It should come as no surprise that we here at Hackaday are big boosters of autonomous systems like self-driving vehicles. That’s not to say we’re without a healthy degree of skepticism, and indeed, the whole point of the “Automate the Freight” series is that economic forces will create powerful incentives for companies to build out automated delivery systems before they can afford to capitalize on demand for self-driving passenger vehicles. There’s a path to the glorious day when you can (safely) nap on the way to work, but that path will be paved by shipping and logistics companies with far deeper pockets than the average commuter.
So it was with some interest that we saw a flurry of announcements in the popular press recently regarding automated deliveries. Each by itself wouldn’t be worthy of much attention; companies are always maneuvering to be seen as ahead of the curve on coming trends, and often show off glitzy, over-produced videos and well-crafted press releases as a low-effort way to position themselves as well as to test markets. But seeing three announcements at one time was unusual, and may point to a general feeling by manufacturers that automated deliveries are just around the corner. Plus, each story highlighted advancements in areas specifically covered by “Automate the Freight” articles, so it seemed like a perfect time to review them and perhaps toot our own horn a bit.
Continue reading “Automate The Freight: Autonomous Delivery Hits The Mainstream”
Towering behemoths are prowling the docks of Auckland, New Zealand, in a neverending shuffle of shipping containers, stacking and unstacking them like so many out-sized LEGO bricks. And they’re doing it all without human guidance.
It’s hard to overstate the impact containerized cargo has had on the modern world. The ability to load and unload ships laden with containers of standardized sizes rapidly with cranes, and then being able to plunk those boxes down onto a truck chassis or railcar carrier for land transportation has been a boon to the world’s economy, and it’s one of the main reasons we can order electronic doo-dads from China and have them show up at our doors essentially for free. At least eventually.
As with anything, solving one problem often creates other problems, and containerization is no different. The advantages of being able to load and unload one container rather than separately handling the dozen or more pallets that can fit inside it are obvious. But what then does one do with a dozen enormous containers? Or hundreds of them?
That’s where these giant self-driving cranes come in, and as we’ll see in this installment of “Automate the Freight”, these autonomous stevedores are helping ports milk as much value as possible out of containerization.
Continue reading “Automate The Freight: Shipping Containers Sorted By Robot Stevedores”
[Miguel] wanted to get more hands-on experience with Python, so he created a small robotic platform as a testbed. But as such things sometimes go, it turns out the robot he created is a worthy enough project in its own right. With a low total cost and highly flexible design, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. Who knows, it might even bootstrap that rover project that’s been wandering around the back of your mind.
The robot makes use of an exceptionally simple 3D printed frame. No complicated suspension to worry about, no fasteners to hold together multiple printed parts. It’s just a single printed “L” shaped piece that has mounts for the motors and front sensor board. As designed it simply drags its tail around, which should work fine on smooth surfaces, but might need a bit of tweaking if you plan on taking your new robotic friend on an outdoor adventure.
There’s a big open area on the “tail” to mount a Raspberry Pi, but you could really put whatever board or microcontroller you wish here. In the nose is an HC-SR04 ultrasonic sensor, which [Miguel] is using to perform obstacle avoidance in his Python code. A dual H-Bridge motor driver controls the pair of gear motors in the front to provide propulsion and steering, and a buck converter steps down the 7.4V from the 2S LiPo battery to power the electronics. He’s even included a mini breadboard so you can add circuits or sensors as experimental payloads.
If you’re looking for a slightly more advanced 3D printed robotics platform, we’ve seen our fair share. From the nearly fully printed Watney to a tank that looks like it’s ready for front-line combat.
Sailboats have been traversing the Atlantic Ocean since before 1592, sailing through sunshine, wind, and rain. The one thing that they’ve all had in common has been a captain to pilot the ship across this vast watery expanse, at least until now. A company called Offshore Sensing has sailed an unmanned vessel all the way from Canada to Ireland.
The ship, called the Sailbuoy, attempted the journey last year as well but only made it about halfway before the mission was abandoned. This year, however, the voyage was finally completed, and this craft is officially the first unmanned ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The journey took about 80 days using sails and a small set of solar panels to drive the control electronics.
Using this technology, the company can investigate wave activity in specific areas of the ocean without having to send out a manned vessel to install a permanent buoy. The sailbuoy simply uses its autonomy to stay in a particular patch of ocean. There have been other missions that the sailbuoy has been tasked with as well, such as investigating the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. With a reliable craft like this, it becomes much easier, safer, and less expensive to explore the ocean’s surface.
Thanks to [Andy] for the tip!
Space balloons, where one sends instrument packages to the edge of space on a weather balloon, are a low-cost way to scratch the space itch. But once you’ve logged the pressure and temperature and tracked your balloon, what’s the next challenge? How about releasing an autonomous glider and having it return itself to Earth safely?
That’s what [IzzyBrand] and his cohorts did, and we have to say we’re mightily impressed. The glider itself looks like nothing to write home about: in true Flite Test fashion, it’s just a flying wing made with foam core and Coroplast reinforced with duct tape. A pair of servo-controlled elevons lies on the trailing edge of the wings, while inside the fuselage are a Raspberry Pi and a Pixhawk flight controller along with a GPS receiver. Cameras point fore and aft, a pair of 5200 mAh batteries provide the juice, and handwarmers stuffed into the avionics bay prevent freezing.
After a long series of test releases from a quadcopter, flight day finally came. Winds aloft prevented a full 30-kilometer release, so the glider was set free at 10 kilometers. The glider then proceeded to a pre-programmed landing zone over 80 kilometers from the release point. At one point the winds were literally pushing the glider backward, but the little plane prevailed and eventually spiraled down to a perfect landing.
We’ve been covering space balloons for a while, but take a moment to consider the accomplishment presented here. On a shoestring budget, a team of amateurs hit a target the size of two soccer fields with an autonomous aircraft from a range of almost 200 kilometers. That’s why we’re impressed, and we can’t wait to see what they can do after a release from the edge of space.
Continue reading “Autonomous Spaceplane Travels To 10 Km, Lands Safely 200 Km Away”
We are delighted to see The Weedinator as an entry for the 2018 Hackaday Prize! Innovations in agriculture are great opportunities to build something to improve our world. [TegwynTwmffat]’s Weedinator is an autonomous, electric platform aimed at small farms to take care of cultivating, tilling, and weeding seedbeds. The cost of this kind of labor can push smaller farms out of sustainability if it has to be done by people.
Greater efficiency in agriculture is traditionally all about multiplying the work a single person can do, and usually takes the form or bigger and heavier equipment that can do more at once and in less time. But with an autonomous robotic platform, the robot doesn’t get tired or bored so it doesn’t matter if the smaller platform needs to make multiple passes to cover a field or accomplish a task. In fact, smaller often means more maneuverable, more manageable, and more energy-efficient when it comes to a small farm.
The Original Weedinator was a contender for the 2017 Hackaday Prize and we’re deeply excited to see it return with an updated design and new people joining their team for 2018. Remember, there’s money set aside to help bootstrap promising concepts and all you really need to get started is an idea, an image, and documentation. There’s no better opportunity to dust off that idea and see if it has legs.
The future of humans is on Mars. Between SpaceX, Boeing, NASA, and every other national space program, we’re going to Mars. With this comes a problem: flying to Mars is relatively easy, but landing a large payload on the surface of another planet is orders of magnitude more difficult. Mars, in particular, is tricky: it has just enough atmosphere that you need to design around it, but not enough where we can use only parachutes to bring several tons down to the surface. On top of this, we’ll need to land our habitats and Tesla Roadsters inside a very small landing ellipse. Landing on Mars is hard and the brightest minds are working on it.
At this year’s Hackaday Superconference, we learned how hard landing on Mars is from Ara Kourchians (you may know him as [Arko]) and Steve Collins, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in beautiful Pasadena. For the last few years, they’ve been working on COBALT, a technology demonstrator on how to use machine vision, fancy IMUs, and a host of sensors to land autonomously on alien worlds. You can check out the video of their Supercon talk below.
Continue reading “Extraterrestrial Autonomous Lander Systems To Touch Down On Mars”