SandBot Happily And Tirelessly Rolls Patterns In Sand

The patience and precision involved with drawing geometric patterns in sand is right up a robot’s alley, and demonstrating this is [rob dobson]’s SandBot, a robot that draws patterns thanks to an arm with a magnetically coupled ball.

SandBot, SCARA version. The device sits underneath a sand bed, and a magnet (seen at the very top at the end of the folded “arm”) moves a ball bearing through sand.

SandBot is not a cartesian XY design. An XY frame would need to be at least as big as the sand table itself, but a SCARA arm can be much more compact. Sandbot also makes heavy use of 3D printing and laser-cut acrylic pieces, with no need of an external frame.

[rob]’s writeup is chock full of excellent detail and illustrations, and makes an excellent read. His previous SandBot design is also worth checking out, as it contains all kinds of practical details like what size of ball bearing is best for drawing in fine sand (between 15 and 20 mm diameter, it turns out. Too small and motion is jerky as the ball catches on sand grains, and too large and there is noticeable lag in movement.) Design files for the SCARA SandBot are on GitHub but [rob] has handy links to everything in his writeup for easy reference.

Sand and robots (or any moving parts) aren’t exactly a natural combination, but that hasn’t stopped anyone. We’ve seen Clearwalker stride along the beach, and the Sand Drawing Robot lowers an appendage to carve out messages in the sand while rolling along.

Laser Cut Cardboard Robot Construction Kit Eases Learning And Play

It has never been easier to put a microcontroller and other electronics into a simple project, and that has tremendous learning potential. But when it comes to mechanical build elements like enclosures, frames, and connectors, things haven’t quite kept the same pace. It’s easier to source economical servos, motors, and microcontroller boards than it is to arrange for other robot parts that allow for cheap and accessible customization and experimentation.

That’s where [Andy Forest] comes in with the Laser Cut Cardboard Robot Construction Kit, which started at STEAMLabs, a non-profit community makerspace in Toronto. The design makes modular frames, enclosures, and basic hardware out of laser-cut corrugated cardboard. It’s an economical and effective method of creating the mechanical elements needed for creating robots and animatronics while still allowing easy customizing. The sheets have punch-out sections for plastic straws, chopstick axles, SG90 servo motors, and of course, anything that’s missing can be easily added with hot glue or cut out with a knife. In addition to the designs being open sourced, there is also an activity guide for educators that gives visual examples of different ways to use everything.

Cardboard makes a great prototyping material, but what makes the whole project sing is the way the designs allow for easy modification and play while being easy to source and produce.

Mechatronic Hand Mimics Human Anatomy to Achieve Dexterity

Behold the wondrous complexity of the human hand. Twenty-seven bones working in concert with muscles, tendons, and ligaments extending up the forearm to produce a range of motions that gave us everything from stone tools to symphonies. Our hands are what we use to interface with the physical world on a fine level, and it’s understandable that we’d want mechanical versions of ourselves to include hands that were similarly dexterous.

That’s a tall order to fill, but this biomimetic mechatronic hand is a pretty impressive step in that direction. It’s [Will Cogley]’s third-year university design project, which he summarizes in the first video below. There are two parts to this project; the mechanical hand itself and the motion-capture glove to control it, both of which we find equally fascinating. The control glove is covered with 3D-printed sensors for each joint in the hand. He uses SMD potentiometers to measure joint angles, with some difficulty due to breakage of the solder joints; perhaps he could solve that with finer wires and better strain relief.

The hand that the glove controls is a marvel of design, like something on the end of a Hollywood android’s arm. Each finger joint is operated by a servo in the forearm pulling on cables; the joints are returned to the neutral position by springs. The hand is capable of multiple grip styles and responds fairly well to the control glove inputs, although there is some jitter in the sensors for some joints.

The second video below gives a much more detailed overview of the project and shows how [Will]’s design has evolved and where it’s going. Anthropomorphic hands are far from rare projects hereabouts, but we’d say this one has a lot going for it.

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Sonic Robots Don’t Play Instruments, They Are The Instruments

[Moritz Simon Geist]’s experiences as both a classically trained musician and a robotics engineer is clearly what makes his Techno Music Robots project so stunningly executed. The robotic electronic music he has created involves no traditional instruments of any kind. Instead, the robots themselves are the instruments, and every sound comes from some kind of physical element.

A motor might smack a bit of metal, a hard drive arm might tap out a rhythm, and odder sounds come from stranger devices. If it’s technological and can make a sound, [Moritz Simon Geist] has probably carefully explored whether it can be turned into one of his Sonic Robots. The video embedded below is an excellent example of his results, which is electronic music without a synthesizer in sight.

We’ve seen robot bands before, and they’re always the product of some amazing work. The Toa Mata Lego Band are small Lego units and Compressorhead play full-sized instruments on stage, but robots that are the instruments is a different direction that still keeps the same physical element to the music.

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Hybrid Robot Walks, Transforms, And Takes Flight

[Project Malaikat] is a 3D printed hybrid bipedal walker and quadcopter robot, but there’s much more to it than just sticking some props and a flight controller to a biped and calling it a day. Not only is it a custom design capable of a careful but deliberate two-legged gait, but the props are tucked away and deployed on command via some impressive-looking linkages that allow it to transform from walking mode to flying mode.

Creator [tang woonthai] has the 3D models available for download (.rar file) and the video descriptions on YouTube contain a bill of materials, but beyond that there doesn’t seem to be much other information available about [Malaikat]. The creator does urge care to be taken should anyone use the design, because while the robot may be small, it does essentially have spinning blades for hands.

Embedded below are videos that show off the robot’s moves, as well as a short flight test demonstrating that while control was somewhat lacking during the test, the robot is definitely more than capable of actual flight.

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Atlas is Back with Some New Moves

Atlas is back, and this time he’s got some sweet parkour moves to show off. Every few months, Boston Dynamics gives us a tantalizing glimpse into their robotics development labs. They must be doing something right, as these videos never fail both to amaze and scare us. This time Atlas, Boston Dynamics humanoid bipedal robot, is doing a bit of light parkour — jumping over a log and from box to box. The Atlas we’re seeing here is the evolution of the same robot we saw at the DARPA Robotics Challenge back in 2013.

The video caption mentions that Atlas is using machine vision to analyze the position of markers on the obstacles. It can then plot the most efficient path over the obstructions. The onboard control system then takes over and uses Atlas’ limbs and torso for balance and momentum as the robot jumps up and over everything in its path.

It’s interesting to see how smoothly Atlas jumps the offset staircase, leaping left to right from step to step. The jumping is extremely smooth and fluid — it seems almost human.  You can even see Atlas’ let foot just barely clear the box on the second jump. We have to wonder how many times Atlas fell while the software was being perfected.

One thing is for sure, logs and boxes may slow down zombies, but they won’t help anymore when the robot uprising starts.

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Retrotechtacular: Robots and Bowling Pins

On a recent bowling excursion it occurred to us that this is one of the most advanced robotics systems most Americans will directly interact with. That’s a bold claim today, but certainly one that was correct decades ago. Let’s take a stroll back to 1963 for a look at the state of the art in bowling at the time, the AMF automatic pinspotter.

With their basis in industrial automation, bowling was a perfect problem for the American Machine and Foundry company (AMF) to take on. Their business began at the turn of the 20th century with automated cigarette manufacturing before turning their sights on bowling pins after the second world war. The challenge involves more than you might think as pinspotters are confined to a narrow area and need to work with oddly-shaped pins, the bowling ball itself, and deal with setting up fresh frames but also clearing out the field after the first roll.

Separating the ball from the pins is handled by gravity and an oscillating plunger that pushes errant pins back onto a conveyor. That conveyor stretches the width of the lane and moves pins back to a pin elevator — a wheel moving perpendicular to the ground with orients and raises them to a swiveling conveyor belt that can drop them into the setting jig waiting for the next full frame setup.

Everything in this promo video has jargon which is just delightful. We especially enjoyed the non-mechanical mention of how the machine “clears dead wood from the pin deck”. We could watch this kind of automation all day, and in fact found some other gems while searching about. Here’s a more recent look a the AMF 82-70 (the same model as in the promo video). We also wondered about manual pinspotting and found this manual-with-mechanical-assist setup to be interesting despite the audio.

Much to our surprise we’ve featured AMF in a Retrotectacular article before. Once their bowling automation started to take off, they set their sights on restaurant automation. Looks like Brian Benchoff’s visit to the robo-hamburger joint was actually a retro experience!

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