My Robot Army @ Maker Faire

For a few years now I’ve been developing an interactive army of delta robots. This ongoing project is fueled by my desire to control many mechanical extremities like an extension of my body (I’m assuming I’m not the only one who fantasizes about robots here).

IMG_1846Since my army doesn’t have a practical application… other than producing pretty light patterns and making the user feel extremely cool for a minute, I guess you’d call it art. In the past I’ve held a Kickstarter to fund the production of my art which I can now happily show at cool events with interesting people; Maker Faire being one of them.

Interactivity and Sprawling Crowds

Last year, for our debut at the big Bay Area Maker Faire, my collaborator, [Mark], and I displayed a smaller sampling of 30 robots for our installation. We also decided to create an interactive aspect for others to experience. After the end of our crowdfunding period last March, we had a little over a month to do any development before the big event, so our options were slim. The easy solution was to jam our delta code into the hand tracking demo which comes with the Xbox Kinect’s Open NI within Processing. This was cool enough to exhibit, but we hadn’t really anticipated how it would go over in an environment as densely packed as the dark room at Maker Faire.

We should have known better. Both of us were aware that there would be many, many children… all with micro hands to confuse and bewilder the Kinect, but we did it anyway. Our only resolve was to implement the feature that would force the Kinect to track one hand at a time, only after being waved at in a very particular fashion. After needing to explain this stipulation to every person who stopped by our booth over the course of the weekend, we decided never to use the Kinect for crowds ever again; lesson learned.

Delta Robots and DMX

Over the past year since that experience, we’ve tripled the size of the installation and brainstormed some better demo ideas. As of now, the robots are all individually addressable over an RS485 bus, and we use the DMX protocol over a CAT5 cable to send commands. If you aren’t familiar with it, DMX is used in show production to control stage lighting… to which there is a super neat and free application called QLC+ that allows you to effectively orchestrate the motion and color of many individual light units; perfect for our cause.

qlcDeltasFunctionally, each of the 84 delta robots in the installation believes that it is a stage light (robots with identity issues). We mapped the X and Y axis of the end effector to the existing pan and tilt values, and the z axis to the beam focus value. The RGB of the LED mounted in the end effector of each delta maps directly to the RGB value of the stage light.

By using the sliders in the QLC+ GUI, I could select groups of robots and create presets for position and color. This was great, someone like me who doesn’t really write a lot of code could whip up impressive choreography with little sweat. Additionally, the program comes with a nice visualizer, where you can layout virtual nodes and view your effects as you develop them.

This is the layout of our installation mapped in QLC+. The teal and purple sliders around each light represent pan and tilt (or in our case X and Y):

QLCdelta

Lighting control was an interesting solution. Having autonomous robots this year changed how people responded to them, as they were less like an army you’d command and more of a hypnotic field of glowing grass.

[Mark] and I are considering picking up some flex sensors and maybe playing with the Leap or an EEG headset as a means to reintroduce the interactive aspect. Bottom line, I have this cool new toy that I can’t wait to play with over the summer!

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ROBOCHOP! It Slices, Dices, But Wait! There’s More…

You’re gunna love my cuts. 

KUKA robots are cool. They’re both elegant and terrifying to watch in action as they move unyieldingly to preform tasks. Not many of us get to use industrial tools like this because they aren’t exactly trivial to wield (or cheap!). Artists [Clemens Weisshaar] and [Reed Kram] however created an installation that allows anyone to potentially control one of these orange beauties to do their bidding… all from the safety and comfort of a computer chair.

For their piece, “ROBOCHOP”, the artists developed a web app that allows you to easily manipulate the surface of a virtual cube. You can rotate for positioning and then use a straight or curved line tool to draw vectors through its surface and subtract material. Once you’re finished sculpting your desired masterpiece, one of the four KUKA robots in the installation will retrieve a 40 x 40 x 40 cm block of foam and shape it into a real-life version of whatever you created in the app.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 1.03.39 PMStarting today you can visit the project’s website and upload your own mutilated cube designs. If your design is selected by the artists, it will be among the 2000 pieces carved by the robots throughout their installation during CeBit in Hanover. After the show, your cube spawn will then be mailed to you free of charge! The only way I could see this being cooler, is if they filmed the process so you could watch your shape being born.

Anyhow, I personally couldn’t resist the invitation to sculpt Styrofoam remotely with an industrial grade robot arm and came up with this gem.

You can go to their page if you want to give the app a go, and really… why wouldn’t you?

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The Best Way to Sport Your Tomatoes

Who eats tomatoes while they run in the first place? No one… and Japanese ketchup company, Kagome would like to change that.

Dole has been sponsoring the Japan Marathon for years, supplying runners with ready to eat bananas to gnosh on-the-go for a quick boost of nutrients. Part of their advertising campaign this year is a Wearable-edible Banana that runners can eat hands free. Out of good humor and a desire to one-up the absurdity level, Kagome worked with known Japanese group, Maywa Denki to create the Tomatan, a smiling contraption that mounts on a runner’s shoulders and delivers tomatoes from a hopper directly into their face… as a reminder that though Japan could be eating wearable bananas, they could just as easily eat mechanically dispensed tomatoes instead.

Why is this awesome? When we’re talking about silliness and commercialism in Japan, the aforementioned Maywa Denki seems to always surface like a nonsense wielding genie. If you haven’t heard the name, this company is actually the identity of an artist group. They have a reputation for inventing mechanical gizmos that are humorously ridiculous, and then marketing them as serious products part of the Maywa Denki brand. The sixteen-pound piggy-back tomato feeder meant to help improve a runner’s stamina is just one example of their many “nonsense machines”.

When we bring the things we create to market, they are usually presented to the world as products of some sort. Maywa Denki bends this common concept of the product to create an identity around their works of art. Because why not solve an imaginary problem that doesn’t really need a solution?

Makes you wonder what kind of obnoxious contraption you’d build to wear in a crowd, huh?:

Dole Japan’s Wearable Banana propaganda:

Turning a Cadenza into a Finishing Move

What do you get when you mix dueling pianos with a 2D fighting game? Undoubtably some complex controls, but also an awesome platform for showmanship! The “Sound Fighter” installation by artists [Cyril] and [Eric] was built with the exact intention that two opposing parties could duke it out in a Street Fighter match with their piano playing abilities mapping into attack combos and dragon-punches.

In order to turn a piano into a glorified arcade stick, [Cyril] and [Eric] would need a way to register when and what notes were being played and then translate that data into commands for the fighting game itself. To start, they did their homework on the inner workings of different piano types. Whatever digital augmentation they were to design would have to work without inhibiting the piano’s function.

There were many possible methods of registering when the piano was being used and though several would have worked for their intended purpose, it took writing down and discussing the pros and cons of each sensor before they made a decision. Some of the options they considered included pressure sensors for the keys themselves, accelerometers to detect the movement of the individual hammers within the piano, and even a microphone to computationally analyze the sound heard from either instrument. In the end they chose to implement small and accurate piezo knock sensors tethered to the internal mechanism of each key. These could register both faint and strong notes when played without altering the natural sound of the instrument.

fighterPiano_2

After deciding on a Street Fighter iteration for the PS2 to develop the rest of the project around, they had to play the actual game a bit to get a feel for the command list of moves. They wanted to conceive of a way to map the notes played to the controller, but not in the direct “key to button” sort of way. The idea was that if someone was good at playing piano, they would also be good at executing moves in game. So they had to sort out how groups of notes and chords would translate into moving the character or attacking.

I highly suggest checking out their in depth play-by-play as they built the installation from the ground up. In addition to being fascinating (they prepared this project in a fight against time for the reopening of a historical site in Paris), you’ll find that everything they developed is opened source. The completed installation is as awesome as it sounds. You can see it in action in an actual duel below:

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Wouldn’t Tweeting in Morse Code be More Like “Pecking”?

If you find yourself glued to social media and also wish to know Morse code… we can think of no better invention to help hone your skills than the Twitter Telegraph. This vintage to pop culture mashup by [Devon Elliott] is a recent project that uses a sounder from the 19th century to communicate incoming tweets with dots and dashes.

Back in the day when everyone was connected by wire, the sounder was a device on the receiving end of the telegraph which translated the incoming signal to an audible clicking. Two tall coils sat with a metal tab teetering between them. When electricity surged into one of the coils it would magnetize, pulling the tab downward in a pattern which mimicked the incoming current sent from the other end. [Devon] decided to liberate the sounder from its string-and-two-can origins and use a more modern source of input. By adding a FONA board which comes equipped with a SIM card, the device was capable of connecting and receiving data from the Internet. An Arduino is responsible for taking the data received and translating it into Morse code using the Mark Fickett’s Arduinomorse library, and then sending it out through an I/O pin to the sounder itself to be tapped.

The finished project is connected to a cellular network which it uses to receive SMS messages and tweets. By mentioning the handle @ldntelegraphco you can send the Twitter Telegraph your own message which will be tapped in code for everyone in the vicinity to hear… which is worth giving a try for those of you curious types. Lastly, if you have an interest in taking a look at the code for your own use, it is available on [Devon’s] github.

Rocking a New Sound for Guitar

We’ve seen inventive sound hacking from [Jeremy Bell] before on Hackaday. You may remember reading a few months ago about how he invented a new way to produce that familiar effect DJs create when scratching records. By clipping samples from cassette tapes and stretching them across a set of short rails, he was able to refashion the audio pickup to glide over the tape at his fingertips. With a clothes pin wrapped in strips of foil teetering over a contact, he had a responsive tactile switch to aid in producing the cutting needed to carve out a beat.

Since then, [Jeremy] has been evolving this same switch concept and testing out new applications for it. The most recent of which he appropriately referrers to as the “Rocker”. With an electric guitar as a starting point, [Jeremy] uses a similar switching technique to bounce back and forth between two audio signals. The first of which being the sound produced in real-time by hammering on the frets of the guitar, and the second channel having a slight delay. By leveraging the glitchy effect created when switching between the two channels he is able to produce a sound all its own.

The prototype seen in his video is table-bound like the early versions of his Scrubboard, yet he’s able to play one-handed with the guitar and demo his device like a cake walk. It’d be fantastic to see this quirkiness and ingenuity taken to the level of his previous hack, leading to a stand-alone add-on for the guitar. Either way, this is yet another great example of sound play:

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Interactive Projections Take Miniature Golfers to a Tiny World

Miniature golf is one of those pastimes that can be molded and redefined pretty much indefinitely. Like pinball machines which also come in an endless variety of flavors, each hole of a miniature golf course is a vignette with a theme designed to tie cleverly into its objective. Mini golf has come a long way from windmills and draw-bridges, and with technology thrown in the mix you end up with works of art like [Dan Rosenfeld’s] project, “Sleepwalkers” which go so far as to paint a holographic world for the player to interact with.

“Sleepwalkers” was commissioned by Urban Putt, a chain that accommodates for dense city spaces by building their courses indoors. Designed specially for its location, the hologram acts as a narrative told by tiny characters living within the walls of the historic building the golf course occupies. At a certain point during the game, a player is prompted to purposely place their ball into an opening in one of the old walls where it quickly rolls somewhere out of sight. When the player peeks through a series of holes dotted throughout the surface in order to find where it went, they discover another world sandwiched between wood beams and insulation. This becomes the setting of a short exchange with a character who the player must interact with in order to get their ball out of hock. The spectral glow and dimensionality of the wall’s inhabitants is created using a projection along with the Pepper’s Ghost illusion, a classic trick with angles and mirrors. Once the player’s hand enters into the Sleepwalker’s world through larger holes in the wall, a camera used for depth cues maps the projection to its presence. The tiny figure then uses the hand in a series of dioramas as a tool to climb on in order to reach the area where the player’s ball is trapped. After a joint effort, a linear actuator and sensor help to complete the illusion that the projected character is pushing the golf ball free into the real world where the player can then retrieve it and continue on to the next hole.

The traditional antics created by swinging pendulums and spinning windmills will always charm us, but the use of technology to take us into a new world will leave us with something more. You can see it on the faces of those interacting with [Rosenfeld’s] installation for the first time:

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