Gorgeous Engineering Inside Wheels of a Robotic Trail Buddy

Robots are great in general, and [taylor] is currently working on something a bit unusual: a 3D printed explorer robot to autonomously follow outdoor trails, named Rover. Rover is still under development, and [taylor] recently completed the drive system and body designs, all shared via OnShape.

Rover has 3D printed 4.3:1 reduction planetary gearboxes embedded into each wheel, with off the shelf bearings and brushless motors. A Raspberry Pi sits in the driver’s seat, and the goal is to use a version of NVIDA’s TrailNet framework for GPS-free navigation of paths. As a result, [taylor] hopes to end up with a robotic “trail buddy” that can be made with off-the-shelf components and 3D printed parts.

Moving the motors and gearboxes into the wheels themselves makes for a very small main body to the robot, and it’s more than a bit strange to see the wheel spinning opposite to the wheel’s hub. Check out the video showcasing the latest development of the wheels, embedded below.

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Turn Command Lines into Web Apps

Even if you like using a graphical user interface, you can probably agree that writing a graphical program is usually harder than writing an old-fashioned text-based program. Putting that GUI into an online format means even more to think about. [Adam Kewley] has the answer to that problem: Jobson. As you can see in the video below, the program is a web server that runs command line programs as jobs.

Simply write a YAML file to describe the program’s inputs and outputs and Jobson will create input fields for arguments and display the output in a web page. Any files the program creates are available to download. Basically any command line program can be quickly and easily pulled into one web interface to rule them.

If a program takes a long time to run, Jobson will let you switch away and then later resume looking at the output. You can also abort a job or look at the arguments it received. Jobson can also authenticate users with several different methods to prevent just anyone from executing jobs.

If you really want to write a graphical program, try QTCreator. Or, you can get a shell in a web browser if you want to go that route. But this is the smoothest method we’ve seen for gathering command line programs into one place for monitoring and control. Neat!

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Hackaday Links: November 19, 2017

[Peter]’s homebuilt ultralight is actually flying now and not in ground effect, much to the chagrin of YouTube commenters. [Peter Sripol] built a Part 103 ultralight (no license required, any moron can jump in one and fly) in his basement out of foam board from Lowes. Now, he’s actually doing flight testing, and he managed to build a good plane. Someone gifted him a ballistic parachute so the GoFundMe for the parachute is unneeded right now, but this gift parachute is a bit too big for the airframe. Not a problem; he’ll just sell it and buy the smaller model.

Last week, rumors circulated of Broadcom acquiring Qualcomm for the sum of One… Hundred… Billion Dollars. It looks like that’s not happening now. Qualcomm rejected a deal for $103B, saying the offer, ‘undervalued the company and would face regulatory hurdles.’ Does this mean the deal is off? No, there are 80s guys out there who put the dollar signs in Busine$$, and there’s politicking going on.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out there were some very fancy LED panels available on eBay for very cheap. The Barco NX-4 LED panels are a 32×36 panels of RGB LEDs, driven very quickly by some FPGA goodness. The reverse engineering of these panels is well underway, and [Ian] and his team almost have everything figured out. Glad I got my ten panels…

TechShop is gone. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to a business with a whole bunch of tools anyone can use. This leaves a lot of people with TechShop memberships out in the cold, and to ease the pain, Glowforge, Inventables, Formlabs, and littleBits are offering some discounts so you can build a hackerspace in your garage or basement. In other TechShop news, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what are they going to do with all the machines?’. Nobody knows, but the smart money is a liquidation/auction. Yes, in a few months, you’ll probably be renting a U-Haul and driving to TechShop one last time.

3D Hubs has come out with a 3D Printing Handbook. There’s a lot in the world of filament-based 3D printing that isn’t written down. It’s all based on experience, passed on from person to person. How much of an overhang can you really get away with? How do you orient a part correctly? God damned stringing. How do you design a friction-fit between two parts? All of these techniques are learned by experience. Is it possible to put this knowledge in a book? I have no idea, so look for that review in a week or two.

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Adam] is a collector of vintage computers. Instead of letting them sit in the attic, he’s taking gorgeous pictures of them. The collection includes most of the big-time Atari and Commodore 8-bitters, your requisite Apples, all of the case designs of the all-in-one Macs, some Pentium-era PCs, and even a few of the post-97 Macs. Is that Bondi Blue? Bonus points: all of these images are free to use with attribution.

Nvidia is blowing out their TX1 development kits. You can grab one for $200. What’s the TX1? It’s a really, really fast ARM computer stuffed into a heat sink that’s about the size of a deck of cards. You can attach it to a MiniITX breakout board that provides you with Ethernet, WiFi, and a bunch of other goodies. It’s a step above the Raspberry Pi for sure and is capable enough to run as a normal desktop computer.

Homemade Test Jig Is Cheaper Than Outsourcing

In the past, [Sjaak] has had his testing and programming jigs made for him in Shenzhen, but realized they weren’t that great of a value. They weren’t terribly expensive in the grand scheme of things, but they didn’t include any wiring, so he was still spending his own time and money. His quest to develop his own in-house jigs not only netted him a considerable cost savings in the end, but also produced a nicely detailed post on his site for anyone else who may be heading down the same path. That’s a win-win in our book.

The idea behind a jig is pretty simple: essentially it’s just a mount that holds the PCB, and a set of pins which contact the appropriate points on the board. The jig can then provide power, programming, status LEDs for testing, etc. Basically anything that you can’t or don’t want to include on the final board, but will help in testing or programming them.

To start, [Sjaak] begins with a blank PCB in Eagle and imports his target board. With the two lined up, he can then mark where he wants the pins to go on the jig, and add labels to the silkscreen to make things a little easier during diagnostics. The target board is then removed, the file converted to Gerber, and it’s sent off for manufacturing. With a few more tweaks, the file is then exported to DXF and laser cut out of acrylic. When the PCBs come back, it’s just a matter of sandwiching it all together with some standoffs and adding the pins.

[Sjaak] mentions that he was inspired by an old post on how SparkFun was internally handling their test jigs, though we think with a dash of automation he could make things even easier for himself.

Tips For Basic Machining on a Drill Press

It’s safe to say most Hackaday readers would love to have a mill at home, or a nice lathe, but such equipment isn’t always practical for the hobbyist. The expense and amount of room they take up is a hard sell unless you’re building things on them regularly, so we’re often forced to improvise. In his latest video, [Eric Strebel] gives some practical advice on using a standard drill press to perform tasks you would normally need a mill or lathe for; and while his tips probably won’t come as a surprise to the old-hands out there, they might just help some of the newer players get the most out of what they have access to.

[Eric] explains the concept of the cross slide vice, which is the piece of equipment that makes machining on a drill press possible. Essentially it’s a standard vice, but with screws that allow you to move the clamped piece in the X and Y dimensions under the drill which can already move in the Z dimension. For those counting along at home, that puts us up to the full three dimensions; in other words, you can not only make cuts of varying depths, but move the cut along the surface of the work piece in any direction.

You can even turn down a (small) piece of round stock by placing it in the chuck of the drill press, and putting a good chisel in the cross slide vice. The chisel can then be moved up against the spinning piece to make your cuts. We don’t suggest doing anything too heavy, but if you need to turn down something soft like a piece of plastic or wood to a certain diameter, it can do in a pinch.

[Eric Strebel] is quickly becoming a favorite around these parts. His well-produced videos show viewers the practical side of product design and in-house manufacturing. We recently covered his video on doing small-scale production, and there’s plenty more invaluable info to be had browsing back through his older videos.

The quest to do machining without actually having a machine shop is certainly not new to Hackaday. There have been many different approaches to solving the issue, but picking up a decent drill press and cross slide is a first step down the rabbit hole for most people.

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Real-Life Electronic Neurons

All the kids down at Stanford are talking about neural nets. Whether this is due to the actual utility of neural nets or because all those kids were born after AI’s last death in the mid-80s is anyone’s guess, but there is one significant drawback to this tiny subset of machine intelligence: it’s a complete abstraction. Nothing called a ‘neural net’ is actually like a nervous system, there are no dendrites or axions and you can’t learn how to do logic by connecting neurons together.

NeruroBytes is not a strange platform for neural nets. It’s physical neurons, rendered in PCBs and Molex connectors. Now, finally, it’s a Kickstarter project, and one of the more exciting educational electronic projects we’ve ever seen.

Regular Hackaday readers should be very familiar with NeuroBytes. It began as a project for the Hackaday Prize all the way back in 2015. There, it was recognized as a finalist for the Best Product, Since then, the team behind NeuroBytes have received an NHS grant, they’re certified Open Source Hardware through OSHWA, and there are now enough NeuroBytes to recreate the connectome of a flatworm. It’s doubtful the team actually has enough patience to recreate the brain of even the simplest organism, but is already an impressive feat.

The highlights of the NeuroBytes Kickstarter include seven different types of neurons for different sensory systems, kits to test the patellar reflex, and what is probably most interesting to the Hackaday crowd, a Braitenberg Vehicle chassis, meant to test the ideas set forth in Valentino Braitenberg’s book, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. If that book doesn’t sound familiar, BEAM robots probably do; that’s where the idea for BEAM robots came from.

It’s been a long, long journey for [Zach] and the other creators of NeuroBytes to get to this point. It’s great that this project is now finally in the wild, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it. Hopefully a full flatworm connectome.

Play A Claw Machine From Your Armchair

Have you ever been seduced by a claw machine in an arcade, only to have your hopes of a cuddly toy dashed as it fails to hang onto your choice? Then you’re in luck, because now you can play to your heart’s content online. [Ryan Walmsley] wants you to control his Raspberry Pi-driven claw machine.

Hardware-wise he’s replaced the original 8052 microcontroller and relay control with the Pi and a custom H-bridge PCB. We particularly light the warning: “Highish voltage”, and we feel it should appear more often. There is some code in his GitHub repository, but we suspect it doesn’t have everything.

We had a lot of fun digging into the documentation on this one. From his initial thoughts through some prototyping and a board failure, to the launch of the online version and finally a run-down of how it all works, he’s got it covered.

Sadly the machine itself isn’t online all the time, it seems to be only online when [Ryan] is at home, so if you live on the other side of the world from his British base you may be out of luck. Fortunately though his previous live streams are online, so you can see it in action on a past outing below the break.

Of course what kind of swag do you load up in a claw machine like this one? On his Twitter feed we’ve seen tests of the aliens from Toy Story (who start their existence in a claw machine so quite fitting). The majority of items show in is recorded games — now numbering over 2000 — have been our beloved companion cube.

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