Hacklet 16 – Terrific Telepresence Technology


This weeks Hacklet is all about being there when you can’t through the magic of telepresence. More than just teleconferencing, telepresence takes things a step further to put the user in a remote space. That might be a robot platform, VR goggles, or a actuators to interact with the remote environment. It’s also a field filled with opportunities for creative hackers!

sidWe start with [PJK’s] Subterranean investigation device. [PJK] is exploring a castle for a hidden basement. To get there he has to traverse a tiny passageway with a rubble floor. Nicknamed “Sid The Weedy”, [PJK’s] bot is radio controlled and uses a webcam to send images back to [PJK]. Much like the robots used to explore pyramids, [PJK] has gone with a track drive system. Unlike the pyramid bots, [PJK] is on a budget, so his track system is a modified chain with block treads. [PJK] doesn’t want to get too attached to his robot – he may well lose Sid on his maiden voyage.

skypeRobotNext up is [JackRC] with his Skype robot. [Jack] is building a relatively low-cost (approx $200 USD) robot using the Skype API. Both his Mark I and Mark II models are based on R/C tanks. Tanks can carry a surprising amount of weight when you remove the turret and cannon. [Jack] added a mounting arm for a tablet and a robot arm for disarming bombs and/or angry children. His craftsmanship skills really show through in the completed ‘bot. Without a size reference, it could pass for a police issue bomb disposal robot!

rift[Gary Firestone] takes us to the skies with his Minimal Latency Oculus Rift FPV. [Gary] is using an Oculus Rift Head Mounted Display (HMD) for First Person View (FPV) piloting. His aircraft is a quadcopter.  [Gary’s] video source is a GoPro camera. His quadcopter transmits the video on 5.8GHz using a standard analog video system. On the receiving end, a laptop captures the video, removes the fish eye warp from the GoPro lens, the re-warps the image for the Oculus. His latency is down around 50 – 100ms, which is pretty good for a system capturing analog video.

rover-americaNext [Brad] rolls cross-country with Chipbot: 4G Telepresence Rover Across America. [Brad] and his 5-year-old stepson are converting an R/C truck into a telepresence rover. Chipbot’s electronics have been given a major upgrade. [Brad] added a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino with an SN75441 chip for motor control. Connectivity is via WiFi using a TP-LINK router, or cellular using a 4G modem. Rather than a Raspberry Pi camera, [Brad] chose to go with a Ubiquiti IP camera. The Ubiquiti uses power over ethernet, so he’s added a POE injector. Chipbot is still in development, but as [Brad’s] last update shows, Chipbot is already responding to commands from the interwebs. It’s been about a month since the last Chipbot update, so if you see [Brad] tell him to stop by Hackaday.io and let us how things are progressing!

android-teleFinally, we have [Joe Ferner] with his generically named Telepresence Robot. [Joe] is controlling his android telepresence avatar with Google’s Android Operating System. His on-board computer is a Nexus 7 tablet. A custom board with an STM32 ARM microcontroller allows the Nexus to interface to the robot’s motors and sensors. [Joe] is using a web interface to control his robot. The early demos are promising, as the telepresence bot has already been taken for a drive in Reston, VA by a user in Milwaukee, WI.

That’s a wrap for this episode of The Hacklet.  As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Update – Check out our telepresence list right here!

THP Hacker Bio: Rusty Jehangir

[Rusty]’s project for the Hackaday Prize is extremely ambitious. He’s planning on sending an autonomous craft across the ocean, from LA to Hawaii, a distance that will end up being well over 2,500 miles The best part about this project? It’s already had some time in the ocean, cruising off the coast of southern California under its own power for a distance of 20km.

Why is [Rusty] doing this? Partly because he wanted to do something no one had ever done before. For him, this meant developing a cheap underwater thruster, building an autonomous solar-powered surfboard for a months-long voyage halfway across the Pacific. It’s a small step to the goal of exploring the deep ocean with his thruster and mostly off the shelf parts, but already [Rusty] has learned a lot about electronics in a marine environment and being confident enough to let a project go on its own for months at a time.

Interview below.

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0.19 Leagues Under The Sea


[Doug] and [Kay] have been building a steel 70-foot sailboat for the last few years, and since it’s a little too cold to work outside their home/shop in Oklahoma, they’re bringing their projects inside for the winter. Until it warms up a bit, they’re working on an underwater ROV capable of diving to 3000 feet below the waves, maneuvering on the ocean floor, and sending video and side-scan sonar back to their homebuilt ship.

Like [Doug] and [Kay]’s adventures in shipbuilding, they’re documenting the entire build process of ROV construction via YouTube videos. The first video covers the construction of a pressure vessel out of a huge piece of 10″ ID, half inch wall steel pipe. The design of the ROV will look somewhat like a torpedo, towed by the ship with cameras pointing in all directions.

For communication with the surface everything is passing over a single Cat5 cable. They’re using an Ethernet extender that uses a twisted wire pair to bring Ethernet to the ocean bottom. With that, a few IP webcams relay video up to the ship and a simple Arduino setup allows for control of the ships thrusters.

The thrusters? Instead of an expensive custom solution they’re using off the shelf brushless motors for RC cars and planes. By potting the coils of a brushless outrunner motor, [Doug] and [Kay] found this solution makes an awful lot of sense; it’s cheap, fairly reliable, doesn’t require a whole lot of engineering, and most importantly cheap.

Bunch of videos below, or just check out [Doug] and [Kay]’s progress on their slightly out-of-date blog.

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Submersible camera snaps pics of ocean going predators

This camera rig uses a Raspberry Pi to send a camera down fifty meters (mirror on RPi blog) in order to spy on sharks. We got really excited at first thinking that it might be using the camera module from the Raspberry Pi Foundation but that isn’t the case. Do keep reading though, there’s a lot of cool stuff involved in this one.

The project used a collection of camera units spread over a large area to monitor shark activity. Each is mounted on an anchored buoy, using solar panels and a lead acid gel battery for power. The RPi itself remains topside in a waterproof box. It connects to the camera using a 50-foot Ethernet patch cable.

We figure the challenge of building the hardware parallels that of designing an underwater ROV. The camera needs an enclosure that can stand up to the pressure at that depth while allowing the cable to pass through it. There is also an interesting note in the project log about getting the camera exposure settings to behave.

High voltage ROV adventures

[Eirik] wrote in to share the build log for the third iteration of his underwater ROV. The first two project were completed and tested (you may remember reading about it back in January), but both had issues that caused general failure. Most notably, the introduction of water where he didn’t want it. But this time around he seems to have gotten everything right, successfully taking this little guy down to twenty meters without a leak.

One of the problems he had on version two was supplying electricity from the surface. He needs 12V at up to 10A, and had to use a tether made of 14 AWG to make it happen. That’s a lot of heavy wire to be hauling around and it made the ROV virtually unable to move itself. He wanted to go back to using Cat5e cable but it won’t handle that kind of current. He ended up using an inverter at the surface to up the voltage to 130V, and a switch mode supply on the ROV to get back to 12V. This caused noise on the data lines which he fixed by adding a full-wave rectifer to the inverter’s output.

The dive video after the break shows off the crystal-clear camera shots this thing can capture.

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Water glider prototype

[Byrel Mitchell] wrote in to share some details on this water glider which he has been working on with his classmates at the Nonlinear Autonomous Systems lab of Michigan Technological University. As its name implies, it glides through the water rather than using propulsion systems typically found on underwater ROVs. The wings on either side of the body are fixed in place, converting changes in ballast to forward momentum.

The front of the glider is at the bottom right of the image above. Look closely and you’ll see a trio of syringes pointed toward the nose. These act as the ballast tanks. A gear motor moves a pinion connected to the syringe plungers, allowing the Arduino which drives the device to fill and empty the tanks with water. When full the nose sinks and the glider moves forward, when empty it rises to the surface which also results in forward movement.

After the break you can find two videos The first shows off the functionality and demonstrates the device in a swimming pool. The second covers the details of the control systems.

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LEGO ROV without a tether

[Brane] built an underwater ROV from LEGO mindstorm parts. Look closely at this image and you should notice something missing. The tether that normally carries power and control lines from an ROV to the surface is missing. This is a wireless solution that lets him control the device using an Xbox controller.

The video after the break shows about five minutes of test drive footage. [Brane] has a big aquarium in which he can test the thing. Since he put it together as his senior engineering project at University it’s likely that this is a testing facility at the school. Here’s the little we know about the hardware: It’s using NXT Mindstorm parts to control the motors, with a sealed chamber for a battery. Connectivity is provided by an XBee module with an NXT adapter board called the NXTBee. A laptop with its own XBee module makes up the other end of communications. Right now [Brane] uses an Xbox controller connected to the laptop, but a standalone device would be easy to build by hacking the XBee and controller together directly.

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