ESP8266 Powered Tank With Voice Control

The high availability of (relatively) low cost modular components has made building hardware easier than ever. Depending on what you want to do, the hardware side of a project might be the hacker equivalent of building with LEGO. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if it literally involved building with LEGO. In any event, easy and quick hardware builds leave more time for developing creative software to run the show. The end result is that we’re starting to see very complex systems broken down into easy-to-replicate DIY builds that would have been nearly impossible just a few years ago.

[igorfonseca83] writes in to share with us his modular tank platform that uses the ESP8266 and a handful of software hacks to allow for voice control from the user’s mobile device. Presented as a step-by-step guide on Hackaday.io, this project is perfect for getting started in Internet-controlled robotics. Whether you just want to experiment with Google Assistant integration or use this as a blank slate to bootstrap a remotely controlled rover, this project has a lot to offer.

The chassis itself is a commercially available kit, and [igorfonseca83] uses a L298N dual channel H-bridge module to control its two geared motors. A Wemos D1 serves as the brains of the operation, and three 18650 3.7V batteries provide the juice to keep everything running. There’s plenty of expansion capability to add sensors and other gear, but for this project getting it rolling was the only concern.

Software wise, there are a number of pieces that work together to provide the Google Assistant control demonstrated in the video after the break. It starts by interfacing the ESP8266 board Adafruit.IO, which connects to IFTTT, and then finally Google Assistant. By setting up a few two variable phrases in IFTTT that get triggered by voice commands in Google Assistant, you can push commands back down to the ESP8266 through Adafruit.IO. It’s a somewhat convoluted setup, admittedly, but the fact that involves very little programming makes it an interesting solution for anyone who doesn’t want to get bogged down with all the minutiae of developing your own Internet control stack.

[igorfonseca83] is no stranger to building remotely controlled rovers. Last year we covered another of his creations which was commanded through a web browser and carried an Android phone to stream video of its adventures.

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Watney: A Fully 3D Printed Rover Platform

We’re getting to the point that seeing 3D printed parts in a project or hack isn’t as exciting as it was just a few years ago. The proliferation of low-cost desktop 3D printers means that finding a printer to squirt out a few parts for your build isn’t the adventure it once was. Gone are the days of heading to a local hackerspace or college hoping their janky Mendel felt like working that day. But all that really means is that hackers and makers now have the ability to utilize 3D printing even more. Forget printing one or two parts of your design, just print the whole thing.

That’s exactly what [Nik Ivanov] did with Watney, his fully 3D printed rover project. After lamenting that many so-called 3D printed rovers were anything but, he set out to design one that was not only made primarily of printed parts, but was robust enough to put some real work in. Over the course of several design iterations, he built a very capable all-wheel drive platform that needs only some electronics and a handful of M3 screws to leap into action.

As long as you’ve got a 3D printer big enough to handle the roughly 120mm x 190mm dimensions of this bot’s body, you’re well on the way to owning your very own video rover. [Nik] recommends printing everything in PETG, no doubt for its increased strength when it comes to things like the drive gears. Plus it’s low warp, which is really going to help when printing the top and bottom sections of the body. TPU is advised for the tires, but if you don’t have any (or your printer chokes on flexible filaments) you can just wrap the wheels with wide rubber bands.

[Nik] is using a Raspberry Pi Zero W as the brains of the operation, but the beauty of an open platform like this is that you could easily swap out the controls for something else to meet your needs. In addition to the Pi, there’s a L298N H-bridge motor controller to interface with the dual geared motors, as well as a servo to provide tilt for the SainSmart camera module.

We’ve often been surprised at just how expensive commercial robotics platforms can be, so we’re keenly interested in seeing if the availability of designs like this spur on DIY rover development. Though if you’re looking for something a little more rough and tumble, we’ve seen a 3D printed rover that looks combat-ready.

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Glorious Body of Tracked ‘Mad Mech’ Started as Cardboard

[Dickel] always liked tracked vehicles. Taking inspiration from the ‘Peacemaker’ tracked vehicle in Mad Max: Fury Road, he replicated it as the Mad Mech. The vehicle is remote-controlled and the tank treads are partly from a VEX robotics tank tread kit. Control is via a DIY wireless controller using an Arduino and NRF24L01 modules. The vehicle itself uses an Arduino UNO with an L298N motor driver. Power is from three Li-Po cells.

The real artistic work is in the body. [Dickel] used a papercraft tool called Pepakura (non-free software, but this Blender plugin is an alternative free approach) for the design to make the body out of thin cardboard. The cardboard design was then modified to make it match the body of the Peacemaker as much as possible. It was coated in fiberglass for strength, then the rest of the work was done with body filler and sanding for a smooth finish. After a few more details and a good paint job, it was ready to roll.

There’s a lot of great effort that went into this build, and [Dickel] shows his work and process on his project page and in the videos embedded below. The first video shows the finished Mad Mech being taken for some test drives. The second is a montage showing key parts of the build process.

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Dalek-Berry-Pi Mower

There’s something about lawn mowers and hackers. A desire to make them into smart, independent robots. Probably in preparation for the day when Skynet becomes self-aware or the Borg collective comes along to assimilate them into the hive. [Ostafichuk] wanted his to be ready when that happens, so he’s building a Raspberry-Pi powered, Dalek costumed Lawn Mower that is still a work in progress since starting on it in 2014. According to him,  “commercial robot lawn mowers are too expensive and not nearly terrifying enough to be any fun, so I guess I will just have to build something myself…”

His first report describes the basic skeletal structure he built using scrap pieces of wood. Two large lawn tractor wheels and a third pivot wheel help with locomotion. The two large wheels are driven by geared motors originally meant for car seat height adjustments. A deep cycle 12V battery, and solar panels for charging would take care of power. A raspberry-pi provides the brain power for the Dalek-Mower and L298N based drivers help drive the motors. The body was built from some more planks of scrap wood that he had lying around. While waiting around for several parts to arrive – ultrasonic sensors, accelerometer, 5V power supply modules – he started to paint and decorate the wood work. Generous amounts of water repellent paint and duct tape were used to make it weather proof. His initial plan was to use python for the code, but he later switched to programming in c along with wiringPi library. Code for the project is available from his bitbucket git repository. Load testing revealed that the L298N drivers were not suitable for the high current drawn by the motors, so he changed over to relays to drive them.

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