Robot servo control using smartphone audio jack

[Jim] has an old Android phone he’d like to use as a Robot brain. It’s got a lot of the things you’d want in a robot platform; WiFi, Bluetooth, a camera, an accelerometer, etc. But he needed some way to make the mobile, mobile. What he came up with is a chassis with servos that can be controlled by the phone’s audio port.

To start his adventure he crafted a square wave audio file in Audacity and then played it back on the Android music player. By monitoring the output on an oscilloscope he found the wave was well produced, with peaks of about 1V. With that in mind he designed a circuit using two transistors to amplify the signal, thereby creating a usable input for the servo motors. Each motor has one of these circuits connected to it, with the left and right channels from the audio jack driving them separately. In the clip after the break you can see he even wrote a simple Android app to extend the idea to a more usable level.

This is a similar technique as used by the recon robot we saw about a year ago.

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‘Vortex-drive’ for underwater ROV propulsion

This is [Lee von Kraus’] new experimental propulsion system for an underwater ROV. He developed the concept when considering how one might adapt the Bristlebot, which uses vibration to shimmy across a solid surface, for use under water.

As with its dry-land relative, this technique uses a tiny pager motor. The device is designed to vibrate when the motor spins, thanks to an off-center weight attached to the spindle. [Lee’s] first experiment was to shove the motor in a centrifuge tube and give it an underwater whirl. He could see waves emanating from the motor and travelling outward, but the thing didn’t go anywhere. What he needed were some toothbrush bristles. He started thinking about how those bristles actually work. They allow the device to move in one direction more easily than in another. The aquatic equivalent of this is an angled platform that has more drag in one direction. He grabbed a bendy straw, using the flexible portion to provide the needed surface.

Check out the demo video after the break. He hasn’t got it connected to a vessel, but there is definitely movement.

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Chibikart: step-by-step lets you build your own tiny-wheel racer

[cHaRlEsg] posted a rant, then posted full instruction on how to build this electric go-kart for yourself.

Now the rant calls this an unobtainium-free sibling to the Chibikart. We’re sad to report that the unobtainium he’s talking about are the hyper-awesome hand-wound hub motors that powered the original kart which left us dumbstruck after seeing it for the first time. But look, few mortals have the skills and tools necessary to manufacture those circular marvels of modern engineering.

So you’ll just need to settle for stuff you can buy to assemble the tiny kart seen here. It’s all-electric, using two DC motors to power the rear wheels. You can catch it racing around the hallways in the video after the break. The only thing we can see missing from the equation (other than red shells and the like) is a helmet and bumpers (you’ll see why at the end of the clip).

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Motorized skateboard just begging to be your next project

You’re not going to be doing any flip-tricks with this board, but it’ll let you get around without getting sweaty. The ZBoard is a motorized skateboard which is in the pre-order stages thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’ll set you back $500 now or $600 later. With that kind of budget wouldn’t it be fun to build your own?

This base model can go about five miles or five hours between charges. It carries a seal lead-acid battery (really?) but if you upgrade to the pro model for just $250 more you get a LiFePo that doubles the range (but curiously not the run time). To make it go there are pressure sensitive foot pads on the front and rear of the deck. This allows you to go slow with just a bit of pressure, or put the pedal to the metal to get up to the 15 mph speed limit. It’s even got regenerative breaking to slow things down while giving a boost to the battery.

The idea is nothing new. But the cleanliness that this product brings to market is something to be respected. We’re hoping this sparks some inspiration for a rash of DIY clones, kind of like we’ve seen with the Segway.

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Heliowatcher positions solar panels for highest efficiency

[Jason Wright] and [Jeremy Blum] are showing off the project they developed for their Designing with Microcontrollers course at Cornell University. They call it the Heliowatcher, and if you know your Greek mythology we’d be you figured out this watches the movement of the sun and adjust a solar panel to follow it.

Their design is simple and effective. The base is mounted like a Lazy Susan, able to pivot on the horizontal plane. The bottom edge of the solar panel is mounted with two door hinges, with a motorized screw jack used to raise and lower it. The system uses a GPS to provide geographical position, day, and time feedback. This is used in conjunction with an array of four LEDs to determine the best position of the panel. Those LEDs are acting as light sensors; when the top and the bottom detect similar levels, the panel is at its most efficient orientation. The left and right LED sensors work the same way.

Now if we can just work out a self-cleaning system to keep the panels free of the dirty film that builds up over time we’d be set!

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Motor controller also does nyan cat

As a freshman at UC Berkeley, [Keegan] has been helping out with his school’s Pioneers in Engineering program that gives high school students some hands on experience with engineering principles, usually by building robots. This year, [Keegan]’s project is a motor controller that just so happens to play the nyan cat song over the motor PWM output.

The motor controller is meant to replace the Pololu simple motor controller the PiE team is currently using. Onboard is an H-bridge chip and an ATmega328 that takes commands from an I2C bus. The ‘328 is loaded up with the Arduino bootloader making the firmware very accessible – a good thing for the high school students that will be building and programming these robots.

[Keegan] put up the Eagle files for the board up on the PiE Wiki. For now, just enjoy the dulcet tones of the pop tart cat theme song after the break.

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“Machining” copper parts using Cupric Chloride

[Ben Ardwin] was asked by a friend to help fix an old motor. It needed a new set of brushes. They’re just thin pieces of copper that mount on the motor housing and contact the commutator. The metal is so thin he thought he’d try fabricating replacements by dissolving copper stock.

This is not copper clad board; the raw material used in PCBs that has a copper-covered fiberglass substrate. It’s just thin sheets of copper stock. [Ben] started by covering top and bottom with painter’s tape. This will act as a resist for the chemical etchant. He headed over to the laser cutter to remove the tape mask around the outline of the parts. From there it’s into the Cupric Chloride for about two hours.

The etched parts are a bit rough around the edges so he cleaned them up by hand using a file. When writing to us about the process he suggests a few improvements. The tape used for masking wasn’t ideal and he would try a different method. He would also remove less area around the parts to help speed up the process.

This technique is a really becoming popular as a home-fabrication tool. Recently we’ve seen etched copper used to make a faceplate for an enclosure, and a translucent template for a clock.