Robotic Vacuums Get Torn-down For Design Showdown.

Fictiv runs a 3D printing shop. They have a nice interface and an easy to understand pricing scheme. As community service, or just for fun, they decided to tear-down two robot vacuums and critique their construction while taking really nice pictures.

The first to go is the iRobot 650 model. For anyone who’s ever taken apart an iRobot product, you’ll be happy to know that it’s the same thousand-screws-and-bits-of-plastic ordeal that it always was. However, rather than continue their plague of the worst wire routing imaginable, they’ve switched to a hybrid of awfulness and a clever card edge system to connect the bits and pieces.

The other bot is the Neato XV-11. It has way fewer screws and plastic parts, and they even tear down the laser rangefinder module that’s captured many a hacker’s attention. The wire routing inside the Neato is very well done and nicely terminated in hard-to-confuse JST connectors. Every key failure point on the Neato, aside from the rangefinder, can be replaced without disassembling the whole robot. Interestingly, the wheels on both appear to be nearly identical.

In the end they rate the Neato a better robot, but the iRobot better engineered. Though this prize was given mostly for the cleverness of the card edge connectors.

How to Use Lidar with the Raspberry Pi

The ability to inexpensively but accurately measure distance between an autonomous vehicle or robot and nearby objects is a challenging problem for hackers. Knowing the distance is key to obstacle avoidance. Running into something with a small robot may be a trivial problem but could be deadly with a big one like an autonomous vehicle.

My interest in distance measurement for obstacle avoidance stems from my entry in the 2013 NASA Sample Return Robot (SRR) Competition. I used a web camera for vision processing and attempted various visual techniques for making measurements, without a lot of success. At the competition, two entrants used scanning lidars which piqued my interest in them.

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Neato Botvac LiDAR Repair Includes Juicy Pics and a Tool Hack

It seems second nature to us and it’s one of the ways we hackers are different from the larger population… sometimes we absolutely insist on buying something that is already broken. Which is where we join [Anton] as he reverse engineers, debugs, and repairs a broken Neato Botvac’s LiDAR system all in the name of having clean floors at a fraction of the cost.

Now keep your head on a swivel ’cause along the way [Anton] has the all-too familiar point in his repair where he puts the original project on hold while he makes a specialized tool he needs to finish the job. It’s hard to tell which is more impressive: turning a laptop webcam into a camera capable of clearly viewing bond wires and (wait for it!) where they are attached on the Silicon, or that he (yeah, we were making a comparison…member?) went straight back to solving the original problem. [Anton] did split this project into two separate blog posts, the first one is linked above and it’s not until the second post that he fixes the original problem. Perhaps there was a bit of scope creep, which was the reason for the separate blog entries? At any rate, [Anton] does a great job documenting the process along with what he calls some ‘juicy pictures’ and you can see a few of them after the break.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a Neato hack (there’s pun in there somewhere, commenters below us will surely wipe the floor with it). LiDar on the other hand has been covered more recently in a Police LiDAR Tear Down and another post relating more directly to [Anton’s] repair.

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Hackaday Links: Sunday, April 21st, 2013


Regular reader and master hacker [Bill Porter] got married. Congratulations [Bill] and [Mara]! The two of them just couldn’t leave their soldering irons at home. The actually swore their vows by soldering together a circuit during the ceremony (blinky wedding dress, el wire tuxedo, and all).

[Kevin] sent in a link to [Red Fathom’s] hacked Wacom tablet. It’s the screen from a Wacom-enabled laptop brought back to life with a Teensy and an LVDS interface module.

The Neato XV-11 is able to find its charging station when the batteries run low. [Derek] figured out that you can make a second station using some reflective tape.

If you use your drill a lot you’ll eventually break the rubber thing that holds the key to the chuck. Here’s a way to 3D print a replacement.

[Torxe] put eight floppy drives to use as a polyphonic Arduino-controlled MIDI player. And while we’re on the subject of Arduino controlled projects you should take a look at this web-interface to tell you if the foosball table is being used.

And finally [Th3 Bad Wolf] sent in this link to a milling machine built out of LEGO. It is able to mill floral foam and uses a lathe-like setup for one of the table axes.

Digging deep into the Neato’s LIDAR module

[Hash] is going to great lengths to learn about the parts used in his Neato XV-11 LIDAR (dead link; Internet Archive). We looked in on his work with the XV-11 platform recently, where he used the dust bin of the vacuum as a modular hardware housing. This hack is a hardware exploration aimed at figuring out how an equivalent open hardware version can be built.

The LIDAR module is made of two big chunks; the laser and optic assembly, and the sensor board seen above. [Hash] put it under the microscope for a better look at the line scan imager. The magnification helped him find the company name on the die, this particular part is manufactured by Panavision. He figured out the actual model by counting the bonding wires and pixels in between them to get a pretty good guess at the resolution. He’s pretty sure it’s a DLIS-2K and links to an app note and the datasheet in his post. The chip to the right of the sensor is a TI digital signal processor.

Putting it back together may prove difficult because it will be impossible to realign the optics exactly as they were–the module will need to be recalibrated. [Hash] plans to investigate how the calibration routines work and he’ll post anything that he finds. Check out his description of the tear down in the video after the break.

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Dustbin computer lets you clean and prototype with a Neato XV-11

So you bought yourself a Neato XV-11 and your floors have never been cleaner. The only problem is that you want to hack around with the hardware without losing your floor-sweeping minion. [Hash] found a solution to the issue by building a computer inside of the dustbin module.

You can see at the center of the image above a touchscreen. Normally this is just blank plastic, as it’s the removable container where your floor sweepings go, but [Hash] was inspired by the modular design. Since that bin is intended to be removable, it’s a perfect way to make add-on hardware removable. All he needed to do was find a way to connect to the Neato’s own electronics. The solution was a non-standard USB cable.

Using the guts from an Insignia Infocast 3.5 (he picked several of them up on clearance at Christmas) he  milled an opening for the touch screen, added a cooling fan, and wired up a toggle switch (not pictured above) which powers everything from the 14-17V coming in from that USB cable. The Infocast is a Chumby with a different branding so there’s plenty of Linux-based power and it’s WiFi enabled. Watch [Hash’s] walk through video after the break to see all that went into this clever concept.

We haven’t seen too many hacks that make use of the Neato XV-11. [Hash] is the same guy who hacked the Lidar on the unit, but there must be others turning out impressive projects. Don’t hesitate to send in a tip if you know of one.

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Newest Hardware Bounty, The Open Lidar Project

Inspired by the successful Kinect bounty put out by Adafruit, [gallamine] of the RobotBox community has posted his own $200 $400 bounty for the first person who can hack the scanning LIDAR from Neato Robotic’s XV-11 vacuumbot. This sensor would be particularly useful to any robotic makers out there, because even the full retail price of the vacuum is less than the cost of most standalone LIDAR units, which often run upwards of $1000. The bounty seems to be growing every day, starting out at $200, and doubling thanks to a couple of other interested parties.

Luckily, from what we hear, the sensor was never made to be hack-proof (and perhaps even secretly hack friendly?), seeing as one of the prime developers of the sensor is a member of a certain Home Brew Robotics Club. We love it when companies are nice to hackers, and we hope to see more examples of this in the future. Not sure what the XV-11 is? Be sure to check out the video after the break for info about the vacuum and its scanning LIDAR.

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