Self-balancing unicycle using Arduino and Sparkfun IMU

Raptor-Bike-self-balancing-unicycle

Here’s proof that you can build cool stuff with simple tools. This self-balancing unicycle uses an Arduino and a five degree of freedom IMU from Sparkfun to keep the rider upright. Well, it’ll keep you upright as long as you have good side-to-side balance. But that’s true of any unicycle, right?

The Raptor was built by [Nick Thatcker] who is no stranger to self-balancing transportation. A few years back he built a Segway clone and the same type of geared motor used in that project also went into this one. I connects to the wheel with a chain, allowing him to keep the motor hidden in the saddle. He gets between 90 and 120 minutes of used on one charge with a top speed of 10 MPH. The motor could move you along faster but he has limited this in firmware to ensure it has enough power to ‘catch up’ if you lean too far forward.

Don’t miss the demo after the break. If you like this unicycle there are several others worth looking at.

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Sparkfun recognized for their growth

The Denver Business Journal has recognized Sparkfun Electronics as the 2nd fastest growing company in the Denver area (in the $17.5-$46million class). This is fantastic news, not only for Sparkfun, but for Open Source Hardware.  Sparkfun is the worlds largest manufacturer of open source hardware, located right in the middle of the country, Boulder Colorado.

Not only has Sparkfun grown immensely in open source hardware products, they’ve also put together several educational systems like their tutorial section as well as their “learn at sparkfun” system. Way to go sparkfun!

AVC from the vehicle’s perspective

Team 0×27 was the winner of this year’s AVC, the Autonomous Vehicle Contest put on by SparkFun Electronics. You’ll find video of the two runs from this entry (the third run did not finish). We love it that there’s an on-board camera recording both video and sound of the race from the vehicle’s point of view. They haven’t updated their team page yet but we’re sure they will once their done celebrating.

On the first run the team opted not to use obstacle avoidance, and here you can see it annihilating one of the barrels from the course (this is the second one it took out with hulk-like rage). These collisions didn’t keep it from finishing the circuit. On the second run it didn’t slam into anything. Because of the hoop-deduction (a bonus for threading the needle during the run) the official time came in at 2.08 seconds. Still, the unadjusted time of 32.08 seconds is a course record and beat the fastest finisher from the airborne group of compeititors. Nice.

Seriously, this video just cracks us up!

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Cramming for Sparkfun’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition

[Paul Breed] participated in this year’s Autonomous Vehicles Contest put on by SparkFun Electronics. As with most projects, the deadline really snuck up on him and he ended up cramming a bunch of code development into the waning days before the competition. His experiences are shared in this recent blog post.

One big part of the hardware is a laser range finder used for wall following. This is explained well in the video after the break, but you can see the side-pointing blue box in the image above. [Paul] also spent a lot of time preparing for the checkpoint portion of the course where the vehicle would need to pass through a red hoop. He worked long and hard on an image processing setup to find and navigate those hoops before learning that they would be positioned at known locations and it would be much easier to use a path following technique to complete the challenge.

He had a few follies along the way. At one point during debugging the car — which was connected to his laptop via Ethernet — it got away from him. This ripped the NIC right out of the back of his computer. And on the day of the event he had some low battery issues that zapped his laser calibrations. But [Paul] rolled with the punches and ended having what sounds like a really exciting experience participating in the contest.

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SparkFun gets a Subpoena for all orders; says nah

It’s no secret that we’re fans of open source, and open hardware. And we have to applaud companies like SparkFun who also keep their customers in the loop about what’s going on with the business end of the company. For instance, they were recently contacted by a Sheriff’s office and asked for customer information and are sharing the story. One of their products had been used in a series of credit card skimmers and the officers wanted to get purchase information to track down the bad guys. SparkFun doesn’t just give out customer data and so was subsequently served with a subpoena.

The thing is, the document asks for all customer orders shipped to Georgia during a six month period. This seemed like it covered way too many orders, since the majority of them didn’t include the part in question. But the officials were willing to work with the company and narrowed the request to just the 20 or so orders that had the item in them.

It’s an interesting read, and we agree with SparkFun’s point about white hats and black hats. Often when posting about projects here we wonder about the potential to use the knowledge for no-good. But restricting the availability of knowledge (or hardware in this case) because of a few bad-actors is a concept we oppose. It’s like being a hacking super hero, with great skill comes great responsibility.

Sparkfun Electronics launches an educational site

Sparkfun Electronics has launched an educational web site with a full curriculum of classes being held at Sparkfun Headquarters. If you don’t live nearby, no problem. You can download the entire curriculum as well. It appears that they will have a tutorial section for those who prefer a per-project approach, but that area is still “coming soon”. We love to see people educating others. Good job Sparkfun, looking forward to seeing more content on there.

Sparkfun announces Free Day 2012

We got word that it was coming, and now SparkFun has just announced that Free Day 2012 will take place on January 11th. This is the third time around for the purveyor of goodies for electronic enthusiasts. Each year the offer is a little different, but like in the past you stand to get $100 of free stuff!

The first Free Day back in 2010 saw a lot of hammering which left the SparkFun servers a steaming pile of slag. In 2011 they bolstered their bandwidth handling and tried a quiz-based system for the giveaway. This time around they’re not asking questions but leaving the awards up to chance. Each person has the opportunity to win a $100 credit during the contest window (not specifically announced yet, but definitely starting at 9AM MST on 1/11/2012). There will be some type of bot monitoring, but other than that you can try to claim your credit as many times as you want, with the awards being randomly assigned to a pool of entrants. We recommend you keep an eye on their announcements for more details, but we’ll try to keep this thread updated as we hear more.

Not wanting to wait that long for your components? Don’t miss some of the sales that are going on over this Holiday weekend.

[via Reddit]