There is a lot to be said for replacing certain kinds of jobs with robots. Most people would agree that replacing physical human labor with automation is a good thing. It’s especially good to automate the dangerous kinds of labor like some facets of factory work. What about automation in fields that require more mental labor, where physical strain isn’t the concern? Is replacing humans really the best course of action? A year ago, a video called Humans Need Not Apply set forth an explanation of how robots will inevitably replace us. But that narrative is a tough sell.
Whether it is even possible depends on the job being automated. It also depends on how far we are able to take technology, and the amount of labor we are willing to offload. Automation has been replacing human workers in assembly and manufacturing industries for years. Even with equipment and upkeep expenses, the tireless nature of robotic workers means dramatically lower overhead for businesses.
Many of the current forms of factory automation are rather dumb. When something goes wrong and their task is compromised, they keep chugging away. That costs time and money. But there are companies out there producing robots that are better on many levels.
May Your Robot Overlords Be Cute and Cuddly
In 2013, Rethink Robotics started filling orders for a new line called Baxter. They are a class of general purpose robot that can be programmed to do many kinds of manual tasks. Baxter bots have vision, and they can learn how to do a job simply by watching. They don’t need to be programmed in the traditional sense.
Baxter even has a face – a screen that shows different expressions depending on his state. When he’s in the midst of a task, his eyes are cast downward. If something goes wrong, he stops what he’s doing. His cartoon face appears sort of shocked, then sad. He goes into safe mode and waits to be fixed.
Continue reading “Robots Are Coming For Our Jobs. Just Not All of Them.”
[ZPriddy] was looking for a way to control his Nest thermostats with Amazon Echo. He didn’t want to settle for using AWS or some other hosted service. [ZPriddy] wanted something that he could host and manage completely on his own. The end result is what he calls EchoNestPy.
[ZPriddy] started by learning how to use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). ASK is the official SDK that allows enthusiasts to add functionality to their Amazon Echo. Unfortunately for [ZPriddy], most of the example code he found was designed to be used on Amazon Lambda, but that didn’t stop him. After finding a few examples of Amazon Echo requests and responses, he was on his way.
[ZPriddy] chose to implement a simple web server using Flask. The web server listens for the Amazon requests and responds appropriately. It also Oauth2 authentication to ensure some level of security. The server is capable of synchronizing the temperature of multiple Nest devices in the same home, but it can also increment or increment the temperature across the board. This is accomplished with some simple voice commands such as “Tell Nest that I’m a little bit chilly”. If you like Amazon Echo hacks, be sure to check out this other one for controlling WeMo devices. Continue reading “Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo”
[Stian] thought it would be nice if his coworkers could be electronically notified when the latest batch of coffee is ready. He ended up building an inexpensive coffee alarm system to do exactly that. When the coffee is done, the brewer can press a giant button to notify the rest of the office that it’s time for a cuppa joe.
[Stian’s] first project requirement was to activate the system using a big physical button. He chose a button from Sparkfun, although he ended up modifying it to better suit his needs. The original button came with a single LED built-in. This wasn’t enough for [Stian], so he added two more LEDs. All three LEDs are driven by a ULN2003A NPN transistor array. Now he can flash them in sequence to make a simple animation.
This momentary push button supplies power to a ESP8266 microcontroller using a soft latch power switch. When the momentary switch is pressed, it supplies power to the latch. The latch then powers up the main circuit and continues supplying power even when the push button is released. The reason for this power trickery is to conserve power from the 18650 li-on battery.
The core functionality of the alarm uses a combination of physical hardware and two cloud-based services. The ESP8266 was chosen because it includes a built-in WiFi chip and it only costs five dollars. The microcontroller is configured to connect to the WiFi network with the push of a button. The device also monitors the giant alarm button.
When the button is pressed, it sends an HTTP request to a custom clojure app running on a cloud service called Heroku. The clojure app then stores brewing information in a database and sends a notification to the Slack cloud service. Slack is a sort of project management app that allows multiple users to work on projects and communicate easier over the internet. [Stian] has tapped into it in order to send the actual text notification to his coworkers to let them know that the coffee is ready. Be sure to watch the demo video below. Continue reading “Alarm Notifies the Office When the Coffee is Ready”
You’ve just got to go with the hype on this one, because it’s obviously not ready for prime time yet. But a few days ago murmurs started circling the net that an Australian inventor had developed a robot capable of building complicated structure from brick all by itself.
Before you go off your rocker… we’re definitely not calling this real. It’s a proof of concept at best, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting excited. How long have you been waiting for robots that can build entire structures on our behalf? We were excited at the prospect of extruding walls of concrete. But this is more like LEGO buildings in the real world. The beast cuts brick to length, conveys each brick along the telescoping arm, and butters them as it lays them in place. At least that’s what the rendered video after the break shows.
We’re hearing about this now because FastBrick Robotics, the company [Mark Pivac] founded and has spent ten years developing the Hadrian project at, was just sold to a company called DMY Capital Limited. Of course they’re going to want to get some press out of the sale.
There is an image of the brick feeder on an existing excavator that frankly looks photoshopped. And some real images like the one seen here and another of the “print head” holding some bricks. But it’s enough to think there’s potential here.
The idea is that the base of the robot is fixed with the arm long enough to reach any part of the structure being built. Precise positioning is achieved by a fixed marker in a different position from the robot. The head triangulates its position using laser range-finding with the marker (having said that we now assume there needs to be more than one marker).
So what do you think? Are we ever going to see this incredibly complicated bucket of awesome producing structures in our neighborhood which the Big Bad Wolf simply cannot blow down?
Continue reading “Hope it’s real: 3D Printing Houses with Bricks”
Quick, you need 1000 pieces of wire of the same length, what do you do? The disappointing answer is to put on the miniseries masterpiece Frank Herbert’s Dune and get to work snipping those bits by hand. We usually clamp a scrap piece of molding protruding perpendicular to the bench to use as a length guide in these cases.
The more exciting answer is to build a robot to do it for you. There’s no way you can build the robot faster than you could cut the wire… unless you have admirable rapid prototyping skills like [Eberhard]. He strapped together a barebones machine from two motors, and one switch in no time. Pretty amazing!
Wire coming off the spool feeds through two guides held by a third-hand. The outfeed length depends entirely on timing; two slices of wine cork drive the wire which passes through the open jaws of a wire snip. Those snips are hot-glued in place, with a motor winding up a strip connected to the other handle in order to make the cut. The only feedback is a limit switch when the snip is fully open.
It is entirely possible to get even less advanced. Here’s the same concept without the limiting switch. We appreciate the eloquence of the snipper squeeze method on that one. But for the most part we think you’ll be interested in one that goes about stripping the wire ends as well as cutting to length.
Continue reading “Robo-Wire-Snips Clip 1k Segments”
If you are like [Gbola], then you have a hard time waking up during the winter months. Something about the fact that it’s still dark outside just makes it that much more difficult to get out of bed. [Gbola] decided to build his own solution to this problem, by gradually waking himself up with an electric light. He was able to do this using all off-the-shelf components and a bit of playing around with the Tasker Android application.
[Gbola] started out with a standard desk lamp. He replaced the light bulb with a larger bulb that simulates the color temperature of natural daylight. He then switched the lamp on and plugged it into a WeMo power switch module. A WeMo is a commercial product that attempts to make home automation accessible for consumers. This particular module allows [Gbola] to control the power to his desk lamp using his smart phone.
[Gbola] mentions that the official WeMo Android application is slow and includes no integration with Tasker. He instead decided to use the third-party WeMoWay application, which does include Tasker support. Tasker is a separate Android application that allows you to configure your device to perform a set task or series of tasks based on a context. For example you might turn your phone to silent mode when your GPS signal shows you are at work. WeMoWay allows [Gbola] to interact with his WeMo device based on any parameter he configures.
On top of all of that, [Gbola] also had to install three Tasker plugins. These were AutoAlarm, Taskkill, and WiFi Connect. He then got to work with Tasker. He configured a custom task to identify when the next alarm was configured on the phone. It then sets two custom variables, one for 20 minutes before the alarm (turn on the lamp) and one for 10 minutes after (turn it off).
[Gbola] then built a second task to actually control the lamp. This task first disconnects and reconnects to the WiFi network. [Gbola] found that the WeMoWay application is buggy and this “WiFi reset” helps to make it more reliable. It then kills the WeMoWay app and restarts it. Finally, it executes the command to toggle the state of the lamp. The project page has detailed instructions in case anyone wants to duplicate this. It seems like a relatively painless way to build your own solution for less than the cost of a specialized alarm clock lamp.
There’s a bright future ahead of us, filled with intelligent computerized assistants that will listen to everything we say and do our bidding. It’ll be like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but without unverified mission-critical software and a bunch of killing. Until then, we have a few Amazon Echo hacks that tease out a reasonably capable home automation system without a proper API.
This build was inspired by an earlier project that polled the to do list looking for key phrases. Saying, “Alexa, to do, lights on” would turn on an Internet-connected light bulb. Saying, “Alexa, to do, call home” would call a phone number set up with the ‘home’ keyword.
[Glen] has improved that earlier setup somewhat, mostly by getting rid of the requirement to say, ‘to do.’ The Git for the project still shows it’s exploiting the Amazon to do list, but this is a much cleaner build that should end up having a lot more possibilities.
So far, [Glen], or rather, Alexa, can control the temperature of the house through a Nest thermostat, the lighting of a room with a Phillips Hue light bulb, and other random tasks like playing an audio file through the speakers. Not bad, and something that really demonstrates the potential of a smart, connected home.