1980s Toy Robot Arm Converted To Steam And Other Explorations

We were doing our daily harvest of YouTube for fresh hacks when we stumbled on a video that eventually led us to this conversion of a 1980s Armatron robot to steam power.

The video in question was of [The 8-bit Guy] doing a small restoration of a 1984 Radio Shack Armatron toy. Expecting a mess of wiring we were absolutely surprised to discover that the internals of the arm were all mechanical with only a single electric motor. Perhaps the motors were more expensive back then?

The resemblance is uncanny.
The resemblance is uncanny.

The arm is driven by a Sarlacc Pit of planetary gears. These in turn are driven by a clever synchronized transmission. It’s very, very cool. We, admittedly, fell down the google rabbit hole. There are some great pictures of the internals here. Whoever designed this was very clever.

The robot arm can do full 360 rotations at every joint that supports it without slip rings. The copper shafts were also interesting. It’s a sort of history lesson on the prices of metal and components at the time.

Regardless, the single motor drive was what attracted [crabfu], ten entire years ago, to attach a steam engine to the device. A quick cut through the side of the case, a tiny chain drive, and a Jensen steam engine was all it took to get the toy converted over. Potato quality video after the break.

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Hacklet 106 – Robots That Teach

One of the best ways to teach electronics and programming is with hands-on learning. Get the concepts off the computer screen and out into the real world. Students of all ages have been learning with robots for decades. Many older Hackaday readers will remember the turtle robots. These little ‘bots would drive around drawing shapes created in the logo programming language. This week’s Hacklet is all about the next generation of robots that teach electronics, mechanics, programming, and of course, hacking. So let’s check out some of the best educational robot projects on Hackaday.io!

edubotWe start with [Tom Van den Bon] and Edubot Controller (Benny). Buying one or two robots can get expensive. Equipping a classroom full of them can break the bank. [Tom] is hoping to make robots cheaper and more accessible with Edubot, his entry in the 2016 Hackaday prize. Edubot rides on a 3D printed frame with low-cost gear motors for a drive system. Edubot’s brain is an STM32F042, a low-cost ARM processor from ST micro. The micro and motor drives are integrated into a custom board [Tom] designed. He’s has even begun creating lesson plans so students of various ages and skill levels can participate and learn.

microbotNext up is [Joshua Elsdon] with Micro Robots for Education. Big robots can be intimidating. They can also cause some damage when hardware and software created by budding engineers doesn’t operate as expected. Tiny robots though, are much easier to wrangle. [Joshua ] may have taken tiny to an extreme with these robots. Each robot is under 2 cm square. The goal is for each one to cost less than  £10 to produce. These micro bots have big brains with their ATmega328P micro controllers. [Joshua] is currently trying to figure out a low-cost way to produce wheels for these robots.

Next we have [shamylmansoor] with 3D printed mobile robot for STEM education. Robots are expensive, and international shipping can make them even more expensive. [Shamyl] is shooting for a robot which can be made locally in Pakistan. 3D printing is the answer. The robot’s chassis can be printed on any FDM printer. Wheels,and tires are low-cost units. Motors are RC servos modified for continuous rotation. The brains of the robot is an Arduino Mega 2560, which should provide plenty of inputs for sensors. [Shamyl] even included a solderless breadboard so students can prototype circuits and sensors right on the robot’s body.

 

plobotFinally we have [Rodolfo] with Plobot. Plobot is a robot designed for the youngest hackers – those from four to seven years old. [Rodolfo] designed Plobot to be programmed with RFID cards. Each card contains a command such as move forward, turn, start, and reset. Many of the language mechanics are inspired by the Scratch programming language. Plobot’s processor is a Sanguino, running [Rodolfo’s] custom code. An ESP8266 allows Plobot to be connected to the outside world via WiFi. [Rodolfo] has even created a custom over the air update system for Plobot’s firmware. Plobot has already been tested with students, where it made a great showing. We’re hoping both [Rodolfo] and Plobot do well in the 2016 Hackaday Prize!

If you want more mind hacking goodness, check out our brand new educational robot list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Steam-Powered Raspberry Pi Zero Doesn’t Get Any More Steampunk

Steampunk usually involves sticking a few old valves on your laptop and riding a penny farthing, but [Alexzpro] understands the real thing: he just created a steam powered Raspberry Pi Zero (translated).

His setup is a little lashed together, but works it’s a throwback to electricity generation of old and deserves the steampunk moniker. A steam boiler drives a steam turbine, which turns a motor, generating electrical power. This feeds into a regulator and a bank of capacitors that smooths the voltage out to a nice even 5 Volts, which powers the Pi.

It’s not exactly efficient, but running the steam boiler using two propane blowtorches sure makes us grin. Usually we see people trying to go the opposite direction and power their projects with renewables. We can appreciate this for what it is too, and it’s certainly not the first time we’ve see a Raspberry Pi burning through electricity for little apparent gain.

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Hacking Candle Extinguishing

Anyone can put out a candle by blowing on it. According to [Physics Girl], that method is old hat. She made an educational video that shows five different ways to put out a candle using–what else–physics.

You might not need alternate ways to put out a candle, but if you are looking to engage students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), this video along with others from [Physics Girl] might spark interest.

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Kids and Hacking: Electromagnetic Eggs

One of my favorite things to do is visit with school kids who are interested in engineering or science. However, realistically, there is a limit to what you can do in a single class that might last 30 to 90 minutes. I recently had the chance to work with a former colleague, a schoolteacher, and The Teaching Channel to create an engineering unit for classroom use that lasts two weeks.

This new unit focuses on an egg drop. That’s not an original idea, but we did add an interesting twist: the project develops a “space capsule” to protect the egg, but also an electromagnetic drop system to test the capsules. The drop system allows for a consistent test with the egg capsule releasing cleanly from a fixed height. So in addition to the classic egg drop capsule, the kids have to build an electromagnet, a safe switching circuit, and a test structure. Better still, teams of kids can do different parts and integrate them into a final product, closely mimicking how real engineering projects work.

There are a few reasons for the complexity. First, given ten class sessions, you can do a lot more than you can in a single day. Second, I always think it is good if you can find exercises that will appeal to lots of different interests. In the past, I’ve used robots and 3D printers for that reason. Some students will be interested in the electronics, others in the mechanics, and still others will be interested in the programming. Some kids will engage in 3D modeling (robot simulation or 3D objects). The point is there is something for everyone.

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Fail of the Week – Steam Cleaner fix goes bad

[Sven337] was gifted a steam cleaner, and seemed pretty happy because it helped clean the floor better than a regular mop. Until it fell one day, and promptly stopped working. It would produce steam for a short while and then start spitting out cold water, flooding the floor.

Like any self-respecting hacker, he rolled up his sleeves and set about trying to fix it. The most-likely suspect looked like the thermostat — it would switch off and then wouldn’t switch on again until the water temperature fell way below the target, letting out liquid water instead of steam after the first switching cycle. A replacement thermostat was ordered out via eBay.

Meanwhile, he decided to try out his hypothesis by shorting out the thermostat contacts. That’s when things went south. The heater worked, and got over-heated due to the missing thermostat. The over-temperature fuse in the heater coil blew, so [Sven337] avoided burning down his house. But now, he had to replace the fuse as well as the thermostat.

[Sven337] bundled up all the parts and put them in cold storage. The thermostat arrived after almost 2 months. When it was time to put it all together, a piece of fibreglass tubing that slides over the heater coil was missing. Without the protective sleeve, the heater coil was shorting out with the grounded heater body, blowing out the fuses in his apartment.

That’s when [Sven337] called it a day and threw out the darn steam mop — a few dollars down the drain, a few hours lost, but at least he learnt a few things. Murphy’s Law being what it is, he found the missing insulation sleeve right after he’d thrown it away.

Industrial Automation in Action: Steam Controller Assembly

Right up front, we’ll cop to the inevitable “not a hack” comments on this one. This video of the Steam Controller assembly plant is just two minutes of pure robotics porn, plain and simple.

From injection molding of the case parts through assembly, testing and final palletizing of packaged controllers for the trip to distributors, Valve’s video is amazingly detailed and very well made. We’d wager that the crane shots and the shots following product down conveyors were done with a drone. A grin was had with the Aperture Labs logo on the SCARA arms in the assembly and testing work cell, and that inexplicable puff of “steam” from the ceiling behind the pallet in the final shot was a nice touch too. We also enjoyed the all-too-brief time-lapse segment at around 00:16 that shows the empty space in Buffalo Grove, Illinois being fitted out.

This may seem like a frivolous video, but think about it: if you’re a hardware hacker, isn’t this where you want to see your idea end up? Think of it as inspiration to get your widget into production. You’ll want to get there in stages, of course, so make sure you check out [Zach Fredin]’s 2015 Hackaday Superconference talk on pilot-scale production.

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