Rex, the ARM-Powered Robot board


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


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


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


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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Compliant Robot Gripper Won’t Scramble Your Eggs


[Chiprobot] has created an amazing compliant gripper.  Designing robot hands (or end effectors) can be a perilous task. It is easy to give robots big, good, strong hands. Strong grippers have to be controlled by sensors. However, sensors can’t always be relied upon to ensure those hands don’t crush anything they touch. Hardware fails, software has bugs. Sometimes the best solution is a clever mechanical design, one which ensures a gripper will conform to the object it is gripping. We’ve seen “jamming” grippers before. (so named for their use of a granular substance which jams around the object being gripped).

[Chiprobot's] gripper is something entirely different. He designed his gripper in blender, and printed it out with his Ultimaker 3D printer. The material is flexible PLA. Three plastic “fingers” wrap around the object being gripped. The fingers are made up of two strips of printed plastic connected by wire linkages. The flexible plastic of the fingers create a leaf spring design. The fingers are attached to a linear actuator at the center point of the gripper. The linear actuator itself is another great hack. [Chiprobot] created it from a servo and an empty glue stick.  As the linear actuator is pulled in, the fingers pull around  any object in their grip. The end result is a grip strong enough to hold an egg while shaking it, but not strong enough to break the egg.

We would like to see the gripper gripping other objects, as eggs can be surprisingly strong. We’ve all seen the physics trick where squeezing an egg with bare hands doesn’t break it, yet squeezing an egg while wearing a ring causes it to crack much… like an egg.

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Build and Control Your Own Robot Army


[Sarah Petkus] has a simple dream. She wants to build and command her own delta robot army. It all began with an illustration she drew of a woman hovering over a field of flowers. The flowers in this case had incandescent light bulbs as blooms. [Sarah] decided to create her image in the real world as an interactive art installation. Her first attempts at moving light flowers were based on a pulley system, which was unreliable and not exactly the graceful movement she imagined. Eventually [Sarah] discovered inverted delta robots. She changed her flower design to a delta, and began building her own delta robots out of parts she had around the house.

A chance meeting with the folks at SYN Shop hackerspace in Las Vegas, NV kicked the project into high gear. [Sarah] switched from using R/C ball links as joints to a simple ball bearing joint. She created her entire design in CAD software and printed it on the hackerspace’s 3d printer. She now has six working prototypes. The robots are all controlled via I2C by an Arduino compatible Nymph board. Six robots doesn’t exactly constitute an army, so [Sarah] had to find a new way to fund her project. She’s currently setting up a project for Kickstarter. [Sarah] will be selling kits for her robots, with the proceeds going toward the realization of her dream of a field of robotic light bulb flowers – Assuming the deltas don’t become sentient and try to take over the world first. [Sarah] posts progress updates to her blog, and has a dedicated site (which we featured on Sunday as part of a Links post) for information about her upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

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