Ask Hackaday: Who is Going to Build This Pneumatic Transmission Thing?

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Disney research is doing what they do best, building really cool stuff for Disney and telling the rest of the world how cool they are. This time, it’s a very low friction fluid transmission device designed for animatronics.

From testing a few toy robotic arms, we can say without a doubt that servos and motors are not the way to go if you’re designing robots and animatronics that need lifelike motion. To fix this, a few researchers at Disney Pittsburgh have turned to pneumatics and hydraulics, where one joint is controlled by two sets of pistons. It’s extremely similar to the pneumatic LEGO, but more precise and much more lifelike.

The system uses a pair of cylinders on each joint of a robot. Disney is using a rolling diaphragm to seal the working fluid in its tubes and cylinders. This is an extremely low-friction device without any shakiness or jitters found with simple o-ring pneumatics and hydraulics.

The system is backdriveable, meaning one robotic arm can control another, and the other way around. Since we’re dealing with hydraulics, the cylinders (and robotic/animatronic devices) don’t need to be the same size; a small device could easily control a larger copy of itself, and vice versa.

The devices are fairly simple, with gears, toothed belts, and bits of plastic between them. The only unique part of these robots is the rolling diaphragm, and we have no idea where to source this. It looks like it would be great for some robotics or an Iron Man-esque mech suit, but being able to source the components will be a challenge.

You can check out the videos of these devices below, and if you have any idea on how to build your own, leave a note in the comments.

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The Triple Delta Robot Arm (and Leg)

delta By now you’d think we’ve seen just about every means of robotic actuator possible. We have Cartesian bots, Stewart platforms, SCARA bots, Delta bots, and even some exceedingly bizarre linkages from [Nicholas Seward]. We’re not done with odd robotic arms, it seems, and now we have Delta-ish robots that can move outside their minimum enclosed volume. They’re fresh from the workshop of [Aad van der Geest], and he’s calling them double and triple Deltas.

Previous Delta robots have used three universal joints to move the end effector up and down, and side to side. They’re extremely fast and are a great design for 3D printers and pick and place machines, but they do have a limitation: the tip of a single Delta can not move much further than the base of the robot.

By adding more parallelograms to a Delta, [Aad] greatly increases working volume of a his robots. One of the suggested uses for this style of bot is for palletizers, demonstrated in the video below by stacking Jenga blocks. There is another very interesting application: legs. There’s footage of a small, simple triple Delta scooting around the floor, supported by wire training wheels below. It makes a good cat toy, but we’d love to see a bipedal robot with this style of legs.

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Scrobby’s on Your Roof, Cleaning Your Solar Panels

Solar panels are a great, sustainable addition to your home’s energy scheme. They’re bound to get dirty, but they can’t withstand harsh chemicals and still be effective. While there are companies that will come out and clean your installation a few times a year, the service is a recurring cost that adds up quickly. With Scrobby, his entry into The Hackaday Prize, [Stefan] sought to build a highly affordable and sustainable solution that, after installation, requires no dangerous trips back up to the roof.

Scrobby is solar-powered and cleans using rainwater. The user can set and alter the cleaning schedule over Bluetooth from their phone. [Stefan]’s prototype was built around a Teensy 3.0, but he will ultimately use custom boards based on the Freescale KL26. In addition to the Bluetooth module, there are six ultrasonic sensors, rain and temperature sensors, and motor-driven spools for tethered movement.

Make the jump to see Scrobby get his prototype bristles installed and show off his abilities in [Stefan]’s demo video. To register for updates, check out Scrobby’s website. If you hurry, you can donate to Scrobby’s Kickstarter campaign. The question is, who will clean Scrobby’s solar panels?


SpaceWrencherThis project is an official entry to The Hackaday Prize that sadly didn’t make the quarterfinal selection. It’s still a great project, and worthy of a Hackaday post on its own.

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PrintBot Prints On The Ground, Uses Talcum Powder

Yes, this is a printing ‘bot but it’s not a 3D Printer. Even though it’s called Printbot, don’t get it confused with other products that may begin with ‘Print’ and end in ‘bot’. Printbot is half Roomba, half old inkjet print carriage drive and the remaining half is a small PC running Windows CE.

The whole point of this ‘bot is to draw/write/print things on the floor. No, not in ink, in talcum powder! The Roomba drives in one axis as the powder is systematically dropped in the ‘bots wake. It works one line at a time, similar to how a progressive scan TV displays an image on the screen. The PC on board the Printbot reads 8-bit gray scale images from a USB drive, re-samples the image and outputs the image one line at a time to an external microcontroller. The microcontroller is responsible for driving the Roomba forward as well as moving the hopper’s position and dispensing the powder in the correct place. Check out the small photo below. That black and white strip is not there for good looks. It is part of the encoder positioning system that is responsible for communicating the location of the hopper back to the microcontroller.

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Your Living Room Becomes Next Mario Kart Course

[Ken] likes his living room and he is on a continual mission to make it more interesting. Recently, he has made a giant leap forward with a racing game project he calls RomoCart. Think of it as a partially-physical game of Mario Kart. You are able to race others around a track while still having the ability to fire projectiles or drop defensive measures in efforts to win the race!

First, lets talk about the hardware required. The racers are standard Romo educational robots. Wireless game controllers provide the means for the drivers to control the Romos. Hanging from the ceiling is an Xtion motion sensing camera and a video projector, both pointed down at the floor.

To get started, the system scans the floor and determines a race course based on the room layout and any physical objects in the vicinity. A course is then generated to avoid the obstacles and is projected onto the floor. At this point it would still be a pretty neat project but [Ken] went way further. The ceiling-mounted camera tracks the motion of the Romos driving around the track and the video projector displays a smoke trail behind each racer. Randomly displayed on the track are items to help you win the race, including an acceleration item that makes your Romo go twice as fast for a short time.

Have a tailgater? No problem, just pick up some bananas and drop them on the track. If a following competitor drives into one, they spin out. If you want to get super rude, pick up some missiles and fire them at the racers ahead of you. A direct hit will stop them right in their tracks.

[Ken] is no stranger to HaD, he’s had a few of his projects covered here before. Check out his Tempescope, Moving Window and his Autonomous Lighting System.

Check out a video of the racing in action after the break. It is amazing!

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Minicut2d and Omniwheel Robot

You’d think we would be done with the World Maker Faire posts by now, but no! We keep looking at our memory cards and finding more awesome projects to write about.

[Renaud Iltis] flew over from France to show off MiniCut2D, his CNC hot wire foam cutter. MiniCut2D uses X and Y, and Z stMINICUT2epper motors much like a 3D printer. Rather than print though, it pulls a heated nichrome wire through styrofoam. Foam cutting is great for crafts, but it really takes off when used for R/C aircraft. [Renaud] was cutting some models out of Depron foam in his booth. [Renaud] has set up FrenchFoam.com as a central location for users to upload and share designs in DXF format.

One of the neater features of MiniCut2D is that it can be loaded with a stack of foam boards to make several cuts at once. Not only is this a time saver when cutting repeating designs like wing ribs, but it also ensures the cut pieces are identical. Hey, even CNCs make mistakes once in a while.

 Omniwheel Robot

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In the MakerShed booth, we found [Victor Aprea] showing off Wicked Device’s new product, the Omniwheel Robot. Omniwheel utilizes a holonomic drive with omnidirectional wheels. The kit comes with a Nanode Zero, Wicked Devices’ own Arduino Uno clone, a motor control board, 3 motors, 3 omnidirectional wheels, and a whole list of hardware. The only thing needed to complete the kit is a radio control unit and receiver. Omniwheel may be simple, but we found driving it around to be mesmerizing – and a bit challenging. It’s a good thing [Victor] brought that plexiglass cover, as we bumped it a few times.

We’d love to see one of these little bots with a couple of sensors and autonomous control. If you build one, make sure to post it to Hackaday.io!

Open Source Hackable Robot

The world of robots is an interesting place, and it’s an even better place for children to get started in electronics. To that end, [Richard Albritton] has created a low-cost, open source robotics platform called the Hack-E-Bot specifically tailored to make it as easy as possible to get started.

The goals for the robot kit were to spark curiosity for electronics and programming, to be easy to assemble and program, to be scalable, and to be as easy on the wallet as possible. This was accomplished by using the familiar Arduino microcontroller on an intuitive platform. The robot uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to navigate as well, and can support a wide range of other sensors. The kit comes in at just under $50, making it a great option for an entry-level robot.

The project is currently seeking crowd funding and [Richard] is also seeking educators to get involved. Currently the only kits available are at fairs and other conventions but they should be able to start producing them in greater quantities in the future. The Arduino libraries are a work in progress but they are available on the project site, as well as several instructional videos and other information about the project.