# Cable Mechanism Maths: Designing Against The Capstan Equation

I fell in love with cable driven mechanisms a few years ago and put together some of my first mechanical tentacles to celebrate. But only after playing with them did I start to understand the principles that made them work. Today I want to share one of the most important equations to keep in mind when designing any device that involves cables, the capstan equation. Let some caffeine kick in and stick with me over the next few minutes to get a sense of how it works, how it affects the overall friction in your system, and how you can put it to work for you in special cases.

## A Quick Refresher: Push-Pull Cable Driven Mechanisms

But first: just what exactly are cable driven mechanisms? It turns out that this term refers to a huge class of mechanisms, so we’ll limit our scope just to push-pull cable actuation systems.

These are devices where cables are used as actuators. By sending these cables through a flexible conduit, they serve a similar function to the tendons in our body that actuate our fingers. When designing these, we generally assume that the cables are both flexible and do not stretch when put in tension. Continue reading “Cable Mechanism Maths: Designing Against The Capstan Equation”

# Budget-Friendly Bend Sensor Deforms With Precision

We’re pretty familiar with budget resistor-based bend sensors at this point, but this sensor is in a totally different class. Instead of relying on resistive elements, [Useok Jeong] and [Kyu-Jin Cho] devised a bend sensor that relies on geometric properties of the sensor itself. The result is a higher-fidelity measuring device made from a pretty widely available collection of stock parts.

We’ll admit, calling this device a bend sensor might be a bit of a stretch, so let’s dig into some of the operating principles. What we’re actually measuring is the accumulated angle, the sum of all the curvature deformations along the length of the sensing element. The sensor is made of 3 main pieces: an outer extension spring-based wire sheath; a flexible, tensioned inner wire core that’s fixed at one end; and a small displacement sensor that measures the length changes in the wire’s free end. The secret ingredient to making this setup work is a special property of the outer wire sheath or spring guide. Here, the spring guide actually resists being compressed while being bent.  Because the inner radius of the bend remains a constant length, the center wire core is forced to elongate. With the excess wire spooled up at the sensor base, we simply measure how much we collected, apply some math, and get a resulting angle! What’s more, the folks behind this trick also demonstrate that the length and angle relationship is linear with an R-square of 0.9969.

One of the best parts about this sensor is how reproducible it seems from from a modest collection of stock parts. Spring guide (aka: extension spring) is available from McMaster-Carr and DR Templeman, and that flexible core might be readily substituted with some wire rope.

It’s not everyday that new topologies for bend sensors pop into the world, let alone linear ones. To learn more, the folks behind the project have kindly made their research paper open access for your afternoon reading enjoyment. (Bring scratch paper!) Finally, if you’re looking for other bend-related sensors, have a look at this multi-bend measurement setup.

# Dainty Delta Is About As Small As A Robot Can Be

There’s something mesmerizing about delta robots. Whether they are used at a stately pace for a 3D-printer or going so fast you can barely see them move in a pick and place machine, the way that three rotary actuators can work together to produce motion in three axes is always a treat to watch. Especially with a delta robot as small as this one.

[KarelK16] says this is one of those “just because I can” projects with no real application. And he appears to have been working on it for a while; the video below is from eight years ago. Regardless, the post is new, and it’s pretty interesting stuff. The tiny ball joints used in the arms are made from jewelry parts; small copper crank arms connect the three upper arms to micro-servos. The manipulator [KarelK16] attached is very clever, too – rather than load down the end of the arms with something heavy, a fourth servo opens an closes a flexible plastic grasper through a Bowden cable. It’s surprisingly nimble, and grasps small objects firmly.

There are certainly bigger deltas – much bigger – and more useful ones, too, but we really like this build. And who knows – perhaps model robotics will join model railroading as a hobby someday. If it does, [KarelK16]’s diminutive delta might be the shape of things to come.

# Learning Software In A Soft Exosuit

Wearables and robots don’t often intersect, because most robots rely on rigid bodies and programming while we don’t. Exoskeletons are an instance where robots interact with our bodies, and a soft exosuit is even closer to our physiology. Machine learning is closer to our minds than a simple state machine. The combination of machine learning software and a soft exosuit is a match made in heaven for the Harvard Biodesign Lab and Agile Robotics Lab.

Machine learning studies a walker’s steady gait for twenty periods while vitals are monitored to assess how much energy is being expended. After watching, the taught machine assists instead of assessing. This type of personalization has been done in the past, but the addition of machine learning shows that the necessary customization can be programmed into each machine without a team of humans.

Exoskeletons are no stranger to these pages, our 2017 Hackaday Prize gave \$1000 to an open-source set of robotic legs and reported on an exoskeleton to keep seniors safe.

# MotorMouth For Future Artificial Humans

When our new computer overlord arrives it’ll likely give orders using an electromagnetic speaker (or more likely, by texting instead of talking). But for a merely artificial human being, shouldn’t we use an artificial mouth with vocal cords chords, nasal cavity, tongue,  teeth and lips? Work on such a thing is scarce these days, but [Martin Riches] developed a delightful one called MotorMouth between 1996 and 1999.

It’s delightful for its use of a Z80 processor and assembly language, things many of us remember fondly, as well as its transparent side panel, allowing us to see the workings in action. As you’ll see and hear in the video below, it works quite well given the extreme difficulty of the task.

# 3D Printing With A Delta Robot That Seems To Simplify The Concept

This 3d printing delta robot really seems to solve a lot of the hurdles faced by previous offerings. With other delta printers we’ve looked at the motor control of the three arms is usually a it complicated. On this build the motors can just be seen in this image at each corner under the build platform. Each motor has a belt that loops from the bottom to the top for the machine, driving an arm along two precision rods.

It’s also interesting to note that the printer head doesn’t have a motor mounted on it for feeding the filament. Instead, the motor is mounted remotely. You can see it above the soda can in this image. It feeds the filament through a hollow tube spanning the gap between the extruder and the motor. This acts as a Bowden cable. With less mass to move this may make it easier to control the location of the print head.

After the break you can catch a clip of the team showing off the speed and dexterity of the delta bot, followed by a printing demo.