Building a Semiautomatic Swag Launcher

Regular readers of Hackaday have certainly seen the work of [Jeremy Cook] at this point. Whether you remember him from his time as a writer for this fine online publication, or recognize the name from one of his impressive builds over the last few years, he’s a bona fide celebrity around these parts. In fact, he’s so mobbed with fans at events that he’s been forced to employ a robotic companion to handle distributing his personalized buttons for his own safety.

Alright, that might be something of a stretch. But [Jeremy] figured it couldn’t hurt to have an interesting piece of hardware handing out his swag at the recent Palm Bay Mini Maker Faire. Anyone can just put some stickers and buttons in a bowl on a table, but that’s hardly the hacker way. In the video after the break, he walks viewers through the design and construction of this fun gadget, which takes a couple unexpected turns and has contains more than a few useful tips which are worth the cost of admission alone.

Outwardly the 3D printed design is simple enough, and reminds us of those track kits for Matchbox cars. As you might expect, getting the buttons to slide down a printed track was easy enough. Especially when [Jeremy] filed the inside smooth to really get them moving. But the goal was to have a single button get dispensed each time the device was triggered, but that ended up being easier said than done.

The first attempt used magnets actuated by two servos, one to drop the button and the other to hold up the ones queued above it. This worked fine…at first. But [Jeremy] eventually found that as he stacked more buttons up in the track, the magnets weren’t strong enough to hold them back and they started “leaking”. This is an excellent example of how a system can work perfectly during initial testing, but break down once it hits the real world.

In this case, the solution ended up being relatively simple. [Jeremy] kept the two servos controlled by an Arduino and a capacitive sensor, but replaced the magnets with physical levers. The principle is the same, but now the system is strong enough to hold back the combined weight of the buttons in the chute. It did require him to cut into the track after it had already been assembled, but we can’t blame him for not wanting to start over.

Just like the arcade inspired candy dispenser, coming up with a unique way of handing out objects to passerby is an excellent way to turn the ordinary into a memorable event. Maybe for the next iteration he can make it so getting a button requires you to pass a hacker trivia test. Really make them work for it.

Continue reading “Building a Semiautomatic Swag Launcher”

Automate the Freight: Amazon Tackles the Last Mile Problem On Wheels

We’ve been occasionally exploring examples of what could be the killer application for self-driving vehicles: autonomous freight deliveries, both long-haul and local, as well as some special use cases. Some, like UAV delivery of blood and medical supplies in Kenya, have taken off and are becoming both profitable and potentially life-saving. Others, like driverless long-haul trucking, made an initial splash but appear to have gone quiet since then. This is to be expected, as the marketplace picks winners and losers in a neverending quest to maximize return on investment. But the whole field seems to have gotten a bit sleepy lately, with no big news of note for quite a while.

That changed last week with Amazon’s announcement of Scout, their autonomous delivery vehicle. Announced first on Amazon’s blog and later picked up by the popular and tech press who repeated the Amazon material almost verbatim, Scout appears at first glance to be a serious attempt by Amazon to own the “last mile” of delivery – the local routes that are currently plied by the likes of UPS, FedEx, and various postal services. Or is it?

Continue reading “Automate the Freight: Amazon Tackles the Last Mile Problem On Wheels”

Little FPV Bot Keeps It Simple With An ESP32

When it comes to robots, it seems the trend is to make them as complicated as possible – look at anything from Boston Dynamics if you’ve any doubt of that. But there’s plenty to be said for simple robots too, such as this adorable ESP32-driven live-streaming bot.

Now it’s true that [Max.K]’s creation is more remote controlled car than robot, and comparing it to one of the nightmare-fuelling creations of Boston Dynamics is perhaps unfair. But [Max.K]’s new project is itself a simplification and reimagining of his earlier, larger “ZeroBot“. As the name implies, ZeroBot was controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero, an obvious choice for a mobile platform designed to stream FPV video. The ESP32 bot eschews the Pi platform in favor of, well, an ESP32. To save as much space as possible, [Max.K] did a custom PCB for the microcontroller and its supporting components. The 3D-printed case is nicely designed to hold the board along with two motors, a small VGA camera, and a battery pack. At 160×120 resolution, the video isn’t amazing, but the fact that it can be streamed from the ESP32 at a decent enough framerate to drive the bot using a simple web interface is impressive.

This was a fun project and a very clean, smooth build. We like the lines of this little bot, and wouldn’t mind building one as a quick weekend project ourselves.

Continue reading “Little FPV Bot Keeps It Simple With An ESP32”

State Of The Art Big Mouth Alexa Bass

Hackers seem intent on making sure the world doesn’t forget that, for a brief shining moment, everyone thought Big Mouth Billy Bass was a pretty neat idea. Every so often we see a project that takes this classic piece of home decor and manages to shoehorn in some new features or capabilities, and with the rise of voice controlled home automation products from the likes of Amazon and Google, they’ve found a new ingredient du jour when preparing stuffed bass.

[Ben Eagan] has recently completed his entry into the Pantheon of animatronic fish projects, and while we’ll stop short of saying the world needed another Alexa-enabled fish on the wall, we’ve got to admit that he’s done a slick job of it. Rather than trying to convince Billy’s original electronics to play nice with others, he decided to just rip it all out and start from scratch. The end result is arguably one of the most capable Billy Bass updates we’ve come across, if you’re willing to consider flapping around on the wall an actual capability in the first place.

The build process is well detailed in the write-up, and [Ben] provides many pictures so the reader can easily follow along with the modification. The short version of the story is that he cuts out the original control board and wires the three motors up to an Arduino Motor Driver Shield, and when combined with the appropriate code, this gives him full control over Billy’s mouth and body movements. This saved him the trouble of figuring out how to interface with the original electronics, which is probably for the better since they looked rather crusty anyway.

From there, he just needed to give the fish something to get excited about. [Ben] decided to connect the 3.5 mm audio jack of an second generation Echo Dot to one of the analog pins of the Arduino, and wrote some code that can tell him if Amazon’s illuminated hockey puck is currently yammering on about something or not. He even added a LM386 audio amplifier module in there to help drive Billy’s original speaker, since that will now be the audio output of the Dot.

A decade ago we saw Billy reading out Tweets, and last year we presented a different take on adding an Alexa “brain” to everyone’s favorite battery powered fish. What will Billy be up to in 2029? We’re almost too scared to think about it. Continue reading “State Of The Art Big Mouth Alexa Bass”

High-Style Ball Balancing Platform

If IKEA made ball-balancing PID robots, they’d probably look like this one.

This [Johan Link] build isn’t just about style. A look under the hood reveals not the standard, off-the-shelf microcontroller development board you might expect. Instead, [Johan] designed and built his own board with an ATmega32 to run the three servos that control the platform. The entire apparatus is made from a dozen or so 3D-printed parts that interlock to form the base, the platform, and the housing for the USB webcam that’s perched on an aluminum tube. From that vantage point, the camera’s images are analyzed with OpenCV and the center of the ball is located. A PID loop controls the three servos to center the ball on the platform, or razzle-dazzle it a little by moving the ball in a controlled circle. It’s quite a build, and the video below shows it in action.

We’ve seen a few balancing platforms before, but few with such style. This Stewart platform comes close, and this juggling platform gets extra points for closing the control loop with audio feedback. And for juggling, of course.

Continue reading “High-Style Ball Balancing Platform”

A 3D Printed Robotic Chariot for Your Phone

As we’ve said many times in the past, the wide availability of low-cost modular components has really lowered the barrier to entry for many complex projects which previously would have been nigh-on impossible for the hobbyist to tackle. The field of robotics has especially exploded over the last few years, as now even $100 can put together a robust robotics experimentation platform which a decade ago might have been the subject of a DARPA grant.

But what if you want to go even lower? What’s the cheapest and easiest way to put together something like a telepresence robot? That’s exactly what [Advance Robotics] set out to determine with their latest project, and the gadget’s final form might be somewhat surprising. Leveraging the fact that nearly everyone has a device capable of video calls in their pocket, the kit uses simple hardware and 3D printed components to produce a vehicle that can carry around a smartphone. With the phone providing the audio and video link, the robot only needs to handle rolling around in accordance with the operators commands.

The robot chassis consists of a few simple 3D printed components, including the base which holds the phone and electronics, the wheels, and the two rear “spoons” which are used to provide a low-friction way of keeping the two-wheeled device vertical. To get it rolling, two standard DC gear motors are bolted to the sides. With the low cost of printer filament and the fact that these motors can be had for as little as $2 online, it’s hard to imagine a cheaper way to get your electronics moving.

As for the electronics, [Advance Robotics] is using the Wemos D1 Mini ESP8266 development board along with L298N motor controller, another very low-cost solution. The provided source code pulls together a few open source libraries and examples to provide a simple web-based user interface which allows the operator to connect to the bot from their browser and move it around with just a few clicks of the mouse.

If you like the idea of printing a rover to explore your living room but want something a bit more advanced, we’ve seen printable robotics platforms that are sure to meet your needs, no matter what your skill level is.

Continue reading “A 3D Printed Robotic Chariot for Your Phone”

This 3D Printer Is Soft On Robots

It always seems to us that the best robots mimic things that are alive. For an example look no further than the 3D printed mesh structures from researchers at North Carolina State University. External magnetic fields make the mesh-like “robot” flex and move while floating in water. The mechanism can grab small objects and carry something as delicate as a water droplet.

The key is a viscous toothpaste-like ink made from silicone microbeads, iron carbonyl particles, and liquid silicone. The resulting paste is amenable to 3D printing before being cured in an oven. Of course, the iron is the element that makes the thing sensitive to magnetic fields. You can see several videos of it in action, below.

Continue reading “This 3D Printer Is Soft On Robots”