A familiar spirit, or just a familiar, is a creature rumored to help people in the practice of magic. The moniker is perfect for Archimedes, the robot owl built by Alex Glow, which wields the
Amazon Google AIY kit to react when it detects faces. A series of very interesting design choices a what really gives the creature life. Not all of those choices were on purpose, which is the core of her talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference.
You can watch the video of her talk, along with an interview with Alex after the break.
When the Unexpected Becomes the Plan
Alex‘s adventure with Archimedes is a good one. As we reported back in May, the project was built to bring to the Bay Area Maker Faire — originally envisioned as a way to hand out stickers — but it became so much more. Since the AIY kit is really just a cardboard box to hold electronic guts, morphing into an owl is much more fun, and a unique challenge.
Designed in OnShape, a framework for the parts was manually added, before using the loft command to programmatically connect the edges into planes that give the wings a really nice look. However, the wings and the head were designed in different files which resulted in an unexpectedly large head by comparison. Turns out that’s actually a great way to jump the uncanny-valley — think of universally loved cartoon characters and the way they have a huge head and large eyes.
Printing the beak lead to some unfortunate support problems, but the solution is a great material hack in itself. Boil a CD for about 5 minutes and it’ll delaminate. Alex cut pieces from the boiled disc to use for the beak and I like it better, since it mimics the difference between a feather-covered face and a real beak. Also on the material tips for this one is to use armature wire, normally the domain of sculptors, for an tweakable body for the 3D printed parts and as the shoulder harness she uses to wear Archimedes around.
More Owl Insight
Elliot Williams caught up with Alex afterward for a bit more insight on the project. You’ll find a lot of common ground with her experience, like focusing on the problems of the build rather than trying to get a finished robot (what is finished, anyway?), and building a hard case after too much damage from just shoving the project into a backpack while traveling around.
Right now Archimedes wields a Raspberry Pi Zero W and AIY board that lets it react differently based on recognized faces perceived to be happy or sad. The beeps are recognizable, but beyond two or three different messages the point will begin to be lost on humans. Alex is planning for a future upgrade to add a deeper communications element that would use a smartphone app to decode a larger set of audible communications.