Retrotechtacular: ROTOPARK is a Futuristic Parking Structure from 40 Years Ago

retrotechtacular-rotopark

Pictured above is a functioning model of an automated underground parking structure which was built and used, but obviously it never caught on widely. That makes us a bit sad, as it removes the need to find an empty parking spot every time you use the garage; and having a robot park your car for you seems very future-y.

The gist of the ROTOPARK system is a carousel and elevator system for parking cars. just drive into a single-stall garage at ground level, take your ticket, and walk out the people-hole. The garage stall floor is a sled which moves down an elevator (shown as blue stalls on the left half of the image) to be stored away in the rotating carousels of cars.

Obviously mechanical failure is a huge issue here. What if the elevator breaks? Also, at times of high traffic we think getting your vehicle back out of the system would be quite a bit slower than the “static” parking garages we’re used to. Oh well, maybe some day. Check out the classic marketing video after the break which shows off the concept, construction, and use of the system.

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Sci-Fi Contest Roundup: Science Nonfiction

Yep, we have a Sci-Fi contest on our hands, with a week to go until entries are due. There are amazing prizes for the best Sci-Fi build, but in the spirit of the Internet, a few teams have elected to put together a science nonfiction project. We won’t hold that against them, because these builds are really, really cool.

Rockin’ bogie, man

rockerFirst up in the ‘real life science fiction’ category is an adorable little rocker bogie robot designed and built by a team at MADspace, the Eindhoven Hackerspace.

A rocker bogie suspension is rather unique in that it can be used to drive over obstacles twice the size of the wheels, has a zero turning radius, and is found on every rover that has ever gone to Mars. The suspension system has articulated rockers on each side of the chassis , with pivoting wheels at each of the four corners of the robot. While this type of suspension can’t go very fast, it can go just about anywhere.

The team loaded up their bot with a Raspberry Pi, a pair of webcams, 20Ah of batteries, gyro, and a web interface. The suspension works beautifully, and most of the parts are 3D printable. Very cool. There’s a pair of videos with this bot in action below.

Spider bot. Just add two more legs.

Hex

Continuing on with the science nonfiction theme of this post is a cute little hexapod walker reminiscent of designs that have been proposed to visit the moon and asteroids.

This is a rather unique hexapod, controlled entirely with 12 PWM channels on an ATMega1284. Although each leg only has two degrees of freedom (the software has support for 3 DOF, though) the movement is surprisingly smooth. It’s an inexpensive build, too, with 5 gram servos providing all the power to the legs. Video below.

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PenguinBot Follows Light, Goes Screech in the Night

The Arduino Based Penguin Robot
Ever have one of those weekend projects that takes on a life of its own? [Michael] did, and the result is this PenguinBot. While [Michael's] wife was away for the weekend he happened upon a broken toy penguin. The batteries had leaked inside, destroying the contacts. Rather than bin the toy, [Michael] made it awesome by turning it into an autonomous robot. [Michael's] goal was to create a robot that could roam around the house avoiding obstacles, or follow a light source like a flashlight.

He started by pulling out most of the original electronics. Two dollar store toy trains gave their lives and their motors to replace the penguin’s original drive system. An Arduino Pro Mini became PenguinBot’s brain. Sensors consisted of two light sensing CdS cells, an AdaFruit sound sensor, and a MaxBotix ultrasonic sensor. With the ultrasonic sensor mounted on a servo, it can detect obstacles in any direction. The CdS cells and some software will allow PenguinBot to follow lights, like any good photovore robot should.

Click past the break to see PenguinBot in action

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Never Lose Your Pencil With OSkAR on Patrol

OSkAR

[Courtney] has been hard at work on OSkAR, an OpenCV based speaking robot. OSkAR is [Courney's] capstone project (pdf link) at Shepherd University in West Virginia, USA. The goal is for OSkAR to be an assistive robot. OSkAR will navigate a typical home environment, reporting objects it finds through speech synthesis software.

To accomplish this, [Courtney]  started with a Beagle Bone Black and a Logitech C920 webcam. The robot’s body was built using LEGO Mindstorms NXT parts. This means that when not operating autonomously, OSkAR can be controlled via Bluetooth from an Android phone. On the software side, [Courtney] began with the stock Angstrom Linux distribution for the BBB. After running into video problems, she switched her desktop environment to Xfce.  OpenCV provides the machine vision system. [Courtney] created models for several objects for OSkAR to recognize.

Right now, OSkAR’s life consists of wandering around the room looking for pencils and door frames. When a pencil or door is found, OSkAR announces the object, and whether it is to his left or his right. It may sound like a rather boring life for a robot, but the semester isn’t over yet. [Courtney] is still hard at work creating more object models, which will expand OSkAR’s interests into new areas.

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Building a Quadcopter with a CNC Mill and a 3D Printer

Quadcopter

Quadcopters are a ton of fun to play with, and even more fun to build. [Vegard] wrote in to tell us about his amazing custom DIY quadcopter frame that uses a commercial flight control system.

Building a quadcopter is the perfect project to embark upon if you want to test out your new CNC mill and 3D printer. The mechanical systems are fairly simple, yet result in something unbelievably rewarding. With a total build time of 30 hours (including Sketchup modeling), the project is very manageable for weekend hackers. [Vegard's] post includes his build log as well as some hard learned lessons. There are also tons of pictures of the build. Be sure to read to read the end of the post, [Vegard] discusses why to “never trust a quadcopter” and other very useful information. See it in action after the break.

While the project was a great success, it sadly only had about 25 hours of flight-time before a fatal bird-strike resulted in quite a bit of damage. Have any of your quadcopters had a tragic run-in with another flying object? Let us know in the comments.

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Fixing Misaligned PVC With Kerf Bends

misalignment-coupler

Our old pal [Jeremy Cook] is doing his own remix of [Theo Jansen]‘s Strandbeest, and like the original, he’s using PVC pipe. Unlike the originals, he’s powering it with motors, not wind, and this has caused a few problems in transmitting mechanical power through a piece of PVC. Nothing is perfect, and in a few points in the legs movement the shaft shakes violently. One motor was lost and another nearly so before [Jeremy] came up with a flex coupler made from PVC.

The technique [Jeremy] is using has seen a lot of use with people building laser cut enclosures. It’s called kerf bending, and it works simply by cutting a few slits in a panel that allow it to bend slightly. This technique was replicated by [Jeremy] on a miter saw, cutting eight slots halfway through a one inch PVC pipe, with each successive cut offset 90 degrees.

The new design works well for transmitting power, and he’s not ruining motors any more. Check out the video below.

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Measuring Magnetic Fields with a Robotic Arm

MagneticArm

Learning how magnets and magnetic fields work is one thing, but actually being able to measure and see a magnetic field is another thing entirely! [Stanley's] latest project uses a magnetometer attached to a robotic arm with 3 degrees of freedom to measure magnetic fields.

Using servos and aluminium mounting hardware purchased from eBay, [Stanley] build a simple robot arm. He then hooked an HMC5883L magnetometer to the robotic arm. [Stanley] used an Atmega32u4 and the LUFA USB library to interface with this sensor since it has a high data rate. For those of you unfamiliar with LUFA, it is a Lightweight USB Framework for AVRs (formerly known as MyUSB). The results were plotted in MATLAB (Octave is free MATLAB alternative), a very powerful mathematical based scripting language. The plots almost perfectly match the field patterns learned in introductory classes on magnetism. Be sure to watching the robot arm take the measurements in the video after the break, it is very cool!

[Stanley] has graciously provided both the AVR code and the MATLAB script for his project at the end of his write-up. It would be very cool to see what other sensors could be used in this fashion! What other natural phenomena would be interesting to map in three dimensions?

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