Baby Yoda Becomes Personable Robot

Baby Yoda has been a hit character in Disney’s The Mandalorian, but does not actually exist in real life as far as we know. Instead, [Manuel Ahumada] set about building a robotic replica, complete with artificial intelligence.  (Video, embedded below.)

The first step was to build a basic robotic simulcra of Baby Yoda, which [Manuel] achieved by outfitting a toy with servos, motors and a Raspberry Pi. With everything hooked up, Baby Yoda was able to move his head and arms, and scoot around on wheels, all under the control of a Bluetooth gamepad. With that sorted, [Manuel] added brains in the form of a smartphone running Intel’s OpenBot machine learning platform. This allows Baby Yoda to track and follow people it sees on its smartphone camera, and potentially even navigate real-world spaces with future upgrades.

It’s a fun build, and we’d love to see the bot let loose at a convention to explore and make friends. We’ve covered OpenBot before, and look forward to seeing it used in more builds. Video after the break.

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Spacing Out: Launch Successes And Failures, Next Stop Mars, Rocket Catching, & Space Stations

As large sections of the globe have seen themselves plunged into further resurgences of the pandemic over the past few weeks there has been no let-up in the world of space exploration even for the Christmas holidays, so here we are with another Spacing Out column in which we take a look at what’s going up, what’s flying overhead, and what’s coming down.

Not today, Paul. r2hox from Madrid, Spain, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Not today, Paul. r2hox from Madrid, Spain, CC BY-SA 2.0.

December was eventful, with China returning lunar samples and Japan doing the same with asteroid dust. And it was reported that we  might just possibly have detected radio waves from ET. The truth may be out there and we sincerely want to believe, but this widely reported signal from Proxima Centauri probably isn’t the confirmation of alien life we’ve all been waiting for.

There has been no shortage of launches over the last month from the usual agencies and companies, with a first launch from China of their Long March 8 heavy lift rocket from the Wenchang launch site in Hainan Province. Its payload of five satellites made it safely to orbit, and we expect the rocket will be a workhorse of their future exploration programme. Meanwhile SpaceX conducted a high-altitude test of their Starship SN8 vehicle, which proceeded according to plan until the craft was approaching the landing pad, at which point the failure of one of its engines to fire caused a spectacular crash. This does not equate to an unsuccessful test flight as it performed faultlessly in the rest of its manoeuvres, but it certainly made for some impressive video.

On the subject of SpaceX and Starship, Elon Musk has said he will sell all his personal property to fund a Martian colony. This will require a fleet of up to 1000 Starships, with three launches a day to ferry both colonists and supplies to the Red Planet. He attracted controversy though by saying that interplanetary immigration would be open to people of all means with loans available for the estimated $50,000 one-way travel cost, and Martian jobs on offer to enable the debt to be paid. Many critics replied to his Tweets likening the idea to indentured servitude. It’s worth remembering that Musk is the master of the grand publicity stunt, and while it seems a good bet that SpaceX will indeed reach Mars, it’s also not inconceivable that his timeline and plans might be somewhat optimistic.

A more tangible story from SpaceX comes in their super heavy booster rocket, which is to be reusable in the same manner as their existing Falcon 9, but not landing on its own legs in the manner of the earlier rocket. It will instead dock with its launch tower, being caught by the same support structures used to stabilise it before launch. At first glance this might seem too difficult to succeed, but no doubt people expressed the same doubts before the Falcon 9s performed their synchronised landings.

Finally away from more troubling developments in the political field, The Hill takes a look at some of those likely to have a hand in providing a commercial replacement for the ISS when it eventually reaches the end of its life. They examine the likely funding for NASA’s tenancy on the station, and looked at the cluster of Texas-based companies gearing up for space station manufacture. That’s right — space station modules from the likes of Axiom Space will become a manufactured assembly rather than one-off commissions. The decades beyond the ISS’s current 2030 projected end of life are likely to have some exciting developments in orbit.

The coming year is likely to be an exciting one, with a brace of missions heading to Mars for February as well as a new space station to catch our attention. The Chinese aren’t content to stop at the Moon, with their Tianwen-1 Mars mission due to start exploring our planetary neighbour, and the first Tianhe module of what will become their much larger space station taking to the skies in the coming year. Meanwhile the Red planet will see NASA’s Perseverance rover also reaching its surface, taking with it the Ingenuity helicopter. Finally, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe will go into orbit, making the second month one that should have plenty of news.

Wherever you are, keep yourself safe from Earth-bound viruses, and keep looking at the skies in 2021.

3D Printing In Five Axes Makes The World Flat

Just when you thought your 3D printer was hot stuff, along comes a 5D printer. Two doctoral students at Penn State want to add two more axes to get rid of overhangs. This means that instead of supports or breaking objects into pieces, the printer simply orients the print so each region of the part is printing as if it were flat. Of course, 5D printers aren’t really new, even though you don’t hear much about them. However, the paper details a new algorithm that eliminates manually defining print regions and rotations.

You do this all the time manually when you’re setting the print up. For example, if you want to print a letter T, you could print it with supports under the cross pieces or flip it upside down and print it with no support at all. The difference here is the printer can flip the workpiece itself to different angles and can change it on the fly during printing. The printer might print the shaft of the T, rotate it to draw half of the crossbar, then rotate it 180 degrees to print the other half. In all three zones, the print head is depositing materials flat with no overhang. In a simple case like a T that doesn’t really require a special machine or an algorithm, but in the general case, you often can’t just rotate a model to avoid using supports.

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Make Room For A New Arduino Competitor – With Native Brainf*ck!

With so many smaller and more capable microcontroller boards on the market it’s now fairly safe to say that the classic Arduino footprint and form factor is rather outdated. That’s not to say that there’s no fight left in the old contender though, and to prove it here’s a new platform in the familiar style set by the venerable Atmel-based board. [Eduardo Corpeño]’s Brainfuino is an Arduino competitor that runs everyone’s favourite esoteric programming language, Brainf*ck. (Keeping it SFW, folks.)

And in case you mistake it for a Brainf*ck emulator on a PCB then stand ready to be corrected, for this board runs the language natively in a Brainf*ck softcore on a Lattice MachXO2 FPGA. This is the real deal, on which only a true genius or masochist would dare to code.

The board itself is very neatly executed with a graphical style that presents more than a nod to the original Arduino. On this board is the FPGA, 256 kB ROM and 138 kB RAM, an STM32 to provide a USB serial port and an analogue input, and a level shifter to provide Arduino-style 5 V logic on the pins. We can see it’ll provide hours of fun to anyone interested in learning Brainf*ck, but besides that it has potential as an Arduino-shaped FPGA board. We like the joke, we like the graphical and engineering design, but underneath that lies quite the technical achievement.

Brainf*ck has made it to Hackaday before, not least in this jaw-dropping relay computer.