Cheap, Easy To Build Robot For beginners

Robotics kits are a great way to get folks , young and old, interested in hacking and learning the basics. Quite often, the cost puts them off – it’s no fun if you mess things up while learning how to put an expensive kit together. Many kits are too polished and that leads to beginners feeling that they’ll never be able to build something complex like a robot. The Shonkbot is what the team at Bristol Hackspace came up with for a robot that is obvious in its working and encouragingly easy to build, even for kids (with supervision).  To that effect, they completely avoided custom PCBs and laser cut bits. The Shonkbot is built from easily available parts and some commonly available materials. They aimed to build it for £5, but managed £15. With proper planning and time, they guess it can be brought down to £10.

The Shonkbot is built using an Arduino Nano, two stepper motors with their drivers, a 3xAA battery box and some bits and bobs. Assembly takes about an hour for a 10-year-old and then they can reprogram it in another workshop or at home. The “frame” of the Shonkbot is an old CD-ROM or DVD disk. Everything is hot glued to this frame. At the centre of the disk, a Sharpie is inserted and the Arduino code then allows the robot to draw on paper. Upgrades include adding an IR LED, a photo transistor and a buzzer to allow the Shonkbot to detect objects, or communicate with other Shonkbots. Build instructions are detailed in this document, and the code is available from the Github repository. Here is a photo album from their first build workshop which was held recently.

Thanks to [Matthew Venn] from the Bristol Hackspace for sending in this tip. Check the robot in action in the video below.

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Reverse Engineering a Blu-ray Drive for Laser Graffiti

There’s a whole lot of interesting mechanics, optics, and electronics inside a Blu-ray drive, and [scanlime] a.k.a. [Micah Scott] thinks those bits can be reused for some interesting project. [Micah] is reverse engineering one of these drives, with the goal of turning it into a source of cheap, open source holograms and laser installations – something these devices were never meant to do. This means reverse engineering the 3 CPUs inside an external Blu-ray drive, making sense of the firmware, and making this drive do whatever [Micah] wants.

When the idea of reverse engineering a Blu-ray drive struck [Micah], she hopped on Amazon and found the most popular drive out there. It turns out, this is an excellent drive to reverse engineer – there are multiple firmware updates for this drive, an excellent source for the raw data that would be required to reverse engineer it.

[Micah]’s first effort to reverse engineer the drive seems a little bit odd; she turned the firmware image into a black and white graphic. Figuring out exactly what’s happening in the firmware with that is a fool’s errand, but by looking at the pure black and pure white parts of the graphic, [Micah] was able guess where the bootloader was, and how the firmware image is segmented. In other parts of the code, [Micah] saw thing vertical lines she recognized as ARM code. In another section, thin horizontal black bands revealed code for an 8051. These lines are only a product of how each architecture accesses code, and really only something [Micah] recognizes from doing this a few times before.

The current state of the project is a backdoor that is able to upload new firmware to the drive. It’s in no way a complete project; only the memory for the ARM processor is running new code, and [Micah] still has no idea what’s going on inside some of the other chips. Still, it’s a start, and the beginning of an open source firmware for a Blu-ray drive.

While [Micah] want’s to use these Blu-ray drives for laser graffiti, there are a number of other slightly more useful reasons for the build. With a DVD drive, you can hold a red blood cell in suspension, or use the laser inside to make graphene. Video below.

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Jack the DVD ripping robot

[Andy] had a fairly large problem on his hands. For the last 15 years, he’s been collecting DVDs, and since he began, he’s run out of space on his shelves for these miraculous plastic discs. Everything’s going to the cloud now, so he decided to build a media server, replete with rips of all his DVDs. As anyone who has ever tried to rip a movie knows, this can be a very long and tedious process. His solution to this should be something near and dear to all of us – he decided to build a robot to rip all his DVDs automatically.

With a brand new 3D printer, [Andy] set to work on designing Jack the Ripper Bot. The design has two trays mounted to a standard computer DVD drive, an ‘in’ tray and an ‘out’ tray. The frame of the machine bolts directly to the drive, and the entire contraption is driven by only three standard hobby servos.

The robot is driven by a Raspberry Pi, but the ripping actually takes place on an old laptop. [Andy] says it takes about an hour and a quarter to rip a DVD, so a full ‘in’ tray of 24 discs means about 28 hours of ripping time. Feeding the machine once a day is a lot better than returning to the computer every hour or so, we think.

All the STLs for the printed parts and the software for the Raspi and computer are up on [Andy]’s github, should anyone want to upgrade this to a Blu Ray ripper.

Thanks [Stephen] for sending this one in.

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DVD laser diode used to build a laser engraver

[Johannes] has been reading Hackaday for years but this is the first project he’s tipped us off about. It’s a laser engraver built from a DVD burner diode (translated). It turned out so well we wonder what other projects he’s forgotten to tip us off about?

This is the second CNC machine he’s seen through from start to finish. It improves upon the knowledge he acquired when building his CNC mill. The frame is built from pine but also uses bits of plywood and MDF. It can move on the X and Y axes, using drawer sliders as bearings. The pair of blue stepper motors drive the threaded rods which move the platform and the laser mount. Just above the laser he included a small DC fan to keep it from burning up. The control circuitry is made up of an Arduino Nano and a stepper motor driver board. Catch a glimpse of the engraver cutting out some stencil material after the break.

There must be something about Spring that brings out the urge to work with laser diodes. We just saw a similar 1W cutter last week.

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DVD power supply repair tips


This demonstration fixes the power supply of a DVD player, but the skills transcend this one application. [Alan] walks us through the process of repairing a power supply (translated) on a simple consumer electronics unit.

Obviously this starts by cracking open the dead device and verifying that the culprit is the power supply. [Alan] then removes that board from the chassis and gets down to work with a visual inspection. He’s got several images which illustrate things to look for; blistered electrolytic capacitors, cracked solder joins, scorch marks, etc. In his case there’s obviously a burnt out fuse, but that merely protects the hardware from further damage, it’s not the cause. Next he examines the diodes of the bridge rectifier. These need to be removed from the system to do so, which he accomplishes by clipping one end of each as seen above. He found that two diodes on one side of the bridge had broken down. After replacing them he tries a new fuse which immediately burns out. But a quick swap of the capacitors and he gets the thing back up and running.

We perk up every time we see this type of repair hack. We figure if we can build our own hobby electronics we should be able to fix the cheap devices like this one.

Making graphene with a DVD burner

A group of researchers have figured out how to produce graphene using a DVD drive. This discovery helps clear the path for mass production of the substance, which was discovered in the late 1980’s. More recently, the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to a team that produced two-dimensional graphene; a substance one just atom thick. One method of doing so used Scotch tape and is mentioned in the video after the break as a technique that works but is not feasible for large-scale production.

The process seen here starts with graphite oxide because it can be suspended in water. This allows a lab technician to evenly distribute the substance on a plastic surface. Note the use of optical discs. The second part of the process involves hitting the dried layer of graphite oxide with a laser. It just so happens that this can be done with a consumer DVD drive. The result is graphene that can be used in circuits and may have potential as a fantastic super-capacitor.

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Scrapped DVD player turns into a full featured clock

[Dmitry] really went the distance with this project. It started as a broken DVD player scrapped for parts, and turned into this clock with way too many features. That link is a pretty a dry technical collection of the work. You’ll definitely want to have a look at it, but we’d suggest first watching the demo video after the break which is initially much more exciting.

The donor DVD hardware included a Vacuum Fluorescent display which is the nugget which [Dmitry] was after. But that board came along with some other nice things, like an integrated IR receiver. He also chose to use the PSU from the device. An Arduino is used to drive the clock. We’re not sure where he found it, but the video shows the service manual for the DVD player which must have a been a real help in interfacing with the display. The white dome on the right is a PIR motion sensor. It brings the device out of sleep mode when someone is in the room.

The case is laser-cut and started as cardboard to ensure everything fit as designed. The enclosure makes it a showpiece, but the features of displaying day, date, time, and temperature make it functional as well. Since the VFD is alpha-numeric we think this could even see future upgrades to be used as a new-mail/tweet/IM alert as well.

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