduce to ROS. He provides the software as open source. It’s an impressive project which provides a small, comparatively affordable robot for learning and working with ROS. A video of Linorobot SLAMing and navigating [Grassjelly’s] lab is after the break.

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Tiny Open Source Robot

We watched the video introduction for this little open source robot, and while we’re not 100% sure we want tiny glowing eyes watching us while we sleep, it does seem to be a nice little platform for hacking. The robot is a side project of [Matthew], who’s studying for a degree in Information Science.

The robot has little actuated grippy arms for holding a cell phone in the front. When it’t not holding a cellphone it can use its two little ultrasonic senors to run around without bumping into things. We like the passive balancing used on the robot. Rather than having a complicated self-balancing set-up, the robot just uses little ball casters to provide the other righting points of contact.

The head of the robot has plenty of space for whatever flavor of Arduino you prefer. A few hours of 3D printing and some vitamins is all you need to have a little robot shadow lurking in your room. Video after the break.

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Arduino Makerbeam Live Plotter Controlled By HTML5 Canvas and Java Website

We’ve never seen someone build a plotter out of buzzwords, but [roxen] did a really good job of it. The idea is simple, place the plotter over a sheet of paper, open a website, draw, and watch the plotter go. Check out the video below the break.

The user draws in an HTML5 Canvas object which is read by a Java Web Server. From there it gets converted to serial commands for an Arduino which controls the steppers with two EasyDrivers.

The build itself is really nice. It perfectly meets the mechanical requirements of a pen plotter without a lot of fluff. The overall frame is T-shaped, for the x- and y-axis. The movements are produced by two steppers and acetal rack and pinion sets. The pen is lifted up and down by a hobby servo.

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Connect Four Robot Uses Raspberry Pi

Most people play games for entertainment. Hackers build robots to play games for entertainment. That’s what [piandchips] did. He used a Raspberry Pi and a MeArm kit to build a Connect 4-playing robot. The robot–named 4-Bot–has to do two things: the first is it has to be able to manipulate the pieces. Secondly, it has to be able to see the board. The MeArm imbues 4-Bot with the manipulation ability, and a clever scanning system does the trick.

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Paydar: What It Was Like To Battle Bots in 2002

Most people remember when Battle Bots was a big thing, but few of us got to live it as seen in this gallery. Every now and then, someone posts something more amazing than usual in the comments. When [Wolf] was studying at IUPUI they somehow convinced a professor to let them build a scary dangerous robot maiming device for their final project. It’s a cross-disciplinary project — even the medical students may get to participate.

Spike vs hours and hours of work.
Spike vs. hours and hours of work. Victory: spike.

Their bot, unfortunately, got taken out by some spikes after attempting to get a spinbot before it started spinning and got them. If you look closely at the 2002 Comedy Central Battlebot opening you can see the smoke pour from their robot as they try to escape the fatal spikes.

The robot itself is a three wheeled design. The two wheels across from each other drive the robot, and the third steers. There is a very cool encoder mechanism for the steering wheel that is worth checking out. The main drive motor is a hefty 15HP electric forklift motor current limited to 300amps. The robot never got a weapon thanks to slow mechanical engineers, but a motor like that can turn most chunks of metal into deadly weapons.

Battle Bots is making a comeback in some ways. Word’s still out if it will ever go back to it’s prime, or if something more insane will replace it.

Nessie, the Educational Robot

At the Lifelong Learning Robotics Laboratory at the Erasmo Da Rotterdam in Italy, robots are (not surprisingly) used to teach all of the fundamentals of robotics. [Alessandro Rossetti] and the students at the lab have been at it for years now, and have finally finished their fifth generation of a robot called Nessie. The big idea is to help teach fundamentals of programming and electronics by building something that actually uses these principles.

The robot is largely 3D printed and uses an FPGA to interact with the physical world through a set of motors and sensors. The robot also uses a Raspberry Pi to hold the robot’s framework. The robot manages the sensors in hardware with readers attached to the CPU AXI bus. The CPU reads their values from memory space, though, so the robot is reported to be quite quick.

The lab is hoping to take their robot to a robotics competition in Bari, Italy. We hope that they perform well there, since we are big fans of any robot that’s designed to teach anyone about robotics and programming. After all, there are robots that help teach STEM in Africa, robots that teach teen girls about robots, and robots that teach everyone.