Nvidia Teaching Robots To Master IKEA Kitchens

The current wave of excitement around machine learning kicked off when graphics processors were repurposed to make training deep neural networks practical. Nvidia found themselves the engine of a new revolution and seized their opportunity to help push frontiers of research. Their research lab in Seattle will focus on one such field: making robots smart enough to work alongside humans in an IKEA kitchen.

Today’s robots are mostly industrial machines that require workspaces designed for robots. They run day and night, performing repetitive tasks, usually inside cages to keep squishy humans out of harm’s way. Robots will need to be a lot smarter about their surroundings before we could safely dismantle those cages. While there are some industrial robots making a start in this arena, they have a hard time justifying their price premium. (Example: financial difficulty of Rethink Robotics, who made the Baxter and Sawyer robots.)

So there’s a lot of room for improvement in this field, and this evolution will need a training environment offering tasks of varying difficulty levels for robots. Anywhere from the rigorous structured environment where robots work well today, to a dynamic unstructured environment where robots are hopelessly lost. Lab lead Dr. Dieter Fox explained how a kitchen is ideal. A meticulously cleaned and organized kitchen is very similar to an industrial setting. From there, we can gradually make a kitchen more challenging for a robot. For example: today’s robots can easily pick up a can with its rigid regular shape, but what about a half-full bag of flour? And from there, learn to pick up a piece of fresh fruit without bruising it. These tasks share challenges with many other tasks outside of a kitchen.

This isn’t about building a must-have home cooking robot, it’s about working through the range of challenges shared with common kitchen tasks. The lab has a lot of neat hardware, but its success will be measured by the software, and like all research, published results should be reproducible by other labs. You don’t have a high-end robotics lab in your house, but you do have a kitchen. That’s why it’s not just any kitchen, but an IKEA kitchen, to take advantage of the fact they are standardized, affordable, and available around the world for other robot researchers to benchmark against.

Most of us can experiment in a kitchen, IKEA or not. We have access to all the other tools we need: affordable AI hardware from Google, from Beaglebone, and from Nvidia. And we certainly have no shortage of robot arms and manipulators on these pages, ranging from a small laser-cut MeArm to our 2018 Hackaday Prize winner Dexter.

Hackaday Podcast Ep18: Faxploitation! Ikea RFID Hacking, Space Ads, Hydrogen Dones, And Blinkies

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys gather round the microphone to spin tales from a week of hacks. All the rage are fax-machine-based malware, a hydrogen fuel cell drone, and bringing color to the monochrome world of the original Super Mario Land. There are at least three really cool LED hacks this week, plus Tom’s been exploring space advertising, Maya’s debunking solder myths, and Elliot goes ga-ga for a deep Ikea electronics hack. Closing out the show is an interview with Bart Dring about his exquisitely-engineered string art robot.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (68 MB of audio splendor)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast Ep18: Faxploitation! Ikea RFID Hacking, Space Ads, Hydrogen Dones, And Blinkies”

Ripping Up A Rothult

NFC locks are reaching a tipping point where the technology is so inexpensive that it makes sense to use it in projects where it would have been impractical months ago. Not that practicality has any place among these pages. IKEA carries a cabinet lock for $20USD and does not need any programming but who has a jewelry box or desk drawer that could not benefit from a little extra security? Only a bit though, we’re not talking about a deadbolt here as this teardown shows.

Rothult has all the stuff you would expect to find in an NFC scanner with a moving part. We find a microcontroller, RFID decoder, supporting passives, metal shaft, and a geartrain. The most exciting part is the controller which is an STM32L051K8 processor by STMicroelectronics and second to that is the AS3911 RFID reader from AMS. Datasheets for both have links in the teardown. Riping up a Rothult in the lab, we find an 25R3911B running the RFID, and we have a link to that PDF datasheet. Both controllers speak SPI.

There are a couple of things to notice about this lock. The antenna is a flat PCB-mounted with standard header pins, so there is nothing stopping us from connecting coax and making a remote antenna. The limit switches are distinct so a few dabs of solder could turn this into an NFC controlled motor driver. Some of us will rest easy when our coworkers stop kidnapping our nice pens.

Rothult first came to our attention in a Hackaday Links where a commenter was kind enough to tip us off to this teardown. Thanks, Pio! If this whets your appetite for NFC, we have more in store.

Ikea Furniture Hacks Make Accessibility More Accessible

The ThisAbles project is a series of 3D-printed IKEA furniture hacks making life easier for those without full use of their bodies. Since IKEA furniture is affordable and available across most of the planet, it’s the ideal target for a project that aims to make 3D-printed improvements accessible to everyone.

These hacks fit all meanings of the word “accessible”: Available worldwide, affordable, and helping people overcome physical barriers of everyday living. ThisAbles has support of multiple organizations including IKEA Israel. In their short introductory video (embedded below the break) they explained their process to find ways to make big impacts with simple 3D-printed modifications. From bumpers protecting furniture against wheelchair damage, to handles that allow drawers to be opened without fine fingertip control. Each of these designs also fit the well-known IKEA aesthetic, including their IKEA style illustrated manuals.

The site launched with thirteen downloadable solutions, but they have ambitions for more with user feedback. There’s a form where people can submit problems they would like to see solved, or alternatively, people can submit solutions they’ve already created and wish to share with the world. Making small changes to commodity IKEA furniture, these 3D printed accessories will have far more impact on people’s lives than the average figurine trinket on Thingiverse. It’s just the latest way we can apply hacker ingenuity to help others to do everything from simple daily tasks to video gaming.

[via Washington Post]

Continue reading “Ikea Furniture Hacks Make Accessibility More Accessible”

Motorizing An IKEA SKARSTA Table

We’ve been told that standing at a desk is good for you, but unless you’re some kind of highly advanced automaton you’re going to have to sit down eventually no matter what all those lifestyle magazines say. That’s where desks like the IKEA SKARSTA come in; they use a crank on the front to raise and lower the desk to whatever height your rapidly aging corporeal form is still capable of maintaining. All the health benefits of a standing desk, without that stinging sense of defeat when you later discover you hate it.

But who wants to turn a crank with their hand in 2019? Certainly not [iLLiac4], who’s spent the last few months working in conjunction with [Martin Mihálek] to add some very impressive features to IKEA’s adjustable table. Replacing the hand crank with a motorized system which can do the raising and lifting was only part of it, the project also includes a slick control panel with a digital display that shows the current table height and even allows the user to set and recall specific positions. The project is still in active development and has a few kinks to work out, but it looks exceptionally promising if you’re looking to get a very capable adjustable desk without breaking the bank.

The heart of the project is a 3D printable device which uses a low-RPM DC gear motor to turn the hex shaft where the crank would normally go. A rotary encoder is linked to the shaft of the motor by way of printed GT2 pulleys and a short length of belt, which gives the system positional information and avoids the complexity of adding limit switches to the table itself.

For controlling the motor the user is given the option between using relays or an H-Bridge PWM driver board, but in either event an Arduino Nano will be running the show. In addition to controlling the motor and reading the output of the rotary encoder, the Arduino also handles the front panel controls. This consists of a TM1637 four digit LED display originally intended for clocks, as well as six momentary contact tactile switches complete with 3D printed caps. The front panel’s simple user interface not only allows for setting and recalling three preset desk heights, but can even be used to perform the calibration routine without having to go in and hack the source code to change minimum and maximum positions.

We’ve seen all manner of hacks and modifications dealing with IKEA products, from a shelving unit converted into a vivarium to a table doing double duty as a cheap plate reverb. Whether you’re looking for meatballs or some hacking inspiration, IKEA seems to be the place to go.

Gorgeous Bartop Arcade Build is a Cut Above

At this point we’ve seen a good number of desktop-sized arcade cabinets, and while they’ve naturally all been impressive in their own ways, they do tend to follow a pretty familiar formula. Cut the side panels out of MDF (or just buy a frame kit), stick a Raspberry Pi and an old LCD monitor in there, and then figure out how to control the thing. Maybe a couple strategically placed stickers and blinking LEDs to add a few extra horsepower, but nothing too surprising.

[Andy Riley] had seen plenty of builds like that, and he wasn’t having any of it. With the heart of an old laptop and bones made of IKEA cutting boards, his build is proof positive that there’s always more than one way to approach a problem that most would consider “solved” already. From the start, he set out to design and build a miniature arcade cabinet that didn’t look and feel like all the other ones he’d seen floating around online, and we think you’ll agree he delivered in a big way.

Powering the arcade with an old laptop is really a brilliant idea, especially since you can pick up older models for a song now that they’re considered nearly disposable by many users. As long as it doesn’t have a cracked display, you’ll get a nice sized LCD panel and potentially a rather powerful computer to drive it. Certainly the graphical capabilities of even the crustiest of used laptops will run circles around the Raspberry Pi, and of course it opens the possibility of playing contemporary PC games. As [Andy] shows in his detailed write-up, using a laptop does take more custom work than settling for the Pi, but we think the advantages make a compelling case for putting in the effort.

Of course, that’s only half the equation. Arguably the most impressive aspect of this build is the cabinet itself, which is made out of a couple IKEA bamboo cutting boards. [Andy] used his not inconsiderable woodworking skills, in addition to some pretty serious power tools, to turn the affordable kitchen accessories into a furniture-grade piece that really stands out from the norm. Even if you aren’t normally too keen on working with dead trees, his step-by-step explanations and pictures are a fascinating look at true craftsman at work.

If you’re more concerned with playing Galaga than the finer points of varnish application, you can always just turbocharge the old iCade and be done with it. But we think there’s something to be said for an arcade cabinet that could legitimately pass as a family heirloom.

Hackaday Links: The Eleventh Day Of The Eleventh Month, 2018

For the better part of the last five years, the Great War Channel on YouTube has been covering the events of the Great War, week by week, exactly 100 years later. It’s hundreds of episodes designed for history buffs, and quite literally one of the most educational channels on YouTube. It’s the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eighteenth year, which means the folks behind the Great War Channel are probably taking a well-deserved vacation. If you haven’t heard of this channel, it might be a good time to check it out.

Ikea is now selling NFC locks. [Mike] wrote in to tell us he found the new ROTHULT drawer deadbolts for $18 at Ikea. No, these aren’t meant for your front door, they’re meant for file cabinets. That’s a different threat model, and no lock is ever completely secure. However, there are some interesting electronics. You get a lock powered by three AAA batteries and two NFC cards for $18. Can’t wait for the teardown.

The biggest news from the United States this week is big. People gathered in the streets. Millions made sure their voices were heard. Journalists were cut down for asking questions. This is a week that will go down in history. The McRib is back for a limited time. It’s just a reconstituted pork patty, pickles, onions, and sauce on a hoagie roll, but there’s more to the McRib than you would think. McDonalds only releases the McRib when the price of pork is low, and in late October, pork belly futures hit their lowest price since the last time the McRib came to town. This has led some to claim the McRib is just a second lever for McDonalds in an arbitrage play on the price of pork. McDonalds is always buying pork futures, the theory goes, and when it looks like they’re going to lose money, McDonalds simply turns on the McRib production line, pushing pork consumption up, and netting McDonalds a tidy profit. With the volume you’re looking at, McDonalds will never lose money by betting on pork.

You can turn anything into a quadcopter. A dead cat? Yes, it’s been done. How about a quartet of box fans? That’s what the folks at Flite Test did, and while the completed article was wobbly and didn’t survive its first crash, it was a quadcopter made out of box fans.