A Robot In A Day

While building a robot (nearly) from scratch isn’t easy, it needn’t be a lengthy process.  Is it possible to build a bot in a single day? With some musical motivation (a 10 hour loop of the A-Team theme song), [Tyler Bletsch] answers with a resounding ‘yes’ in the shape of his little yellow robot that he built for a local robotics competition.

Designing and fabricating on the fly, [Bletsch] used Sketchup to design the chassis, and OpenSCAD to model the wheels while the former was being 3D printed. Anticipating some structural weakness, he designed another version that could bolt to wood if the original failed, but the addition of some metal support rods provided enough stability. Mouse pad material gave the wheels ample traction. An Arduino with the L298 control module receives input via an HC-06 Bluetooth board. Eight AA batteries provide 12V of power to two Nextrox mini 12V motors with an integrated voltmeter to measure battery life.

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Nessie, the Educational Robot

At the Lifelong Learning Robotics Laboratory at the Erasmo Da Rotterdam in Italy, robots are (not surprisingly) used to teach all of the fundamentals of robotics. [Alessandro Rossetti] and the students at the lab have been at it for years now, and have finally finished their fifth generation of a robot called Nessie. The big idea is to help teach fundamentals of programming and electronics by building something that actually uses these principles.

The robot is largely 3D printed and uses an FPGA to interact with the physical world through a set of motors and sensors. The robot also uses a Raspberry Pi to hold the robot’s framework. The robot manages the sensors in hardware with readers attached to the CPU AXI bus. The CPU reads their values from memory space, though, so the robot is reported to be quite quick.

The lab is hoping to take their robot to a robotics competition in Bari, Italy. We hope that they perform well there, since we are big fans of any robot that’s designed to teach anyone about robotics and programming. After all, there are robots that help teach STEM in Africa, robots that teach teen girls about robots, and robots that teach everyone.

Where 3000MPG+ Cars Come To Compete: The Ecomarathon

Every year teams from around the world come together for the Ecomarathon, an event (ironically put on by Shell) that tasks teams from high schools and universities with creating energy-efficient electric, gas, and hybrid vehicles. This year’s competition was held in Detroit, so I headed over to check it out.

vehicle-blurThe event has two categories that vehicles compete in: prototype vehicles that compete for the highest fuel efficiency and “urban concept” vehicles that are more focused on normal driving environments and look slightly closer to street-legal vehicles. Cars in both categories can be fully electric or powered by gas, diesel, compressed natural gas, or other alternative fuels. Vehicles drive around a 0.9 mile track that weaves through downtown Detroit and the efficiency of each vehicle is measured as they complete a fixed number of laps around the track.

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A SEGA Dreamcast Controller With a Built-in Screen

[Fibbef] was hard at work on a project for a build-off competition when he accidentally fried the circuit board. Not one to give up easily, he opted to start a new project with only two days left in the competition. He managed to modify a SEGA Dreamcast controller to hold a color screen in that short amount of time.

The Dreamcast controller’s shape is somewhat conducive to this type of mod. It already has a small window to ensure the view of the visual memory card is not obstructed. Unfortunately [Fibbef’s] screen was a bit too large for this window. That meant he would have to expand the controller and the circuit board.

After taking the controller apart, he desoldered the memory card connectors. He then cut the circuit board cleanly in half vertically. He had to re-wire all of the traces back together by hand. It turned out initially that he had messed something up and accidentally fried the right half of the controller. To fix it, he cut a second controller in half and soldered the two boards together.

With some more horizontal space to work with on the PCB side of things, [Fibbef] now needed to expand the controller’s housing. He cut the controller into several pieces, making sure to keep the start button centered for aesthetics. He then used duct tape to hold popsicle sticks in place to make up for the missing pieces of the case. All of the sticks were then covered with a thick layer of ABS cement to make for a more rigid enclosure. All of this ended up being covered in Bondo, a common trick in video game console mods. It was then sanded smooth and painted with black primer to make for a surprisingly nice finish.

The screen itself still needed a way to get power and a video signal. [Fibbef] built an adapter box to take both of these signals and pass them to the controller via a single cable. The box as a USB-A connector for power input, and a composite connector for video. There’s also a USB-B connector for the output signals. [Fibbef] uses a standard printer USB cable to send power and video signals to the controller. The end result looks great and serves to make the Dreamcast slightly more portable. Check out the demo video below to see it in action. Continue reading “A SEGA Dreamcast Controller With a Built-in Screen”

2012 Open 7400 Logic Competition

The Open 7400 Logic Competition is being held again this year. Start thinking about your entries, they’ll need to be finished and submitted by October 31st. As motivation, Digilent has put up two of their Analog Discovery kits as prizes. They can be used as a dual channel oscilloscope, function generator, or 16-channel logic analyzer. Last year was the first time the competition was held. As hype for the event built, more and more prize sponsors signed on and we hope to see the same thing happen this year.

Your entry can be just about anything as long as you show your schematic, explain the project, and use logic. It can be 7400 TTL, 4000 CMOS, discrete gates, or even a CPLD. Last year’s entries spanned a wide range of themes from LED blinkers, to unorthodox 74xx chip hacking, to boards packed full of chips. Good luck and don’t forget to tip us off about your work!

[Thanks Adrian]

DEFCON 20 Tamper Evident contest signup

DEFCON 20 is on its way and if you want to put a team together to compete in the Tamper Evident competition now is the time! The idea of the contest is simple: your team needs to break into something without anyone every knowing. The payload is protected by the best of modern tamper evident techniques. One of the things we really like about the competition is that there are multiple levels so if it’s your first time you DO stand a chance. The number of teams accepted is limited, so don’t wait too long and miss your chance to register.

There’s a ton to be learned from the contest RULES. But perhaps a better primer is going to be [Datagram’s] fifty-two minute talk which we’ve embedded after the break. He was one of the winners of all four contest levels at DEFCON 19 last year.

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Stupid Friggin’ Robots

 

Some robots aspire to greatness, revolutionizing our humanoid behaviour in ways we struggle to understand. They have traveled in space, photographing the stars like celestial paparazzi or snatching Martians up like interplanetary bed intruders. Some robots are happy to perform their everyday functions with dignity and grace, scrubbing our floors and thanking us for recycling.

It may seem that every robot has a calling that–whether grandiose or humble–makes it a valuable part of our society. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Some robots use our hard-earned energy resources to no good use, lazing around without a useful function, drinking flux and tonic all night while watching reruns of Lost in Space. They are stupid robots.

Many humans look upon such pitiful automatons as nothing more than flotsam in the whitewater rapids of human achievement, but the more empathetic among us are ready to celebrate the unique uselessness of stupid robots in grand style. Enter Bacarobo (translated), the premier event showcasing the quirkiest and most amusingly useless robots of our time.

This year the contest was held at the end of October, and the entrants were hilarious to say the least. The dancing olé-bot drew much applause, while the shivering toque robots wooed the crowd in a desperate attempt to escape their frigid prison. It will be fun to see whether any stupidly adorable robot designs will come out of our own Santa-bot competition, considering the source material. If you’ve ever built a stupid or useless robot (accidentally or not) please share your story in the comments. Sometimes the most endearing things about our technology are the parts that don’t work the way they’re supposed to.