Single Motor Lets This Robot Do the Worm

With more and more research in the field of autonomous robotics, new methods of locomotion are coming on the scene at a rapid pace. Forget wheels and tracks, forget bi-, quad-, hexa- and octopods, and forget fancy rolling BB-8 clones. If you want to get a mini robot moving, maybe you should teach it to do the worm.

Neither the Gizmodo article nor the abstract of [David Zarrouk]’s paper gives too many details on the construction of this vermiform robot, but there are some clues to be gleaned from the video below. At the 1:41 mark we see the secret of the design – a long corkscrew in the center of the 3D-printed linkages.
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Simplest Jumping Kangaroo Bot

One of the takeaway ideas that we got from BEAM robotics was the idea that the machine itself, rather than tons of processing power, can do a lot. Your hand affords gripping, and humans have made a pretty good living out of manipulating things (he says, typing). None of this is about the brain; it’s all about the mechanism.

Which brings us to the one-motor “Runner” robot. We’ll admit that we were a little bit disappointed to see that it doesn’t run so much as hop, flop, or scoot along on the two legs and that front wheel-nose. Still, it’s an awesome mechanism, and gets the locomotion job done in a very theatrical way. We’re left wondering if using two motors would allow it to steer or just flip over and flail around on its back. Going to a six “leg” design will definitely get the job done, as demonstrated by Boston Dynamics RHex robot.
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Art and Creepy Mechanisms

Latvian artist [Krists Pudzens] just put on a show in Sweden and sent us the video of his amazing kinetic sculpture. (Embedded below.) We found an arty-theory writeup of another exhibition of his to share, but we had so many technical questions that we had to write him back asking for details. And boy, did he answer.

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In the video, a couple of animatronic faces watch you as crab-like rope-climber bots inch upwards and red wings flap in the background. There’s a lot of brilliant mechanisms here, and aside from whatever it all means, we just like to watch machines go.

The details! Most of the pieces are plasma-cut steel or hand-cut-and-filed aluminum, and almost all of the motors are windshield wiper motors from old Russian KAMAZ and LADA cars. In another installation, the red wings (“Red Queens’ Race”) were installed in a public square and used to track the crowd, flapping faster as people moved more quickly by.

The robotic faces also use OpenCV to track you, and stare you down. One mask is vacuum-formed plastic, and the other is a copy in polyester resin and gelcoat. Here is a video of them on their own, and another of the development.

The twin rope-climbers, “Unbalanced Force”, just climb upwards at different paces. We were more than a little curious about what happens to the rope-climbers when they reach the top. [Krists] says the gallery staff grabs ladders and goes to fetch them. When he exhibited them in Poland on 20m ropes, they actually had to hire professional climbers. Life imitates art.

Some of us here at Hackaday are suckers for tech-art, whether it’s 3D-printed baroque columns, dancing with metal-bending machines, or just glowing globs of ferrofluid. There’s a lot of the same “wonder what would happen if…” tendency in the hacker and the artist — seeing possibilities and making them real.

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Creo Arm Might be the SCARA You’re Looking For

A SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) is a type of articulated robot arm first developed in the early ’80s for use in industrial assembly and production applications. All robotics designs have their strengths and their weaknesses, and the SCARA layout was designed to be rigid in the Z axis, while allowing for flexibility in the X and Y axes. This design lends itself well to tasks where quick and flexible horizontal movement is needed, but vertical strength and rigidity is also necessary.

This is in contrast to other designs, such as fully articulated arms (which need to rotate to reach into tight spots) and cartesian overhead-gantry types (like in a CNC mill), which require a lot of rigidity in every axis. SCARA robots are particularly useful for pick-and-place tasks, as well as a wide range of fabrication jobs that aren’t subjected to the stress of side-loading, like plasma cutting or welding. Unfortunately, industrial-quality SCARA arms aren’t exactly cheap or readily available to the hobbyist; but, that might just be changing soon with the Creo Arm.
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1980s Toy Robot Arm Converted To Steam And Other Explorations

We were doing our daily harvest of YouTube for fresh hacks when we stumbled on a video that eventually led us to this conversion of a 1980s Armatron robot to steam power.

The video in question was of [The 8-bit Guy] doing a small restoration of a 1984 Radio Shack Armatron toy. Expecting a mess of wiring we were absolutely surprised to discover that the internals of the arm were all mechanical with only a single electric motor. Perhaps the motors were more expensive back then?

The resemblance is uncanny.
The resemblance is uncanny.

The arm is driven by a Sarlacc Pit of planetary gears. These in turn are driven by a clever synchronized transmission. It’s very, very cool. We, admittedly, fell down the google rabbit hole. There are some great pictures of the internals here. Whoever designed this was very clever.

The robot arm can do full 360 rotations at every joint that supports it without slip rings. The copper shafts were also interesting. It’s a sort of history lesson on the prices of metal and components at the time.

Regardless, the single motor drive was what attracted [crabfu], ten entire years ago, to attach a steam engine to the device. A quick cut through the side of the case, a tiny chain drive, and a Jensen steam engine was all it took to get the toy converted over. Potato quality video after the break.

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The Most Useless Book Scanner

How do artificial intelligences get so intelligent? The same way we do, they get a library card and head on over to read up on their favorite topics. Or at least that’s the joke that [Jakob Werner] is playing with in his automaton art piece, “A Machine Learning” (Google translated here).

Simulating a reading machine, a pair of eyeballs on stalks scan left-right and slowly work their way down the page as another arm swings around and flips to the next one. It’s all done with hand-crafted wooden gears, in contrast to the high-tech subject matter. It’s an art piece, and you can tell that [Jakob] has paid attention to how it looks. (The all-wooden rollers are sweet.) But it’s also a “useless machine” with a punch-line.

Is it a Turing test? How can we tell that the machine isn’t reading? What about “real” AIs? Are they learning or do they just seem to be? OK, Google’s DeepMind is made of silicon and electricity instead of wood, but does that actually change anything? It’s art, so you get license to think crazy thoughts like this.

We’ve covered a few, less conceptual, useless machines here. Here is one of our favorite. Don’t hesitate to peruse them all.

Robo Hobo Bamboozles Passers-By

Robots are increasingly seeing the world outside of laboratories and factories, and most of us think we would be able to spot one relatively quickly. What if you walked past one on the street — would you recognize it for what it was? How long would it take for you to realize that homeless organ grinder was a robot?

The brainchild of [Fred Ables], Dirk the homeless robot will meander through a crowd, nodding at passers-by and occasionally — with a tilt of his hand — ask for change, churning out a few notes on his organ for those who oblige him. [Ables] controls Dirk’s interactions with others remotely from nearby, blending into the crowds that flock to see the lifelike automaton, selling the illusion that Dirk is a real human. This is often effective since — as with most homeless people — pedestrians won’t spare Dirk a second glance; the reactions of those who don’t pass him over range from confusion to anger or mirth over being so completely duped before looking for the puppeteer.

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