Wood SCARA Arm Gets a Grip

[Ignacio]’s VIRK I is a robot arm of SCARA design with a very memorable wooden body, and its new gripper allows it to do a simple pick and place demo. Designing a robot arm is a daunting task, and the fundamental mechanical design is only part of the whole. Even if the basic framework for a SCARA arm is a solved problem, the challenge of building it and the never-ending implementation details make it a long-term project.

When we first saw VIRK I in all its shining, Australian Blackwood glory, it lacked any end effector and [Ignacio] wasn’t sure of the best way to control it. Since then, [Ignacio] has experimented with Marlin and Wangsamas support for SCARA arms, and designed a gripper based around a hobby servo. It’s as beautiful to see this project moving forward as it is to see the arm moving ping-pong balls around, embedded below.

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Greasing Robot Hands: Variable Friction Makes Robo-Mitts More Like Our Own

Unless you are in the fields of robotics or prosthetics, you likely take for granted the fine motor skills our hands have. Picking up and using a pen is no small feat for a robot which doesn’t have a dedicated pen-grabbing apparatus. Holding a mobile phone with the same gripper is equally daunting, not to mention moving that phone around once it has been grasped. Part of the wonder of our hands is the shape and texture which allows pens and phones to slide around at one moment, and hold fast the next moment. Yale’s Grab Lab has built a gripper which starts to solve that problem by changing the friction of the manipulators.

A spring-loaded set of slats with a low-friction surface allow a held object to move freely, but when more pressure is exerted by the robot, the slats retract and a high-friction surface contacts the object. This is similar to our fingers with their round surfaces. When we brush our hands over something lightly, they graze the surface but when we hold tight, our soft flesh meets the surface of the object and we can hold tightly. The Grab Lab is doing a great job demonstrating the solution and taking steps to more capable robots. All hail Skynet.

We have no shortage of gripper designs to choose from, including pneumatic silicone and one that conforms to an object’s surface, similar to our hands.

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Gecko Feet in Space

Space is a mess, and the sad truth is, we made it that way. Most satellites that have been lofted into Earth orbit didn’t have a plan for retiring them, and those dead hulks, along with the various bits of jetsam in the form of shrouds, fairings, and at least one astronaut’s glove, are becoming a problem.

A mission intended to clean up space junk would be fantastically expensive, but money isn’t the only problem. It turns out that it’s really hard to grab objects in space unless they were specifically designed to be grabbed. Suction cups won’t work in the vacuum of space, not everything up there is ferromagnetic, and mechanical grippers would have to deal with a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and textures.

But now news comes from Stanford University of a dry adhesive based on the same principle a gecko uses to walk up a wall. Gecko feet have microscopic flaps that stick to surfaces because of Van der Waals forces. [Mark Cutkosky] and his team’s adhesive works similarly, adhering to surfaces only when applied in a certain direction. This is an advantage over traditional pressure-sensitive adhesives; the force needed to apply them would cause the object to float away in space. The Stanford grippers have been tested on the “vomit comet” and aboard the ISS.

We can think of tons of terrestrial applications for this adhesive, including the obvious wall-walking robots. The Stanford team also lists landing pads for drones that would let then perch in odd locations, which we find intriguing.

Need to get up to speed on more mundane adhesive? Check out our guide to sticky stuff for the shop.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: BunnyBot Helps Out All On Its Own

[Jack Qiao] wanted an autonomous robot that could be handy around an ever-changing shop. He didn’t want a robot he’d have to baby sit. If he said, ‘bring me the 100 ohm resistors’, it would go find and bring them to him.

He iterated a bit, and ended up building quite a nice robot platform for under a thousand dollars. It’s got a realsense camera and a rangefinder from a Neato robotic vacuum. In addition to a mircrophone, it has a whole suite of additional sensors in its base, which is a stripped down robotic vacuum from a Korean manufacturer. A few more components come together to give it an arm and a gripper.

The thinking is done on a  Nvidia Jetson TK1 board. The cores on the integrated graphics card are used to perform faster computer vision calculations. The software is all ROS based.

As can be seen in the video after the break. The robot uses SLAM techniques to successfully navigate and complete tasks such as fetch resistors, get water, and more. [Jack Qiao] is happy with his robot, and we would be too.

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Wireless Robotic Gripper With Haptic Feedback

We’re not sure what kind of, “High School,” [Sam Baumgarten] and [Graham Hughes] go to that gave them the tools to execute their robotic gripper so well. We do know that it was not like ours. Apparently some high schools have SLS 3D printers and Solidworks. Rather than a grumpy shop teacher with three fingers who, despite that, kept taking the safety off the table saws and taught drafting on boards with so many phalluses and names carved into the linoleum, half the challenge was not transferring them to the line work.

Our bitterness aside, [Sam] and [Graham] built a pretty dang impressive robotic gripper. In fact, after stalking [Sam]’s linkedin to figure out if he was the teacher or the student, (student) we decided they’re bright enough they could probably have built it out of scraps in a cave. Just like [HomoFaciens], and Ironman.

The gripper itself is three large hobby servos joined to the fingers with a linkage, all 3D printed. The mechanical fingers have force sensors at the contact points and the control glove has tiny vibrating motors at the fingertips. When the force of the grip goes up the motors vibrate more strongly, providing useful feedback. In the video below you can see them performing quite a bunch of fairly fine motor skills with the gripper.

The gripper is mounted on a pole with some abrasive tape, the kind found on skateboard decks. At the back of the pole, the electronics and batteries live inside a project box. This provides a counterbalance to the weight of the hand.

The control glove has flexible resistors on the backs of the fingers. The signal from these are processed by an Arduino which transmits to its  partner arduino in the gipper via an Xbee module.

[Sam] and [Graham] did a great job. They worked through all the design stages seen in professional work today. Starting with a napkin sketch they moved onto digital prototyping and finally ended up with an assembly that worked as planned. A video after the break explaining how it works along with a demo video.

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Jamming Robot will Destroy You at Beer Pong

DSC_0363Wandering the aisles of Eureka Park, the startup area of the Consumer Electronics Show, I spotted a mob of people and sauntered over to see what the excitement was all about. Peeking over this gentleman’s shoulder I realized he was getting spanked at Beer Pong… by a robot!

Those in the know will recognize that the bot has only 3 cups left and so the guy definitely was giving it run for its money. But the bot’s ability to swish the ball on nearly every throw accounts for the scoreboard which read Robot: 116, Humans: 11. Unlike the ping pong robot hoax from last March, we can vouch for this one being real!

If you’re trying to attract the geek demographic, this must be one of the best offerings ever shown at a trade show. Empire Robotics manufactures the VERSABALL gripper. We know this as a jamming gripper and have been looking at the tech progress for many years now. Looking back to this Cornell research video from 2010 we realize it is based on the white paper which [John Amend, PhD] co-authored. He’s now CTO and Co-Founder of the company and was one of the people running the booth. We love it when trade show booths are staffed by the engineers!

Join me after the break for a rundown of how the system works along with a video clip of it hitting the target.

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CES: Meetups, Augmented Reality, and Robots

Hackaday started off Thursday of the Consumer Electronics Show with an impromptu breakfast meetup. This turns out to be a wonderful thing as it lets you ease into a 16 hour day of standing, walking, talking, and getting lost trying to find your way from conference hall to conference hall. We had a great turnout and many brought their hacks and demos to show off. A big thanks to the Sambalatte staff who are awesome people and top tier baristas.

CastAR

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Before leaving for CES I was talking to [Ben Krasnow] about what we should try to see and he suggested looking for private showings that are given in the suites of the hotels at the conference. Turns out our friends at Technical Illusions are doing just that. [Jeri] and [Rick] were showing off CastAR in a suite during the week and were nice enough to make room in their booked schedule for a private Demo.

What you see above are the guts of the version they are currently shipping as part of their Kickstarter fulfillment. I also got a look at a rev2 prototype and will write a follow-up post with more information on the whole experience when I have more time.

Eureka, Startups!

There is a loop of aisles in the Sands that has startup booths and most of the interesting things I saw on Wednesday and Thursday are there. Here we have a jamming gripper robot arm. It’s designed for things like moving oddly shaped goods on a manufacturing line. Empire Robotics hit a homerun with their demo for the booth, a take on beer-bong: robot versus human. The scoreboard showed the robot winning an order of magnitude more than the humans.

[Todd] was at was at the Tinkerines booth showing off 3D printers aimed to augmented the STEM curriculum. We couldn’t help but notice his TIE fighter right and inquired about it. He modeled the design himself, send it off to be cast in silver, and inlaid the stone when the ring came back from the casting service. Sweet!

LVBots

[Sarah Petkus] clued me in and gave me a ride to the Pololu CES open house. The night coincided with the LVBots meetup which they support by providing space for the meetings. There were lots of cool robots being shown off. What you see here was just the pre-meeting warmup of line-followers and sumo robots. I shot some video of the show-and-tell which we’ll post once we’ve had a chance to edit the content.

Closing out CES

wpid-wp-1420824368323.jpegToday is the last day of the conference. I stopped by the Voltera PCB printer booth yesterday but they were nowhere to be found. Turns out they were being handed a $50k check by TechCrunch for winning the Battleground. I suppose we’ll give them a pass for not being at the table during that!

I’ll be headed over this afternoon to catch up with them. I’m also hoping to get a look at the Voxel8 printer. If you have any other “can’t-miss” suggestions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to add them to my CES dance card.