Ask Hackaday: Who is Going to Build This Pneumatic Transmission Thing?

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Disney research is doing what they do best, building really cool stuff for Disney and telling the rest of the world how cool they are. This time, it’s a very low friction fluid transmission device designed for animatronics.

From testing a few toy robotic arms, we can say without a doubt that servos and motors are not the way to go if you’re designing robots and animatronics that need lifelike motion. To fix this, a few researchers at Disney Pittsburgh have turned to pneumatics and hydraulics, where one joint is controlled by two sets of pistons. It’s extremely similar to the pneumatic LEGO, but more precise and much more lifelike.

The system uses a pair of cylinders on each joint of a robot. Disney is using a rolling diaphragm to seal the working fluid in its tubes and cylinders. This is an extremely low-friction device without any shakiness or jitters found with simple o-ring pneumatics and hydraulics.

The system is backdriveable, meaning one robotic arm can control another, and the other way around. Since we’re dealing with hydraulics, the cylinders (and robotic/animatronic devices) don’t need to be the same size; a small device could easily control a larger copy of itself, and vice versa.

The devices are fairly simple, with gears, toothed belts, and bits of plastic between them. The only unique part of these robots is the rolling diaphragm, and we have no idea where to source this. It looks like it would be great for some robotics or an Iron Man-esque mech suit, but being able to source the components will be a challenge.

You can check out the videos of these devices below, and if you have any idea on how to build your own, leave a note in the comments.

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Roboceratops: A Robot Dinosaur That Defies Extinction

roboceratopsInspired by a childhood love of dinosaurs, [Robert] set out to build a robotic dinosaur from the Ceratopsian family. After about a year of design, building, and coding, he has sent us a video of Roboceratops moving around gracefully, chomping a rope, and smoothly wagging his tail.

Roboceratops is made from laser-cut MDF and aluminium bars in the legs. That’s not cookie dough on those legs, it’s upholstery foam, and we love the way [Robert] has shaped it. Roboceratops has servos in his jaw, neck, tail, and legs for a total of 14-DOF. You can see the servo specifics and more in the video description. [Robert] has full kinematic control of him through a custom controller and is working to achieve total quadrupedal locomotion.

Inside that custom controller is an Arduino Mega 2560, an LCD, and two 3-axis analog joysticks that control translation, height, yaw, pitch, and jaw articulation. For now, Roboceratops receives power and serial control through a tether, but [Robert] plans to add an on-board µC for autonomous movement as well as wireless, a battery, an IMU, and perhaps some pressure/contact detection in his feet.

The cherry on top of this build is the matching, latching custom carry case that has drawers to hold the controller, power supply, cable, tools, and spare parts. Check out Roboceratops after the break.

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Manuel the Scottish moose speaks your tweets

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The folks over at Torchbox needed a Christmas card this year. Previously, the most poplar holiday card was a web page that gave their visitors a chance to activate a ‘snow machine’ and spray confetti on a random employee, all while being streamed online. They wanted to replicate this bridge between virtual and real life interactions this year, and Manuel the talking moose was born.

Manuel needed a personality and interaction from random people on the Internet so the Torchbox team decided to make the fake moose head speak tweets in real-time with the help of a Raspberry Pi. The code running on the Raspi gets tweets with a #tbxmoose hashtag, sends that through a node.js script, and finally sent to the Festival speech synthesis system.

A few modifications needed to be done to Manuel before he was presented to the Internet. His jaw was chopped in half and a servo and animatronic controller were added for a proper presentation on Torchbox’s stream of Manuel’s random musings.

A collection of hands to inspire your Halloween animatronics

Jump scares are a lot of fun, but if you want to hold the attention of all those trick-or-treaters we’d suggest a creepy prop. One of the best choices in that category is a ghoulishly lifelike hand. You can draw some inspiration from this roundup of robot hands which Adafruit put together.

We’ve chosen four examples for the image above but there are more to be had than just these. In the upper left there is a laser-cut acrylic hand that actually features some force sensitive resistors on the fingertips to help implement some haptic feedback. This project was inspired by the hand seen in the lower right which uses flex sensors on a glove to control the bot’s movement. If you’re looking for something more realistic the 3D printed parts on the lower left are the best bet. But if you’re looking to put something together by Halloween night the offering in the upper right is the way to go. It’s hacked together using cardboard templates to cut out plastic parts and using polymorph to form joints and brackets.

Singing pumpkins

This Halloween table will sing a sweet serenade to spook your guests. Each of the animatronic pumpkins were quite easy to build, but you may end up spending a bit more time choreographing the performance.

Inside each Jack-o-lantern you’ll find a custom Arduino compatible board called a Minion board. These include a wireless connection which lets the system sync with the computer playing the audio. The pumpkins are fake, which means that can be reused year after year (unlike our LED matrix inside a real pumpkin). The mouth is connected to a servo with a short piece of bent wire, allowing it to flap along with the words of a song. You can see a performance of the Ghostbusters theme in the clip after the break.

A custom GUI was written in C# to aid in the choreography. It handles the playback of the song, with a few buttons that can be used to record the light and mouth effects. This ‘recording’ is then used to drive the pumpkins during a performance.

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humanoid Robot Kinects with its enviroment

[Malte Ahlers] from Germany, After having completed a PhD in neurobiology, decided to build a human sized humanoid robot torso. [Malte] has an interest in robotics and wanted to  show case some of his skills.The project is still in its early development but as you will see in the video he has achieved a nice build so far.

A1 consists of a Human sized torso with two arms, each with five (or six, including the gripper) axes of rotation, which have been based on the robolink joints from German company igus.de. The joints are tendon driven by stepper motors with a planetary gear head attached. Using an experimental controller which he has built, [Malte] can monitor the position of the axis by monitoring the encoders embedded in the joints.

The A1 torso features a head with two degrees of freedom, which is equipped with a Microsoft Kinect sensor and two Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 cameras. With this functionality the head can spatially ”see” and ”hear”. The head also has speakers for voice output, which can be accompanied by an animated gesture on the LCD screen lip movements for example. The hands feature a simple gripping tool based on FESTO FinGripper finger to allow the picking up of misc items.

Zombie [Jackson] bot dances to Thriller

[Marc Cryan] built this little bugger which he calls Wendell the Robot. But what good is an animatronic piece like this unless you do something fun with it? That’s why you can catch the movements matching [Michael Jackson’s] choreography from the music video Thriller in the clip after the break.

This is a ground-up build for [Marc]. He started by designing templates for each of the wood parts using Inkscape. After printing them out, he glued each to a piece of 1/4″ plywood and cut along the lines using a band saw. We don’t have a lot of adhesive spray experience, but he mentions that the can should have directions for temporary adhesion so that the template can be removed after cutting.

During assembly he makes sure to add servo horns for easy connection when adding the motors. All together he’s using five; two for the wheels, two for the arms, and one for the neck. A protoboard shield makes it easy to connect them to the Arduino which is used as a controller.

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