The Adorable Robot Spot, Now In Affordable Form

If you’ve been following the Boston Dynamics project Spot, you’ve seen its capabilities and how we’re starting to see it being used in public more since its official release last year. But in a true display of how hobbyist electronics have been evolving and catching up with the big companies over the past few years, [Miguel Ayuso Parrilla] shows us his own take on the walking robot with CHOP, one of the finalists in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

CHOP is a DIY quadruped robot that works much in the same way as Spot, although in a smaller form-factor and, perhaps most impressive of all, a bill of materials that can be all acquired for under $500. The entire project is open source, meaning that anyone can built their own version of it with off-the-shelf parts and some 3D printing. If you can’t get the hardware however, you can still play with the PyBullet simulation of the mechanics that were used during the debugging process.

Running the show are two main components, a Raspberry Pi 4B and an Arduino Mega. While the Mega interfaces with the servo controllers and provides filtering for sensors like the inertial measurement unit, the Pi takes all that data in and uses a series of Python scripts in order to determine the gait of the robot and which way the servos should move through an inverse kinematics model. To control the direction in which the body of the robot should accelerate, a Bluetooth remote controller sends commands to the Raspberry Pi.

We’re excited to see home-grown projects rise to this level of complexity, which would be mostly unheard of a few years ago in the maker scene, and only presented by large tech companies with tons of money to spend on research and development. There are other quadruped robots to inspire yourself on than Spot though, like this one with a spherical design and fold-out legs. Check this one in action after the break.

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ExoMy Is A Miniature European Mars Rover With A Friendly Face

Over the past few weeks, a new season of Mars fever kicked off with launches of three interplanetary missions. And since there’s a sizable overlap between fans of spaceflight and those of electronics and 3D printing, the European Space Agency released the ExoMy rover for those who want to experience a little bit of Mars from home.

ExoMy’s smiling face and cartoonish proportions are an adaptation of ESA’s Rosalind Franklin (formerly the ExoMars) rover which, if 2020 hadn’t turned out to be 2020, would have been on its way to Mars as well. While Rosalind Franklin must wait for the next Mars launch window, we can launch ExoMy missions to our homes now. Like the real ESA rover, ExoMy has a triple bogie suspension design distinctly different from the rocker-bogie design used by NASA JPL’s rover family. Steering all six wheels rather than just four, ExoMy has maneuvering chops visible in a short Instagram video clip (also embedded after the break).

ExoMy’s quoted price of admission is in the range of 250-500€. Perusing instructions posted on GitHub, we see an electronics nervous system built around a Raspberry Pi. Its published software stack is configured for human remote control, but as it is already running ROS (Robot Operating System), it should be an easy on-ramp for ExoMars builders with the ambition of adding autonomy.

ExoMy joins the ranks of open source rover designs available to hackers with 3D printing, electronics, and software skills. We recently covered a much larger rover project modeled after Curiosity. Two years ago NASA JPL released an open source rover of their own targeting educators, inspiring this writer’s own Sawppy rover project, which is in turn just one of many projects tagged “Rover” on Hackers love rovers!

Compliant Quadruped Legs Using Servos

Walking robots that move smoothly are tricky to build and usually involve some sort of compliant leg mechanism — a robot limb that can rebound like natural physiology for much better movement than what a stiff machine can accomplish. In his everlasting quest to build a real working robot dog, [James Bruton] is working on an affordable and accessible Mini Robot Dog, starting with the compliant leg mechanism.

The 3D printed leg mechanism has two joints (hip and knee), with an RC servo to drive each. To make the joints compliant, both are spring-loaded to absorb external forces, and the deflection is sensed by a hall effect sensor with moving magnets on each side. Using the inputs from the hall effect sensor, the servo can follow the deflection and return to its original position smoothly after the force dissipates. This is a simple technique but it shows a lot of promise. See the video after the break.

A project can sometimes develop a life of its own, or in the case of [James]’s OpenDog, spawn experimentally evolving offspring. This is number four, and it’s designed  to be a platform for learning how to make a quadruped walk properly, and to be simple and cheap enough for others to build. We’re looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

If you missed it, also check out this robot’s weird sibling, self-balancing Sonic.

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New Part Day: Lynxmotion Smart Servos

Anyone who shops for robotics kits would have come across a few designed by Lynxmotion. They’ve been helping people build robots since 1995, from robot arm kits to hexapod chassis and everything in between. We would expect these people know their motors, so when they launched their own line of servo motors called Lynxmotion Smart Servos (LSS), it is worth spending a bit of time to look over what they offer.

While these new devices have a PWM mode compatible with classic remote control servos, unleashing their full power requires bidirectional communication over a serial bus. We’ve previously given an overview of three serial bus servos already on the market for comparison. A quick look at the $68-$100 price tags listed on Lynxmotion’s parent company RobotShop made it clear they do not intend to compete on price, so what interesting features do these new kids on the block have?

Digging into product documentation found some great details. Acceleration and deceleration rates are adjustable, which can help with smoother robot movement. There’s also an adjustable level of “stiffness” that adds some “give” (compliance) so a robot won’t have to be as stiff as… well, a robot!

Mechanically, the most interesting internal component is the magnetic position sensor. They are far more precise than potentiometers, but more importantly, they allow positioning anywhere within full 360 degrees. Many other serial bus servos are constrained to positions within an arc less than 360 degrees leaving a blind spot.

An interesting quirk of the LSS offerings is that the serial communication protocol uses human-readable text characters, so sending a number 255 means transmitting a three byte string ‘2’, ‘5’, and ‘5’ instead of single byte 0xFF. This would make debugging our custom robot code far easier, at the cost of reduced bandwidth efficiency and loss of checksum for detecting communication errors. It’s a trade-off that some robot builders would be happy to make, but others might not.

Externally, these servos have bountiful mounting options including some we didn’t know to ask for. Historically Lynxmotion kits have used a wide variety of servo mounting brackets, so they are motivated to make mechanical integration easy. The most novel offering is the ability to bolt external gears to the servo body. A set of 1:3 gears allow for gearing the servo up or down, or you can use a set of 1:1 gears for a compact gripper.

As you’d expect of servos in this price range, they all have metal gears, but they also have the ability to power the motor directly from a battery pack (a 3 cell lithium polymer is recommended). There are additional features, like an RGB LED for visual feedback, which we didn’t cover here so dig into the documentation for more. We look forward to seeing how these interesting little actuators perform in future robotics projects.

Wrangling RC Servos Becoming A Hassle? Try Serial Bus Servos!

When we need actuators for a project, a servo from the remote-control hobby world is a popular solution. Though as the number of servos go up, keeping their wires neat and managing their control signals become a challenge. Once we start running more servos than we have fingers and toes, it’s worth considering the serial bus variety. Today we’ll go over what they are and examine three products on the market.

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Evolving The 3D Printed Linear Actuator

Our open source community invites anyone with an idea to build upon the works of those who came before. Many of us have encountered a need to control linear motion and adapted an inexpensive hobby servo for the task. [Michael Graham] evaluated existing designs and believed he has ideas to advance the state of the art. Our Hackaday Prize judges agreed, placing his 3D Printed Servo Linear Actuator as one of twenty winners of our Robotics Module Challenge.

[Michael]’s actuator follows in the footstep of other designs based on a rack-and-pinion gear such as this one featured on these pages, but he approached the design problem from the perspective of a mechanical engineer. The design incorporated several compliant features to be tolerant of variances between 3D printers (and slicer, and filament, etc.) Improving the odds of a successful print and therefore successful projects. Beginners learning to design for 3D printing (and even some veterans) would find his design tips document well worth the few minutes of reading time.

Another useful feature of his actuator design is the 20mm x 20mm screw mounting system. Visible on either end of the output slider, it allows mixing and matching from a set of accessories to be bolted on this actuator. He is already off and running down this path and is facing the challenge of having too many things to share while keeping them all organized and usable by everyone.

The flexible construction system allows him to realize different ideas within the modular system. He brought one item (a variant of his Mug-O-Matic) to the Hackaday + Tindie Meetup at Bay Area Maker Faire, and we’re sure there will be more. And given the thoughtful design and extensive documentation of his project, we expect to see his linear servos adopted by others and appear in other contexts as well.

This isn’t the only linear actuator we’ve come across. It isn’t even the only winning linear actuator of our Robotics Module Challenge, but the other one is focused on meeting different constraints like compactness. They are different tools for different needs – and all worthy additions to our toolbox of mechanical solutions.

Simulating VR Obstacles With Wheelchair Brakes

[Joey Campbell] is studying for his PhD at the Bristol Interaction and Graphics Lab, focusing on the interplay between real and virtual objects within the realm of exergaming–“gamercising” where physical motion and effort drives the game. The goal is to make the physical effort seem to correspond with what’s seen on the headset.

[Joey] set up a test rig where an exercise bike’s gears were adjusted based on the terrain encountered, seeking to find out if that realism inspired a greater feeling of immersion. He also provided some test subjects a HUD with their heart rate and other stats, to see if that encouraged gamers to exercise more.

In his current project, [Joey] has equipped a wheelchair with a pair of Arduino-controlled servos that squeeze the brakes to simulate an obstacle. In the VR realm, a player pushes the wheelchair toward a virtual block and the brakes engage, requiring the player push harder to bypass the obstacle.

One imagines the possibilities of games designed for specifically for wheelchairs. The Eyedrivomatic wheelchair that won the 2015 Hackaday Prize sounds perfect for the job!

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