The Open Source Mars Rover, One Year Later

As the name implies, here at Hackaday we strive to bring you interesting projects every single day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a project only gets one day to grace these storied pages. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re always happy to revisit a project and find out how far it’s evolved since we last crossed paths with it, especially when the creators themselves reach out to give us an update.

Which is exactly what happened when [Jakob Krantz] recently wrote in to get us up to speed on this incredible open source rover project. We first saw this 3D printed Curiosity inspired robot a little less than a year ago, and at that point it was essentially just a big box with the distinctive NASA rocker-bogie suspension bolted on. Now it not only looks a lot closer to the Martian rovers that inspired it, but it’s also learned a number of new tricks that really take this project to the next level.

The articulated head and grabber arm don’t just help sell the Curiosity look, they’re actually functional. [Jakob] notes that he doesn’t have kinematics integrated yet, so moving the arm around is more for show than practical application, but in the future it should be able to reach out and grab objects. With the new cameras in the head, he’ll even be able to get a first person view of what he’s picking up.

Last year [Jakob] was using a standard RC transmitter to drive the rover around, but he’s since put together a custom controller that’s truly a thing of beauty. It uses an ESP32 and LoRa module to communicate with matching hardware inside the rover, as well as a smartphone clipped onto the top that’s displaying telemetry and video over WiFi. The controller is actually its own separate project, so even if you aren’t in the market for a scaled down Mars rover, its controller could come in handy for your next robotics project.

Presumably the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) on the back of the rover is just pretend….but with this guy, we’re not so sure. Give him another year, and who knows.

Automating The Disinfection Of Large Spaces With Robots

What do you do when you have to disinfect an entire warehouse? You could send a group of people through the place with UV-C lamps, but that would take a long time as said humans cannot be in the same area as the UV-C radiation, as much as they may like the smell of BBQ chicken. Constantly repositioning the lamps or installing countless lamps would get in the way during normal operation. The answer is to strap UV-C lights to a robot according to MIT’s CSAIL, and have it ride around the space.

As can be seen in the video (also embedded after the break), a CSAIL group has been working with telepresence robotics company Ava Robotics and the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB). Their goal was to create a robotic system that could autonomously disinfect a GBFB warehouse using UV-C without exposing any humans to the harmful radiation. While the robotics can be controlled remotely, they can also map the space and navigate between waypoints.

While testing the system, the team used a UV-C dosimeter to confirm the effectiveness of this setup. With the robot driving along at a leisurely 0.22 miles per hour (~0.35 kilometer per hour), it was able to cover approximately 4,000 square feet (~372 square meter) in about half an hour. They estimated that about 90% of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 could be neutralized this way.

During trial runs, they discovered the need to have the robot adapt to the constantly changing layout of the warehouse, including which aisles require which UV-C depending on how full they are. Having multiple of these robots in the same space coordinate with each other would also be a useful feature addition.

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Make Your Own Pet Fire Breathing Dragon

[Jorvon Moss] a.k.a. [Odd_Jayy] is known as a maker of “companion robots” which he carriers perched on top of his shoulders. (I don’t know about you, but we’re getting some pretty strong Ash and Pikachu vibes.)

In one of his recent builds, he decided to give his companion bot a bit of sizzle. His Widget Dragon Companion Bot is an impressive 3D printed build, divided into a surprisingly few parts. The robot is controlled using an Adafruit Crickit, marketed specifically for robotics projects, and is easily programmed using the increasingly popular Microsoft MakeCode.

With a few servos, [Odd Jay] was able to animate his bot giving it more of an “alive” feel. Finally, he added a vape pen to give the dragon some pyrotechnic effects.

This is just the kind of energy we love to see here at Hackaday. While you’re around, take a look at some of [Odd_Jayy’s] other robot projects and head over to his Instagram page to see more real-time project updates.

Tracked Robot Makes Sand Drawings

[Ivan] seems to enjoy making 3D printed vehicles with tracks. His latest one uses 50 servo motors to draw patterns in the sand at the beach. You can see it work in the video below. Well, more accurately you can see it not work and then work as the first iteration didn’t go exactly as planned.

An Arduino Mega 2560 provides the brains and the whole unit weighs in at almost 31 pounds, including the batteries. We didn’t see Ivan’s design files, although it wouldn’t be hard to do your own take on the robot.

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Switch Tester Servo-Slaps Them ’til They Fail

[James] is designing an open-source 3D printed keyboard switch, with the end goal of building a keyboard with as many printed parts as possible. Since keyswitches are meant to be pressed quite often, the DIY switches ought to be tested just as rigorously as their commercial counterparts are at the factory. Maybe even more so.

The broken spring after 13,000+ automated boings.

Rather than wear out his fingers with millions of actuations, [James] built a robot to test switches until they fail. All he has to do is plug a switch in, and the servo-driven finger slowly presses the slider down until the contacts close, which lights the LED.

The system waits 100ms for the contacts to stop any tiny vibrations before releasing the slider. That Arduino on the side tracks the contact and release points and sends them to the PC to be graphed. If the switch fails to actuate or release, the tester stops altogether.

We love that this auto-tester works just fine for commercial switches, too — the bit that holds the switch is separate and attaches with screws, so you could have one for every footprint variant. [James] recently did his first test of a printed switch and it survived an astonishing 13,907 presses before the printed coil spring snapped.

One could argue that this doubles as a servo tester. If you want a dedicated device for that, this one can test up to sixteen at a time.

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Boston Dynamics’ Spot Robot Gets A Price Tag: $75 Grand

One of Spot’s features is the ability to navigate real-world environments. This has not historically been a strong point for robots.

Not long ago, Boston Dynamics’ Spot finally went on sale, meaning the dog-like robot can now be purchased online. Previously it was available only to be leased by early adopters willing to pay to see what the robot had to offer. Pricing was tucked behind an NDA, and Spot could be only leased and not actually purchased — until now.

From a hobbyist’s perspective, Spot’s price is of course eye-watering; the cost of the accessories even more so. It would be perfectly understandable to ask what good is a robotic dog and what makes it worth such a cost?

From an industrial equipment point of view, the cost is perhaps less shocking. Maybe it’s a reminder that from an industrial and commercial perspective, the price of a thing matters mainly in relation to what kind of benefits it can bring, and what kind of price or savings can be hung on that.

Hackers being hackers and free from having to worry about such things, some choose to make their own four-legged robot pals with no winning lotto tickets, juicy grants, or enormous R&D budgets needed.

Obstacle Avoidance For Drones, Learned From Mosquitoes

Our understanding of the sensory capabilities of animals has a lot of blanks, and often new discoveries serve as inspiration for new technology. Researchers from the University of Leeds and the Royal Veterinary College have found that mosquitos can navigate in complete darkness by detecting the subtle changes in the air flow created when they fly close to obstacles. They then used this knowledge to build a simple but effective sensor for use on drones.

Extremely sensitive receptors at the base of the antennae on mosquitoes’ heads, called the Johnston’s organ, allow them to sense these tiny changes in airflow. Using fluid dynamics simulations based on high speed photography, the researchers found that the largest changes in airflow occur over the mosquito’s head, which means the receptors are in exactly the right place. From their data, scientists predict that mosquitos could possibly detect surfaces at a distance of more than 20 wing lengths. Considering how far 20 arm lengths is for us, that’s pretty impressive. If you can get past the paywall, you can read the full article from the Science journal.

Using their newfound knowledge, the researchers equipped a small drone with probe tubes connected to differential pressure sensors. Using these sensors the drone was able to effectively detect when it got close to the wall or floor, and avoid a collision. The sensors also require very little computational power because it’s only a basic threshold value. Check out the video after the break.

Although this sensing method might not replace ultrasonic or time-of-flight sensors for drones, it does show that there is still a lot we can learn from nature, and that simpler is usually better. We’ve already seen simple insect-inspired navigation for drone swarms, as well as an optical navigation device for humans that works without satellites and only requires a view of the sky. Thanks for the tip [Qes]! Continue reading “Obstacle Avoidance For Drones, Learned From Mosquitoes”