How is it possible that a robot can sketch both better and worse than I can at the same time, and yet turn out an incredible work of art? Has 3D-scanning really come so far that a simple camera and motorized jig can have insane resolution? These are the kinds of questions that were running through my mind, and being answered by the creators of these brilliant machines, at Maker Faire Rome.
There was a high concentration of robots creating art and 3D printing on display and the Faire, so I saved the best examples just for this article. But you’ll also find hacks from a few groups of clever students, and hardware that made me realize industrial controllers can be anything but boring. Let’s take a look!
Normal people throw away stuff when it breaks. But not people like us. Or, apparently, [NanoRobotGeek]. A cheap robotic dragonfly died, and he cannibalized it for robot parts. But he kept the gearbox hoping to build a new dragonfly and, using some brass rod, he did just that.
The dragonfly’s circuitry uses a solar panel for power and a couple of flashing LEDs. This is a BEAM robot, so not a microcontroller in sight. You can see a brief video of how the dragonfly moves.
The BrachiGraph project consists out of two parts, the hardware design for a servo-driven drawing arm (pen plotter) and software utilities (written in Python) that allow the drawing arm’s servos to be controlled in order to convert a bitmap image into a collection of lines that can be used to draw an image resembling the original, in a variety of styles. All of the software and designs needed to make your own version can be found on the Github page for the project.
Considering an estimated €14 worth of materials for the project, the produced results are nothing short of amazing, even if the principles behind the project go back to the Ancient Greek , of course. The basic hardware is that of a pantograph, which provides the basic clues for how the servos on the plotter arm are being driven.
The main achievement here is definitely that of minimalism, with three dirt-cheap SG-90 microservos along with some bits of wood, a clothes-peg or equivalent, and of course a pen providing a functional plotter that anyone can assemble on a slow Sunday afternoon from random bits lying around the workshop.
As many people have learned, DIY robot arms are pretty difficult. [Dan]’s arm has the additional complexity of being 3D printable with the ambitious goal of managing a 2kg payload at 840mm of reach. He’s already made significant progress. There’s a firmware, set of custom electronics, and a Fusion 360 project anyone can download and checkout. You can even control it with an Xbox controller.
The main board is an Arduino shield which outputs step and direction signals to stepper drivers. The gears are cycloidal and it appears there’s even some custom machining going on. When the parts are all laid out it becomes clear just how much effort has been put into this design.
It should be a pretty nice robot and might finally spur some of us to build the Iron Man style robot assistants we’ve always wanted. You can see the robot in action after the break.
Building a future where robots work alongside humans relies heavily on soft robotics. Typically this means there will be an air compressor or a hydraulic system nearby, taking up precious space. But it doesn’t have to.
Engineers at the UC-San Diego Jacobs School have created a soft robotics system that uses electricity to control flexible actuators, much like our brains move our muscles. It works like this: sheets of heat-sensitive liquid crystal elastomer are sandwiched between two layers of standard elastomer. These layers are rolled into cylinders that can twist and bend in different directions depending on which of its six element(s) get electricity. Light up all six, and the tube contracts, forming the foundation for a good gripper. The team also built a tiny walker, pictured above.
The project is still in its infancy, so the actuators are slow to bend and even slower to return to their original shape, but it’s still a great start. Imagine all the soft robotic projects that can get off the ground without being shackled by the bulk and weight of an air compressor or fluid handling system. Watch it do various sped-up things after the break, like claw-machine gripping a bottle of chocolate rocks.
The glove uses an Arduino’s analog to digital converter to read some flex sensors. Commercial flex sensors are pretty expensive, so he experimented with some homemade sensors. The ones with tin foil and graphite didn’t work well, but using some bent can metal worked better despite not having good resolution.
Each module has 3D printed gears (with an anti-backlash flex spline), an RGB LED for feedback, integrated homing, active cooling, a slip ring made from copper tape, and a touch sensor dial on the back for jogging and training input. The result is a low backlash, low cost actuator that keeps external wiring to an absolute minimum.
Originally inspired by a design named WE-R2.4, [John] has added his own twist in numerous ways, which are best summarized in the video embedded below. That video is number three in a series, and covers the most interesting developments and design changes while giving an excellent overview of the parts and operation (the video for part one is a basic overview and part two shows the prototyping process, during which [John] 3D printed the structural parts and gears and mills out a custom PCB.)