Boston Dynamics has always built robots with agility few others could match. While great for attention-getting demos, from outside the company it hasn’t been clear how they’ll translate acrobatic skills into revenue. Now we’re getting a peek at a plan in an interview with IEEE Spectrum about their new robot Stretch.
Most Boston Dynamics robots have been research projects, too expensive and not designed for mass production. The closest we got to date was Spot, which was offered for sale and picked up a few high profile jobs like inspecting SpaceX test sites. But Spot was still pretty experimental without an explicit application. In contrast, Stretch has a laser-sharp focus made clear by its official product page: this robot will be looking for warehouse jobs. Specifically, Stretch is designed to handle boxes up to 50 lbs (23 kg). Loading and unloading them, to and from pallets, conveyer belts, trucks, or shipping containers. These jobs are repetitive and tedious back-breaking work with a high injury rate, a perfect opportunity for robots.
But warehouse logistics aren’t as tightly structured as factory automation, demanding more adaptability than typical industrial robots can offer. A niche Boston Dynamics learned it can fill after releasing an earlier demo video showing their research robot Atlas moving some boxes around: they started receiving inquiries into how much that would cost. Atlas is not a product, but wheels were set in motion leading to their Handle robot. Learning from what Handle did well (and not well) in a warehouse environment, the designed evolved to today’s Stretch. The ostrich-like Handle prototype is now relegated to further research into wheeled-legged robots and the occasional fun dance video.
The Stretch preproduction prototypes visible in these videos lacks acrobatic flair of its predecessors, but they still have the perception and planning smarts that made those robots possible. Those skills are just being applied to a narrower problem scope. Once production models are on the job, we look forward to reading some work performance reviews.
It’s not that storage boxes and organizers are hard to find. No, the problem this project set out to solve was more nuanced than that. The real trouble [theguymasamato] had was that his storage options — wide shelves and deep drawers — weren’t well suited to storing a lot of small and light objects. The result was a lot of wasted space and poor organization. To make matters worse, his big drawers had oddball dimensions, meaning that store bought organizers weren’t a good fit either.
To solve these problems, [theguymasamato] decided to design his own stackable boxes to store small and light objects far more efficiently than before. The design also allows the boxes to be made in a variety of sizes without changing any of the 3D printed parts. Carefully measured and cut cardboard is critical, but that’s nothing a utility knife and ruler can’t solve. The only other requirements are a few simple plastic parts, and some glue. He can fit six of these inside a single one of his drawers with enough room to access and handle them, but without wasting space.
Cardboard is really versatile stuff. Not only has it been behind some amazingly complex devices such as this tiny working plotter, but we’ve seen it form major components in the remarkably ambitious cardboard CNC.
Puzzle boxes are great opportunities for hacking. You can start with a box which was originally used for something else. You get to design circuitry and controls which offer a complex puzzle for the players. And you can come up with a spectacular reward for those who solve it. [thomas.meston’s] Dr. Hallard’s Dream Transmission Box, which he created for an original party game, has all those elements.
The box was a broken 1948 National NC-33 Ham Radio purchased on eBay after a number of failed bids. Most of it was removed except for the speaker. The electronics is Arduino based, so most of the smarts are in the form of code. Potentiometers and a switch provide the mechanism for players to enter codes. And when the correct code is entered, a relay triggers an external smoke machine and turns on a laser which illuminates a party ball, rewarding the victors. And of course, there are also sound effects as well as a recorded message.
Many a grown up can reminisce about building various architectural wonders in their youth. Forts, whether based on boxes or blankets, were the order of the day, and an excellent way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.
It just so happens that there is no law against scaling up such activities once one has reached the age of majority. However, to build a structure at this level takes some careful planning and consideration, and that is the purpose of our article here today.
Location, Location, Location
The first major consideration when starting your build should be the area in which you wish to do it. Building inside has the advantage of avoiding the weather, however hard floors can lead to sore knees when crawling around. Additionally, you’re a grown up now, so it’s less likely your peers will be impressed to hear you sat inside a box in your living room.
No, if you’re going to do this right, you’ll want to go outside. A nice flat lawn is best, providing soft ground and plenty of space. The challenges of the elements will guide your work – sitting inside your cardboard home feels all the more satisfying when you’re cosy and dry as you listen to the patter of rain on the roof. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you’ve built something that can survive the harsh outdoors, and besides, the views are better, too. Continue reading “Box Forts For Adults: Best Practices And Design Strategies”→
Laser-cut plywood boxes are cool. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the free projects out there for people to get started with when they get a laser cutter – it’s obviously a popular genre of project. Laser cut plywood boxes with combination locks are even cooler, especially when the combination is entered on four separate number selectors, on four sides of the very same box.
FreeCAD is a fairly sophisticated, open-source, parametric 3D modeler. The open-source part means that you can bend it to your will. [Alexandre] is working on a module that lets him easily add tabs, finger joints, and t-slots to models (YouTube link, embedded down under).
Right now the plugin is still experimental, but it looks usable. In the video demo, [Alexandre] builds up a simple box, and then adds all manner of physical connective pieces to it. You’ll note that the tabs look like they’re pieces added on to the main face — that’s because they are! He then exports the outlines to SVG and erases the lines that separate the tabs from the sides, and hands these files off to his laser cutter. Voilà! A perfect tab-and-t-slot box, with only a little bit of hand-work. ([Alexandre] mentions that it’s all still very experimental and that you should check out your design before sending it to the laser.)
“It’s not a bomb,” the mailman whispered to himself as he reached for [atxguitarist]’s mailbox, giving a nervous glance at the small black box stuck to the side. “This is THAT house, it’s not a bomb. I’m sure it’s not a bomb,” he muttered as a cold bead of sweat ran down his neck. His hand approached slowly, shakily. The mailman gathered courage, then, in a single quick movement, opened the box. He sighed relief as nothing happened. Somewhere in [atxguitarist]’s house a recording wailed “You’ve got mail!”
The mailbox enhancement in question is a hacked Amazon Dash Button in a project box. When the door of the mailbox is opened, a magnetic reed switch simulates a button press on the Dash. The Dash transmodulates the signal into WiFi pixies which are received by a Raspberry Pi. The Pi’s sole purpose in life is to run a 24-line Python script that plays the famous sound from AOL’s mail software and sends a notification to his phone.
Aside from unnerving the mailman, it’s a cool hack and keeps you from slugging it out there in the cold or rain to witness an empty box.