Hackaday Links: September 29, 2019

In a sure sign that we’ve arrived in the future, news from off-world is more interesting this week than Earth news. When the InSight probe landed on Mars last year, it placed the first operating magnetometer on the Red Planet. Since then, the sensitive instrument has been logging data about the planet’s magnetic field, and now there are reports that researchers have discovered a chain of pulsations in the magnetic field. Pulsations in planetary magnetic fields aren’t all that strange; pulse trains that occur only at Martian midnight are, though. Researchers haven’t got a clue yet about what this means. We assume they’ve eliminated artifacts like something on the lander being turned on at local midnight, so when they figure it out it should be fascinating.

In more news from the future, Boston Dynamics is trolling us again. We covered the announcement early this week that they’re putting their Spot quadruped robot on sale – sort of. Turns out you need to be selected to qualify based on the application you have in mind, plus have several Ferraris full of cash to spend. While everyone was watching the adorable antics of Spot as it wandered through improbably industrial vignettes, Boston Dynamics also released this slightly terrifying video of their Atlas robot running through a gymnastics routine.  It starts with a headstand and a front roll and ends with a slipt leap and whatever the gymnastics equivalent of a figure skating axel jump is. Yes, it has a special roll cage attached to make the tumbles a bit smoother, but it’s still some remarkable stuff.

How are your RF design skills? If they’re good enough to design an RF power amp, you might want to check out this homebrew RF design challenge. Put on by NXP Semiconductors, the design must use one of their new LDMOS RF power transistors. They’ll send you samples so you can build your design, and you stand to win up to $3000 plus $1000 worth of NXP products. The contest opened back in May but is running through the middle of November, so you’d better hurry.

Speaking of RF, wouldn’t it be interesting to see a snapshot of the RF spectrum over the entire planet? ElectroSense thinks so, and they’re working on a crowdsourcing model to set up a globe-spanning network of connected RF sensors. The idea is similar to what FlightAware does for monitoring the locations of aircraft with a distributed network of ADS-B receivers. But where FlightAware only monitors a narrow slice of spectrum, ElectroSense wants it all – DC to 6 GHz. You can build a sensor from an SDR and a Raspberry Pi and start contributing to the effort, which only has a handful of sensors at the moment.

Has affordable metal 3D-printing finally arrived? For certain values of affordability, it soon will, when One Click Metal launches their new selective laser melting printer. Thomas Sanladerer did a video with the principals, and the prototype looks promising. SLM is not a new process, but patents on the core process recently ran out, so startups like One Click Metal are jumping into the market. Their printer won’t be cheap — you’ll still need to write a check with many zeroes — but with more players, the price should come down.

And finally, what’s this world coming to when a startup specializing in building giant fighting robots can’t make a go of it? MegaBots is shutting down, and while that’s certainly bad news for its founders and employees, it’s great news for anyone in the market for used battle bots. The company’s flagship bot, the 15-ton Eagle Prime, is currently up for auction on eBay. Bidding started at $1 with no reserve, but if you were looking for a steal, you’re a bit late. The high bid is currently $100,100, which is still an incredible buy considering it cost $2.5 million to build. You’ll have to pay for shipping, but you’ll have a super-destructive mecha of your own to drive around. And think how cool you’ll look rolling into some kid’s backyard birthday party. Presumably one you’ve been invited to.

Ask Hackaday: What Good Is A Robot Dog?

It is said that Benjamin Franklin, while watching the first manned flight of a hot air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris in 1783, responded when questioned as to the practical value of such a thing, “Of what practical use is a new-born baby?” Dr. Franklin certainly had a knack for getting to the heart of an issue.

Much the same can be said for Spot, the extremely videogenic dog-like robot that Boston Dynamics has been teasing for years. It appears that the wait for a production version of the robot is at least partially over, and that Spot (once known as Spot Mini) will soon be available for purchase by “select partners” who “have a compelling use case or a development team that [Boston Dynamics] believe can do something really interesting with the robot,” according to VP of business development Michael Perry.

The qualification of potential purchasers will certainly limit the pool of early adopters, as will the price tag, which is said to be as much as a new car – and a nice one. So it’s not likely that one will show up in a YouTube teardown video soon, so until the day that Dave Jones manages to find one in his magic Australian dumpster, we’ll have to entertain ourselves by trying to answer a simple question: Of what practical use is a robotic dog?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What Good Is A Robot Dog?”

Rise Of The Unionized Robots

For the first time, a robot has been unionized. This shouldn’t be too surprising as a European Union resolution has already recommended creating a legal status for robots for purposes of liability and a robot has already been made a citizen of one country. Naturally, these have been done either to stimulate discussion before reality catches up or as publicity stunts.

Dum-E spraying Tony StarkWhat would reality have to look like before a robot should be given legal status similar to that of a human? For that, we can look to fiction.

Tony Stark, the fictional lead character in the Iron Man movies, has a robot called Dum-E which is little more than an industrial robot arm. However, Stark interacts with it using natural language and it clearly has feelings which it demonstrates from its posture and sounds of sadness when Stark scolds it after needlessly sprays Stark using a fire extinguisher. In one movie Dum-E saves Stark’s life while making sounds of compassion. And when Stark makes Dum-E wear a dunce cap for some unexplained transgression, Dum-E appears to get even by shooting something at Stark. So while Dum-E is a robot assistant capable of responding to natural language, something we’re sure Hackaday readers would love to have in our workshops, it also has emotions and acts on its own volition.

Here’s an exercise to try to find the boundary between a tool and a robot deserving of personhood.

Continue reading “Rise Of The Unionized Robots”

Hackaday Links: October 21, 2018

A few weeks ago, we got word [Fran] was being kicked out of her workshop. You might remember [Fran] from her exploits in reverse engineering the launch computer for the Saturn V, her work on replicating the DSKY from an AGC, her visit to the Air & Space Museum annex (so jealous), and her other musical adventures. Why is she getting kicked out? Philly’s getting gentrified, ya jabroinis. Now, there’s a GoFundMe for a new Fran Lab. Go on and ring that bell.

Everyone needs a Sharpie sitting around, so how about one that weighs a pound or so? [MakingStuff] created a new body for a big ‘ol Sharpie marker, complete with knurling. Oh, man, the knurling.

A Powerball ticket costs $2. Last Friday, the expected return on a single Powerball ticket was more than $2. This doesn’t happen often, but last Friday the most logical course of action for everyone was to buy all the Powerball tickets they could.

Boston Dynamics built another dog robot and made it dance to Uptown Funk because we haven’t heard that song enough. No one has listened to Uptown Funk enough times in their life. It’s a great song that never gets old or overplayed.

[Wintergatan] is building a drum machine. You might remember this artisan of plywood from various marble machine builds that also play music. This build goes deep into the techniques of building gigantic mechanical contraptions out of plywood and steel.

Speaking of plywood, Rockler had a contest a while back to build something out of a single sheet of plywood. [OSO DIY] came up with the most interesting table I’ve ever seen. A lot of the entries into this plywood contest turned the plywood on its end, resulting in something that looks like it’s made out of skateboard decks. [OSO DIY]’s coffee table is no exception; it’s basically just a panel of edge-grain plywood made into a table. Where this gets really good is the actual design of the table. It’s clearly a mid-century modern piece, with threaded inserts holding the legs on. However, instead of something that was pressed out of a factory, this table just exudes an immense amount of manual labor. It’s a counterpoint between craftsmanship and minimalist design rendered in plywood and by far one of the most interesting pieces of furniture made in the last few years. Here are some more entries that also capitalize on edge-grain plywood

Atlas Is Back With Some New Moves

Atlas is back, and this time he’s got some sweet parkour moves to show off. Every few months, Boston Dynamics gives us a tantalizing glimpse into their robotics development labs. They must be doing something right, as these videos never fail both to amaze and scare us. This time Atlas, Boston Dynamics humanoid bipedal robot, is doing a bit of light parkour — jumping over a log and from box to box. The Atlas we’re seeing here is the evolution of the same robot we saw at the DARPA Robotics Challenge back in 2013.

The video caption mentions that Atlas is using machine vision to analyze the position of markers on the obstacles. It can then plot the most efficient path over the obstructions. The onboard control system then takes over and uses Atlas’ limbs and torso for balance and momentum as the robot jumps up and over everything in its path.

It’s interesting to see how smoothly Atlas jumps the offset staircase, leaping left to right from step to step. The jumping is extremely smooth and fluid — it seems almost human.  You can even see Atlas’ let foot just barely clear the box on the second jump. We have to wonder how many times Atlas fell while the software was being perfected.

One thing is for sure, logs and boxes may slow down zombies, but they won’t help anymore when the robot uprising starts.

Continue reading “Atlas Is Back With Some New Moves”

[James Bruton] Is Making A Dog: OpenDog Project

There was a time when a two-legged walking robot was the thing to make. But after seeing years of Boston Dynamic’s amazing four-legged one’s, more DIYers are switching to quadrupeds. Now we can add master DIY robot builder [James Bruton] to the list with his openDog project. What’s exciting here is that with [James’] extensive robot-building background, this is more like starting the challenge from the middle rather than the beginning and we should see exciting results sooner rather than later.

James' motor and ball screws
James’ motor and ball screws

Thus far [James] has gone through the planning stage, having iterated through a few versions using Fusion 360, and he’s now purchased the parts. It’s going to be about the same size as Boston Robotic’s SpotMini and uses three motors for each leg. He considered going with planetary gearboxes on the motors but experienced a certain amount of play, or backlash, with them in his BB-9E project so this time he’s going with ball screws as he did with his exoskeleton. (Did we mention his extensive background?)

Each leg is actually made up of an upper and lower leg, which means his processing is going to have to include some inverse kinematics. That’s where the code decides where it wants the foot to go and then has to compute backwards from there how to angle the legs to achieve that. Again drawing from experience when he’s done it the hard way in the past, this time he’s designed the leg geometry to make those calculations easy. Having written up some code to do the calculations, he’s compared the computed angles with the measurements he gets from positioning the legs in Fusion 360 and found that his code is right on. We’re excited by what we’ve seen so far and bet it’ll be standing and walking in no time. Check out his progress in the video below.

Continue reading “[James Bruton] Is Making A Dog: OpenDog Project”

Mike’s Robot Dog Is A First Step In The Right Direction

Humans can traverse pretty much any terrain thanks to their legs and fast-acting balancing system. So if you want a robot which should have equal flexibility, legs are a good way to go, this confirmed by all the achievements of Boston Dynamics’ robots. It was therefore natural for [Mike Rigsby] to model his robot dog after Boston Dynamics’ dog-like robot, SpotMini.

The build log on his Hackaday.io page makes for interesting reading. For example, he started out with the legs oriented like SpotMini but found that when trying to stand, the front legs worked fine but the rear ones slid or the dog shifted rearward or both happened. His solution was to take a cue from his 1990s Sony robot dog, Aibo, by reversing the orientation of the rear legs. He then upgraded his servo motors to ones with double the torque and increased the strength of the legs’ structure. In the first video below, you can see that his dog now lifts itself up to a standing position perfectly.

So far, to give it more of a dog-like personality he’s mounted Google’s AIY Vision Kit which changes a light’s color based on the degree to which a person is smiling, though we think a wagging tail would work well too. The possibilities are endless but one step at a time. See the second video below for a demonstration of the use of the Vision Kit.

Continue reading “Mike’s Robot Dog Is A First Step In The Right Direction”