I had a great time at Denver’s 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, which was held inside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The official theme this year was “Building the Future” and looking back, I can tell you that they pulled the theme off well. There was a strong turnout in two categories that are crucial to building the future: the growth that comes from education at all ages and the physical places where learning becomes immersive.
The Really Fun Stuff
[Casey] from Caustic Creations were showing off Poison Arrow just in time for season 2 of the BattleBots reboot. Poison Arrow is 250-lb. drum spinner that destroys things at 9,000 RPM. Here’s a nice introductory video shot by their sponsor, Arrow Electronics. [Casey] told me that Poison Arrow will be on the June 30th episode, so set your DVR.
Who knew that Colorado had so many maker- and hackerspaces? Colorado Makerhub, that’s who. They provide a portal to everything maker-related in Colorado, and they were in attendance along with most of the ‘spaces within a 50-mile radius of the city. Denver’s own Denhac brought a huge multiplayer rig that they had built for Comic Con last year. It runs Artemis, a spaceship bridge simulator game that divides up the tasks necessary for successful intergalactic travel. Here’s a video of Denhac member [Radio Shack] describing the game and giving a tour of one of the consoles. The group landed a space in one of the darker areas of the museum, which made the blinkenlights irresistible, especially to boys of a certain age range.
If you want something spinning hard and fast, brushless is where it’s at. Brushless motors offer much better power-to-weight ratios compared to brushed DC motors, but some applications – like a large robot’s drivetrain – are less straightforward than others. One of the biggest issues is control. Inexpensive brushless motors are promising, but as [professor churlz] puts it, “hobby motor control equipment is not well suited for the task. Usually created for model airplanes, the controllers are lightly built, rated to an inch of the components’ lives using unrealistic methods, and usually do not feature reversing or the ability to maintain torque at low speeds and near-stall conditions, which is where DC motors shine.” Taking into account the inertia of a 243 lb robot is a factor as well – the controller and motor want to start moving immediately, but the heavy robot on the other side of it doesn’t. The answer was a mixture of hardware and firmware tweaking with a lot of testing.
Antweight combat robots are really lightweight. [Carter Hurd] used leftover materials to create a dustpan robot with a chomper (comically made from a Krave cereal box) to hold captured competitors in place. The main body is made of foam board. The only metal is in the front wedge which is lifted by a servo to help trap the other robot.
[Carter] fully expects the foam to be eaten by competitors during the match. This led him to position his electronics at the center of the robot to keep it from being damaged. We’ll have to see how well that works. He’s hoping for an advantage over vertical flip weapons since they may simply cut through the foam without getting enough purchase for a flip.
The electronics is on a modular board so it can be easily moved from one robot to another. All that is on the board is the RC receiver and two FingerTech Tiny Electronic Speed Controllers. A battery is slung underneath.
Best of luck for Krave ‘bot eating up the opposition. We’ve seen some other light weight designs in the cardboard competitors from the Columbia Gadget Works makerspace.
The folks at Fetch Robotics do love a good game of combat robots. Time is tight these days, however, so putting together a good ol’ 220-pounder for Robogames is a dream few of us can realize. Instead, the Fetch team hosted their own Plastic fantastic battlebots competition to blow off some steam, and the results are in!
Battlebots enter the ring built from a frame of entirely plastic parts and weighing a humble 3lbs. Just like Battlebots and Robogames, they’ll follow a 2-minute episode of hack-and-slash after which judges determine the winner. Bots were forged from everything you might see in arms reach of your local hackerspace: pvc pipe, acrylic sheets, and a few 3D-printed components. On the menu of shredded plastic we have everything from classic wedges and spinners to a giant spinning rubber pterodactyl strapped onto the body of an RC car. (Time is tight, right?)
While 3 pound plastic fighters might not seem devastating, don’t underestimate the LiPo batteries and brushless motors that are running under the hood. These competitors can easily heave each other across the ring. We’ve definitely seen mini Battlebot tournaments before, and we’re thrilled to see them on the rise in everyday places. Better start getting your materials ready. Who knows? Mini Battlebots might be coming to an alley near you too.
Fighting robots are even more awesome than regular robots. But it’s hard for us to imagine tossing all that money (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) into a bot and then watching it get shredded. The folks at Columbia Gadget Works, a Columbia, MO hackerspace had the solution: make the robots out of cardboard.
The coolest thing about building your robots out of cardboard and hot glue is that it’s cheap, but if they’re going to be a modest scale, they can still be fairly strong, quick to repair, and you’re probably going to be able to scrounge all the parts out after a brutal defeat. In short, it’s a great idea for a hackerspace event.
Everyone remembers Battlebots, and those of us feeling the pains of nostalgia have tuned into the recent reboot on ABC. As with the golden age of Battlebots, all robot fighting competitions eventually become a war between machines perfectly designed for the task. In the original run of Battlebots, this meant a bracket full of wedge bots, with the very cool robots eliminated year after year.
You don’t watch NASCAR for the race, you watch it for the crashes, and professional robot fighting competitions will always devolve into a few hundred laps of left turns. Fire and sparks are great, but there is a better robot fighting competition, and this time anyone can get in the game without spending years working on a robot.
It’s called Hebocon, and it’s billed as, ‘a sumo wrestling tournament for those who don’t have the technical skills to actually make robots’. The best translation I’ve seen is, ‘shitty robot battles’, and it’s exactly what robot battles should be: technical mastery overcome by guile, and massive upsets through ingenious strategy. You won’t get fire and sparks, but one thing is certain: no robot will make it out of Hebocon fully functional, but that’s only because they weren’t fully functional to begin with.
Remember BattleBots? It’s back. These are my impressions of the first two episodes: Flamethrowers are relatively common now, ‘parasitic bots’ – small, auxilliary bots fighting alongside the ‘main’ bot are now allowed. KOs only count for the ‘main’ bot. Give it a few more seasons and every bot will be a wedge. One of the hosts is an UFC fighter, which is weird, but not as weird as actually knowing some of the people competing.
Ceci n’est pas un Arduino, which means it’s from the SRL camp. No, wait. It’s a crowdfunding campaign for AS200 Industries in Providence, RI.
The UK’s National Museum of Computing is looking for some people to help maintain 80 BBC Micros. The museum has a ‘classroom’ of BBC micro computers still in operation. Caps dry out, switching power supplies fail, and over the years these computers start to die. If you have the skills and want to volunteer, give it a shot.