Using The Steam Controller With LEGO Motors

While Valve’s Steam Controller was ultimately a commercial failure, there’s no denying it’s an interesting piece of hardware. With dual trackpads, a wealth of buttons, and Bluetooth capability, it could be the ideal way to control your next build. Thanks to a recent project by [geggo], now you’ve even got an example you can follow.

A custom PCB holding an ESP32 and DRV8833 dual H-bridge motor controller is used to interface with standard LEGO motors using their stock block-like connectors. That means the board is a drop-in upgrade for whatever motorized creation you’ve already built.

Since the ESP32 obviously has WiFi in addition to Bluetooth, that also means this little board could be used to control LEGO projects over the local network or even Internet with some changes to the firmware.

Interestingly, while Valve officially enabled Bluetooth on the Steam Controller back in 2018, it sounds like some undocumented poking and reverse engineering was necessary to get it working here. That’s great for those of us who like a good hack, but if you’re more interested in just getting things working, [geggo] has been good enough to release the source code to get you started.

If you’re not interested in Bluetooth but want to get your creation up and moving, we’ve recently covered how one hacker used the ESP8266 to bring his LEGO train to life by integrating it into his smart home.

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Teardown: BilBot Bluetooth Robot

Historically, the subject of our January teardown has been a piece of high-tech holiday lighting from the clearance rack; after all, they can usually be picked up for pocket change once the trucks full of Valentine’s Day merchandise start pulling up around the back of your local Big Box retailer. But this year, we’ve got something a little different.

Today we’re looking at the BilBot Bluetooth robot, which over the holidays was being sold at Five Below for (you guessed it) just $5 USD. These were clearly something the company hoped to sell a lot of, with stacks of the little two-wheeled bots in your choice of white and yellow livery right by the front door. With wireless control from your iOS or Android device, and intriguing features like voice command, I’d be willing to bet they managed to move quite a few of these at such a low price.

For folks like us, it can be hard to wrap our minds around a product like this. It must have a Bluetooth radio, some kind of motor controller, and of course the motors and gears themselves. Yet they can sell it for the price of a budget hamburger and still turn a profit. If you wanted to pick up barebones robotics platform, with just a couple gear motors and some wheels, it would cost more than that. The economies of scale are a hell of a thing.

Which made me wonder, could hackers take advantage of this ultra-cheap robot for our own purposes? It’s pretty much a given that the software for this robot will be terrible, and that whatever control electronics live inside it will be marginal at best. But what if we write those off and just look at the BilBot as a two-wheeled platform to carry our own electronics? It’s certainly worth $5 to find out.

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Bringing Battle Bots Into The Modern Classroom

With the wide array of digital entertainment that’s available to young students, it can be difficult for educators to capture their imagination. In decades past, a “volcano” made with baking soda and vinegar would’ve been enough to put a class of 5th graders on the edge of their seats, but those projects don’t pack quite the same punch on students who may have prefaced their school day with a battle royale match. Today’s educators are tasked with inspiring kids who already have the world at their fingertips.

Hoping to rise to that challenge with her entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Misty Lackie] is putting together a kit which would allow elementary and middle school students to build their very own fighting robots. Thanks to the use of modular components, younger students don’t have to get bogged down with soldering or the intricacies of how all the hardware actually works. On the other hand, older kids will be able to extend the basic platform without having to start from scratch.

The electronics for the bot consist primarily of an Arduino Uno with Sensor Shield, a dual H-bridge motor controller, and a wireless receiver for a PS2 controller. This allows the students to control the bot’s dual drive motors with an input scheme that’s likely very familiar to them already. By mapping the controller’s face buttons to digital pins on the Arduino, additional functions such as the spinner seen in the bot after the break, easily be activated.

[Misty] has already done some test runs with an early version of the kit, and so far its been a huge success. Students were free to design their own bodies and add-ons for the remote controlled platform, and it’s fascinating to see how unique the final results turned out to be. We’ve seen in the past how excited students can be when tasked with customizing their own robots, so any entry into that field is a positive development in our book.

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My DIY BB-8: Problems, Solutions, Lessons Learned

Imagine trying to make a ball-shaped robot that rolls in any direction but with a head that stays on. When I saw the BB-8 droid doing just that in the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, it was an interesting engineering challenge that I couldn’t resist. All the details for how I made it would fill a book, so here are the highlights: the problems I ran into, how I solved them and what I learned.

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A H-Bridge Motor Controller Tutorial Makes It Simple To Understand

hbridge tutorial

[Afroninja] is back with another great tutorial on basic electronics. This time around he’s explaining H-Bridge motor controllers and how they work!

Even if you don’t have much (or any) experience with basic electrical circuits, [Afroninja] explains the concept of an H-Bridge motor controller in a clear, concise and easy way to understand. So what’s an H-Bridge anyway? For any project using DC motors, if you want to be able to spin up the motor in either direction, you’re going to need a method to power the motor in two different configurations, i.e. you’re going to have to swap the polarity some how.

The easiest way of doing this is with an H-Bridge. It’s called an H-Bridge… because it’s shaped like an H, with the motor in the very middle. It allows both polarities to control the motor — however if you do it with just plain old switches or relays, you could short the circuit if you try going in both directions at once! To solve this, [Afroninja] explains how to poka-yoke (Japanese term for Idiot-Proof) the circuit, by using transistors which will sink the voltage if you try to abuse the circuit.

It’s a 5 minute video and well worth the watch — stick around after the break to learn more!

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