A Robot Arm From The Cupboard

Building a simple robot arm is a lot more straightforward than it used to be.  If you have a laser cutter, or a bit of cash and don’t mind waiting for postage, there are inexpensive kits like the MeArm. If you have a 3D printer, there are any number of 3D-printed designs for you to tackle. What if you need to satisfy your urge to build a robot arm really quickly, and you don’t have a laser cutter or 3D printer? You’ve got a pile of servos from that remote-control project, how can you make the rest?

If you are [roboteurs], you raid the stationery cupboard, and create an arm using rubber bands, paper clips, and binder clips. The binder clips grip the servo arms and hold the whole thing together, the rubber bands provide extra attachment , and the paper clips are bent to form the jaws. It’s not the prettiest or perhaps the most capable of arms, but it undeniably is an arm, and we’d doubt it could be done any more cheaply.

In this particular case, the arm serves as a demonstration piece for [roboteurs]’ Printabots Maker Kit for people without a 3D printer. It uses their controller board, but there is no reason why it could not be used with any other board capable of driving servos.

We’ve covered innumerable robot arms over the years, This one may be the cheapest, but another contender might be this cardboard arm. None of them, however, are as cool as this steam-powered Armatron toy.

Here’s the Turbocharged BBQ Grill You’ve Been Waiting For

We’re not actually sure that it’s a good idea at all, but it’s got a heck of a lot of style; [Morgan]’s barbecue grill is turbocharged. Literally.

Keeping with the automotive theme, a serve-motor-driven throttle from a Ford Mustang serves as a (naturally-aspirated) air intake, and a Honda Civic manifold delivers it to the grill. But when he really needs to turn up the heat, a 360 watt fan can force-feed the fire.

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Chair Dances Like No One Is Watching

Although it might be more accurate to say that this chair dances because no one is watching, the result is still a clever project that [Igor], a maker-in-residence at the National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Norway, created recently. Blurring the lines between art, hack, and the ghosts from Super Mario, this chair uses an impressive array of features to “dance”, but only if no one is looking at it.

In order to get the chair to appear to dance, [Igor] added servo motors in all four legs to allow them to bend. A small non-moving dowel was placed on the inside of the leg to keep the chair from falling over during all of the action. It’s small enough that it’s not immediately noticeable from a distance, which helps maintain the illusion of a dancing chair.

From there, a Raspberry Pi 3 serves as the control center for the chair. It’s programmed in Python and runs OpenCV for face detection and uses pigpio for controlling the leg servos. There’s also a web interface for watching the camera’s output and viewing its facial recognition abilities. The web interface also allows a user to debug the program. [Igor]’s chair can process up to 3 frames per second at 800×600 pixels.

Be sure to check out the video after the break to see the chair in action. It’s an interesting piece of art, and if those dowels can support the weight of a person it would be a great addition to any home as well. If it’s not enough chair for you, though, there are some other more dangerous options out there.

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Cheap Toy Airboat Gets a Cheap R/C Upgrade

[Markus Gritsch] and his son had a fun Sunday putting together a little toy airboat from a kit. They fired it up and it occurred to [Markus] that it was pretty lame. It went forward and sometimes sideward when a stray current influenced its trajectory, but it had no will of its own.

The boat was extracted from water before it could wander off and find itself lost forever. [Markus] did a mental inventory of his hacker bench and decided this was a quickly rectified design shortcoming. He applied a cheap knock-off arduino, equally cheap nRF24L01+ chip of dubious parentage, and their equivalent hobby servo to the problem.

Some quick coding later, assisted by prior work from other RC enthusiasts, the little boat was significantly upgraded. Now the boat could be brought back to shore using any R/C controller that supported the, “Bayang,” protocol. He wouldn’t have to face the future in which he’d have to explain to his son that the boat, like treacherous helium balloons, was just gone. Video after the break.

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Cat-Operated Cat Food Dispenser

Tired of being harassed by your cat? [MomWillBeProud] made a cheap, effective — and more importantly cat-operated — cat food dispenser.

The feeder is of an efficient construction — a double cat food dish, one container to store the electronics, and a Pringles can to act as the hopper. A simple servo rotates the hopper thirty degrees and back on each button press; using gravity to drop food through an opening that appears due to this motion. The button itself is an old IKEA timer and a piece of plastic large enough for a hungry cat to swat.

An Arduino controls the servo, and while [MomWillBeProud] skips over going into detail on his code, you can check it out here.

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Arduino Absentmindedly Blows Bubbles

If you ever wanted to make an occasion festive with bubbles, [Sandeep_UNO] may have the project for you. As you can see in the video below (and, yes, it should have the phone rotated and it doesn’t), his Arduino uses a servo motor to dip a bubble wand into soap solution and then pulls it in front of a fan. The entire operation repeats over and over again.

There’s not a lot of detail and no code that we could find, but honestly, if you know how to drive a servo motor from an Arduino, the rest is pretty easy to figure out. Look closely at the motion of the robot. What is often accomplished with a spinning wheel of bubble wands and a constant fan becomes much more interesting when applied intermittently. The lazy cadence is what you expect to see from human operation and that adds something to the effect.

We’ve seen faster bubble blowers, but they were not so simple. We’ve even looked at other bubble-blowing robots. If you want to find out more about servo motors in general, our own [Richard Bauguley] has what you need to know.

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A Pi Robot Without a Hat

Daughter boards for microcontroller systems, whether they are shields, hats, feathers, capes, or whatever, are a convenient way to add sensors and controllers. Well, most of the time they are until challenges arise trying to stack multiple boards. Then you find the board you want to be mid-stack doesn’t have stackable headers, the top LCD board blocks the RF from a lower board, and extra headers are needed to provide clearance for the cabling to the servos, motors, and inputs. Then you find some boards try to use the pins for different purposes. Software gets into the act when support libraries want to use the same timer or other resources for different purposes. It can become a mess.

The alternative is to unstack the stack and use external boards. I took this approach in 2013 for a robotics competition. The computer on the robots was an ITX system which precluded using daughter boards, and USB ports were my interface of choice. I used a servo controller and two motor controllers from Pololu. They are still available and I’m using them on a rebuild, this time using the Raspberry Pi as the brain. USB isn’t the only option, though. A quick search found boards at Adafruit, Robotshop, and Sparkfun that use I2C.

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