I need someone to explain this to me.

Voice controlled chess robot

voice-controlled-chess-robot

[Ben Yeh] wrote in to tell us about this voice-controlled chess robot he built along with three others as a final project for their Georgia Tech ECE 4180 Embedded Systems Design class.

To handle the speech recognition they grabbed an EasyVR board. This is a fine solution because it prevents the need for a computer to process voice commands (remember, it’s an embedded systems class). This concept breaks down when you find out that the desktop computer next to the robot is where the chess game is running. Perhaps that can be moved to a microcontroller by the next set of 4180 students.

The robot arm portion of the project is shown off well in the clip after the break. Normally we’d expect to see stepper motors driving the axes of a CNC machine but in this case they’re using servo motors with built-in encoders. The encoders are i2c devices which feed info back to the main controller. There was a parts ordering snafu and the z axis motor doesn’t have an encoder. No problem, they just added a distance sensor and a reflector to measure the up and down movement of the claw.

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BigDog throwing cinder blocks

bigdog-throwing-cinder-blocks

It’s as if giving cheetah-like speed to an advanced robot wasn’t good enough. The engineers over at Boston Dynamics must have been thinking to themselves, how can we make this thing even more menacing? The answer seems to be adding a highly dexterous articulated arm that gives the robot the ability to chuck objects as heavy as cinder blocks. We’re not kidding, look at the image above and you’ll see one mid-flight in the upper left. A quick search tells us that block probably weighs 30 pounds!

BigDog is a research project for the US military that we’ve seen navigating all kinds of terrain. It’s a heavy lifter able to carry loads where other machinery cannot. But now they’ve added an appendage that reminds us of an elephant’s trunk. It branches off of BigDog’s body where a quadruped’s neck would be. At the end of the appendage is a gripper that looks much like what you’d seen on industrial assembly robots. But enough talk, click through to see the action video. Oh, and if you didn’t pick up on the cheetah reference we made earlier you’ll want to check out this post.

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Handwriting robot arm is a little stiff-wristed

handwriting-robot

Check out this robot arm capable of handwriting which is orders of magnitude clearer than our own. It was built by [Patrick Barnes] as contract work for a campaign to raise funding for research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Don’t miss the video after the break which starts off with the satisfying whine of some serious stepper motors. Judging scale from this image is a bit tough, but [Patrick] tells us that the entire assembly stands almost fourteen inches tall and the arm has a reach of around twenty inches. The demonstration shows off it’s abilities by drawing a Hilbert Curve. From watching the action you’ll realize that, though this arm and hand look fantastic, this is really a SCARA plotter. The wrist and fingers are for looks only, providing a place where the felt-tipped pen can be mounted (held flush to the paper with a rubber band). Whether that’s a disappointment or not, the precision and look of the machine bring it very high marks. It could take a bit of a lesson in penmanship from another we’ve seen though.

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Robot steals soda from the vending machine

robot-steals-soda

It’s very hard to tell from this photo because of the super bright blue LEDs, but this soda machine is being robbed by a robot.

We don’t condone theft, but neither does the creator of the project. [Ioduremetallique] is really just problem solving; doing something because he can. And we’d bet this type of thing will end up landing him a high-paying job some day (we’re assuming he’s currently in school).

The project is shown off in the video after the break. The gist of it is that a compact robot arm is put into the drop area of a vending machine. After the flap is closed the wired remote control is used to raise up the telescoping arm, and grip the soda can with the grippers. It’s brilliant and devious all at the same time. The entire video is in French, but the YouTube captions translator actually worked quite well with this video. To turn it one, use the ‘CC’ icon on the bottom of the video. We had to select the French captions before it would allow us to chose English from the translated captions list. About four minutes in we get a great look at the hardware itself… a super hack!

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Running x86 apps on Windows RT devices

surface

Windows RT, the version of Windows being loaded onto ARM-powered tablets and netbooks such as the new Microsoft Surface, has one drawback: there are tens of thousands of apps written for x86 hardware that simply won’t run on this new ARM-powered architecture. While this may present a problem for hospitals, banks, and other institutions needing a proper Wintel platform, we’re wondering how to get classic games such as Civ III and Age of Empires running on these new tablets.

It seems with a lot of black magic, [mamaich] over at the XDA Developers forum has a solution for us. He’s created a tool for running x86 Win32 apps on Windows RT. Basically, he’s created an x86 emulator for ARM devices that also passes Windows API calls to Windows RT.

So far, [mamaich] has been playing some classic Windows games on his Windows RT box, including Heroes of Might and Magic 3 and Space Cadet Pinball from Windows 95. A few utility apps such as 7Zip and WinRAR also work.

[mamaich]‘s plans for his build are to make x86 emulation more automatic without the need for a separate launcher tool. Then, finally, we’ll have the perfect portable platform for RTS games.

A guide and helper script for ARM cross compiling toolchain on a Mac

mac-arm-toolchain-script

[Mitchell Johnson] wanted to develop for the STM32F4 Discovery board on his Mac. There are a few ready-to-use options when it comes to the ARM toolchains, but he couldn’t find one that satisfied all of his needs. After working out all the kinks he wrote a guide and tweaked a script to install the ARM tools on a Mac.

The problem he had with some of the pre-packaged tool chains is that they didn’t support the hardware floating point functionality of STM’s Cortex-M4 chips. To get around this without doing his own ground-up build (which can be quite a challenge) he forked the Summon Arm Toolchain script and modified it to include ST-Link support in the build. One of the things that we like about that script is it installs the tools in a sub-directory of your home directory. This way if you already have another ARM toolchain you can switch between the two by tweaking your PATH variable.

Unsigned code running on Windows RT

unsigned-code-on-windows-rt

A crack has been found in the armor of Windows RT. This subset of Windows 8 is designed to run on ARM processors. The payload listed in the image above allows you to run unsigned desktop applications on the OS.

We haven’t seen very much about the Windows RT package, so it’s nice to hear [Clrokr's] thoughts on it. As far as he can tell the system has not been watered down from its Intel-aimed (x86) counterpart. Rather, RT seems to be a direct port with what is called “Code Integrity” mechanisms switched on. There is a kernel-level setting, barricaded behind UEFI’s Secure Boot, which determines the minimum software signing level allowed to run on the device. This is set to zero on a Windows 8 machine, but defaults to 8 on an ARM device. [Clrokr] uses a debugger to insert the code seen above into a DLL file in order to reset that minimum signing value to 0.

Do you have a project in mind for which this is useful? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

[via Reddit]