Exquisite Craftsmanship Elevate Vic’s Creations Above The Rest

This booth was easy to miss at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 amidst tall professional conference signage erected by adjacent exhibitors. It showcased the work of [Dr. Victor Chaney] who enjoys his day job as a dentist and thus feels no desire to commercialize his inventions — he’s building fun projects for the sake of personal enjoyment which he simply calls Vic’s Creations. Each project is built to his own standards, which are evidently quite high judging by the perfect glossy finish on every custom wood enclosure.

Some of these creations were aligned with his musical interests. The Backpacking Banjo was built around a (well cleaned) cat food can to satisfy the desire for a lightweight instrument he can take camping. His Musical Laser Rainbow Machine (fully documented in Nuts & Volts) was created so little bands formed by independent artists like himself can have a visual light show to go with their live performances. The Music Kaleidoscope is another execution along similar lines, with an LED array whose colors are dictated by music. Venturing outside the world of music, we see a magnetically levitated Castle In The Clouds which also receives power wirelessly to illuminate LEDs

The largest and most complex work on display is an epic electromechanical masterpiece. Par One is a rolling ball sculpture featuring the most convoluted golf course ever. Several more rolling ball sculptures (also called marble machines or marble runs) are on display at Dr. Chaney’s office which must make it the coolest dentist’s lobby ever. The lifelike motions he was able to get from the automatons he built into the sculpture are breathtaking, as you can see below.

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StrollerController Free Parents From Menial Labor

Raising young children is hard work, and parents need all the help they can get. There’s a whole industry catering to parents who are willing to pay to make their lives a little easier. Then, we have hacker minded parents like [Sam Pearce] who build his own solutions like joystick-controlled motorized strollers. His kids have fun taking their first steps into independent autonomy, dad has freed up his hands from pushing strollers, and everyone wins!

We were impressed when we saw [Sam] and his StrollerController zipping along at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019. Normally the only way young children get to control their own vehicle is in a field of bumper cars or a constrained track like Autopia. These lucky kids can drive around without being constrained by pen or track. This will give them a great early start on their driver’s license test, assuming autonomous vehicles haven’t taken over by the time they grow up.

The StrollerController we saw is a two part affair, each capable of independent operation:

StrollerController v1 is a stroller enhanced with motor gearbox from cordless drills driving rear wheels. Its top speed can be constrained by a limiter depending on the child pilot’s driving proficiency. It also has a bright red emergency stop button on top, plus a remote controlled kill switch held by a supervising adult.

StrollerController v2 is a pusher module equipped with much faster wheelchair motors under an grownup-sized standing platform. Welded to the front is a pair of brackets to dock with either a regular non-motorized stroller or StrollerController v1. The linked system delivers expedient travel for both parent and child.

For such a display of inventive ingenuity and resourcefulness, this project won a well-deserved Editor’s Choice ribbon from Maker Faire. We hope such recognition and enthusiasm from other Maker Faire attendees helped motivate [Sam] as he continues to improve StrollerController.

Autodrop3D Continues Working At 3D Printer Automation

It is an unfortunate fact that 3D printers spend most of their time sitting idle, waiting for a human to remove finished prints or waiting for the next print to start. Hackers see such inefficiency as an open invitation to devise a better way, and we’ve seen several innovative ideas come across these pages. Some have since been abandoned, but others have kept going. At Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 we had the chance to revisit one presented as Autodrop3D.

We saw a much earlier iteration entered in our Hackaday Prize in 2017 and it was fascinating to see how the basic ideas have developed over the past few years. The most visible component of the system is their print ejection system, which has greatly improved in robustness. Because the mechanism modifies the print bed and adds significant mass, it is best suited to delta printers as their print bed remains static. The concept might be adaptable to printers where the print bed only has to move along Z axis, but for now the team stays focused on deltas. There were two implementations on display at Maker Faire: a large one built on a SeeMeCNC RostockMAX v4, and a small one built on a Monoprice Mini Delta.

The ejection system is novel enough by itself, but the hardware is only one part of the end-to-end Autodrop3D vision. Their full software pipeline starts with web-based CAD, to integrated slicing, to print queue management, before G-code is fed to a printer equipped with their ejection system.

We admire inventors who keep working away at turning their vision to reality, and we look forward to seeing what’s new the next time we meet this team. In the meantime, if you like the idea of an automated print ejection mechanism but want more cartoon style, look at this invention from MatterHackers.

Dashing Diademata Delivers Second Generation ROS

A simple robot that performs line-following or obstacle avoidance can fit all of its logic inside a single Arduino sketch. But as a robot’s autonomy increases, its corresponding software gets complicated very quickly. It won’t be long before diagnostic monitoring and logging comes in handy, or the desire to encapsulate feature areas and orchestrate how they work together. This is where tools like the Robot Operating System (ROS) come in, so we don’t have to keep reinventing these same wheels. And Open Robotics just released ROS 2 Dashing Diademata for all of us to use.

ROS is an open source project that’s been underway since 2007 and updated regularly, each named after a turtle species. What makes this one worthy of extra attention? Dashing marks the first longer term support (LTS) release of ROS 2, a refreshed second generation of ROS. All high level concepts stayed the same, meaning almost everything in our ROS orientation guide is still applicable in ROS 2. But there were big changes under the hood reflecting technical advances over the past decade.

ROS was built in an age where a Unix workstation cost thousands of dollars, XML was going to be how we communicate all data online, and an autonomous robot cost more than a high-end luxury car. Now we have $35 Raspberry Pi running Linux, XML has fallen out of favor due to processing overhead, and some autonomous robots are high-end luxury cars. For these and many other reasons, the people of Open Robotics decided it was time to make a clean break from legacy code.

The break has its detractors, as it meant leaving behind the vast library of freely available robot intelligence modules released by researchers over the years. Popular ones were (or will be) ported to ROS 2, and there is a translation bridge sufficient to work with some, but the rest will be left behind. However, this update also resolved many of the deal-breakers preventing adoption outside of research, making ROS more attractive for commercial investment which should bring more robots mainstream.

Judging by responses to the release announcement, there are plenty of people eager to put ROS 2 to work, but it is not the only freshly baked robotics framework around. We just saw Nvidia release their Isaac Robot Engine tailored to make the most of their Jetson hardware.

Hunting Replicants With The 2019 LayerOne Badge

Blade Runner showed us a dystopian megatropolis vision of Los Angeles in the far-off future. What was a distant dream for the 1982 theater-goes (2019) is now our everyday. We know Los Angeles is not perpetually overcast, flying cars are not cruising those skies, and replicants are not hiding among the population. Or… are they?

The LayerOne conference takes place in greater Los Angeles and this year it adopted a Blade Runner theme in honor of that landmark film. My favorite part of the theme was the conference badge modeled after a Voight-Kampff machine. These were used in the film to distinguish replicants from humans, and that’s exactly what this badge does too. In the movies, replicants are tested by asking questions and monitoring their eyes for a reaction — this badge has an optional eye-recognition camera to deliver this effect. Let’s take a look!

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Nvidia Jetson Robots Get A Head Start With Isaac Software Tools

We live in an exciting time of machine intelligence. Over the past few months, several products have been launched offering neural network processors at a price within hobbyist reach. But as exciting as the hardware might be, they still need software to be useful. Nvidia was not content to rest on their impressive Jetson hardware and has created a software framework to accelerate building robots around them. Anyone willing to create a Nvidia developer account may now play with the Isaac Robot Engine framework.

Isaac initially launched about a year ago as part of a bundle with Jetson Xavier hardware. But the $1,299 developer kit price tag pushed it out of reach for many of us. Now we can buy a Jetson Nano for about a hundred bucks. For those familiar with Robot Operating System (ROS), Isaac will look very familiar. They both aim to make robotic software as easy as connecting common modules together. Many of these modules called GEMS in Isaac were tailored to the strengths of Nvidia Jetson hardware. In addition to those modules and ways for them to work together, Isaac also includes a simulator for testing robot code in a virtual world similar to Gazebo for ROS.

While Isaac can run on any robot with an Nvidia Jetson brain, there are two reference robot designs. Carter is the more expensive and powerful commercially built machine rolling on Segway motors, LIDAR environmental sensors, and a Jetson Xavier. More interesting to us is the Kaya (pictured), a 3D-printed DIY robot rolling on Dynamixel serial bus servos. Kaya senses the environment with an Intel RealSense D435 depth camera and has Jetson Nano for a brain. Taken together the hardware and software offerings are a capable and functional package for exploring intelligent autonomous robots.

It is somewhat disappointing Nvidia decided to create their own proprietary software framework reinventing many wheels, instead of contributing to ROS. While there are some very appealing features like WebSight (a browser-based inspect and debug tool) at first glance Isaac doesn’t seem fundamentally different from ROS. The open source community has already started creating ROS nodes for Jetson hardware, but people who work exclusively in the Nvidia ecosystem or face a time-to-market deadline would appreciate having the option of a pre-packaged solution like Isaac.

Chatterbox Voice Assistant Knows To Keep Quiet For Privacy

Cruising through the children’s hands-on activity zone at Maker Faire Bay Area, we see kids building a cardboard enclosure for the Chatterbox smart speaker kit. It would be tempting to dismiss the little smiling box as “just for kids” but doing so would overlook something more interesting: an alternative to data-mining corporations who dominate the smart speaker market. People are rightly concerned about Amazon Echo and Google Home, always-listening devices for online retail sending data back to their corporate data centers. In order to be appropriate for children, Chatterbox is none of those things. It only listens when a button is pressed, and its online model is designed to support the mission of CCFC (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.)

Getting started with a Chatterbox is much like other products designed to encourage young makers. The hardware — Raspberry Pi, custom HAT, speaker and button inside a cardboard enclosure — is conceptually similar to a Google AIY Voice kit but paired with an entirely different software experience. Instead of signing in to a Google developer account, children create their own voice interaction behavior with a block-based programming environment resembling MIT Scratch. Moving online, Chatterbox interactions draw upon resources of similarly privacy-minded entities like DuckDuckGo web search. Voice interaction foundation is built upon a fork of Mycroft with changes focused on education and child-friendliness. If a Chatterbox is unsure whether a query was for “Moana” or “Marijuana”, it will decide in favor of the Disney movie.

Many of these privacy-conscious pieces are open source or freely available, but Chatterbox pulls them all together into a single package that’s an appealing alternative to the big brand options. Based on conversations during Hackaday’s Maker Faire meetup, there’s a market beyond parents of young children. From technically aware adults who lack web API coding skills, to senior citizens unaware of dark corners of the web. Chatterbox Kickstarter campaign has a few more weeks to run but has already reached funding goals. We look forward to having a privacy-minded option in voice assistants.