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.

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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”

“You Had One Job”, Bot

Only a Human would understand the pithy sarcasm in “You had one job”. When [tterev3]’s RopeBot the Robot became sentient and asked “What is my purpose?”, [tterev3] had to lay it out for him quite bluntly – “You cut the rope”. He designed RopeBot (YouTube video embedded below) for one job only – single mission, single use.

A couple of years back, [tterev3] had put up some thick ropes for a low ropes course in his backyard. Over time, the trees grew up, and the ropes became embedded in the tree trunks. Instead of risking his own life and limbs to try cutting them down, he designed RopeBot to do the job for him. It’s built from scavenged electronics and custom 3D printed parts. A geared motor driving a large cogged pulley helped by two smaller, idler wheels helps the bot to scurry up and down the rope. A second geared motor drives a cam reciprocating mechanism, similar to industrial metal cutting saws. A common utility knife is the business end of the bot, helping slice through the rope. A radio receiver and controller is the brains of the bot which drives the two motors through a motor driver board. The remote controller, assembled on a piece of foam, has three switches for Up, Down and Cut. Everything is held together on the 3D printed frame and tied down with a generous use of zip ties, with rubber bands providing spring tension where needed. When the rope has been cut, the RopeBot comes down for a smashing end. It might not look fancy, but it gets the job done. We spy some real ball bearings on the three pulleys meaning [tterev3] didn’t skimp on good design just because it’s a disposable robot. Obviously, he spent a fair amount of time and effort in designing RopeBot.

Once the job is done, most of the electronics and hardware can be recovered and used again while the 3D printed parts could be recycled, making this a really cost-effective way of handling the problem. Like the Disposable Drones we covered earlier, these kind of “use and discard” robots not only make life easier for Humans, but also ensure low economic and ecological impact.

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Soft-legged Robot Handles Rough Terrain with Ease

Whether it’s wheels, tracks, feet, or even a roly-poly body like BB-8, most robots have to deal with an essential problem: dirt and grit can get into the moving bits and cause problems. Some researchers from UCSD have come up with a clever way around this: pneumatically actuated soft-legged robots that adapt to rough terrain.

At a top speed of 20 mm per second, [Michael Tolley]’s squishy little robot won’t set any land speed records. But for applications like search and rescue or placing sensors in inhospitable or inaccessible locations, slow and steady might just win the race. The quadrupedal robot’s running gear can be completely 3D-printed on any commercial printer capable of using a soft filament. The legs each contain three parallel air chambers within a bellowed outer skin; alternating how the chambers are inflated controls how they move. The soft legs adapt to unstructured terrain and are completely sealed, eliminating intrusion problems. The video below shows how the bot gets around just fine over rocks and sand.

The legs remind us a little of our [Joshua Vazquez]’s tentacle mechanism, but with fewer parts. Right now, the soft robot is tethered to its air supply, but the team is working on a miniaturized pump to make the whole thing mobile. At which point we bet it’ll even be able to swim.

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Gimbal SDI Camera Mod

Sometimes when you need something, there is a cheap and easily obtainable product that almost fits the bill. Keyword: almost. [Micah Elizabeth Scott], also known as [scanlime], is creating a hovering camera to follow her cat around, and her Feiyu Mini3D 3-axis brushless gimbal almost did everything she’d need. After a few modifications, [Micah] now has a small and inexpensive 3-axis gimbal with a Crazyfire HZ-100P SDI camera and LIDAR-Lite distance sensor.

At thirty minutes long, [Micah’s] documenting video is rife with learning moments. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: “just watch it and thank us later.” [Micah Elizabeth Scott] has a way of taking complicated concepts and processes and explaining things in a way that just makes sense (case in point: side-channel glitching) . And, while this hack isn’t exactly the most abstractly challenging, [Micah’s] natural talent as a teacher still comes through. She takes you through what goes right and what goes wrong, making sure to explain why things are wrong, and how she develops a solution.

Throughout her video, [Micah] shares small bits of wisdom gained from first-hand experience. From black hot glue to t-glase (a 3D printing filament), we learned of a few materials that could be mighty useful.

We’re no strangers to the work of [Micah Elizabeth Scott], she’s been on the scene for a while now. She’s been a Hackaday Prize Judge in 2015 and 2016 and is always making things we love to cover. She’s one of our three favorite hackers and has a beautiful website that showcases her past work.

Video after the break.

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Building a Self-Balancing Robot Made Easy

Not only has [Joop Brokking] built an easy to make balancing robot but he’s produced an excellent set of plans and software for anyone else who wants to make one too. Self-balancers are a milestone in your robot building life. They stand on two-wheels, using a PID control loop to actuate the two motors using data from some type of Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). It sounds simple, but when starting from scratch there’s a lot of choices to be made and a lot of traps to fall into. [Joop’s] video explains the basic principles and covers the reasons he’s done things the way he has — all the advice you’d be looking for when building one of your own.

He chose steppers over cheaper DC motors because this delivers precision and avoids issues when the battery voltage drops. His software includes a program for getting a calibration value for the IMU. He also shows how to set the drive current for the stepper controllers. And he does all this clearly, and at a pace that’s neither too fast, nor too slow. His video is definitely worth checking out below.

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Watch the ClearWalker Light Up and Dip Its Toes

[Jeremy Cook]’s latest take on the Strandbeest, the ClearWalker, is ready to roll! He’s been at work on this project for a while, and walks us through the electronics and control system as well as final assembly tweaks. The ClearWalker is fully controllable and includes a pan and tilt camera as well as programmable LED segments, and even a tail.

When we last saw [Jeremy] at work on this design, it wasn’t yet functional. He showed us all the important design and assembly details that went into creating a motorized polycarbonate version of [Theo Jansen’s] classic Strandbeest design; there’s far more to the process than simply scaling parts up or down. Happily, [Jeremy] is able to show off the crystal clear beauty in his photo gallery as well as a new video, embedded below.

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