A Pi Robot Without a Hat

Daughter boards for microcontroller systems, whether they are shields, hats, feathers, capes, or whatever, are a convenient way to add sensors and controllers. Well, most of the time they are until challenges arise trying to stack multiple boards. Then you find the board you want to be mid-stack doesn’t have stackable headers, the top LCD board blocks the RF from a lower board, and extra headers are needed to provide clearance for the cabling to the servos, motors, and inputs. Then you find some boards try to use the pins for different purposes. Software gets into the act when support libraries want to use the same timer or other resources for different purposes. It can become a mess.

The alternative is to unstack the stack and use external boards. I took this approach in 2013 for a robotics competition. The computer on the robots was an ITX system which precluded using daughter boards, and USB ports were my interface of choice. I used a servo controller and two motor controllers from Pololu. They are still available and I’m using them on a rebuild, this time using the Raspberry Pi as the brain. USB isn’t the only option, though. A quick search found boards at Adafruit, Robotshop, and Sparkfun that use I2C.

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SpotMini Struts Its Stuff

Boston Dynamics, the lauded robotics company famed for its ‘Big Dog’ robot and other machines which push mechanical dexterity to impressive limits have produced a smaller version of their ‘Spot’ robot dubbed ‘SpotMini’.

A lightweight at 55-65 lbs, this quiet, all-electric robot lasts 90 minutes on a full charge and boasts partial autonomy — notably in navigation thanks to proprioception sensors in the limbs. SpotMini’s most striking features are its sleek new profile and manipulator arm, showing off this huge upgrade by loading a glass into a dishwasher and taking out some recycling.

Robots are prone to failure, however, so it’s good to know that our future overlords are just as susceptible to slipping on banana peels as we humans are.

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Automating 3D Printers With Robots

3D printers were never meant to be used for production. They’re not manufacturing machines, they’re prototyping machines. That doesn’t mean 3D printers can’t be used in a manufacturing context, it’s just very hard – you’d need someone manning a fleet of machines, or some sort of ‘automated build platform’ that won’t be invented for exactly fourteen years.

In the absence of someone paid to watch printers print, [Mark], [Robert], and [James] at tend.ai have created a way to manage a fleet of printers with a robot arm. It’s a robotic arm that automatically monitors the LCD on a rack full of 3D printers, plucks the finished prints off the bed, drops the parts in a box, and starts another print.

Tend.ai is in the business of cloud robotics, and have designed a system that takes any robotic arm, any webcam, and provides the backend for this robotic arm to – wait for it – tend to other machines. As a demo, it works well. Parts are picked up off of the machines, dropped into boxes, and another print run started.

As a tech demo for a cloud robotics platform, you can’t do much better than this. As a way to automate a fleet of 3D printers, I can only wonder how this robot arm system would work with large, flat printed parts. A robotic gripper could always be replaced with a spatula, I guess.

You can check out the demo and the ‘how they did it’ video below.

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Hacklet 113 – New Robots

I start each day checking out the new and updated projects over on Hackaday.io. Each day one can find all manner of projects – from satellites to machine vision to rockets. One type of project which is always present are robots- robot arms, educational ‘bots, autonomous robots, and mobile robots. This week’s Hackaday.io had a few great robot projects show up on the “new and updated” page, so I’m using the Hacklet to take a closer look.

bot1We start with [Jack Qiao] and Autonomous home robot that does things. [Jack] is building a robot that can navigate his home. He’s learned that just creating a robot that can get itself from point A to point B in the average home is a daunting task. To make this happen, he’s using the Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithm. He’s implementing SLAM with the help of Robotic Operating System (ROS).  The robot started out as a test mule tethered to a laptop. It’s evolved to a wooden base with a mini ITX motherboard. Mapping data comes in through a Kinect V2, which will soon be upgraded to a Neato XV-11 LIDAR system.

 

tyrobotNext up is [Tyler Spadgenske] with TyroBot. TyroBot is a walking robot with some lofty goals, including walking a mile in a straight line without falling down. [Tyler’s] inspiration comes from robots such as Bob the Biped and Zowi. So far, TyroBot consists of legs and feet printed in PLA. [Tyler] is going to use a 32 bit processor for [TyroBot’s] brain, and wants to avoid the Arduino IDE at any cost (including writing his own IDE from scratch). This project is just getting started, so head on over to the project page and watch TyroBot’s progress!

 

friendbotNext is [Mike Rigsby] with Little Friend. Little Friend is a companion robot. [Mike] found that robots spend more time charging batteries than interacting. This wouldn’t do for a companion robot. His solution was to do away with batteries all together. Little Friend is powered by super capacitors. An 8 minute charge will keep this little bot going for 75 minutes. An Arduino with a motor shield controls Little Friend’s DC drive motors, as well as two animated eyes. If you can’t tell, [Mike] used a tomato as his inspiration. This keeps Little Friend in the cute zone, far away from the uncanny valley.

 

logi-botFinally we have the walking robot king, [Radomir Dopieralski], with Logicoma-kun. For the uninitiated, a Logicoma is a robot tank (or “logistics robot”) from the Ghost in the Shell series. [Radomir] decided to bring these cartoon tanks to life – at least in miniature. The bulk of Logicoma-kun is built carefully cut and sculpted acrylic sheet. Movement is via popular 9 gram servos found all over the internet. [Radomir] recently wrote an update outlining his new brain for Logicoma-kun. An Arduino Pro Mini will handle servo control. The main computer will be an ESP8266 running Micropython. I can’t wait to see this little ‘bot take its first steps.

If you want more robotic goodness, check out our brand new mobile robot list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. 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 Hackaday.io!

Foster a Robot, Explore Your Home Planet

The robots we’ve sent to explore other worlds in our stead are impressive feats of engineering. But stuck at the bottom of our gravity well as we are, they are fantastically expensive ventures that are out of reach of the DIY community. There’s still plenty to explore right in your own backyard, though, and this robot needs your help to explore planet Earth.

The project is called RoboSpatium, and it’s the brainchild of [Norbert Heinz]. The idea is a little like HitchBot except it will be sent from host to host by mail. (And it’s an actual robot, and not just brains in a bucket.) Hopefully each host will have something interesting for the robot to do for the 24 hours allotted, like explore a local landmark, get a robot-eye view of the goings on in a hackerspace, or just watch the sunset in some beautiful spot. Project participants will get to drive the robot via a web interface and do a little virtual exploration of a part of the world they might never otherwise get to see.

We gather that the robot in the video below is only a prototype at this point, and that the sensor suite and mechanicals have yet to be sorted out. Hackaday regulars will no doubt know [Norbert] better as the excellently accented [HomoFaciens], creator of dumpster-sourced CNC machines, encoders made from tin can lids and wheels of resistors, and a potentially self-replicating CNC plotter. [Norbert] has the hacker chops to pull this off, and we think it’s a pretty neat idea with the potential to engage and educate a lot of people. We think it could do with a little support from the Hackaday community.

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A Robot In A Day

While building a robot (nearly) from scratch isn’t easy, it needn’t be a lengthy process.  Is it possible to build a bot in a single day? With some musical motivation (a 10 hour loop of the A-Team theme song), [Tyler Bletsch] answers with a resounding ‘yes’ in the shape of his little yellow robot that he built for a local robotics competition.

Designing and fabricating on the fly, [Bletsch] used Sketchup to design the chassis, and OpenSCAD to model the wheels while the former was being 3D printed. Anticipating some structural weakness, he designed another version that could bolt to wood if the original failed, but the addition of some metal support rods provided enough stability. Mouse pad material gave the wheels ample traction. An Arduino with the L298 control module receives input via an HC-06 Bluetooth board. Eight AA batteries provide 12V of power to two Nextrox mini 12V motors with an integrated voltmeter to measure battery life.

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Beautiful Cardboard Robot Build

[Miloslav Stibor] may have built Mimobot 2.1 out of cardboard so that it’s not very heavy, but the robot is absolutely no lightweight. Read through his logs (in Czech, or in translation) and you’ll see what we mean.

Our favorite feature is the recharging dock and docking connectors, made respectively out of spring-loaded rivet ferrules and copper-tape-covered cardboard. The video found on that page is also absolutely brilliant: watch in awe as it climbs over children’s books, pulls a wooden train, or scales a mountain of pillows.

We wrote [Miloslav] and asked about the continuous-rotation servos, because they ran so smoothly at low speeds. He replaced the potentiometer with a pair of “carefully matched” 2.2 k resistors, and drives them with a PWM signal. Sounds easy, and obviously works very well. We were always under the impression that it was a little bit more complicated to get proportional control of hobby servos. We’ll have to experiment.

The wheels and lightweight frame (made of “military grade” cardboard — saturated with a wood/paper glue) make it entirely capable in living-room environments covered in cables or rugs, which is something we can’t say about our purchased vacuum-cleaner-bot. And the cell-phone remote interface that lets him control the onboard camera and its elevation and lighting. Driving the thing around with the phone control looks fun.

In short, if you build small robots, give this one a look. Something very much like this is now on our short must-build list. And we can’t wait to see Mimobot v3!