Digitize Your Room With LIDAR

What’s the best way to image a room? A picture? Hah — don’t be so old-fashioned! You want a LIDAR rig to scan the space and reconstruct it as a 3D point map in your computer.

Hot on the heels of [Saulius Lukse]’s scanning thermometer, he’s replaced the thermal camera on their pan/tilt setup with a time-of-flight (TOF) camera — a Garmin LIDAR — capable of 500 samples per second and end up scanning their room in a mere fifteen minutes. Position data is combined with the ranging information to produce a point cloud using Python. Open that file in a 3D manipulation program and you’ll be treated to a sight like this:

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New Part Day: Very Cheap LIDAR

Self-driving cars are, apparently, the next big thing. This thought is predicated on advancements in machine vision and cheaper, better sensors. For the machine vision part of the equation, Nvidia, Intel, and Google are putting out some interesting bits of hardware. The sensors, though? We’re going to need LIDAR, better distance sensors, more capable CAN bus dongles, and the equipment to tie it all together.

This is the cheapest LIDAR we’ve ever seen. The RPLIDAR is a new product from Seeed Studios, and it’s an affordable LIDAR for everyone. $400 USD gets you one module, and bizarrely $358 USD gets you two modules. Don’t ask questions — this price point was unheard of a mere five years ago.

Basically, this LIDAR unit is a spinning module connected to a motor via a belt. A laser range finder is hidden in the spinny bits and connected to a UART and USB interface through a slip ring. Mount this LIDAR unit on a robot, apply power, and the spinny bit does its thing at about 400-500 RPM. The tata that comes out includes distance (in millimeters), bearing (in units of degrees), quality of the measurement, and a start flag once every time the head makes a revolution. If you’ve never converted polar to cartesian coordinates, this is a great place to start.

Although self-driving cars and selfie drones are the future, this part is probably unsuitable for any project with sufficient mass or velocity. The scanning range of this LIDAR is only about 6 meters and insufficient for retrofitting a Toyota Camry with artificial intelligence. That said, this is a cheap LIDAR that opens the door to a lot of experimentation ranging from small robots to recreating that one Radiohead video.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Cheap, Open LiDAR

[adam] is a caver, meaning that he likes to explore caves and map their inner structure. This is still commonly done using traditional tools, such as notebooks (the paper ones), tape measure, compasses, and inclinometers. [adam] wanted to upgrade his equipment, but found that industrial LiDAR 3D scanners are quite expensive. His Hackaday Prize entry, the Open LIDAR, is an affordable alternative to the expensive industrial 3D scanning solutions out there.

The 3D scan of a small cave near Louisville (source: [caver.adam's] Sketchfab repository)
The 3D scan of a small cave near Louisville from [caver.adam’s] Sketchfab repository
LiDAR — Light Detection And Ranging —  is the technology that senses the distance between a sensor and an object by reflectively measuring the time of flight of a light beam between the two. By acquiring a two-dimensional array of multiple distance readings, this can be used for 3D scanning. Looking at how the industrial LiDAR scanners capture the environment using fast spinning mirrors, [adam] realized that he could basically achieve the same by using a cheap laser range finder strapped to a pan and tilt gimbal.

The gimbal he designed for this task uses stepper motors to aim an SF30-B laser rangefinder. An Arduino controls the movement and lets the eye of the sensor scan an object or an entire environment. By sampling the distance readings returned by the sensor, a point cloud is created which then can be converted into a 3D model. [adam] plans to drive the stepper motors in microstepping mode to increase the resolution of his scanner. We’re looking forwards to see the first renderings of 3D cave maps captured with the Open LIDAR.

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Hacklet 113 – New Robots

I start each day checking out the new and updated projects over on Hackaday.io. Each day one can find all manner of projects – from satellites to machine vision to rockets. One type of project which is always present are robots- robot arms, educational ‘bots, autonomous robots, and mobile robots. This week’s Hackaday.io had a few great robot projects show up on the “new and updated” page, so I’m using the Hacklet to take a closer look.

bot1We start with [Jack Qiao] and Autonomous home robot that does things. [Jack] is building a robot that can navigate his home. He’s learned that just creating a robot that can get itself from point A to point B in the average home is a daunting task. To make this happen, he’s using the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithm. He’s implementing SLAM with the help of Robotic Operating System (ROS).  The robot started out as a test mule tethered to a laptop. It’s evolved to a wooden base with a mini ITX motherboard. Mapping data comes in through a Kinect V2, which will soon be upgraded to a Neato XV-11 LIDAR system.


tyrobotNext up is [Tyler Spadgenske] with TyroBot. TyroBot is a walking robot with some lofty goals, including walking a mile in a straight line without falling down. [Tyler’s] inspiration comes from robots such as Bob the Biped and Zowi. So far, TyroBot consists of legs and feet printed in PLA. [Tyler] is going to use a 32 bit processor for [TyroBot’s] brain, and wants to avoid the Arduino IDE at any cost (including writing his own IDE from scratch). This project is just getting started, so head on over to the project page and watch TyroBot’s progress!


friendbotNext is [Mike Rigsby] with Little Friend. Little Friend is a companion robot. [Mike] found that robots spend more time charging batteries than interacting. This wouldn’t do for a companion robot. His solution was to do away with batteries all together. Little Friend is powered by super capacitors. An 8 minute charge will keep this little bot going for 75 minutes. An Arduino with a motor shield controls Little Friend’s DC drive motors, as well as two animated eyes. If you can’t tell, [Mike] used a tomato as his inspiration. This keeps Little Friend in the cute zone, far away from the uncanny valley.


logi-botFinally we have the walking robot king, [Radomir Dopieralski], with Logicoma-kun. For the uninitiated, a Logicoma is a robot tank (or “logistics robot”) from the Ghost in the Shell series. [Radomir] decided to bring these cartoon tanks to life – at least in miniature. The bulk of Logicoma-kun is built carefully cut and sculpted acrylic sheet. Movement is via popular 9 gram servos found all over the internet. [Radomir] recently wrote an update outlining his new brain for Logicoma-kun. An Arduino Pro Mini will handle servo control. The main computer will be an ESP8266 running Micropython. I can’t wait to see this little ‘bot take its first steps.

If you want more robotic goodness, check out our brand new mobile robot list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

In Soviet Russia, DIY Laser Rangefinder Scan YOU!!

Yakov Smirnoff used to say, “In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, Party finds YOU!!” Only here, it’s a laser rangefinder.

In this project (automatic translation), [iliasam] makes his own scanning laser rangefinder, like the ones that we’ve seen in fancy vacuum cleaners. But he does it from scratch.

b91e3927436e885627e52179a5ed6c70While this sort of thing is easy if you have a webcam and a ton of processing power to throw at it, [iliasam] takes the hard way out — measuring the parallax of the reflected spot through a lens on a linear image sensor (which renders as “photodetector line” in translated Russian).

Linear image sensors are a lot like the elements in your CMOS digital camera, with the exception that the elements are arranged in a line instead of a plane, and they’re a lot easier to interface with a microcontroller. Hold a data line high to take an exposure, and then clock out the (analog) voltage values that correspond to the amount of light that hit each cell in the line array. While [iliasam] paid an estimated $18 for his, we’ve found them much cheaper on eBay. And there’s usually a linear sensor, often RGB and complete with driver circuitry, in a scanner if you take one apart. This could be done for just a few bucks if you were thrifty.

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Smartphone and IR Line Laser Measure Distance

Measuring the distance using lasers is a mainstay of self-driving vehicles and ambitious robotics projects. The fine folks at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) decided to tackle the problem in an innovative way. [Jason H. Gao] and [Li-Shiuan Peh] used an infra-red (IR) line laser and the camera on a smartphone. Their prototype cost only $49 since they used a smartphone that was on hand. The article reports good results using the device outdoors in direct sunlight which is often a challenge for inexpensive lidars.

The line laser creates a horizontal line that is reflected back to the camera on the phone. The vertical position of the laser on the camera image lets the phone calculate the distance by parallax. To bring out a faint laser reflection, the algorithm compares four images – two with the laser on and two with it off – and subtracts the background. Using a smartphone for this is ideal since it automatically adjusts for light level and can easily be upgraded to a newer phone with a better camera later.

This should be a cheap and easily replicable setup. If you make one of these, let us know. If you need something more refined, check out this post on interfacing the Neato vacuum cleaner’s XV-11a lidar with the Raspberry Pi.

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Hackaday Links: March 20, 2016

Western Digital introduced their second revision of the PiDrive this week. This is a native USB hard drive – formatted to 314GB – based on the WD Blue drive. The earlier version of the WD PiDrive was 1TB, and cost about $70 USD. The new, 314GB version, sells for about $35. Does Western Digital manufacture 314GB hard drives? No, that would be stupid. Who’s taking bets on the actual capacity of these drives?

[SopaXorsTaker] has introduced us to a brand new way of removing BGA chips. PCBs are usually more flexible than chips, and a few whacks with a hammer is all that’s needed.

For the last few months, [quarterturn] has been upgrading a PowerBook 520. He’s trying to replace the CPU with a 68040 that has an FPU. His first attempt failed, and his second attempt – a new Freescale part that certainly has an FPU – also failed. It’s great experience in desoldering and reworking fine-pitch QFP parts, but [quarterturn] has no idea why the Apple System Profile reports an FPU-less CPU. It might be something in the ROM that tells the PowerBook not to use the FPU, in which case the obvious upgrade would be to replace the ROM with one from a PowerBook 550c or a Sonnet upgrade card. If you have either of those, I’m sure [quarterturn] would like to have a word with you.

LIDAR! We all know what the coolest use of LIDAR is, but it’s also useful for robots, drones, and other autonomous thingamadoos. Here’s a Kickstarter for a LIDAR module, 40 meter range, 360 degree range, 500 samples per second, and UART/USB connections.

[Bill] is trying to start a Makerspace in Fort Lauderdale. Here’s the indiegogo campaign.

We launched the 2016 Hackaday Prize this week. Why should you enter? Because last year, it seemed everyone who entered early won something. There’s $300,000 worth of prizes on the line. Need an idea? [Dave Darko] has just the thing for you. It’s the Hackaday Prize Buzzword Generator, the perfect thing for spitballing a few ideas and seeing what sticks.