Robot Battle for the Big Leagues: Valkyrie and the DARPA Challenge

valkyrieRobot

Even though NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s impressive build for the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge is one of many entries, it has to be one of the coolest. The gang at IEEE Spectrum got a sneak peak of the robot dubbed “Valkyrie”, which at 1.9m and 125kg boasts 44 degrees of freedom while managing to look like a finished product ready to roll off the shelf. We can expect to see other custom robots at the challenge, but a number of teams will compete with a Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot, which we’ve covered a couple times this year.

A few readers are probably polishing their pitchforks in anticipation of shouting “Not a hack!” but before you do, take a look at the tasks for the robots in this challenge and consider how new this territory is. To that end, the NASA JSC crew seem to have prepared for resolving catastrophes, even if it means throwing together a solution. They’ve designed the limbs for quick removal and even reversibility: the arms are identical and only slight adjustments are required to turn a left arm into a right. Unlike the Atlas, which requires a tether, Valkyrie is battery-operated, and it can run for around an hour before someone needs to crack open the torso and swap in a new one, Iron Man film-style.

The team was also determined to make Valkyrie seem more human, so they added a soft fabric layer to serve as a kind of clothing. According to IEEE Spectrum, it’s even getting custom made footwear from DC Shoes.There are some utilitarian compromises, though: Valkyrie has adopted a shortcut taken by time-constrained animators in many a cartoon, choosing three fingers per hand instead of four. Make sure you watch the video after the break for a closer look.

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Robotic Manta Ray (Mantabot)

The Robotic Manta Ray codenamed MantaBot created by the Bio-Inspired Engineering Research Laboratory (BIER Lab) is set to make a splash. The next evolution in underwater Robotics is here. We have seen the likes of robotic fish and Jelly fish now to be added to the school is the MantaBot which has been designed to mimic the unique swimming motion of the Manta Ray,

This biologically inspired under water robot’s has been designed with a primary goal to be autonomous using its onboard electronics to make its own decisions to navigate its watery domain. BIER Lab has received major funding from the Department of Defense (DoD) Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program. Part of its goal in the long run is to reverse engineer the biological systems of such creatures to the point of creating simulated artificial skin and muscle.

[Via dvice.com]

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Build a Kinect bot for 500 bones

[Eric] sent in his tutorial on building a Kinect based robot for $500, a low-cost solution to a wife that thinks her husband spends too much on robots.

For the base of his build, [Eric] used an iRobot Create, a derivative of the Roomba that is built exclusive for some hardware hackery. For command and control of the robot, an EEE netbook takes data from the Kinect and sends it to the iRobot over a serial connection.

The build itself is remarkably simple: two pieces of angle aluminum were attached to the iRobot, and a plastic milk crate was installed with zip ties. The Kinect sits on top of the plastic crate and the netbook comfortably fits inside.

A few weeks ago, [Eric] posted a summary of the history and open-source software for the Kinect that covers the development of the Libfreenect driver. [Eric] used this same driver for his robot. Currently, the robot is configured for two modes. The first mode has the robot travel to the furthest point from itself. The second mode instructs the robot to follow the closest thing to itself – walk in front of the robot and it becomes an ankle biter.

There is a limitation of the Kinect that [Eric] is trying to work around. Objects closer than 19 inches to the Kinect appear to be very far away. This caused a lot of wall bumping, but he plans on adding a few ultrasonic sensors to fill the gap in the sensor data. Not bad for a very inexpensive autonomous robot.

Autonomous Cookie Monster

cookie_monster

[DJ Sures], who built the autonomous Wall-E, is back with another creation. His new autonomous Cookie Monster is certainly an interesting build. He had the cookie monster plush toy already so the first step was to flay the blue beast and insert a skeleton. He used another robot for that. There are two servos for the wheels plus one for each arm and one for the neck. There’s a distance sensor in the mouth. He built a custom board for the PIC18F4685 microcontroller which is running the same 2D mapping code as his previous bot. Check out the video of it in action below. [Read more...]