The Simplest Quadrupedal Robot Ever

Wheeled and tracked robots are easy mode, and thanks to some helpful online tutorials for inverse kinematics, building quadruped, hexapod, and octopod robots is getting easier and easier. [deshipu] came up with what is probably the simplest quadruped robot ever. It’s designed to be a walking robot that’s as cheap and as simple to build as possible.

The biggest problem with walking robots is simply the frame. Where a wheeled robot is basically a model car, a walking robot needs legs, joints, and a sturdy frame to attach everything to. While there are laser cut hexapod frames out there, [deshipu]’s Tote robot uses servos for most of the skeleton. The servos are connected to each other by servo horns and screws.

The electronics are based on an Arduino Pro Mini, with a PCB for turning the Arduino’s pins into servo headers. Other than that, a 1000uF cap keeps brownouts from happening, and a 1S LiPo cell provides the power.

Electronics are easy, and the inverse kinematics and walking algorithms aren’t. For that, [deshipu] has a few tutorials for these topics. It’s a very complete guide to building a quadruped robot, but it’s still a work in progress. That’s okay, because [deshipu] says it will probably remain a work in progress until every kid on Earth builds one.

School Kids Build Ontario Power Generation System Model

The STEAMLabs community makerspace teamed up with a grade 6 class from Vocal Music Academy, a public elementary school in downtown Toronto, to create a working model of the Ontario Power System. It pulls XML files and displays the live power generation mix from renewable and other sources on a 3D printed display on RGB LED strips. Arduino coding on a Spark Core provides the brains.

The kids learned HTML, CSS and Javascript to build a web interface to send commands to the Spark and explain how the system works. Their project was accepted as an exhibition at the TIFF DigiPlaySpace. The kids presented their project to adults and other kids at the event. STEAMLabs has also published a free, open source Internet of Things teaching kit to enable other educators to make projects with Internet brains.

STEAMLabs is currently crowd-funding a new makerspace in Toronto. They’re almost there, a few hundred dollars short of their target, with a couple of days to go. Help them help kids and adults make amazing things! When Hackaday visited Toronto recently, [Andy Forest] dropped in to show off this project. Projects like these which let kids become creators of technology, rather than mere consumers, is one of the best ways to get them hooked to hacking from an early age.

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A Tool For Spying On Serial Data

[Piotr] was working on a recent Arduino project when he ran into a problem. He was having trouble getting his Arduino Pro Mini to communicate with an ESP8266 module. He needed a way to snoop on the back and forth serial communications. Since he didn’t have a specialized tool for this task, [Piotr] ended up building his own.

spying-on-serial-thumbThe setup is pretty simple. You start with a standard serial cable containing the TX, RX, DTR, and GND wires. This cable connects the Arduino to the ESP8266 WiFi module. The TX and RX lines are then tapped into. Each wire is routed to the RX pin of two different serial to USB adapters. This way, the data being sent from the Arduino shows up on one COM port and the data being transmitted from the module shows up on the other.

The next piece of the puzzle was coming up with a way to see the data more clearly. [Piotr] could have opened two serial terminals simultaneously, but this wasn’t ideal because it would be difficult to compare the timing of the data. Instead, [Piotr] spent less than an hour writing his own simple serial terminal. This one connects to two COM ports at the same time and prints the data on the same screen. The data from each COM port is displayed in a separate color to make it easy to differentiate. The schematic and source code to this project can be found on [Piotr’s] website.

Pinball Simulator Makes The Neighbors Happy

There are a lot of simulators out there if you want to try something out that would be otherwise impossible. Great examples are flight simulators for simulating the piloting of a fighter jet, or goat simulators for simulating the life of a goat who destroys a town. [Erland] wanted a pinball machine, but like planes and goats, found it was impractical to get a real one because it would probably upset his neighbors in his apartment. Instead, he set out to build a pinball simulator.

The cabinet is miniature-sized compared to a regular pinball machine so it can more easily fit in the apartment. It utilizes three monitors, a 24″ one in portrait mode for the main playing area, a 20″ one for the back screen, and a smaller one for the “dot matrix” style scoreboard. Once the woodwork was completed, a PC was put together to control everything and an Arduino was installed to handle the buttons and output USB commands to the PC.

Of course, we’ve featured many other pinball simulators before, but this one is no slouch when it comes to features either. It is very well crafted and the project is very well documented, and the miniature size sets it apart as well. However, if you want to go a step further with your pinball simulator, you might want to check out this augmented reality pinball system.

Making Servos Spin Right Round Without Stopping

[Brian B] found a handful of servos at his local hackerspace, and like any good hacker worth his weight in 1N4001’s, he decided to improve upon their design. Most servos are configured to spin only so far – usually 180 degrees in either direction. [Brian B’s] hack makes them spin 360 degrees in continuous rotation.

He starts off by removing the top most gear and making a small modification with a razor. Then he adds a little super glue to the potentiometer, and puts the thing back together again. A few lines of code and an arduino confirms that the hack performs flawlessly.

We’ve seen ways to modify other types of servos for 360 rotation. There’s a lot of servos out there, and every little bit of information helps. Be sure to check your parts bin for any Tower Pro SG90 9g servos and bookmark this article. It might come in handy on a rainy day.

Review: HUZZAH is the ESP8266 WiFi Setup You Need

A little board that adds WiFi to any project for a few hundreds of pennies has been all the rage for at least half a year. I am referring to the ESP8266 and this product is a marrige of one of those WiFi modules with the support hardware required to get it running. This week I’m reviewing the HUZZAH ESP8266 Breakout by Adafruit Industries.

If you saw the article [cnlohr] woite for us about direct programming this board you will know that a good chunk of that post covered what you need to do just to get the module into programming mode. This required adding a regulated 3.3V source, and a way to pull one of the pins to ground when resetting the power rail. Not only does the HUZZAH take care of that for you, it turns the non-breadboard friendly module into a DIP form factor while breaking out way more pins than the most common module offers. All of this and the price tag is just $9.95. Join me after the break for the complete run-down.

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Massive Microsoft Machinations For Makers

If you’re not stuck in the tech news filter bubble, you may not have heard the Microsoft Build Developers Conference is going on right now. Among the topics covered in the keynotes are a new Office API and a goal to have Windows 10 running on a Billion devices in a few years.

There are, however, some interesting things coming out of the Build conference. Windows 10 is designed for hackers, with everything from virtual Arduino shields running on phones, Windows 10 running on Raspberry Pis, and Visual Code Studio running on OS X and Linux.

This is not the first time in recent memory Microsoft has courted the maker market. Microsoft begrudgingly supported the hardware dev scene with the PC version of the Microsoft Kinect, and a year or two ago, Microsoft rolled out drivers for 3D printers that were much more capable than the usual serial interface (read: the ability for printer manufacturers to add DRM). To the true, tie-die wearing, rollerblade-skating, acoustic coupler-sporting, Superman III-watching hackers out there, these efforts appear laughable – the product of managers completely out of touch with their audience.

Depending on your perspective, the new releases for the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and other ‘maker-themed’ hardware could go one way or the other.

As far as educational efforts go, the Windows Remote Arduino and Windows Virtual Shields for Arduino are especially interesting. Instead of filling a computer lab up with dozens of Arduinos and the related shields, the WVSA uses the sensors on a Windows 10 smartphone with an Arduino. Windows Remote Arduino allows makers to control an Arduino not through the standard USB port, but a Bluetooth module.

If Arduinos aren’t your thing, the Windows 10 IoT preview for the Raspberry Pi 2 and Minnowboard Max is out now. The Win10 IoT distribution does not yet have working WiFi or Bluetooth, making it the single most useless operating system for Internet of Things devices. It was, however, released at the Build conference.

Also announced was a partnership with a fabulous hardware project hosting site, Hackster.io. Microsoft and Hackster.io will be collaborating with hackathons and other events focused on Windows technology. I get why they wouldn’t want another, vastly more popular project hosting site doing this, but I’m a little confused at why Instructables wasn’t the top Microsoft pick.

As always, you may express your infinite derision in the comments below. Spelling Microsoft with a dollar sign will result in a ban.