Robot Ants Wear Circuitry as Exoskeleton

[FESTO] keeps coming up with new tricks that make us both envious and inspired. Take their bionicANTs for example. Watching a group of them cooperate to move objects around looks so real that you’re instantly reminded of the pests crawling across your floor, but looking at them up close they’re a treasure trove of ideas for your next robot project.

Ant exoskeleton as circuit board
Ant exoskeleton as circuit board

The exoskeleton is 3D printed but they then use the outer surface of that exoskeleton as a circuit board for much of the circuitry. The wiring is “painted on” using a 3D MID (Molded Interconnect Device) process. While FESTO didn’t give specifics about their process, a little research shows that 3D MID involves the 3D printed object being made of a special non-conductive metal material, a laser then “drawing” the traces in the material, and then dipping the object in various baths to apply copper, nickel and gold layers. We mortal hackers may not have the equipment for doing this ourselves in our workshops but seeing the beautiful result should be inspiration enough to get creative with our copper tape on the outer surfaces of our 3D printed, CNC’d, or hand-carved parts.

We also like how they took a the mouse sensor from under a regular computer mouse and attached it to the ant’s underside, pointing down for precision dead reckoning. For the legs they used three piezo bending transducers. However, these give a deflection of only 1.5mm in both directions, not enough for walking. They increase this to over 10mm with the addition of a plastic hinge, another idea to keep in mind when building that next tiny robot. And there are more ideas to be taken advantage of in their ants, which you can see being built in the video below.

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ANT+ networks using an MSP430 chip and Android phone

[Jbremnant] wanted to try his hand with ANT+ wireless networks. This protocol is designed for light-weight and low-power consumer electronics, like heart rate chest straps and bicycle computers (Garmin brand devices for example). There are already libraries out there for Arduino, but [Jbremnant] found that most of them were written as slave-only code. He set out to use an MSP430 to drive a fully functioning ANT network including a computer and an Android phone.

The TI Launchpad is used as the master node in the network. [Jbremnant] chose the smaller of the two MSP430 processors that came with the dev platform. After starting down this road he realized that chip didn’t have a hardware UART needed to communicate with the SparkFun ANT board (based on the nRF24AP1 radio chip). Rolling with the punches, he used a software UART he had previously worked with. Now he’s able to transmit test data from the Launchpad. It is picked up by both a USB dongle on his computer and the Android phone seen above. Check out his demo video after the break.

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We know it was just two days ago that we were ranting about the hexapods known as Phoenix, and their creator [Zenta]. In the comments on that post, [Bluehash] pointed us to [Zenta’s] latest creation. This is A-pod. The sheer articulation and believable motion here made this robot worthy of a post all it’s own.  A-pod has a 2 dof “tail” and a 3 dof head with a total of 25 servos to drive it. The addition of the head adds so much character, add some face tracking and it would really blow us away. Well, after it fetched us a beer. He notes that he’s still working on the leg mechanicals, so it doesn’t do much walking yet.