Mindstorms Forkliftbots Gonna Take Your Job

With every advance in robotics, we get closer to being able to order stuff from Amazon and have no human being participate in its delivery. Key step in this dream: warehouse robots, smart forklifts able to control and inventory and entire warehouse full of pallets, without the meat community getting involved. [Thomas Risager] designed just such a system as part of his Masters Thesis in Software Engineering. It consists of five LEGO Mindstorms robots working in concert (video embedded below), linked via WiFi to a central laptop. Mindstorms’ native OS doesn’t support WiFi (!!!) so he reflashed the EV3’s ARM9 chip with software developed using Java and running under LeJOS. On the laptop side [Thomas] wrote a C++ application that handles the coordination and routing of the forklifts. We can see a lot of weary forklift drivers ready to kick back and let a robot have the full-time job for a change.

The robots use WiFi to a central laptop. Mindstorms’ native OS doesn’t support WiFi (!!!) so [Thomas] reflashed the EV3’s ARM9 chip with software developed using Java and running under LeJOS. On the laptop side he wrote a C++ application that handles the coordination and routing of the forklifts. [Thomas] is sharing his forklift design.

Now to scale up — maybe with DIY forklifts like we published earlier? We can see a lot of weary forklift drivers ready to kick back and let a robot have the full-time job for a change.

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Mechanical Marvel Trades Courage for Chocolate

When we see what [Jason Allemann] does with LEGO, we wonder why more one-offs aren’t made this way. This time he’s made a Halloween mechanical marvel that will surely scare more kids than anything else they’ll encounter on their rounds — so much so that many may even decline the chocolate it dispenses. Who wouldn’t when to get it you have to reach over an animatronic skeleton hand that may grab you while a similarly mechanized spider may lunge onto your hand.

The chocolate dispensing, the hand and the spider are all animated using four motors, a LEGO Mindstorms EV3 brick to control them, and a touch sensor. When a kid presses a pumpkin attached to the touch sensor, the next chocolate candy is lowered by gravity onto a conveyor belt and carried forward to the awaiting child. That much is automatic. At the discretion of [Jason] and his partner [Kristal], using an infrared remote control and sensor, they can activate the skeleton hand and the lunging spider at just the right moment. We’re just not sure who they’ll choose to spare. It is Halloween after all, and being scared is part of the fun, so maybe spare no one? Check out the video below and tell us if you’d prefer just the treat, or both the trick and treat.

We do have to wonder if there’s any project that can’t benefit from LEGO products, even if only at the prototype stage or to help visualize an idea. As a small sample, [Jason]’s also made a remote-controlled monowheel and an actual working printer along with a Morse key telegraph machine to send it something to print.

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LEGO-compatible Electronics Kits Everywhere!

Within the last few years, a lot of companies have started with the aim to disrupt the educational electronics industry using their LEGO-compatible sets. Now they’re ubiquitous, and fighting each other for their slice of space in your child’s box of bricks. What’s going on here?

Raison D’Être

The main reason for LEGO-compatibility is familiarity. Parents and children get LEGO. They have used it. They already have a bunch. When it comes to leveling up and learning about electronics, it makes sense to do that by adding on to a thing they already know and understand, and it means they can continue to play with and get more use from their existing sets. The parent choosing between something that’s LEGO-compatible and a completely separate ecosystem like littleBits (or Capsela) sees having to set aside all the LEGO and buy all new plastic parts and learn the new ecosystem, which is a significant re-investment. littleBits eventually caught on and started offering adapter plates, and that fact demonstrates how much demand there is to stick with the studs.

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LEGO Looper Makes Modular Music

This LEGO synth made by [Rare Beasts] had us grinning from ear to ear.

It combines elements from LEGO Mindstorms with regular blocks in order to make music with color. A different music sample is assigned to each of five colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and white. The blocks are attached to spokes coming off of a wheel made with NXT an EV3. As the wheel turns, the blocks pass in front of a fixed color sensor that reads the color and plays the corresponding sample. The samples are different lengths, so changing the speed of the wheel makes for some interesting musical effects.

As you’ll see in the short video after the break, [Rare Beasts] starts the wheel moving slowly to demonstrate the system. Since the whole thing is made of LEGO, the blocks are totally modular. Removing a few of them here and there inserts rests into the music, which makes the result that much more complex.

LEGO is quite versatile, and that extends beyond playtime. It can be used to automate laboratory tasks, braid rope, or even simulate a nuclear reactor. What amazing creations have you made with it? Let us know in the comments.

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Eye-Controlled Wheelchair Advances from Talented Teenage Hackers

[Myrijam Stoetzer] and her friend [Paul Foltin], 14 and 15 years old kids from Duisburg, Germany are working on a eye movement controller wheel chair. They were inspired by the Eyewriter Project which we’ve been following for a long time. Eyewriter was built for Tony Quan a.k.a Tempt1 by his friends. In 2003, Tempt1 was diagnosed with the degenerative nerve disorder ALS  and is now fully paralyzed except for his eyes, but has been able to use the EyeWriter to continue his art.

This is their first big leap moving up from Lego Mindstorms. The eye tracker part consists of a safety glass frame, a regular webcam, and IR SMD LEDs. They removed the IR blocking filter from the webcam to make it work in all lighting conditions. The image processing is handled by an Odroid U3 – a compact, low cost ARM Quad Core SBC capable of running Ubuntu, Android, and other Linux OS systems. They initially tried the Raspberry Pi which managed to do just about 3fps, compared to 13~15fps from the Odroid. The code is written in Python and uses OpenCV libraries. They are learning Python on the go. An Arduino is used to control the motor via an H-bridge controller, and also to calibrate the eye tracker. Potentiometers connected to the Arduino’s analog ports allow adjusting the tracker to individual requirements.

The web cam video stream is filtered to obtain the pupil position, and this is compared to four presets for forward, reverse, left and right. The presets can be adjusted using the potentiometers. An enable switch, manually activated at present is used to ensure the wheel chair moves only when commanded. Their plan is to later replace this switch with tongue activation or maybe cheek muscle twitch detection.

First tests were on a small mockup robotic platform. After winning a local competition, they bought a second-hand wheel chair and started all over again. This time, they tried the Raspberry Pi 2 model B, and it was able to work at about 8~9fps. Not as well as the Odroid, but at half the cost, it seemed like a workable solution since their aim is to make it as cheap as possible. They would appreciate receiving any help to improve the performance – maybe improving their code or utilising all the four cores more efficiently. For the bigger wheelchair, they used recycled car windshield wiper motors and some relays to switch them. They also used a 3D printer to print an enclosure for the camera and wheels to help turn the wheelchair. Further details are also available on [Myrijam]’s blog. They documented their build (German, pdf) and have their sights set on the German National Science Fair. The team is working on English translation of the documentation and will release all design files and source code under a CC by NC license soon.

Developing Film With Lego

Developing film at home is most certainly a nearly forgotten art nowadays, but there are still a few very dedicated people who care enough to put in the time and study to this craft. [Jan] is one of the exceptional ones. He’s developing 35mm film with Lego (Dutch, Google translate).

For the build, [Jan] is using the Lego RCX 1.0, the first gen of the Lego Mindstorms, released in the late 90s. According to eBay, this is a significantly cheaper option for programmable Lego. The mechanics of the Lego film developer consisted of multiple tanks of chemicals. The film was loaded on a reel, suspended from a Lego gantry, and dunked into each tank for a specific amount of time.

A second revision of the hardware (translate) was designed, with the film loaded into a rotating cylinder. A series of chemicals would then be pumped into this unit with the hope of reducing the amount of chemicals required. This system was eventually built using the wiper fluid pump from a car. Apparently, the system worked well, judging from the pictures developed with this system. Whether it was easy or efficient is another matter entirely.

You can check out a video of the first revision of the Lego film developing system below.

Thanks [Andrew] for sending this in.

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Hackaday Links: October 12, 2014

Remember in the late 90s and early 2000s when everything had blue LEDs in them? Blinding blue LEDs that lit up a dark room like a Christmas tree? Nobel prize. There’s a good /r/askscience thread on why this is so important. The TL;DR is that it’s tough to put a p-type layer on gallium nitride.

Have a Segway and you’re a member of the 501st? Here’s your Halloween costume. It’s a model of the Aratech 74-Z speeder bike, most famously seen careening into the side of trees on the forest moon of Endor.

[Andrew] needed something to do and machined an iPhone 5 out of a block of aluminum. Here’s the video of icon labels being engraved. The machine is a Denford Triac with a six station auto tool changer. He’s running Mach3, and according to him everything – including the correct tooling – cost far too much money.

Another [Andrew] was working the LEGO booth at Maker Faire New York and has finally gotten his LEGO Mindstorms Minecraft Creeper build written up. Yes, it’s probably smarter than your average Minecraft Creeper, and this one also blows up. He also had a physical version of the classic video game from 1979, Lunar Lander. Both are extremely awesome builds, and a great way to attract kids of all ages to a booth.

titanium[Wilfred] was testing a titanium 3D printer at work and was looking for something to print. The skull ‘n wrenches was a suitable candidate, and the results are fantastic. From [Wilfred]: “Just out of the printer the logo looks amazing because it isn’t oxidized yet (inside the printer is an Argon atmosphere) Then the logo moves to an oven to anneal the stress made by the laser. But then it gets brown and ugly. After sandblasting we get a lovely bluish color as you can see in the last picture.”

The folks at Lulzbot/Aleph Objects are experimenting with their yet-to-be-released printer, codenamed ‘Begonia’. They’re 2D printing, strangely enough, and for only using a standard Bic pen, the results look great.

Everyone is going crazy over the ESP8266 UART to WiFi module. There’s another module that came up on Seeed recently, the EMW3162. It’s an ARM Cortex M3 with plenty of Flash, has 802.11 b/g/n, and it’s $8.50 USD. Out of stock, of course.