The (Robot) Body Electric

If you deal with electronics, you probably think of static electricity as a bad thing. It blows up MOSFETs and ICs and we take a lot of pains to prevent that kind of damage. But a start-up company called Grabit is using static electricity as a way to allow robots to manipulate the real world. In particular, Nike is using these robots to build shoes. You can see a demo video, below.

Traditional robots use human-like hands or claw-like grippers to mimic how humans handle material. But Grabit has multiple patents on electroadhesion. The original focus was wall-climbing robots, but the real pay off has been in manufacturing robots since the electrostatic robots can do things that mechanical hands are a long way from duplicating.

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Vintage Plotter Handles Chaos With Ease

No lab in almost any discipline was complete in the 70s and 80s without an X-Y plotter. The height of data acquisition chic, these simple devices were connected to almost anything that produced an analog output worth saving. Digital data acquisition pushed these devices to the curb, but they’re easily found, cheap, and it’s worth a look under the hood to see what made these things tick.

The HP-7044A that [Kerry Wong] scored off eBay is in remarkably good shape four decades after leaving the factory. While the accessory pack that came with it shows its age with dried up pens and disintegrating foam, the plotter betrays itself only by the yellowish cast to its original beige case. Inside, the plotter looks pristine. Completely analog with the only chips being some op-amps in TO-5 cans, everything is in great shape, even the high-voltage power supply used to electrostatically hold the paper to the plotter’s bed. Anyone hoping for at least a re-capping will be disappointed; H-P built things to last back in the day.

[Kerry] puts the plotter through its paces by programming an Arduino to generate a Lorenz attractor, a set of differential equations with chaotic solutions that’s perfect for an X-Y plotter. The video below shows the mesmerizing butterfly taking shape. Given the plotter’s similarity to an oscilloscope, we wonder if some SDR-based Lissajous patterns might be a fun test as well, or how it would handle musical mushrooms.

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Tiny Robot Clings To Leaves With Static Electricity

Flying is an energy-intensive activity. The birds and the bees don’t hover around incessantly like your little sister’s quadcopter. They flit to and fro, perching on branches and leaves while they plan their next move. Sure, a quadcopter can land on the ground, but then it has to spend more energy getting back to altitude. Researchers at Harvard decided to try to develop flying robots that can perch on various surfaces like insects can.

Perching on surfaces happens electrostatically. The team used an electrode patch with a foam mounting to the robot. This allows the patch to make contact with surfaces easily even if the approach is a few degrees off. This is particularly important for a tiny robot that is easily affected by even the slightest air draft. The robots were designed to be as light as possible — just 84mg — as the electrostatic force is not particularly strong.

It’s estimated that perching electrostatically for a robot of this size uses approximately 1000 times less power than during flight. This would be of great use for surveillance robots that could take up a vantage point at altitude without having to continually expend a great deal of energy to stay airborne. The abstract of the research paper notes that this method of perching was successful on wood, glass, and a leaf. It appears testing was done with tethers; it would be interesting to see if this technique would be powerful enough for a robot that carries its own power source. Makes us wonder if we ever ended up with tiny flyers that recharge from power lines?

We’re seeing more tiny flying robots every day now – the IMAV 2016 competition was a great example of the current state of the art.

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JOLED – a 3D Flip Dot Display

Flip-Dot displays are so awesome that they’re making a comeback. But awesome is nothing when you can have an insane flip-dot display that is three-dimensional with the dots floating in mid-air. Researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Bristol have built what they call JOLED, an array of floating pixels that can be controlled via a combination of ultrasonic standing waves and an electrostatic field. These “voxels” can be individually moved in space via ultrasonics, and can also be individually flipped or rotated through any angle, via the electrostatic field.

The key to the whole thing is something they call Janus Objects – hence JOLED. Janus particles have different features or chemistry on two opposite sides. A portion of each voxel is speckled with a small amount of titanium dioxide nano powder. This gives it a bipolar charge that makes it respond to the variable electrostatic field and hence capable of axial rotation. Half of each white voxel can then be covered with a contrasting color – red, blue, black – to achieve the flip dot effect. Each voxel appears to be a couple of millimeters in diameter. The ultrasonic actuators appear to be regular piezo transmitters found in every hacker’s parts bin. Transparent glass plates on opposite sides apply the variable electrostatic field.

While this is still experimental and confined to the research lab, future applications would be interesting. It would be like breaking e-ink displays out of their flat glass confines and giving them a third dimension. The short, two-minute video after the break does a good job of explaining what’s going on, so check it out. Now, who want’s to be the first to build a JOLED clock?

Thanks to [Garrow] for tipping us off about this.

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What Does ESD Do To My Circuit and How Can I Protect Against It?

[Kevin Darrah] is risking the nerves on his index finger to learn about ESD protection. Armed with a white pair of socks, a microfiber couch, and a nylon carpet, like a wizard from a book he summons electricity from his very hands (after a shuffle around the house). His energy focused on a sacrificial 2N7000 small signal MOSFET.

So what happens to a circuit when you shock it? Does it instantly die in a dramatic movie fashion: smoke billowing towards the roof, sirens in the distance? [Kevin] set up a simple circuit to show the truth. It’s got a button, a MOSFET, an LED, and some vitamins. When you press the button the light turns off.

He shuffles a bit, and with a mini thunderclap, electrocutes the MOSFET. After the discharge the MOSFET doesn’t turn the light off all the way. A shocking development.

So how does one protect against these dark energies out to destroy a circuit. Energies that can seemingly be summoned by anyone with a Walmart gift card? How does someone clamp down on this evil?

[Kevin] shows us how two diodes and a resistor can be used to shunt the high voltage from the electrostatic discharge away from the sensitive components. He also experimentally verifies and elucidates on the purpose of each. The resistor does nothing by itself, it’s there to protect the diodes. The diodes are there to protect the MOSFET.

In the end he had a circuit that could withstand the most vigorous shuffling, cotton socks against nylon carpeting, across his floor. It could withstand the mighty electric charge that only a grown man jumping on his couch can summon. Powerful magics indeed. Video after the break.

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An Easy Home Made Electroadhesive

There was a time when if you wanted to scale a wall you had to turn a camera on its side and call [Adam West] or [Lionel Ritchie]. Unless you were a gecko, that is. Their host of tiny bristles and intramolecular forces allow them to run up walls and across the ceiling with ease.

You may have seen synthetic gecko-like adhesive surfaces using the same effect. Some impressive wall-climbing robots have used these materials, though they’ve all shared the same problem. Gecko adhesion can’t be turned off. Happily, for the robot wall climber unwilling to expend the extra force to detach a foot there is an alternative approach. Electroadhesives use electrostatic force to attach a plate held at a high potential to a surface, and today’s featured video is [Carter Hurd]’s home-made electroadhesive panel (YouTube).

He cites this paper and this description of the technology as the influences on his design, two aluminium foil electrodes sandwiched between plastic sheet and sticky tape. He applies 6kV from an Emco DC to DC converter to his plates, and as if by magic it sticks to his drywall. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, he tried several surfaces before finding the one it stuck to. Adhesion is fully under control, and such a simple device performs surprisingly well. The Emco converters are sadly not cheap, but they are an extremely efficient product for which he only needs a few AA cells on the low voltage side.

His full description is in the video below the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Magic Bit-Of-Wire Motion Detector Library For Arduino

We’re still not sure exactly how [connornishijima]’s motion detector works, though many readers offered plausible explanations in the comments the last time we covered it. It works well enough, though, and he’s gone and doubled down on the Arduino way and bundled it up nicely into a library.

In the previous article we covered [connor] demonstrating the motion detector. Something about the way the ADC circuit for the Arduino is wired up makes it work. The least likely theory so far involves life force, or more specifically, the Force… from Star Wars. The most likely theories are arguing between capacitance and electrostatic charge.

Either way, it was reliable enough a phenomenon that he put the promised time in and wrote a library. There’s even documentation on the GitHub. To initialize the library simply tell it which analog pin is hooked up, what the local AC frequency is (so its noise can be filtered out), and a final value that tells the Arduino how long to average values before reporting an event.

It seems to work well and might be fun to play with or wow the younger hackers in your life with your wizarding magics.