Researchers Squeeze Out a New Breed of Robot Locomotion

Researchers have been playing around with various oddball forms of robot locomotion; surely, we’ve seen it all, haven’t we? Not so! Lucky for us, [researchers at Stanford] are now showing us a new way for robots to literally extrude themselves from point A to point B.

This robot’s particular motion for mechanism involves unwinding itself inside out. From a stationary base, a reel caches meters of the robot’s uninflated polyethylene body, which it deploys by pressurizing. Researchers can make full 3D turns by varying the amount of inflated air in outer control chambers. What’s more, they can place end effectors or even payloads at the tip of the growing end with their position held in place by a cable.

As we can imagine, any robot that can squeeze its way up to 72 meters long can have dozens of applications, and the folks at Stanford have explored a host of nooks and crannies of this space. Along the way, they deploy complex antenna shapes into the air, deliver small payloads, extinguish fires, and squeeze through all sorts of uninviting places such as flytraps and even a bed of nails. We’ve placed a video below the break, but have a look at Ars Technica’s full video suite to get a sense of the sheer variety of applications that they imparted upon their new creation.

Biomimetics tends to get us to cry “gecko feet” or “snake robots” without thinking too hard. But these forms of locomotion that come to mind all seem to derive from the animal kingdom. One key element of this soft robot is that its stationary base and vine-like locomotion both have its roots in the plant kingdom. It’s a testament to just how unexplored this realm may be, and that researchers and robots will continue to develop new ways of artificially “getting around” for years to come.

Thanks for the tip, [Jacob!]

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Emergency Cell Tower on a Budget

Cell phone towers are something we miss when we’re out of range, but imagine how we’d miss them if they had been destroyed by disastrous weather. In such emergencies it is more important than ever to call loved ones, and tell them we’re safe. [Matthew May] and [Brendan Harlow] aimed to make their own secure and open-source cellular network antenna for those occasions. It currently supports calling between connected phones, text messaging, and if the base station has a hard-wired internet connection, users can get online.

This was a senior project for a security class, and it seems that the bulk of their work was in following the best practices set by the Center for Internet Security. They adopted a model intended for the Debian 8 operating system which wasn’t a perfect fit. According to Motherboard their work scored an A+, and we agree with the professors on this one.

Last year, the same SDR board, the bladeRF, was featured in a GSM tower hack with a more sinister edge, and of course Hackaday is rife with SDR projects.

Thank you [Alfredo Garza] for the tip.

LAMEBOY is Handheld Gaming on the ESP8266

We’ve had our eye on [davedarko’s] LAMEBOY project for a while now, a handheld setup in roughly the same form factor as the classic Nintendo Game Boy. It’s remarkable how approachable portable electronic design has become, and that’s really what makes this interesting. The design is beautiful, and the closer you look, the more respect you have for what [dave] is doing.

Right now his proof of concept has a 3D printed enclosure whose face is the printed circuit board. We love how the lower left corner of the PCB slips under a pocket in the case, which makes it possible to use just one screw to secure the two together in the upper right.

The LAMEBOY is built around an ESP8266 module. Anyone who has used one knows this chip contains a fair amount of horsepower, but very little I/O. [Dave] has a lot going on with an LCD screen, six user buttons, a USB to I/O chip, and an SD card slot. He took two approaches to solve this dilemma. First he grabbed a PCF8574 port expander, and second he’s offloaded the color control of the screen backlights to an ATtiny85 (running a BlinkM clone).

Below you can see some early game tests on the perfboard prototype. We haven’t seen game play on the most recent prototype (there is a screen color test video in his latest project log) but it sounds as though [dave] plans to make use of the Gamebuino framework. This should mean that there will be no shortage of cool ROMs to load.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Wheelchair User Pressure Relief Indicator System

It is difficult to put yourself as an able-bodied person into the experiences of a person with a physical disability. Able-bodied people are quick with phrases such as “Confined to a wheelchair” with little idea of what that really means, and might be surprised to meet wheelchair users who would point out that far from being a prison their chair might, in fact, be their tool of liberation.

It is also difficult for an able-bodied person to understand some of the physical effects of using a wheelchair. In particular, some wheelchair users with paralysis can suffer from dangerous pressure sores without being aware of them due to their loss of feeling. Such people, therefore, have a regime of exercises designed to relieve the pressure that causes the sores, and these exercises must be completed as often as every half hour. They can be inconvenient and difficult to perform, so in an effort to help people in that position there is a Hackaday Prize entry that provides feedback on how effectively the exercise regime has been performed.

The project puts an array of force-sensitive resistors on the bed of the chair underneath its cushion and monitors them with an Arduino before giving a feedback to the user via a set of LEDs. So far they have created a first prototype, and are awaiting parts and recruiting users for testing a second.

It would be nice to think that this project would have a positive impact on the lives of the people it aims to help. It’s not the first time the Hackaday Prize has ventured into this field, as the 2015 winner demonstrates.

LED Princess Dress Also Lights Up Girl’s Face

We’re pretty sure that [Luke] took Uncle of the Year last Halloween when he made an RGB LED princess dress for his niece. He recently found the time to document the build with a comprehensive how-to that’s just in time for Halloween ’17.

[Luke] made the system modular so that his niece could use it with any dress. The RGB LED strips are actually fastened down the inside of a petticoat — a fluffy, puffy kind of slip that’s worn underneath the dress. The LEDs face in toward the body, which helps diffuse the light. [Luke] first attached the strips with their own adhesive and then spent a lot of time sewing them down so they stayed put. At some point, he found that hot glue worked just as well.

The coolest part of this project (aside from the blinkenlights of course) is the power source. [Luke] used what he already had lying around: an 18V Ryobi battery pack. He wired a step-converter to it using a printed cap from Shapeways that’s designed to connect metal clips to the battery contacts. This cap really makes these packs useful for a lot of projects that need long-lasting portability.

These batteries are rated for 240W, which is overkill considering the load. But there’s a reason: it keeps heat to a minimum, since the electronics are hidden inside a cute little backpack. Speaking of cute, you can see his niece model the dress after the break.

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Enresoning An iPhone 8 Ring

The iPhone 8 was just released last week, and that means some people were standing in line in front of an Apple store for hours waiting to get their hands on the latest and greatest glowing rectangle. [Patrick Adair] had a better idea: he would stand in front of an Apple store for four hours, then do something productive with his new smartphone. With the help of a waterjet, some resin, a lathe, and some very fine grades of sandpaper, he created the Apple Ring.

Setting aside the whole process of actually acquiring an iPhone 8 on launch day, the process of turning an iPhone into a ring is more or less what you would expect. First, the iPhone was cut into ring-shaped pieces on a waterjet cutter. Special care was taken to avoid the battery, and in the end [Patrick] was able to get a nice chunk ‘o phone that included the camera lens.

This ring piece was then embedded in clear resin. For this, [Patrick] used Alumilite epoxy, a pressure pot, and a toaster oven to cure the resin. Once the phone parts were firmly encased for the rest of eternity, the ring blank moved over to the lathe. The center of the ring was bored out, and the process of sanding, polishing and gluing in all the tiny parts that fell out during the process commenced. The end result actually looks pretty great, and even though it’s probably a little too bulky, it is a remarkable demonstration of the craft of turning.

You can check out [Patrick]’s video below, along with a video from the Waterjet Channel showing the deconstruction of a glowing rectangle.

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Modern Strongman Games Test Your Speed Instead

Step right up! What would a Makerfaire be without some carnival games? And being a Makerfaire, they could of course be modernized versions. In [avishorp]’s case, he made a series of games that test your speed and look very much like the old strongman game, aka high striker or strength tester.

In the strongman game, you smash a lever with all your might using a hammer. A puck on the other end of the lever then shoots up a tower, hopefully high enough to hit a bell, winning you a prize. In [avishorp]’s games the puck, tower and bell are all replaced with an LED strip. In the swipe game, the faster you swipe your hand sideways over two optical proximity sensors, the higher the LEDs light up. In the drum game, the speed with which you drum on a rubber disk with embedded accelerometer, the higher the LEDs light up. The chase and response games both involve buttons that you have to rapidly hit, to similar effect.

For the brains, each game is controlled by an Adafruit Trinket board. [Avishorp] chose to use the PlatformIO IDE instead of the Arduino IDE to write them, preferring its modern editor, but he didn’t like that it doesn’t print and that it doesn’t tell you the final file size. The latter issue caused him to overwrite the bootloader, something that he understandably considered a major inconvenience.

Check out his page for more details, Fritzing diagrams, links to code, and all game videos. Meanwhile we’ve included clips of the drum and swipe games below.

And if it’s more carnival games you’re looking for, how about this adult-sized Sit ‘n Spin made using a rear differential and axle assembly out of an old car or truck. Or maybe you prefer something less likely to make you woozy, in which case you can try fishing with the Bass Master 3000.

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