Hackerspace Tours: Omaha Maker Group

omg main pictureMembers of the [Omaha Maker Group] in Omaha, Nebraska affectionately call their space The Makery. This hearkens back to their humble beginnings in a 900 square foot space that formerly housed a bakery. There was one measly electrical outlet and they had to travel to the nearest restroom, often on vehicles they made. It was in this small space where they built the workbenches and forged the friendships that created the inviting hangout they have today.

[OMG] has been in their current, more centrally located space for the last two years. It was there that I met [Eric] and [Ben] for a few hours in the evening before Maker Faire, for which they are largely responsible. [Eric] had spent the day setting up at the Omaha Children’s Museum and he and [Ben] were kind enough to give me a detailed tour.

MAMEThe new space is a progression of rooms that begins with a combination lounge and meeting space. Here you’ll find the beer and snacks, the brag wall full of framed articles, and one of the remote controllable web cams. A few of the founding members have since flung themselves around the world, but are able to participate through these links. The best part of this room is either the PVC-framed Raspi MAME cabinet or the sign on the bathroom door which doesn’t discriminate against androids.

 

modified Mendel

Next up is a smallish room with their 3D printer, a modified Mendel with a spool holder made by one of the members. There’s a large pile of glue sticks next to it to help prints adhere to the bed. That was a new one to me. [Ben] says they work almost too well. Next to that is their K40 C02 laser cutter that they modified to operate only when closed (!). They’ve also added LEDs and an exhaust fan. The cutter was internally crowdfunded in about three days. This method works well for them according to [Eric]; no one spends money on equipment they won’t use. They are currently in the process of building a second, bigger one using a donated frame.

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MIT’s Robotic Cheetah is Getting Even Scarier

Robotic Cheetah get's upgraded bounding algorithm

Researchers over at MIT are hard at work upgrading their Robotic Cheetah. They are developing an algorithm for bounding movement, after researching how real cheetahs run in the wild.

Mach 2 is fully electric and battery-powered, can currently run at speeds of 10MPH (however they’re predicting it will be able to reach 30MPH in the future), and can even jump over obstacles 33cm tall.

We originally saw the first robotic Cheetah from Boston Dynamics in cooperation with DARPA two years ago — it could run faster than any human alive (28.3MPH) but in its tests it was tethered to its hydraulic power pack and running on a treadmill. It’s unclear if MIT’s Cheetah is a direct descendant from that one, but they are both supported by DARPA.

The technology in this project is nothing short of amazing — its electric motors are actually a custom part designed by one of the professors of Electrical Engineering at MIT, [Jeffrey Lang]. In order for the robot to run smoothly, its bounding algorithm is sending commands to each leg to exert a very precise amount of force during each footstep, just to ensure it maintains the set speed.

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Hackaday Links: December 22, 2013

hackaday-links-chain

[Korben] is using a picture frame as a Bluetooth speaker (translated). He hacked a Rock’R² for this project. It’s a device that has a vibrating element which can be used to make any hollow item into a speaker.

Entertain yourself over the holidays by mastering the Apollo Guidance Computer simulator. It’s a JavaScript version of the computer used in the modules of the Apollo moon missions.  [Thanks Gregory and Paul]

Here’s a little mirror attachment that lets you use your laptop as an overhead projector. [Ian] calls it the ClipDraw. Affix it to the webcam and use the keyboard as the drawing surface. Since it’s simply using the camera this works for both live presentations and video conferencing. What we can’t figure out is why the image doesn’t end up backward?

This guide will let you turn a Carambola board into an AirPlay speaker.

Those who suck at remembering the rules for a game of pool will enjoy this offering. It’s some add-on hardware that uses a color sensor to detect when a ball is pocketed. The Raspberry Pi based system automatically scores each game.

We spend waaaay too much time sitting at the computer. If we had a treadmill perhaps we’d try building [Kirk's] treadmill desk attachment. It’s made out of PVC and uses some altered reduction fittings to make the height adjustable. It looks like you lose a little bit of space at the front of the belt, but if you’re just using it at a walking pace that shouldn’t matter too much.

You can have your own pair of smart tweezers for just a few clams. [Tyler] added copper tape to some anti-static tweezers. The copper pads have wires soldered to them which terminate on the other end with some alligator clips. Clip them to your multimeter and you’ve got your own e-tweezers.

Artificial Leg Comes with a Normal Gait!

steppingouti

Did you know over 50% of amputees take at least one fall per year due to limited prosthetic mobility? That compares to only about a third of all elderly people over the age of 65!

[Professor Mo Rastgaar] and his PhD student [Evandro Ficanha] set out to fix that problem, and they have come up with a microprocessor controlled prosthetic foot capable of well, to put it bluntly, walking normally.

Working with a scientist from the Mayo Clinic, the pair have created a prosthesis that uses sensors to actively adjust the ankle to create a normal stride. Commercially available prosthetics can do this as well, but can only adjust the foot in an up-down motion, which is fine — if you only plan on walking in a straight line. In addition to having an ankle that can also roll side-to-side and front-to-back based on sensor feedback, they have also moved the control mechanism up the leg using a cable-driven system, which lightens the foot making it easier to use.

We find the test apparatus almost as interesting as the prosthesis itself. The researchers had to come up with a way to measure the performance of the prosthesis when used to walk in an arc. The solution was the turn-table treadmill seen above.

If you have time, check out the video demonstration on the main article’s page which covers the leg and the treadmill build.

[via Reddit]

Boston Dynamics Takes WildCat Outside

wildcat

[Boston Dynamics] has released a video of their latest robot, which means it’s time to go hide in bed before this thing comes to get us. The new video features WildCat, which is apparently the evolution of the Cheetah robot we saw last year. Cheetah was an indoor cat, tethered by power, data, and hydraulic lines while running on a treadmill. WildCat has been released to terrorize people explore the great outdoors

Reminiscent of the early videos of BigDog, WildCat is currently powered by an internal combustion engine. The engine drives a hydraulic system, which then actuates the robot’s legs and front/rear pods. The beauty of a system like this is that switching to an electric motor is simple – just replace the IC engine. While we’re sure this would make a much more stealthy cat, weight and run time could be issues. Moving the power system onboard has also slowed down WildCat a bit. Cheetah was able to reach 28 MPH while WildCat can only muster 16 MPH.

WildCat is part of DARPA’s maximum mobility and manipulation program. The research appears to be focused on improving the gaits the robot uses to move at various speeds. The video highlights both bounding and galloping.  Slo-mo sections show all four of WildCat’s legs leaving the ground, which is the suspension phase of a classic gallop gait. Control isn’t perfect yet, as WildCat tumbles at one point in the video.  It gets right back up though – ready for more.

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Browsing the web one step at a time

After modifying his new manual treadmill to fit under his standing desk, [Brian Peiris] found a way to let him stroll all over the internet.

After removing the treadmill’s original time/distance display, [Peiris] reverse engineered the speed sensor to send data to an Arduino and his PC.  We’ve seen a number of projects that interface treadmills with virtual worlds, but what really makes this project stand out is a simple script using the Throxy Python library which allows the treadmill to throttle his machine’s internet connection.

The end result is a browsing experience that reacts to how fast the user runs.  In the demonstration video, you can see Peiris tiptoe through images or jog through YouTube videos.  A minimum bandwidth setting keeps the connection live, so if you can’t make it all the way through that HD Netflix movie, taking a breather won’t time out the connection.

It’s certainly a great way to get in shape, or at the very least, it’ll make your ISP’s bandwidth cap feel a lot bigger.

Video after the jump.

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University research dollars poured into developing a Holodeck

holodeck-project

It may seem like this would be an early April Fool’s joke, but the image above shows serious research in action. [Ben Lang] recently had the chance to interview the director of a program that wants to make the Holodeck a reality. The core goal of the research — called Project Holodeck — is to develop an affordable multi-player virtual reality experience outside of the laboratory. We’ve heard speculation that Sony and Microsoft will release their next-gen systems in 2013; we’d rather wait for this to hit the market.

[Nathan Burba] is the director of the program. It’s part of the University of Southern California Games Institute and brings together students of Interactive Media, Cinema Arts, and Engineering. The hardware worn by each player is shown off at the beginning of the video after the break. Most of the components are commercially available (a Lenovo laptop worn in the backpack, PlayStation controllers, etc.) but the stereoscopic display which gives each eye its own 90-degree view was developed specifically for the project.

After seeing the in-game rendered footage we can’t help but think of playing some Minecraft with this equipment. We just need some type of omni-directional treadmill because our living room floor space is very limited.

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