Open Source Robotics With WireBeings

Everyone needs a cute robotic buddy, right? [Matthew Hallberg] created WireBeings, an open source 3D printed robotic platform. Looking like a cross between Wall-E and Danbo, WireBeings is designed around the Arduino platform. We do mean the entire platform. You can fit anything from an Arduino micro to a Mega2560 stacked with 3 shields in its oversized head. There’s plenty of room for breadboards and custom circuits.

WireBeings is designed to be 3D printed. All the non-printable parts are commonly available. Gear motors, wheels, the ubiquitous HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor, and a few other parts are all that is needed to bring this robot to life. Sketches are downloaded via USB. Once running, WireBeings can communicate via an HC-06 Bluetooth module.  If the Arduino isn’t enough power for whatever project you’re working on, no problem. [Matt] designed WireBeings to carry a smartphone. Just connect the robot and phone via Bluetooth, and let the phone’s processor do all the heavy lifting. What if you don’t have a spare phone? Check our report on hacks using prepaid Android Smartphones.

We could see WireBeings as the centerpiece for a “learn Arduino” class at a hackerspace. Start with the classic blinky sketch on one of the robot’s eyes. Build from there until the students have a fully functioning robot.

There is definitely room for improvement on the WireBeings project. [Matt] made the rookie mistake of going with a single 9-volt battery to power his creation. While a 9V is fine for the Arduino, those motors will quickly drain it. [Matt’s] planning on moving to a LiPo in the future. Why not stop by the project page and give him a hand?

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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.

Bistrobot: Make Me A Sandwich

Reading this article in the San Francisco Chronicle sounds very familiar if you’ve owned a hand-built robot of any kind. “Bistrobot” is a pretty sweet sandwich-making robot. It toasts bread on the fly and applies peanut butter, jelly, honey, apple butter, and/or a few other gloopy dispensable delicacies at the behest of human customers. Watch the video below and we guarantee that you’ll want to toss a couple bucks into it, even if you don’t like toasted PB&J sandwiches.

The video makes everything look peachy, like a 3D printer on a good day. Check out the jelly nozzle zig-zagging across the half-sandwich — it’s very familiar. Indeed the whole machine seems like something we could build. But as we all know, continuous duty has a way of finding the flaws in our designs. The Chronicle article is part triumph, and part tale of woe, with the builder being called in to repair the Bistrobot for the “zillionth” time.

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Autonomous Tractor Brings In The Harvest

[Matt Reimer] is a farmer in Southwestern Manitoba, Canada. It’s grain country, and at harvest time he has a problem. An essential task when harvesting is that of the grain cart driver, piloting a tractor and grain trailer that has to constantly do the round between unloading the combine harvester and depositing the grain in a truck. It’s a thankless, unrelenting, and repetitive task, and [Matt]’s problem is that labour is difficult to find when every other farmer in the region is also hiring.

His solution was to replace the driver with a set of Arduinos and a Pixhawk autopilot controlling the tractor’s cab actuators, and running ArduPilot, DroneKit, and his own Autonomous Grain Cart software. Since a modern tractor is effectively a fly-by-wire device this is not as annoying a task as it would have been with a tractor from several decades ago, or with a car. The resulting autonomous tractor picks up the grain from his combine, but he reminds us that for now it still deposits the harvest in the truck under human control. It is still a work-in-progress with only one harvest behind it, so this project is definitely one to watch over the next few months.

Writing from the point of view of someone who grew up on a farm and has done her share of harvest-time tractor driving it’s possible to see both the strengths and weaknesses of an autonomous grain cart. His fields on the Canadian prairie are very large and flat, there is plenty of space and the grain makes its way from the field to the elevator in a truck. To perform the same task in the smaller and irregular fields of southern England for example with a mile round trip down country lanes to the grain store would be a much greater challenge. Aside from that it’s worth noting that his John Deere is a 220hp 4WD workhorse that is capable of going over almost any terrain on a farm with very few obstacles able to stop it. This thing can do serious damage to life and property simply by running it over or driving straight through it, so safety has a dimension with an autonomous tractor in a way that it never will with for example a vacuum cleaner or even a lawnmower.

Those observations aside, this kind of technology undeniably represents a step change in farming practice on a par with the move from horse power to tractors in the first half of the last century. However the technological barriers that remain end up being solved, it’s likely that you’ll see plenty more machines like this in the fields of the future.

The video below the break shows the autonomous grain cart in action. Plenty of big-sky tractoring action, and for those of you unfamiliar with farming it should provide some understanding of the task of getting grain from combine to store.

We’ve talked about robotic farming more than once here at Hackaday. The gantry-based Farmbot, the six-legged Prospero robot farmer, or another hexapod confusingly also called Farmbot, for example. But these have all been hacker’s solutions to the problem using the concepts with which they are familiar. What makes [Matt]’s project different is that it is a farmer’s solution to a real farming problem by automating the machinery he already uses to do the job. Farmers have been doing what we would now call hacking at the hardware of their craft since time immemorial, [Matt]’s work is just the latest manifestation of a rich heritage.

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Office Supplies Hexapod Tramples Your Excuses

We all have reasons why we’re not building cool robots. “I don’t have a lasercutter.” “I don’t have a 3D printer.” [JAC_101]’s hexapod robot dances all over your excuses with its tongue-depressor body and pencil-eraser feet!

Some folks like to agonize over designs, optimizing this and tweaking that on the blackboard. Other folks just build stuff and see what works. If you’re in the mood for some of the latter, check out some of the techniques at work here. Tongue depressors make a simple frame, and servos are lashed on with zip ties in place of fancy servo mounts (or hot glue). Photoresistors are soldered directly to their load resistors, making a simple light sensor. It’s all very accessible and brutally minimalistic, but it seems to walk. (Check out the video, below.)

Arduino code is available for you to play with, naturally.

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Pipe in (Robot) Hand

How do you make a robot hand? If you are [Robimek], you start with some plastic spiral tubing, some servo motors, and some fishing line. Oh, and you also need an old glove.

The spiral tubing (or pipe, if you prefer) is cut in a hand-like shape and fused together with adhesive. The knuckle joints are cut out to allow the tubing to flex at that point. The fishing line connects the fingertips to the servo motors.

The project uses an Arduino to drive the servos, although you could do the job with any microcontroller. Winding up the fishing line contracts the associated finger. Reeling it out lets the springy plastic pipe pull back to its original position.The glove covers the pipes and adds a realistic look to the hand.
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Making Dumb Robots Evolve

Evolution is a fact of life, except in Kansas. It is the defining characteristic of life itself, but that doesn’t mean a stupid robot can’t evolve. For his entry into the Hackaday Pi Zero contest, [diemastermonkey] is doing just that: evolution for robots built around microcontrollers and a Raspberry Pi.

[diemastermonkey]’s project is a physical extension to genetic algorithms. Just like DNA and proteins have no idea what they’re actually doing, microcontrollers don’t either. Instead of randomly switching up base pairs and amino acids, [diemastermonkey]’s project makes random connections pins depending on the values of those pins.

The potential of these crappy, randomly programmed robots is only as good as the fitness function, and so far [diemastermonkey] has seen some surprising success. When putting these algorithms into a microcontroller connected to a tilting table mechanism and a PIR sensor, the robot eventually settled on a bit of code that would keep a ball in motion. You can check out the video of that below.


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The Raspberry Pi Zero contest is presented by Hackaday and Adafruit. Prizes include Raspberry Pi Zeros from Adafruit and gift cards to The Hackaday Store!
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