[Ben Krasnow] Did It All For The (Perfect) Cookie

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[Ben Krasnow] is on a mission. He’s looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. To aid him in this noble endeavor, he’s created the cookie perfection machine. From cleaning with plasma, to a DIY CT scanner, to ruby lasers, to LED contact lenses, [Ben] has to be one of the most prolific and versatile hackers out there today. What better way to relax after a hard day of hacking than to enjoy a glass of milk and a perfect chocolate chip cookie?

This is actually an update to the machine we first saw back in 2012. [Ben] has loaded his machine up with ingredients, and has everything under computer control. The machine will now dispense the exact amount of ingredients specified by the computer, measured by a scale. Everything happens one cookie at a time. The only downside is that the machine doesn’t have a mixer yet. [Ben] has to mix a single cookie’s worth of dough for every data point. His experiments have returned some surprising results. Too little flour actually results in a crisper cookie, as the wetter dough spreads out to a thinner layer. [Ben] also found that adding extra brown sugar also doesn’t result in a more chewy cookie. Even though he’s still in the early experimentation phases, [Ben] mentions that since it’s hard to make a bad chocolate cookie, even his failures taste pretty good.

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R/C Rock Crawler Prepped to Become Stair Climbing Robot

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[Starlino] is working on an autonomous mobile robot. Like many before him, he looked to the radio controlled car world for a base frame. He found a good candidate in a rock crawler model called “Mad Torque”. Crawlers have been around for years, but they’ve recently been getting more popular. As always, popularity leads to lower priced entry-level models, which puts this crawler at a reasonable price for a robot frame. As the name implies, rock crawlers are all about crawling. Relatively low speeds, locked differentials, four-wheel drive, and (optional) four-wheel steering.

Of course, [Starlino] had to test drive his frame out before tearing it down to install electronics. As long time R/C modelers ourselves, we can’t blame him. Testing uncovered one major problem. The Mad Torque wasn’t quite mad enough to climb the stairs in his house. The front tires would grab and pull over the first step, but the wheelbase wasn’t quite long enough for the rear wheels to grab hold.

[Starlino's] solution was to extend the wheelbase. For most 4WD R/C cars or trucks this would be a major problem, as the motors are mounted amidships. An extended wheelbase would mean also extending the drive shafts or belts. This isn’t a problem with rock crawlers. Crawlers need to support huge amounts of suspension articulation. Rather than create complex drive linkages, the common design is to place an electric motor on each axle. This isn’t the greatest idea in terms of unsprung mass, but it does make for easy wheelbase changes. [Starlino] found that the design was so modular he could bolt a second chassis up to the original. The new rear chassis bolted to the front at the top shock mounts. An extra set of battery brackets formed a lower brace. The new extended truck was long enough to clear the steps, though it does still struggle a bit, as can be seen in the video. We think larger diameter tires might help a bit here. [Starlino's] next step is to ditch the R/C unit and give this ‘bot a brain!

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Rex, the ARM-Powered Robot board

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There are a million tutorials out there for building a robot with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi, but they all suffer from the same problem: neither the ‘duino nor the Raspi are fully integrated solutions that put all the hardware – battery connectors, I/O ports, and everything else on the same board. That’s the problem Rex, an ARM-powered robot controller, solves.

The specs for Rex include a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 with a Video SoC and DSP core, 512 MB of RAM, USB host port, support for a camera module, and 3.5mm jacks for stereo in and out. On top of that, there’s I2C expansion ports for a servo adapter and an input and output for a 6-12 V battery. Basically, the Rex is something akin to the Beaglebone Black with the hardware optimized for a robotic control system.

Because shipping an ARM board without any software would be rather dull, the guys behind Rex came up with Alphalem OS, a Linux distro that includes scripts, sample programs, and an API for interaction with I2C devices. Of course Rex will also run other robotics operating systems and the usual Debian/Ubuntu/Whathaveu distros.

It’s an impressive bit of hardware, capable of speech recognition, and machine vision tasks with OpenCV. Combine this with a whole bunch of servos, and Rex can easily become the brains of a nightmarish hexapod robot that responds to your voice and follows you around the room.

You can pick up a Rex over on the Kickstarter with delivery due sometime this summer.

Self-Balancing Robots Wobble, But They Don’t Fall Down

[Trandi] can check ‘build a self-balancing robot’ off of his to-do list. Over a couple of weekends, he built said robot, and, in his own words, managed not to over-design it. It even kept the attention of his 2-year-old son for several minutes, and that’s always a plus.

He was originally going to re-purpose one of his son’s RC cars, but didn’t want to risk breaking it. Instead, he designed a triangular 3-D printed chassis to hold a motor and some cogs to fit both the motor shaft and some re-used Meccano wheels. [Trandi]‘s design employs an MPU 6050 6-DOF IMU for the balancing act and is built on an Arduino Nano clone.

[Trandi] is controlling the motor with an L293D, which has built-in flyback diodes to minimize spikes. He found that the Nano clone was not powerful enough to handle everything, so he added an L7805CV voltage regulator. After the break, watch [Trandi]‘s cute bot tool around on various types of terrain, with and without a payload.

Don’t have an IMU lying around? You don’t really need one to build a self-balancing bot, as this IR-based lilliputian bot will demonstrate.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials Wrap Up

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The DARPA robotics challenge trials 2013 are have finished up. The big winner is Team Schaft, seen above preparing to drive in the vehicle trial. This isn’t the end of the line for DARPA’s robotics challenge – there is still one more major event ahead. The DARPA robotics finals will be held at the end of 2014. The tasks will be similar to what we saw today, however this time the team and robot’s communications will be intentionally degraded to simulate real world disaster situations. The teams today were competing for DARPA funding. Each of the top eight teams is eligible for, up to $1 million USD from DARPA. The teams not making the cut are still welcome to compete in the finals using other sources of funding.

The trials were broken up into 8 events. Door, Debris, Valve, Wall, Hose, Terrain, Ladder, and Vehicle. Each trial was further divided into 3 parts, each with one point available. If a robot completed the entire task with no human intervention it would earn a bonus point. With all bonuses, 32 points were available. Team Schaft won the event with an incredible total of 27 points. In second place was Team IHMC (Institute for Human Machine Cognition) with 20 points. Team IMHC deserves special praise as they were using a DARPA provided Boston Dynamics Atlas Robot. Teams using Atlas only had a few short weeks to go from a completely software simulation to interacting with a real world robot. In third place was Carnegie Mellon University’s Team Tartan Rescue and their Chimp robot with 18 points.

The expo portion of the challenge was also exciting, with first responders and robotics researchers working together to understand the problems robots will face in real world disaster situations. Google’s recent acquisition — Boston Dynamics — was also on hand, running their WildCat and LS3 robots. The only real downside to the competition was the coverage provided by DARPA. The live stream left quite a bit to be desired. The majority of videos on DARPA’s YouTube channel currently consist of 9-10 hour recordings of some of the event cameras. The wrap-up videos also contain very little information on how the robots actually performed during the trials. Hopefully as the days progress, more information and video will come out. For now, please share the timestamp and a description of your favorite part with your comments.

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DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials Day 1

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Today was the first of two days of trials at the DARPA Robotics challenge at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Created after the Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, The robotics challenge is designed to advance the state of the art of robotics. The trials range from driving a car to clearing a debris field, to cutting through a wall. Robots score points based on their performance in the trials. Much of the day was spent waiting for teams to prepare their robots. There were some exciting moments however, with one challenger falling through a stacked cinder block wall.

Pictured above is Valkyrie from NASA JPL JSC. We reported on Valkyrie earlier this month. Arguably one of the better looking robots of the bunch, Valkyrie proved to be all show and no go today, failing to score any points in its day 1 trials. The day one lead went to Team Schaft, a new robot from Tokyo based startup company Schaft inc. Schaft scored 18 points in its first day. In second place is the MIT team  with 12 points. Third place is currently held by Team TRACLabs with 9 points. All this can change tomorrow as the second day of trials take place. The live stream will be available from 8am to 7pm EST on DARPA’s robotics challenge page.

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A Kinect Controlled Robotic Hand

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It’s that time of year again when the senior design projects come rolling in. [Ben], along with his partners [Cameron], [Carlton] and [Chris] have been working on something very ambitious since September: a robotic arm and hand controlled by a Kinect that copies the user’s movements.

The arm is a Lynxmotion AL5D, but instead of the included software suite the guys rolled their own means of controlling this arm with the help of an Arduino. The Kinect captures the user’s arm position and turns that into data for the arm’s servos.

A Kinect’s resolution is limited, of course, so for everything beyond the wrist, the team turned to another technology – flex resistors. A glove combined with these flex resistors and an accelerometer provides all the data of the position of the hand and fingers in space.

This data is sent over to another Arduino on the build for orienting the wrist and fingers of the robotic arm. As shown in the videos below, the arm performs remarkably well, just like the best Waldos you’ve ever seen.

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