LEGO Monowheel Corners Like It’s On Rails

[Jason]’s at it again. This time the LEGO maestro is working on a LEGO BB-8 droid. As a first step he’s made a motorized monowheel that not only races along hallways and through living rooms at the peril of any passing people, but turns as well.

To drive it forward there’s an axle that runs across the center of the wheel and a motor that rotates that axle. He’s also included some weight bricks. Without the mass of those bricks for the rotation to work against, the motor and axle would just spin in place while the friction of the floor keeps the wheel from rotating. If you’ve seen the DIYer’s guide to making BB-8 drive systems, you’ll know that this is classified as an axle drive system.

LEGO monowheel interior shown while leaning to turn
LEGO monowheel interior shown while leaning to turn

For steering the monowheel left or right he has another mass located just above the axle. Shifting the mass to the left causes the monowheel to lean and move in that direction. Shifting the mass to the right makes the wheel move to the right in the same fashion. Being ever efficient, [Jason] has the motor that shifts the mass doubling as the mass itself.

As with any proof-of-concept, there are still some issues to work out. When turning the wheel left or right it can tip onto its side. Ridges on both sides of the wheel’s circumference reduce the chances of that happening but don’t eliminate it altogether. Also, the steering mass/motor doesn’t yet have a self-centering mechanism; after a turn it’s up to the person holding the remote control to find center. If the mass isn’t correctly centered after a turn, there tends to be some wobble.

As always, we’re looking forward to seeing how [Jason] solves those issues but first he’ll have to put it back together since, as you can see from the video below, it didn’t quite pass the stair test.

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Driving BB-8: More Than One Way To Move This Bot

BB-8 is the much loved new droid introduced in the 2016 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though in my case from the very first trailer released in 2014 I liked it for the interesting engineering problems it posed. How would you make a robot that’s a ball that rolls along, but with a head that stays on top while the ball rolls under it?

To make the ball roll, the answer most people found obvious at first was to use the analogy of a hamster wheel. The hamster running inside makes the wheel turn. In the BB-8 building world, which is quite large, the drive mechanism has come to be called a hamster drive, or just a hamster.

Magnets holding the head on
Magnets holding the head on

For the head, it seemed obvious that there would be magnets inside the ball, perhaps held in place near the top of the ball by a post extending up from the hamster. Corresponding magnets in attraction would then be attached to the underside of the head, and balls (also mounted under the head) would keep the head moving smoothly over the ball.

The magnet approach for the head has turned out to be the method used by all BB-8 builders that I’ve seen. However, the hamster has turned out to be only one of multiple solutions. Since the original debut many different methods have been used in builds and we’re going to have a lot of fun looking at each separate approach. It’s almost like revealing a magic trick; but really it’s all just clever engineering.

Note that for the actual movie, a combination of 7 or 8 props and CGI were used. The official working BB-8s that are shown at various promotional events were built after the movie was made and as of this writing, few details of their construction have been released. One notable detail, however, is that they aren’t using hamster drives.

Below are details of all the different BB-8 drive systems I’ve seen so far that have been built along with how they work.

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Perfecting The DIY BB-8

Until about a year ago, the Droid Builder’s Club had just about everything figured out to build any sort of robot from Star Wars. Building an R2D2 clone was easy, and even R5 and R6 droids were common. There were even a few attempts to clone IG-88. Then Disney happened, The Force Awakens was released, and the world was introduced to the hero of the third trilogy, BB-8. Several people have gone to incredible lengths to replicate BB-8 as a unique homebrew robot, but no one has put in more effort than [James Bruton]. He’s wrapping up his third DIY version of BB-8.

[James]’ third version of the BB-8 droid has two older brothers we’ve seen before. [James] started the construction of his earliest BB-8 not long after the trailer for The Force Awakens, and long before we knew the makers of Sphero robot toys weren’t behind this hero puppet. Since then, a number of improvements have been made to the drive system, allowing the third version of [James]’ BB-8 to turn on a dime and roll just like its on-screen counterpart.

Right now, [James] is about 80% done with his newest droid, with just a bit extra circuitry to have all the functionality seen on the ‘real’ stage droid. Like most of the R2D2 builds out there, there might be enough room inside this droid for some additional capabilities. There appears to be enough space behind one of the body panels for an extending arm, making the possibility of a flamethrower thumbs up very real.

[James] is also one of the judges for this year’s Hackaday Prize, and will (hopefully) be at this year’s Hackaday Prize award ceremony and Hackaday SuperConference in San Francisco. If a set of highly likely probabilities pans out, [James]’ BB-8 will also be at the con, and we’ll see it careening down that one weird block of Lombard Street. Awesome.

Entire playlist for the build of BB-8 v.3 below. Pictures are available here.

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The Ultimate 1:1 BB-8 Build Guide

BB-8 is not only a cute little droid but also presents dandy of a challenge for hackers ’round the globe to try and recreate in the garage. Nonfunctional models are a dime a dozen and the novelty has long worn off the Sphero toy. This brings us to a legit full-scale BB-8, seen in action in the video after the break.

Lucky for us, [Ed Zarick] has written up a blog post that’s as impressive as the build itself. [Ed] has drawn some inspiration and shared knowledge from several online groups focused around recreating the BB-8. He also provides some thorough Solidworks assemblies that look painfully detailed.

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Hacklet 89 – Star Wars Projects

Star Wars is an inspirational force to be reckoned with. Few movie franchises have quite so many fans creating everything from elaborate cosplay outfits to fully functional robots. At the 2015 Hackaday SuperCon, former R2D2 driver Grant Imahara mentioned that LucasArts used to maintain a fleet of robots to be deployed at events. Once the execs realized hacker, maker, and hobbyist robots are now more advanced than the machines they built for the actual films, they mothballed the fleet. If you see R2 at a Star Wars event this season, it’s probably an enthusiast behind the controls. This week’s Hacklet is dedicated to the best Star Wars projects on Hackaday.io!

targetshootWe start with [Nathan Gray] and Star Wars Nerf Targets. [Nathan] needed a Star Wars themed game for an event for the kids, and he needed it fast. [Nathan] built a Nerf shooting gallery game with a Star Wars twist. The idea is to shoot the bad guys with Nerf darts. Targets have two sides, so you never can be sure if you’ll see a storm trooper or a friendly Wookie. Hits are detected by piezoelectric disks on each target. A control panel starts the game, keeps score, and plays some great sound effects. An Arduino compatible Teensy 2.0 keeps everything running smoothly. [Nathan] reports that the game was a hit with the kids, and everyone else at the party. Even Grandma had to give the Star Wars Nerf Targets game a try!

 

vaporatorNext up is Hackaday’s own [Brian Benchoff] with The Hackaday Prize Moisture Vaporator. The 2015 Hackaday Prize promo video called for something space related. Since Southern California has plenty of desert around, a moisture vaporator straight out of Tatooine was just what the doctor ordered. [Brian], [Matt], [Rich] and [Alek] handled most of the construction at the Hackaday Hackerspace in Pasadena. Final assembly was a team effort out in the field. The basic frame of the vaporator consisted of 1 x 3 lumber joined with pocket screws. An iron pipe served as the spine. [Brian] added plenty of greebles to give the vaporator just the right look. The result makes us long for a trip to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters.

life-signs[Davedarko] is up next with Towani Lifesign Wristdevice – Star Wars Ewoks. This was one of [Dave’s] earliest projects on Hackday.io, way down at project #616. He originally built it for the Sci-Fi contest we held in 2014. The Towani family was in the Ewoks movies, which were lesser known spinoffs of the original Star Wars films. The wristbands showing the family’s vitals were featured a few times in the movies. [Dave’s] version is more than a movie prop, it actually works. He’s using an open hardware pulse sensor along with an Arduino Mini to display status on a trio of LEDs.

bb8Finally, we have [Enrico] with Our own BB-8 droid. BB-8 made a splash when he rolled out on stage during Star Wars Celebration. Everyone wondered how the original was done. We’ve since found out that the BB-8 uses Sphero’s technology to get around. However, many of the movie scenes were done with good old-fashioned puppeteer work. [Enrico] is building his own version of BB-8 using holonomic wheels inside the sphere, with a magnetically attached head. He’s planning to 3D print the major parts of his droid. So far, [Enrico] has started testing with magnets. A few printed plastic parts from his R2D2 build have been standing in for the BB-8 shell.

If you want to see more Star Wars projects, check out our new Star Wars project list! If I missed your project due to a great disturbance in the force, don’t be a nerf herder! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io! May the force be with you.

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Balancing Humanoid Robots

A few years after we all tire of our remote control BB-8 droids we’ll all have personal human robots designed specifically for human interaction. We’re not there yet, but [Poh Hou Shun] out of Singapore is working on a robot like this for the Hackaday Prize. It’s called OSCAR, the Omni Service Cooperative Assistance Robot.

As with any robotics platform, the use case defines the drive system; you’ll want knobby tires or treads if you’re building a sumo bot, and a strange articulating suspension if you’re driving over alien terrain. OSCAR is built for humans, and this means a humanoid chassis is required. Legs, however, aren’t. Instead of a complex system of motors and joints, OSCAR is balancing on a ball. No, it won’t go up stairs, but neither will many other robots either.

So far, [Poh Hou Shun] has built the basics of a drive system, and it’s surprisingly similar to the BB-8 droids we’re still not tired of yet. On the bottom is a large ball held in place with a spring-loaded retainer. On top of this are three stepper motors, each holding an omni wheel. It will work, there’s no doubt about that, and with the right humanoid chassis, some sensors, and a lot of software, this could be a very cool social robot.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Sphero Wasn’t Actually Behind The BB-8

Despite quite a few articles stating Sphero was behind the technology that made the real movie BB-8 droid, like this Tech Crunch article:

Sphero, makers of the eponymous spherical robots that you control with your smartphone — as well as the new BB-8 droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

and this excerpt from Fortune Magazine:

The same underlying technology (made by Sphero), which was licensed to create the version of BB-8 that graced the stage at the Star Wars Celebration…

Heck, even we drank the jungle juice with our original coverage! But now it seems the truth is finally coming out. As it turns out, it was actually built in Pinewood by the Creature Animatronics (CFX) team which includes [Matt Denton] — He’s the guy who built the Mantis Robot. A hacker / engineer — not a big toy company.

Two articles released this week on StarWars.com and EmpireOnline.com name various people from the CFX team at Pinewood as having built the movie puppets and the real BB-8. No mention of Sphero at all of course. They also state that they had to come up with the technology from scratch and that nothing like it already existed.

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