Balancing Robot Needs Innovative Controller and Motor

A self-balancing robot is a great way to get introduced to control theory and robotics in general. The ability for a robot to sense its position and its current set of circumstances and then to make a proportional response to accomplish its goal is key to all robotics. While hobby robots might use cheap servos or brushed motors, for any more advanced balancing robot you might want to reach for a brushless DC motor and a new fully open-source controller.

The main problem with brushless DC motors is that they don’t perform very well at low velocities. To combat this downside, there are a large number of specialized controllers on the market that can help mitigate their behavior. Until now, all of these controllers have been locked down and proprietary. SmoothControl is looking to create a fully open source design for these motors, and they look like they have a pretty good start. The controller is designed to run on the ubiquitous ATmega32U4 with an open source 3-phase driver board. They are currently using these boards with two specific motors but plan to also support more motors as the project grows.

We’ve seen projects before that detail why brushless motors are difficult to deal with, so an open source driver for brushless DC motors that does the work for us seems appealing. There are lots of applications for brushless DC motors outside of robots where a controller like this could be useful as well, such as driving an airplane’s propeller.

Ancient Robot Creates Modern Art

They say that there’s more to a Jackson Pollock painting than randomly scattering paint on a canvas, and the auction value of his work seems to verify that claim. If you want to create some more conventional artwork, however, but are missing the artistic muse that inspired Pollock, maybe you can put your creative energies to work building a robot that will create the art for you.

[Dane Kouttron] was able to get his hands on an old SCARA robotic arm, and was recently inspired to create a paintbrush-weilding robot with it for the 2nd Annual Robot Art competition. Getting one of these ancient (circa 1983) robots working again is no easy task though. [Dane] used LinuxCNC to help reverse engineer the robot’s controls and had to build a lot of supporting hardware to get the extremely heavy robot to work properly. The entire process took around two months, and everything from color selection to paint refill to the actual painting itself is completely automated.

Be sure to check out the video after the break to see the robot in action. The writeup goes into great detail about the robot, and includes everything from reverse engineering the encoders to auto-cleaning a paintbrush. If you don’t have a SCARA robot arm in your parts drawer, though, there are lots of other options to explore for robot-created artwork.

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Another California Water Crisis

It’s no secret that a vast amount of American infrastructure is in great need of upgrades, repairs or replacements. The repairs that are desperately needed will come, and they will come in one of two ways. Either proactive repairs can be made when problems are first discovered, or repairs can be made at considerably greater cost after catastrophic failures have occurred. As was the case with the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota, we often pay in lives as well. Part of the problem is that infrastructure isn’t very exciting or newsworthy to many people outside of the civil engineering community which leads to complacency and apathy. As a result, it’s likely that you may not have heard about the latest struggle currently playing out in California even though it involves the largest dam in the United States and its potential failure.

Surprisingly enough, the largest dam in the US isn’t the famous Hoover Dam but the Oroville Dam at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. At 235 meters, it is almost 15 meters taller than the Hoover Dam. It can store over four cubic kilometers of water but whether or not it will keep storing that water into the future is currently under question. In February of this year during a flood control operation damage was observed on the dam’s spillway where a massive hole had formed which only got larger as the dam was forced to continue releasing water. The hole quickly grew, and the floodwaters eroded much of the lower half of the spillway embankment, forming a canyon. Continue reading “Another California Water Crisis”

Arbitrary Code Execution is in Another Castle!

When one buys a computer, it should be expected that the owner can run any code on it that they want. Often this isn’t the case, though, as most modern devices are sold with locked bootloaders or worse. Older technology is a little bit easier to handle, however, but arbitrary code execution on something like an original Nintendo still involves quite a lot of legwork, as [Retro Game Mechanics Explained] shows with the inner workings of Super Mario Brothers 3.

While this hack doesn’t permanently modify the Nintendo itself, it does allow for arbitrary code execution within the game, which is used mostly by speedrunners to get to the end credits scene as fast as possible. To do this, values are written to memory by carefully manipulating on-screen objects. Once the correct values are entered, a glitch in the game involving a pipe is exploited to execute the manipulated memory as an instruction. The instruction planted is most often used to load the Princess’s chamber and complete the game, with the current record hovering around the three-minute mark.

If you feel like you’ve seen something like this before, you are likely thinking of the Super Mario World exploit for the SNES that allows for the same style of arbitrary code execution. The Mario 3 hack, however, is simpler to execute. It’s also worth checking out the video below, because [Retro Game Mechanics Explained] goes into great depth about which values are written to memory, how they are executed as an instruction, and all of the other inner workings of the game that allows for an exploit of this level.

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FPGA Emulates NES Cart; Prototype So Cyberpunk

By now, most of us have had some experience getting ROMs from classic video games to run on new hardware. Whether that’s just on a personal computer with the keyboard as a controller, or if it’s a more refined RetrioPie in a custom-built cabinet, it has become relatively mainstream. What isn’t mainstream, however, is building custom hardware that can run classic video games on the original console (translated). The finished project looks amazing, but the prototype blows us away with it’s beauty and complexity.

[phanick]’s project is a cartridge that is able to run games on the Polish Famicon clone called the Pegasus. The games are stored on an SD card but rather than run in an emulator, an FPGA loads the ROMs and presents the data through the normal edge-connector in the cartridge slot of the console. The game is played from the retro hardware itself. It takes a few seconds to load in each ROM, but after that the Pegasus can’t tell any difference between this and an original cartridge.

The original prototype shown here was built back in 2012. Since then it’s been through a few iterations that have reduced the size. PCBs were designed and built in-house, and the latest revision also includes a 3D-printed case that is closer to the size of the original Famicon cartridges.

Even if you don’t have an interest in classic video games or emulation, the video below is worth checking out. (Be sure to turn on the subtitles if you don’t speak Polish.) [phanick] has put in a huge amount of time getting all of the details exactly right, and the level of polish shows in the final product. In fact, we’ve featured him before for building his own Famicom clone.

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Generator Monitor Gives the Phone Company the Boot

Part of the problem with having an alarm system is its reliance on land line telephone service. Some of them are getting away from this practice, but there are still many legacy systems out there that require a check to be sent in to Ma Bell every month in addition to the alarm system fees. Like these antiquated systems, [jgyates] was having a similar problem with the generator at his home which could only be monitored with a link to a cell network. Now that there’s a Raspberry Pi in every house, however, [jgyates] has a generator monitor that isn’t beholden to the phone company.

The hardware setup is little more than connecting the communications lines from the generator’s controller (in this case, a Generac Evolution controller) to the serial communications pins on a Raspberry Pi 3. [jgyates] did most of the work in Python, and his code is able to monitor almost every aspect of this generator and report it over WiFi or Ethernet, as well as control the generator settings from anywhere that has an Internet connection.

Even if you don’t have a generator with this particular controller, it will be a good guide for converting a monitor of any type into one that doesn’t require a land line or cell network connection. To that end, there have been lots of projects that convert even simple, old, analog household devices to report data over the LAN.

Drinkable Clouds Get You Second-Hand Drunk

While the rise of electronic cigarettes and vaping has led to many aggravated bystanders, an installation in Germany may have found a vapor of a different ilk. Rather than nicotine, this cloud of vapors is full of tequila which precipitates out into glasses (or people) who happen to be nearby.

The cloud generator uses ultrasonic devices to vibrate the tequila molecules until they form a fine mist. The mist is delivered outward towards the sculpture, where a delicious cloud forms. From there, the cloud literally rains tequila out into its original, drinkable tequila form. It appears to take a while to gather enough tequila from the cloud, though, so there is a convenient tap on the side that will dispense it without all the rigmarole.

Basically this is a nebulizer which is using tequila and dispersing the output rather than directing it. You’re unlikely to get a large enough gasp for inebriation, but technically there is an opportunity a risk here of becoming second-hand drunk.

The installing is an effort by the Mexican Tourism Board to encourage Germans to take a break from the rain in favor of visiting sunny Mexico, we’d have to say that the effort seems to be a success. Once there, hopefully any visitors will be able to enjoy a perfect margarita or two as well.