[Homo Faciens] Builds a Winchbot

The trademark hacker style of Hessian YouTuber [Homo Faciens] is doing a lot with a little. Given a package of parts from a sponsor, he could have made something “normal” like a fancy robot arm. Instead, he decided to make a winchbot. (Video embedded below.)

What’s a winchbot? It’s a big frame that supports three relatively heavy motors that pull steerable gripping arms around. It’s a little bit like the hanging Hektor / wallbot / plotterbot and a little bit like a delta-style 3D printer. Although [Homo Faciens]’s build doesn’t showcase it, a winchbot is also a great way to lift heavy things because the parts that need to be beefy — the frame and the lifting motors — don’t have to move. We love the gimballed square rod that works in concert with the winches!

With five extra servos on hand, and the computing power of a Raspberry Pi, [Homo Faciens] couldn’t just stop with lifting a claw. Instead, the gripping-arms part of the bot is mounted with four degrees of freedom and is powered with software that makes it stay parallel with the table and rotate around the gripper to make programming easier. Watch it in action in the video to see what we mean.

The biggest unsolved problem that we can see is the jerkiness that it displays in moving things around. That doesn’t stop it from building up a tower and a domino knock-down. We suspect that there’s some combination of firmware and hardware tweaking that can solve this problem, or it could just be run slowly so that the wobbles damp themselves out. We’re also quite confident that [Homo Faciens] will come up with an elegant and cheap solution. Have you seen his CNC machine?

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Mintomat: An Overcomplicated Gumball Machine

How do you get teenagers interested in science, technology, and engineering? [Erich]’s team at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences makes them operate three robots to get a gumball. The entire demonstration was whipped together in a few days, and has been field-repaired at least once; a green-wire fix was a little heavy on the solder and would short out to a neighboring trace when mechanical force was applied.

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Technically A Hack. Still Questionable. Remote Control Food.

We thought we were going to read an article about, perhaps, a quadcopter that could fetch beer, or donuts. What we got was more along the lines of a donut dragging itself across the floor, rendering it pitiful and advisibly indigestible.

Sometimes people joke about not wanting to get in mind of a crazy person. We understand. While we could certainly follow [Michael Kohn]’s logic, the motivation was alien. Either way, in a rare turn of events there was not a single Arduino to be seen; just reverse engineering, unique solutions, and even a custom board. This is what some of you have been asking for… we think.

The brain of the questionable contraption is a TI MSP430G2231 and a tiny forward only motor driver circuit. The MSP waits for a signal from a hacked IR remote control from a cheap RC car. It then turns those into the appropriate motor control signals which go to some of those nice tiny metal gearboxes.

There were, naturally, a lot of technical issues in mounting the electronics to the food that, well… they didn’t need to be solved, but they were solved. For example, masking tape apparently does not stick well to green peppers, so toothpicks must be employed to pin the tape in place. Hopefully knowledge like this is scheduled for the nightly wipe while we sleep, but we’ll probably hold onto  it till we die, unlike expensive piano lessons.

In the end we had a good laugh, and the idea is so dumb it will probably be an educational Kickstarter next week. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Robots For Education

[Joshua Elsdon] and [Thomas Branch] needed a educational hardware platform that would fit into the constrained spaces and budgets of college classes. Because nothing out there that was cheap, simple and capable enough to fit their program, the two teachers for robotics at the Imperial College Robotics Society set out to build their own – and entered the Hackaday Prize with a legion of open source Micro Robots.

These small robots have a base area of 2 cmand a price tag of about £10 (about $14) each, once they are produced in quantities. They feature two onboard stepper motors, an RGB-LED, battery, a line-following sensor, collision-sensors and a bidirectional infrared transmitter for communicating with a master system, the ‘god bot’. The master system is based on a Raspberry Pi with little additional hardware. It multiplexes the IR-communication with all the little robots and simultaneously tracks their position and orientation through a camera, identifying them via their colored onboard LED. The master system also provides a programming interface for the robots, so that no firmware flashing procedure is required for students to get their code running. This is a well-designed, low-cost multi-robot system, and with onboard sensors, stepper motor odometry, and absolute positioning feedback, these little robots can be taught quite a few tricks.

Building tiny robots comes with a lot of regular-sized challenges, and we’re delighted to follow [Joshua Elsdon] and [Thomas Branch] on their journey from assembling the tiny PCBs over experimenting with 3D printing and casting techniques to produce the tiny wheels to the ROS programming. The diligent duo is present in the Hackaday prize twice: With their own Micro Robots project and with their contribution to the previously covered ODrive – an open source BLDC servo controller. We are already curious about their next feat! The below video shows a successful test of the camera feedback integration into the ROS.

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Data Logging; Everyone’s Doing It, Why Aren’t You?

Between Tesla Motors’ automobiles and SpaceX’s rockets, Elon Musk’s engineers just have to be getting something right. In part, SpaceX’s success in landing their first stage rockets is due to analysis of telemetry data. You can see some of the data from their launch vehicles on the live videos and there is surely a lot more not shown.

An article in MIT Technology Review provides similar insights in how Tesla came from behind in autonomous vehicle operation by analyzing telemetry from their cars. Since 2014 their Model S received an increasing number of sensors that all report their data over the vehicle’s always-on cellular channel. Sterling Anderson of Tesla reported they get a million miles of data every 10 hours.

Image Credit Tesla
Image Credit Tesla

The same approach can help us to improve our systems but many believe creating a log of key data is costly in time and resources. If your system is perfect (HA HA!) that would be a valid assessment. All too often such data becomes priceless if analysis explains why your drone or robot wanted to go left into a building instead of right into the open field.

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Plastic Battlebots Might Bite Your Hand Off

The folks at Fetch Robotics do love a good game of combat robots. Time is tight these days, however, so putting together a good ol’ 220-pounder for Robogames is a dream few of us can realize. Instead, the Fetch team hosted their own Plastic fantastic battlebots competition to blow off some steam, and the results are in!

Battlebots enter the ring built from a frame of entirely plastic parts and weighing a humble 3lbs. Just like Battlebots and Robogames, they’ll follow a 2-minute episode of hack-and-slash after which judges determine the winner. Bots were forged from everything you might see in arms reach of your local hackerspace: pvc pipe, acrylic sheets, and a few 3D-printed components. On the menu of shredded plastic we have everything from classic wedges and spinners to a giant spinning rubber pterodactyl strapped onto the body of an RC car. (Time is tight, right?)

While 3 pound plastic fighters might not seem devastating, don’t underestimate the LiPo batteries and brushless motors that are running under the hood. These competitors can easily heave each other across the ring. We’ve definitely seen mini Battlebot tournaments before, and we’re thrilled to see them on the rise in everyday places. Better start getting your materials ready. Who knows? Mini Battlebots might be coming to an alley near you too.

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