Hackaday Links: May 14, 2017

Maker Faire Bay Area is next weekend, and you know what that means: we’re having a meetup on Saturday night. If you’re in the area, it’s highly recommended you attend. It’s a blinky bring-a-hack with booze. You can’t beat it. I heard the OPShark is showing up. All hail the OPShark. You’re gonna want to RSVP if you’re going k thx.

It only took twelve years, but [ladyada] finally got herself on the cover of Make.

Nvidia has the Jetson, an extremely powerful single board computer + GPU meant for machine learning, imagifying, and robotics applications. If you want to do fancy ML stuff with low power devices, I’d highly recommend you check the Jetson out. Of course, the Jetson is only the brains of any Machine Learning robot; you also need some muscle. To that end, Nvidia released the Isaac robotic simulator. It’s a simulator for standard bits of hardware like quadcopters, hovercrafts (?), robotic arms, and yes, selfie drones. What does this mean? Standardized hardware means someone is going to produce 3rd party hardware, and that’s awesome.

This is just an observation, but fidget spinners are just now hitting the mainstream. We didn’t know what they were for a year ago, and we don’t know now.

A Hebocon is a shitty robot battle. DorkbotPDX just had their first Hebocon and the results were… just about as shitty as you would expect. Since this is a shitty robot battle, a MakerBot made an appearance. This robot, SpitterBot, was designed to blow extruded filament all over its opponent. Did the MakerBot win? Yes, SpitterBot won the ‘Poorest Quality’ award.

Supplyframe, Hackaday’s parent company, hosts monthly-ish electronic get-togethers in the San Fransisco office. The focus of these meetups is to find someone cool who built something awesome and get them to talk about it. The March meetup featured [Pete Bevelacqua] who built a Vector Network Analyzer from scratch. The video is worth a watch.

Make Munich was Awesome

It was a good weekend to be geeky in Bavaria. In addition to our own Hackaday Prize Bring-a-Hack party, there was the reason that we scheduled it in the first place, Munich’s independent DIY expo, Make Munich.

If you’re a loyal Hackaday reader, many of the projects would seem uncannily familiar. I walked in and was greeted by some beautiful word clocks in both German and English, for instance. Still, seeing the Open Theremin being sold with an “as seen on Hackaday” sticker made us smile. And then we had a great conversation about [Urs Gaudenz]’s other project: DIY biological apparatus, also seen on Hackaday.

There were robots galore. Someone (from Gmünd?) was driving around a graffiti-bot and spraying the floor with water instead of paint or chalk to very nice effect. The full evolution of the Zoobotics robot family was on display. Even the Calliope (a German version of the micro:bit) booth had this cute Bluetooth vibrobot. Join me after the break as I dive into all of the great stuff on display over the weekend.

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Crappy Robots World Championship Announced

[Daiju Ishikawa] wrote us to announce that the world championship Hebocon is taking place this August in Tokyo, and the registration has just opened. When you get a mail in the tip line that reads “From all over the world, crappy robots with low technological ability will gather and fight to determine the worst made robot in the world.” you know it’s Hackaday!

“Heboi” is Japanese for clumsy or crappy. If your idea of fun is poorly made, but hilarious, robots trying to shove each other out of a sumo ring, then a local Hebocon might be for you. And if you think you’ve got what it takes to be a world champion, start looking into tickets to Japan. (It’s not coincidentally on the same day as Maker Faire Tokyo.)

Either way, you should check out the video, embedded below, which is a great introduction to the sport/pastime/whatever. It’s a fun introduction to the gentle art of robotry, for people who are more creative than technical. We think that’s awesome.

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Sparklecon: Crappy Robots, Better Robots, Hammer Jenga, Tesla Coils

Last weekend was Sparklecon, the premier meetup in Southern California of dorks dorking around, fire, electricity, welding, and general mischief. Just imagine a party of a hundred or so like-minded individuals at a hackerspace. Now imagine the entire party is the after party. That’s a pretty good idea of what happened.

The event was held at the 23b shop in Fullerton, a true hackerspace tucked away in a small industrial park. The people at 23b are using their location to their advantage: no one in the neighborhood really cares what happens after 5pm on a Friday. This allows for some very loud, very bright, and very dangerous hijinks.

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There weren’t many pages missing from the Hackaday Omnibus donated to the 23b shop. Oddly, the only pages missing were the articles written by Benchoff.

There was something for everyone at Sparklecon, including:

  • Electric Pickle. Take a stick welder, and put a few hundred amps through a pickle. First, the pickle turns into a sodium light. Then, it turns into a carbon arc light. Best done after dark.
  • FPV drone racing. Flying around and crashing into trees in an abandoned lot. FPV from a few quads were projected onto the side of a building
  • Live music! Analog synths and Game Boys!
  • Tesla coils! This was a 300 amp monster, and completely analog. The spark gap was impressive by itself, but it gets really cool when you steal a fluorescent light from a fixture and stand 20 feet away from the Tesla coil.
  • Hammer Jenga! Cut some 2x4s up and make a tower of Jenga. Get a hammer, some colorful commentators,  a dozen people, and make some competition brackets. Hackaday’s own [Jasmine] was the first champion of the night.
  • Sparklebot Death Battle! It’s like BattleBots, only things break more often and we don’t have [Bil Dwyer].
  • Hebocon! Battling robots, but much crappier than the Sparklebot Death Battle. These robots broke more often.

The main event was, of course, Sparklecon’s own version of Battlebots. There were only four competitors the entire night, but the competition was fierce.

Three of the bots were wedge designs, in keeping with the ramp-ification of battling robots. The lone exception to this was [Charlie]’s Slow Bot, a cube design equipped with a spinning steel blade. The blade moves fast, but Slow Bot doesn’t. It’s a purely defensive design, meant to destroy bots trying for an easy kill. The test video of Slow Bot can be seen here:

The first fight of Slow Bot did not live up to the hype, unfortunately. After Slow Bot’s primary weapon got up to speed, the opposing bot moved in for the kill. The bolts on Slow Bot‘s blade sheared, ending the match, and leaving five or six people looking around the 23b shop for M5 bolts, or some larger bolts and a tap.

Is it all hilarously unsafe? Well, there were some plexiglas shields in front of the crowd, and most people viewed the fights on the projector beaming against the wall, anyway.

Is it worth it to go to Sparklecon? If you like dangerous experiments, soldering wires directly onto AA batteries, fire, electricity, electromagnetic fields, broken robots, and hanging out by a fire, yes. It’s a party at a proper hackerspace, making it the best kind of party ever. If history repeats itself, there will also be an afterparty at 23b following the LayerOne conference in May.

Hebocons And Why They Matter

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.

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