Robots are used in all sorts of industries on a wide variety of tasks. Typically, it’s because they’re far faster, more accurate, and more capable than we are. Expert humans could not compete with the consistent, speedy output of a robotic welder on an automotive production line, nor could they as delicately coat the chocolate on the back of a KitKat.
However, there are some tasks in which humans still have the edge. Those include driving, witty repartee, and yes, folding laundry. That’s not to say the robots aren’t trying, though, so let’s take a look at the state of the art.
Even in this age of wearable technology, the actual fabric in our t-shirts and clothes may still be the most high-tech product we wear. From the genetically engineered cotton seed, though an autonomous machine world, this product is manufactured in one of the world’s largest automation bubbles. Self-driving cotton pickers harvest and preprocess the cotton. More machines blend the raw material, comb it, twist and spin it into yarn, and finally, a weaving machine outputs sheets of spotless cotton jersey. The degree of automation could not be higher. Except for the laboratories, where seeds, cotton fibers, and yarns are tested to meet tight specifications, woven fabrics originate from a mostly human-free zone that is governed by technology and economics.
Resin casting lets you produce parts that would be otherwise impossible to make without a full CNC and injection molding set-up. It costs about as much as a 3d printer, 300 to 600 US dollars, to get a good set-up going. This is for raw material, resin, dye, pressure chamber, and an optional vacuum degassing set-up. A good resin casting set-up will let you produce parts which are stronger than injection molding, and with phenomenal accuracy, temperature resistance, and strength. I will be covering various techniques from the simple to advanced for using resin casting from a hacker’s perspective.
LVBots, a club for robot building enthusiasts in Las Vegas, held an open house the week of CES. This was the only trip [Sophi] and I took away from the conference halls of The Strip and it was a blast! The group holds meetings twice a month in a space provided by Pololu — a well-known robotics and electronics manufacturer headquartered just south of McCarran International Airport.
[Claire] demonstrating robotic closet demo and app
The mechanized racks of the automated closet
Line-following robot demonstration
Sumo robots about to rumble
Before the formal part of the gathering started there were several builds being shown off. [Claire] and [Brian] recently participated in an AT&T sponsored hackathon. Their creation is a robotic closet. The system involves moving racks of clothing which are tracked by a smartphone app. Interesting features discussed for the software include monitoring when each garment was last worn, last washed, and if it is appropriate for current weather conditions. Dig into the code in their repo.
In other parts of the room a pair of line-following robots did their thing, and a couple of sumo-bots competed to push each other out of the ring. A large group was gathered around the projector watching videos of robots of all types, brainstorming about the difficult parts, how they were overcome, and how these methods may be applied to their own build. I can attest that hanging with a group of people who are trying to cue up the most amazing robot demonstrations makes for amazing viewing!
As the organized part of the meeting began I was delighted to hear about a standing challenge from the LVbots group. The Tabletop challenge has multiple phases that serve to encourage builders to start modestly and then iterate to achieve new goals:
Phase 0: bring a robot to LVBots
Phase 1: travel back and forth without falling off
Phase 2: find an object and push it off
Phase 3: push object into a goal
[Nathan Bryant] and robot
[Joe Carson] and robot
[Nathan Bryant] was one of the two robot builders trying out the challenge on this night. He built this hexapod from balsa wood and three servo motors and was testing Phase 1. The bot includes a sensor dangling out in front of the robot to detect then the table surface is no long below. At that point it backs up a few steps, turns in place, and proceeds in the opposite direction. [Nathan] mentions that he worked out all the movements in a spreadsheet and that future firmware upgrades will dramatically increase the speed at which the bot moves. We love the audible cadence of the bot which is easily observed in the video above. At one point a leg dangles over the edge and it looks like [Nathan] pushed the bot back but I don’t remember him actually touching it so I’m calling this a trick of camera angle.
One phase further in the Tabletop Challenge is [Joe Carson]. He exhibited a wheeled robot he’s been working on that includes a gripper arm on the front. The robot looks around the table for a predefined color, in this case provided by a highlighting marker. When found the bot approaches, grips, and then proceeds to move the marker over the void where it is dropped out of existence; at least from the robot’s point of view.
[Zach] sent us a link to his keyboard pants. Frankly, we were astonished, not only by his craftsmanship, but by the fact that we were working on a pair ourselves. Admittedly his are much better looking and ours will probably never be finished. The inspiration for both his and ours, was this sloppy version. [Zach’s] pair have been cut in half, and he never really found a convenient way to reconnect the two halves, so only the left works. Watch this video to see him playing some Tetris in his awesome shorts.