Sarah Petkus On Building A Cartoon To Go To Mars

Sarah Petkus is a robot mom (which means she’s the mother to a robot, not that Sarah herself is a robot, at least as far as we’re aware), whose child, Noodle Feet, is a character in Sarah’s graphic novel Gravity Road. Unlike every other robot on the planet, Noodle Feet is a content-based robot. Instead of robotic arms welding car panels together or 3D printers squiring out goo, Noodle Feet isn’t a robot built for a specific function. Noodle Feet’s design is derived from his personality in his graphic novel. In the graphic novel, Noodle Feet tastes with his feet, clambers over rocks, and explores his surroundings. That’s what the real-life version of Noodle Feet must do, and that means building the hardware to do just that.

Sarah has been working on Noodle Feet for about two years now, and last year she presented a talk about tasting feet and salivating toes. It’s odd, yes, but it is a fantastic exploration of what can be done with robotics.

This year, Sarah had the opportunity to be an artist in residence at ESA, where Noodle Feet could at least test out his dream of living on Mars. There, Noodle Feet played around in the ESA’s Mars yard, where he made friends with a copy of the ExoMars rover.

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TastingFeet: Building Toes And Tongues

Noodle Feet is a robot — an artistically designed robot — that is a character from Sarah Petkus’ webcomic Gravity Road. This webcomic explores a post-human universe inhabited by robots, and dives deep into these robots’ exploration of the trash left behind from a human civilization.

Sarah’s not just drawing these robots. She’s bringing them to life. The character Noodle Feet, so named because his legs are encased in pool noodles, has been made real with an aluminum skeleton, a PCB brain, and infrared detecting eyes. At the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference Sarah gave a talk on the challenges of making this robot real and the specifics of making her robot dig its toes into carpet, slobber all over the floor, and taste with its artificial tongue.

Since last year’s talk on Noodle Feet, Sarah has vastly improved the gripping strength of her noodle’s feet. Over the last two years of construction the mechanism to extend grippy, cat-like toenails has moved from cheap hobby servos to solenoids to a clever cam system. While these toe feet worked, the grip was never quite right, and the world isn’t completely covered in shag carpet. After the break we’ll take a closer look at the improvements that Sarah made to the design and how she came up with the ideas for each new iteration.

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Creating Art In a Robot that Tastes with Its Feet

[Sarah Petkus] started off her career as a visual artist with traditional mediums. She has a webcomic called Gravity Road, but somewhere along the line she wanted her creations to come alive. These characters are robots – artistically designed robots – and turning this type of art into a real object isn’t something that happens very often.

Robots usually aren’t art. A Roomba is just a vacuum cleaner that’s meant to turn on a dime, thus the circular shape. The welding robots in a car factory aren’t art, they’re only tools to assemble cars. These are just devices built for a single purpose, and art is for any or every purpose. It’s not something you can really design, but you can engineer a few interesting solutions.

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