[Sarah Petkus] started off her career as a visual artist with traditional mediums. She has a webcomic called Gravity Road, but somewhere along the line she wanted her creations to come alive. These characters are robots – artistically designed robots – and turning this type of art into a real object isn’t something that happens very often.
Robots usually aren’t art. A Roomba is just a vacuum cleaner that’s meant to turn on a dime, thus the circular shape. The welding robots in a car factory aren’t art, they’re only tools to assemble cars. These are just devices built for a single purpose, and art is for any or every purpose. It’s not something you can really design, but you can engineer a few interesting solutions.
[Sarah]’s current project is making one of her characters real. His name is NoodleFeet, and the current goal of the project is to make a robot that is as close to the thing [Sarah] dreamed of, both visually and behaviorally. This means beeping loudly at things he doesn’t like, tasting things (with his feet), and curling into a ball when he’s scared. Hugging people’s legs is the top priority.
This meant, of course, building a walking robot with pool noodles for legs. This isn’t your usual walking robot; if [Sarah] wanted to do that, she would just get a hexapod kit, put it together, and be done with it. This was an exploration of art. With that comes some tricky mechanical linkages, building an electronic brain for Noodle Feet, and making everything work together.
For the mechanical design of Noodle Feet, [Sarah] turned to Algodoo, a physics simulation where anyone can put shafts on rotating hubs, spin everything up, and see what happens. [Matthias Wandel]’s gear generator was invaluable, and after a bit of 3D printing and a few metal gear servos, Noodle Feet had the makings of a skeleton.
A Drooling, Ground-Tasting, Floor Gripper
In [Sarah]’s comic, Noodle Feet has a few peculiar traits. He doesn’t like to be picked up, so he extends claws to grab hold of the ground. [Sarah] has already put a lot of work into mechanical toes inside pool noodles using a biologically-inspired design. With a single actuator, all of Noodle Feet’s toes extend, and the carpet-gripping ability of these 3D printed toes is impressive.
Noodle Feet is somewhat defensive, with sharp pointy claws that extend. His feet are also his tongue, and he drools. Putting this in a web comic is easy. Making it real is not. After a lot of prototypes, modeling, and experimentation, [Sarah] got retractable claws and a drooling tongue to fit within the cylinder of Noodle Feet’s legs. That in itself is a remarkable achievement, but there’s still a long way to go.
Noodle Feet is just about a year old now, but he’s still growing. There are computer vision tasks for [Sarah] to take on, and behavior to program into Noodle Feet’s brain. It’s not the typical development cycle of a robot, but then again this isn’t a typical robot. It’s art made real, something much harder than building a kit and calling it a day.