Robot Listens to Commands–Literally

Where you might see a can, [Adam Kumpf] sees a robot. [Adam’s] robot (named [Canny]) doesn’t move around, but it does have expressive eyebrows, multicolored eyes, and a speaker for a mouth. What makes it interesting, though, is the fact that it receives audio commands via the headphones it wears. You can see [Canny] in action in the video below.

The headphones couple audio tones to [Canny’s] microphone using AFSK (audio frequency shift keying). [Canny] uses an opamp to bring the microphone level up and then uses a 567 PLL IC to decode the audio tones. [Adam] selected two clever frequencies for the mark and space (12345 Hz and 9876 Hz). In addition to being numerically entertaining, the frequencies are far enough apart to be easy to detect, pass through the headphones with no problem, and are not harmonically related.

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Creating Art In a Robot that Tastes with Its Feet

[Sarah Petkus] started off her career as a visual artist with traditional mediums. She has a webcomic called Gravity Road, but somewhere along the line she wanted her creations to come alive. These characters are robots – artistically designed robots – and turning this type of art into a real object isn’t something that happens very often.

Robots usually aren’t art. A Roomba is just a vacuum cleaner that’s meant to turn on a dime, thus the circular shape. The welding robots in a car factory aren’t art, they’re only tools to assemble cars. These are just devices built for a single purpose, and art is for any or every purpose. It’s not something you can really design, but you can engineer a few interesting solutions.

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Swallow the Doctor — The Present and Future of Robots Inside Us

I recently finished the Silo series by Hugh Howey, a self-published collection of novellas that details life in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world where all that remains of humanity has been stuffed into subterranean silos. It has a great plot with some fun twists and plenty of details to keep the hacker and sci-fi fan entertained.

One such detail is nanorobots, used in later volumes of the series as both life-extending tools and viciously specific bio-weapons. Like all good reads, Silo is mainly character driven, so Howey doesn’t spend a lot of eInk on describing these microscopic machines – just enough detail to move the plot along. But it left me wondering about the potential for nanorobotics, and where we are today with the field that dates back to Richard Feynman’s suggestion that humans would some day “swallow the doctor” in a 1959 lecture and essay called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.”

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Who Is Responsible When Machines Kill?

This morning I want you to join me in thinking a few paces into the future. This mechanism let’s us discuss some hard questions about automation technology. I’m not talking about thermostats, porch lights, and coffee makers. The things that we really need to think about are the machines that can cause harm. Like self-driving cars. Recently we looked at the ethics behind decisions made by those cars, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

A large chunk of technology is driven by military research (the Internet, the space race, bipedal robotics, even autonomous vehicles through the DARPA Grand Challenge). It’s easy to imagine that some of the first sticky ethical questions will come from military autonomy and unfortunate accidents.

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Hacklet 83 – Tiny Robot Projects

Hackers, makers, and engineers have been hacking on robot projects since the era of clockwork mechanics. Any robot is a cool project, but there is something particularly attractive about small ones. Maybe it’s the skill required to assemble them, or perhaps it’s the low-cost. Either way, there are lots of palm-sized robot projects on This week on the Hacklet, we’re going to highlight a few of them!

tinyrobot2We start with the granddaddy of them all, [shlonkin] and Tiny robot family. [Shlonkin] built line following robots that can hide under a US half-dollar coin. The robots are simple circuits – an ATtiny85 with an LED and pair of phototransistors. The code is provided both in Arduino’s wiring, and in straight C++. Two coreless motors, normally used in cell phones vibrators or quadcopters, provide the locomotion. These robots only know one thing – moving forward and following a line. They do it well though! We love this project so much that we hosted a tiny robot workshop at the 10th anniversary back in 2014.

toteWhen it comes to tiny walking robots, [Radomir Dopieralski] is the king. Many of his projects are small biped, quadruped, or even hexapod robots. He’s done things with 9 gram nano servos that we thought were impossible. Tote, an affordable spider robot, is his latest creation. Tote is a four-legged bot utilizing 12 9 gram servos. [Radomir] created a custom PCB for Tote, which acts as a carrier for its Arduino Pro Mini Brain. This robot is easily expandable – [Radomir] has experimented with the Teensy 3 series as well. Controlling the robot can be anything from an ESP8266 to an infrared remote control.

botbot[Alan Kilian] may well have the ultimate tease project with Hand-wound inductors for a tiny robot. [Alan] was using some tiny GM-10 motors on his micro-bot. The motors didn’t have inductance for the locked-antiphase drive controller. His solution was to wind some coils to provide a bit of added inductance. The mod worked, current consumption dropped from 116 ma to about 6 ma. We want to know more about that ‘bot though! It’s controlled by a Megabitty, [Monty Goodson’s] ATmega8 controller board from sometime around 2003. The lilliputian board has been very popular with the nano sumo crowd. Other than the controller, motors, and the plywood frame, [Alan] has left us guessing about his robot. If you see him, tell [Alan] to give us more info on his micro robot’s design and construction!


espbot[Ccates] jumped on the tiny robot bandwagon with Tiny wi-fi robot. Rather than go with an Arduino for control, [Ccates] grabbed the popular ESP-8266 WiFi module. The construction of the bot is inspired by [shlonkin’s] tiny robot family up above. This bot is controlled by the Xtensa processor embedded in the ESP-8266. Since it only drives forward, it only takes two GPIO pins to control the transistors driving the motors. Even the diminutive ESP-01 module has enough I/O for that. We’d love see some sensors and a full H-bridge on this micro beastie!


If you want to see more palm-sized robot projects, check out our new tiny robot projects list! These ‘bots are small, so I may have missed yours. If that’s the case, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on 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!

Smart Sumo Seeks Central Security

[David] over at Pololu programmed a mini-sumo robot, Zumo Red, with some extra smarts.

The basic rules of sumo robotics is exactly like human sumo – push your competitor out of the ring. [David]’s robot is special because it not only detects the competition border but measures the robot’s angle to the perimeter circle. Knowing the angle, [David]’s robot can turn and run for the center of the arena, the safest location. Once safe it can attack competitors from a symbolic high-ground. Unfortunately, the robot was a light weight in an already low weight class competition. It failed to push any competitors out of the ring and did not fare well in face-to-face battles. 0J6807.550

[David]’s bot uses a three LED line sensor, pretty common today for line following, to detect the boundary. As the ‘bot is moving an outer sensor will detect the border. It continues to drive forward until the middle sensor gets a hit. That provides the measurements need to calculate the angle. Neat and simple! Knowing the angle, the robot scoots to the center to plan its next attack.

[David’s] made the code for his bot’s brain, an Arduino compatible ATmega32U4, available so it will be interesting to see if the competition picks up on this trick.

Zumo Red meets Sumo Necko and a few more competitors in the video after the break.

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Spherical Robot Rolls then Walks into Action

Droideka [Source: Wookieepedia]
If ever any sci-fi robot form-factor made more sense than the Droideka of the Star Wars franchise, we’re not sure what it could be. Able to transform from a spheroid that rolls quickly onto the battlefield into a blaster-bristling tripodal walker, the Hollywood battle droid showed a lot of imagination and resulted in a remarkably feasible design. And now that basic design is demonstrated in a spherical quadrupedal robot that can transform from rolling to walking.

Intended as a proof of concept of a hybrid rolling-walking locomotion system, the QRoSS robot from Japan’s Chiba Institute of Technology is capable of some pretty amazing things already. Surrounded by a wire roll cage that’s independent of the robot’s legs, QRoSS is able to roll into position, unfurl its legs, and walk where it needs to go. Four independent legs make it sure-footed over rough terrain, with obvious applications in such fields as urban search and rescue; a hardened version could be tossed into a collapsed building or other dangerous environment and walk around to provide intelligence or render aid. The robot’s self-righting feature would be especially handy for that use case, and as you can see in the video below, it has a powered rolling mode that’s six times faster than its walking speed.

For a similar spherical transforming robot, be sure to check out the MorpHex robot with its hexapod design.

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