Automate The Freight: Autonomous Delivery Hits The Mainstream

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.

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Wave Goodbye To Honda Asimo, A Robot That Would Wave Back

Fans of technology will recall a number of years when Honda’s humanoid robot Asimo seemed to be everywhere. In addition to its day job in a research lab, Asimo had a public relations side gig showing everyone that Honda is about more than cars and motorcycles. From trade shows to television programs, even amusement parks and concert halls, Asimo worked a busy publicity schedule. Now a retirement party may be in order, since the research project has reportedly been halted.

Asimo’s activity has tapered off in recent years so this is not a huge surprise. Honda’s official Asimo site itself hasn’t been updated in over a year. Recent humanoid robots in media are more likely to be in context of events like DARPA Robotics Challenge or from companies like Boston Dynamics. Plus the required technology has become accessible enough for us to build our own two-legged robots. So its torch has been passed on, but Asimo would be remembered as the robot who pioneered a lot of thinking into how humanoid robots would interact with flesh and blood humans. It was one of the first robots who could recognize human waving as a gesture, and wave back in return.

Many concepts developed from Asimo will live on as Honda’s research team shift focus to less humanoid form factors. We can see Honda’s new ambitions in their concept video released during CES 2018 (embedded below.) These robots are still designed to live and work alongside people, but now they are specialized to different domains and they travel on wheels. Which is actually a step closer to the Jetsons’ future, because Rosie rolls on wheels!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Two Leg Robot

If you’re working on your own bipedal robot, you don’t have to start from the ground up anymore. [Ted Huntington]’s Two Leg Robot project aims to be an Open Source platform that’ll give any future humanoid-robot builders a leg up.

While we’ve seen quite a few small two-legged walkers, making a pair of legs for something human-sized is a totally different endeavor. [Ted]’s legs are chock-full of sensors, and there’s a lot of software that processes all of the data. That’s full kinematics and sensor info going back and forth from 3D model to hardware. Very cool. And to top it all off, “Two Leg” uses affordable motors and gearing. This is a full-sized bipedal robot platform that you might someday be to afford!

Will walking robots really change the world? Maybe. Will easily available designs for an affordable bipedal platform give hackers of the future a good base to stand on? We hope so! And that’s why this is a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Biped Bob Walks And Dances

If you have a few servo motors, an Arduino, and a Bluetooth module, you could make Biped Bob as a weekend project. [B. Aswinth Raj] used a 3D printer, but he also points out that you could have the parts printed by a service or just cut them out of cardboard. They aren’t that complex.

Each of Bob’s legs has two servo motors: one for the hip and one for the ankle. Of course, the real work is in the software, and the post breaks it down piece-by-piece. In addition to the Arduino code, there’s an Android app written using Processing. You can build it yourself, or download the APK. The robot connects to the phone via BlueTooth and provides a simple user interface to do a few different walking gaits and dances. You can see a few videos of Biped Bob in action, below.

This wouldn’t be a bad starter project for a young person or anyone getting started with robotics, especially if you have a 3D printer. However, it is fairly limited since there are no sensors. Then again, that could be version two, if you were feeling adventurous.

We have mixed feelings about the BlueTooth control. BlueTooth modules are cheap and readily available, but so are ESP8266s. It probably would not be very difficult to put Bob on WiFi and let him serve his own control page to any web browser.

If Bob meets Jimmy, he may find himself envious. However, Jimmy would be a little more challenging to build. We’ve actually seen quite a few walking ‘bots over the years. Continue reading “Biped Bob Walks And Dances”

“Look Ma, No Gyros!”: A Self-Balancing Mechanical Velociraptor

You’ve got to walk before you can run, right? Perhaps not, if this bipedal dino-like running robot is any indication.

Officially dubbed a “Planar Elliptical Runner,” the bot is a test platform for bipedal locomotion from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Taking inspiration from the gait of an ostrich — we think it looks more like a T. rex or velociraptor, but same difference — [Jerry Pratt]’s team at IHMC have built something pretty remarkable. Contrary to all the bipedal and quadrupedal robots we’ve seen, like Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog and PETMAN, which all fairly bristle with sensors and actuators, the PER is very stripped down.

A single motor runs the entire drive chain using linkages that will look familiar to anyone who has taken an elliptical trainer apart, and there’s not a computer or sensor on board. The PER keeps its balance by what the team calls “reactive resilience”: torsion springs between the drive sprocket and cranks automatically modulate the power to both the landing leg and the swing leg to confer stability during a run. The video below shows this well if you single-frame it starting at 2:03; note the variable angles of the crank arms as the robot works through its stride.

The treadmill tests are constrained by a couple of plastic sheets, but the next version will run free. It’s not clear yet how directional control will be achieved, not is it obvious how the PER will be able to stop running and keep its balance. But it’s an interesting advance in locomotion and we look forward to seeing what IHMC’s next trick will be.

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Gyroman Walks With Just One Motor

For some reason, we seem to really want our robots to walk on two legs like we do. And this despite how much the robots themselves want to be made out of motors, which match up so naturally with wheels. The result is a proliferation of inventive walking mechanisms. Here’s another.

Gyroman is a 3D printed gyroscope with legs. The gyroscope is geared down to lift one leg and then the other. First-semester physics, that we still find a little bit magical, makes the gyro precess and the robot turns a bit. Time these just right and it walks. See the video below for a demo. (Admittedly, Gyroman looks like he’s had a bit too much to drink as he winds down.)

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Walk Your Pet Robot

Anyone who’s ever tried to build a bipedal robot will quickly start pulling their own hair out. There are usually a lot of servos involved, and controlling them all in a cohesive way is frustrating to say the least. [Mark] had this problem while trying to get his robot to dance, and to solve it he built a control system for a simple bipedal robot that helps solve this problem.

[Mark]’s robot has six servo motors per leg, for a total of 12 degrees of freedom. Commands are sent to the robot with an RC radio, and the control board that he built, called the Smart Servo Controller, receives the signals and controls the servos appropriately. There are 14 outputs for servos, operating at 12 bits and 50 Hz each, as well as 8 input channels. The servo controller can be programmed on a computer with user-selectable curves for various behaviors for each of the servos on the project. This eliminates the need to write cumbersome programs for simple robot movements, and it looks like it does a pretty good job!

Full disclosure: [Mark] currently has this project up on Kickstarter, but it is a unique take on complex robot control that could help out in a lot of different ways. Since you don’t need to code anything, it could lower the entry barrier for this type of project, possibly opening it up to kids or school projects. Beyond that, even veterans of these types of projects could benefit by not having to do as much brute-force work to get their creations up and moving around!

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