ESP32 Mini Robot Packs Sensors and 4WD

[Stefan]’s Mini WiFi/BLE 4WD robot platform (seen next to a matchbox above) packs an impressive capability into a tiny rover. It’s based on a SparkFun ESP32 Thing, a very compact way to add wireless control to your project. Compare it to some giant old UNO with a WiFi shield, these boards are small but powerful, as well as an easy adoption for Arduino fans.

[Stefan] beefed up the robot with a BNO055 module to determine orientation, an APDS-9930 proximity sensor, as well as four CNY70 IR proximity sensors on the bottom, used for line-following. A pair of 6 V motors move the robot, with a DC-DC step up converter boosting the LiPo’s 3.7 V. It’s impressive how many components [Stefan] crammed inside the shell; they’re all packed in there snugly.

The concept behind the robot is that it’s a generic platform that could be customized as needed, and [Stefan] has versions with a LEGO dart gun as well as a camera. The robot’s code resides on GitHub and the custom 3D-printed chassis is up on Thingiverse.

If you like ESP32 projects you should be sure to check out the Monster Board and the Hamster Tracker we posted recently.

Biped Bob Walks and Dances

If you have a few servo motors, an Arduino, and a Bluetooth module, you could make Biped Bob as a weekend project. [B. Aswinth Raj] used a 3D printer, but he also points out that you could have the parts printed by a service or just cut them out of cardboard. They aren’t that complex.

Each of Bob’s legs has two servo motors: one for the hip and one for the ankle. Of course, the real work is in the software, and the post breaks it down piece-by-piece. In addition to the Arduino code, there’s an Android app written using Processing. You can build it yourself, or download the APK. The robot connects to the phone via BlueTooth and provides a simple user interface to do a few different walking gaits and dances. You can see a few videos of Biped Bob in action, below.

This wouldn’t be a bad starter project for a young person or anyone getting started with robotics, especially if you have a 3D printer. However, it is fairly limited since there are no sensors. Then again, that could be version two, if you were feeling adventurous.

We have mixed feelings about the BlueTooth control. BlueTooth modules are cheap and readily available, but so are ESP8266s. It probably would not be very difficult to put Bob on WiFi and let him serve his own control page to any web browser.

If Bob meets Jimmy, he may find himself envious. However, Jimmy would be a little more challenging to build. We’ve actually seen quite a few walking ‘bots over the years. Continue reading “Biped Bob Walks and Dances”

Universal Robots Vision-Based LEGO Stacker

[Thomas Kølbæk Jespersen] and his classmates at Aalborg University’s Robot Vision course used MATLAB code and URscript to program a Universal Robots UR5 to stack up Duplo bricks. The Duplo bricks are stacked into low-fi Simpsons characters — yellow for Homer’s head, white for his shirt, and blue for his pants, for example.

The bricks are scattered randomly on a nearby table, while a camera mounted above the table scans the bricks and assists in determining the location, color, and orientation of the elements. This involves blob analysis which helps the computer decide what pixel is part of a brick and what isn’t. After running a recursive grassfire algorithm with 4-connectivity, the computer gives each pixel a number and assigns it to a blob.

To determine the orientation (the bricks are all assumed to be stud-side up and not overlapping) the blob is divided into quadrants and within each quadrant, the distance between the center of the blob and its farthest pixel is measured. This technique is not likely to work as well with a brick that isn’t square. Each brick’s location in pixels is translated into Cartesian coordinates, making it a cinch for the robot to pick it up. See [Thomas]’s GitHub for MATLAB and URscript code.

Looking for more UR5 projects? Check out the Sewbo garment-making robot we published last year.

Continue reading “Universal Robots Vision-Based LEGO Stacker”

The Internet Of Interactive Cats

[Tuco] is a cat who shares the space of [Micah Elizabeth Scott]. He is a large tabby tomcat, and he is polydactyl, which is to say he has a congenital excess of toes. He is an extremely active and engaging creature and enjoys playing and interacting with her. We covet [Tuco].

Sadly for the rest of us who love cats, of course, unless we know [Micah] personally we’ll never have the opportunity to play with [Tuco]. She appreciates the cat-shaped void that will leave in our lives, and to help us she’s building a telepresence robot to allow the rest of us to interact with him in real time.

Her idea is to make a flying robot equipped with a camera on a gimbal, and because to mounting it on a multirotor platform would be a hazard, instead she’s making something closer to the aerial cameras you might be familiar with from sporting fixtures, a motorised platform suspended from the corners of her roof space on a set of nylon ropes, that can move at will by adjusting the length of each tether. It is suggested that one day the device will be able to launch plastic bolts for [Tuco] to chase and to incorporate other interactive features to allow online users to engage with him.

We are shown progress so far in the video introducing the project that we’ve placed below the break, she has completed a prototype windlass mechanism and worked on reverse engineering the gimbal mechanism for serial control. We’ll probably never meet [Tuco] in person, but we can’t wait to interact with him online.

Continue reading “The Internet Of Interactive Cats”

Sony Unveils Swarm Robots for Kids

Sony recently unveiled Toio, an educational robotics toy for young programmers. We all know Sony as an electronics giant, but they do dabble in robotics from time to time. The AIBO dog family is probably their most famous creation, though there is also QRIO, a bipedal humanoid, and on the stranger side, the Rolly.

Toio consists of two small cube robots which roll around the desktop. You can control them with handheld rings, or run programs on them. The robots are charged by a base station, which also has a cartridge slot. Sony is marketing this as an ecosystem that can be expanded by buying packs which consist of accessories and a software cartridge. It looks like the cartridge is yet another proprietary memory card format. Is Sony ever going to learn?

There isn’t much hard information on Toio yet. We know it will be released in Japan on December 1st and will cost around ¥ 20,000, or about 200 USD. No word yet on a worldwide release.

The striking thing about this kit is how well the two robots know each other’s position. Tape a paper pair of pants, and they “walk” like two feet. Attach a paper linkage between them, and they turn in perfect sync, like two gears. Add some paper strips, and the two robots work together to form a gripper.  We can only guess that Sony is using cameras on the bottom of each robot to determine position — possibly with the aid of an encoded work surface — similar to Anoto paper. Whatever technology it is, here’s to hoping Sony puts out an SDK for researchers and hackers to get in on the fun with these little robots.

Continue reading “Sony Unveils Swarm Robots for Kids”

Robotic Arms Controlled By Your….. Feet?

The days of the third hand’s dominance of workshops the world over is soon coming to an end. For those moments when only a third hand is not enough, a fourth is there to save the day.

Dubbed MetaLimbs and developed by a team from the [Inami Hiyama Laboratory] at the University of Tokyo and the [Graduate School of Media Design] at Keio University, the device is designed to be worn while sitting — strapped to your back like a knapsack — but use while standing stationary is possible, if perhaps a little un-intuitive. Basic motion is controlled by the position of the leg — specifically, sensors attached to the foot and knee — and flexing one’s toes actuates the robotic hand’s fingers. There’s even some haptic feedback built-in to assist anyone who isn’t used to using their legs as arms.

The team touts the option of customizeable hands, though a soldering iron attachment may not be as precise as needed at this stage. Still, it would be nice to be able to chug your coffee without interrupting your work.

Continue reading “Robotic Arms Controlled By Your….. Feet?”

Self-Driving RC Cars with TensorFlow; Raspberry Pi or MacBook Onboard

You might think that you do not have what it takes to build a self-driving car, but you’re wrong. The mistake you’ve made is assuming that you’ll be controlling a two-ton death machine. Instead, you can give it a shot without the danger and on a relatively light budget. [Otavio] and [Will] got into self-driving vehicles using radio controlled (RC) cars.

[Otavio] slapped a MacBook Pro on an RC car to do the heavy lifting and called it carputer. The computer reads Hall effect sensor data from the motor to establish distance traveled (this can be used to calculate speed) and watches the stream from a webcam perched on the chassis. These two sources are fed into a neural network using TensorFlow. You train the system by driving the vehicle manually through the course a few times and then let it drive itself.

In the video interview below, you get a look at the car and [Otavio] gives commentary on how the system works as we see playback of a few races, including the Sparkfun 2016 Autonomous Vehicle Competition. I apologize for the poor audio, they lost the booth lottery and were next door to an incredibly noisy robot band (video proof) so we were basically shouting at each other. But I think you’ll agree it’s worth it to get a look at the races. Continue reading “Self-Driving RC Cars with TensorFlow; Raspberry Pi or MacBook Onboard”