Transformer built from MIT admissions mailing tube

mit-admissions-tube-robotIt’s not quite on the scale of [Michael Bay], but that’s probably a good thing. We do think that this robot built from a mailing tube by [Will Jack] would be right at home in a Transformers movie.

The bot starts out looking like a normal cardboard mailing tube. But the seam at the middle splits to reveal the electronics inside. An Arduino Uno drives the device, monitoring that infrared rangefinder which is facing forward. Each half of the tube acts as a wheel, pushing against the at-rest mass of the internals to create motion. It can even pull off a tank-like pivot to turn in place by spinning he halves in opposite directions.

We were intrigued to hear that the admissions department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent a single page acceptance letter in these silver tubes to those students accepted into the class of 2017. The letter invites the incoming class to hack the tube and send in their results. We’re going to have to dig through the submissions and see if there are any other noteworthy projects.

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UC Davis students build coffee can radar project inspired by MIT

student-built-coffee-can-radar

Blinking lights is a lot of fun, but if you’re getting an EE degree the cool stuff becomes a bit more involved. In this case, building your own radar is the thing to do. Here’s a coffee can radar setup being shown off by a group of UC Davis students. Regular readers will recognize the concept as one we looked at in December. The project was inspired by the MIT OpenCourseware project.

One of the cans is being used as a transmitter, the other as the collector. The neat thing about this rig is that the analysis is performed on a PC, with the sound card as the collection device. The video after the break shows off the hardware as well as the results it collected. About a minute and a half into the clip they show a real-time demonstration where a student walks in front of the apparatus while another takes a video of the plot results. As the subject moves away from the receiver the computer graph changes accordingly. The rest of the video covers some operational theory and pcb assembly.

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Beginner’s Android/Arduino example shows the power of App Inventor

This is a simple project. It uses an Android device to switch an LED driven by the Arduino. Connectivity is provided by the Bluetooth module inserted in the breadboard. But one look at the UI on the Android device and you might think this is anything but simple. The truth is that [Kerimil] didn’t spend forever learning Java and programming the app. Instead he’s showing off the power of  App Inventor to get your Android controls up and running fast.

Check out the third button down; when was the last time you added voice commands to your project? It’s worth clicking through to see just how simple that portion was. App Inventor — a Google cast-out that is now maintained by MIT — is a graphical tool that unlocks the power of an Android handset to those with the most basic of programming understanding. For instance, the voice controls shown off after the break are provided by a single bracket which uses conditional statements to ‘listen’ for the words on, off, and blink. You’ll find the voice recognition diagram after the break as well.

You could try to go completely graphical with this project. There’s the option of programming the Arduino side of the project in a similar way.

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Retrotectacular: Time Sharing

It’s easy to forget the layer upon layer of technological advances that led to the computers we use today. But this look at the state of the art half a century ago does a good job of reminding us. Here [Fernando J. Corbató] explains the concept of Time-Sharing. He is one of the pioneers of the topic which is now used in every computer system in the world.

Since processors (read: a single core) can only work on one operation at a time, it inherently creates a bottle-neck. This is a huge issue when you consider the cost of the computers used at the time. In the video he mentions $300-$600 an hour. That was in the 1960’s and would roughly equate to about $2300-$4600 in 2012. In other words, there’s big money in using the machine as efficiently as possible.

Early on in the discussion he mentions how programs were loaded and solutions were returned by computers of the day. It started with punch cards, then moved to magnetic tape. At the time this was filmed they had just started using teletype and were hoping to add a graphical interface in the near future. We’ve come a long way but the core principles he’s explaining are still quite important. See both parts of the film after the break.

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Autonomous fixed-wing drone threads the needled in a parking garage

We’ve got something of a love affair going on with quadcopters, but there’s still room for a little something on the side. This fixed-wing drone can pull off some pretty amazing navigation. MIT’s Robust Robotics Group is showing off the work they’ve done with the plane, culminating in a death-defying flight through a parking garage (video after the break). This may not sound like a huge accomplishment, but consider that the wingspan is over two meters and repeated runs at the same circuit brought it within centimeters of clipping support columns.

Unlike the precision quadcopters which depend on stationary high-speed cameras for feedback, this drone is self-contained. It does depend on starting out with a map of its environment, using this in conjunction with a laser rangefinder and inertial sensors to plot its route and adjust as necessary. We think the thing must have to plan a lot further ahead than a quadcopter since it lacks the ability to put on the brakes and hover. This is, however, one of the strengths of the design. Since it uses a fixed-wing approach it can stay in air much longer than a quadcopter with the same battery capacity.

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Building sensors for the Scratch programming language

[Kevin Osborn] is making it a bit easier for young programmers to write programs that interact with the physical world. The device he’s holding in the picture is an Arduino based accelerometer and distance sensor meant for the Scratch language.

Scratch is a programming language developed at MIT. It has kids in mind, and focuses on graphical building blocks. This can make it quite a bit easier to introduce youngsters to programming concepts without the roadblocks and gotchas that come with learning syntax.

As you can see in the clip after the break, [Kevin’s] Arduino sketch includes hooks that automatically pull the accelerometer and distance data into the Scratch environment. We figure his example provides everything you need to get just about any type of sensor up and running, be it a magnetometer or LDR (both of which would make a nice burglar-alarm type project). Give it a try with your own hardware and see what you can accomplish.

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Drop everything and build this go-kart right now!

There are awesome projects, and then there are things that make us drool on the keyboard. We just got done wiping up our mess after seeing this go-kart which uses four hub-motors as direct drive wheels. We’ll admit, this is more artwork than a hack as these guys are mechanical engineers and know what they’re doing. But how could we pass up sharing something like this?

The design is smaller than any of the other go-karts we remember seeing. The low-backed pilot seat is the biggest part, with a cubby-hole beneath it for the batteries and control hardware. Each of the hub-motors was hand wound and reading through the related blog posts it seems this was a huge and painful part of the build.

So it’s pretty fun to watch these guys tear up the hallways of one of the engineering buildings at MIT. But the footage of a two-kart race up a spiraling parking garage in the middle of the night is absolutely delightful. You’ll find both videos embedded after the break.

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