Self Balancing Robot Needs A Little Work

A self-balancing robot isn’t a new idea, but we liked the aesthetics of [Maker ATOM’s] build. The use of a breadboard and a printed bracket looks good, as you can see in the video, below.

Like most first-time projects, though, there were some lessons learned. The power supply needs a little work and the range of balance compliance didn’t meet expectations. But those problems are soluble and, as usual, you often learn more from working through issues like these.

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Line Following Robot Uses PID For Speed

While a line-following robot may not be the newest project idea in the book, this one from [Edison Science] is a clean build using modern components and gets a good speed thanks to PID control feedback instead of the more traditional bang-bang control you see in low-end robots.

Of course, PIDs need tuning and that seems to be the weak link — you’ll have to experiment with the settings. The sensors also require calibration, but we bet both of those issues could be fixed pretty easily.

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This Custom Dynamometer Is A Stirling Example Of Homebrewing

[Leo Fernekes] has fallen down the Stirling engine rabbit hole. We mustn’t judge — things like this happen in the best of families, after all. And when they do happen to someone like [Leo], things can get interesting mighty quickly.

His current video, linked below, actually has precious little to do with his newfound Stirling engine habit per se. But when you build a Stirling engine, and you’re of a quantitative bent, having some way to measure its power output would be handy. That’s a job for a dynamometer, which [Leo] sets out to build in grand fashion. Dynos need to measure the torque and rotational speed of an engine while varying the load on it, and this one does it with style.

[Leo]’s torque transducer is completely DIY, consisting of hand-wound coils on the ends of a long lever arm that’s attached to the output shaft of the engine under test by a magnetic coupling. The coils are free to move within a strong magnetic field, with a PID loop controlling the current in the coils. Feedback on the arm’s position is provided by an optical sensor, also DIY, making the current necessary to keep the arm stationary proportional to the input torque. The video goes into great detail and has a lot of design and build tips.

We just love the whole vibe of this build. There may have been simpler or quicker ways to go about it, but [Leo] got this done with what he had on hand for a fraction of what buying in off-the-shelf parts would have cost. And the whole thing was a great learning experience, both for him and for us. It sort of reminds us of a dyno that [Jeremy Fielding] built a while back, albeit on a much different scale.

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Parkinson’s Spoon Uses Control Theory For Good

When we first saw [Barqunics’] design for a self-stabilizing spoon for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, we wondered how well something like that could work. But take a look at the video below and you’ll see this does a fine job of responding to the user’s hand movements and keeping the spoon perfectly level through a wide range of motion.

There’s at least one commercial product that attempts to stabilize a spoon in the same way so that people suffering from that affliction can retain a measure of independence. This shows that you don’t need injection molding and factory made boards to prove the concept. An MPU6050 provides sensor information and two servo motors control the spoon using PID control.

PID — short for proportional, integral, derivative — is a way to adjust something to a desired point. For example, consider trying to heat a cup of water to 95 °C. If you simply turn the heater on full blast until you get to 95 °C, the water will actually get hotter because you’ll overshoot. Using PID, the amount of heating provided will depend on how far off you are now (proportional), how far off you’ve been over the long term (integral), and how much change you’ve effected recently (derivative). The same algorithm works for spoon-balancing and many other types of controls.

This isn’t the first bootstrapped assistive spoon project we’ve seen. We even looked at the commercial version, awhile back.

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Exhaust Fan-Equipped Reflow Oven Cools PCBs Quickly

With reflow soldering, sometimes close is good enough. At the end of the day, the home gamer really just needs a hot plate or an old toaster oven and a calibrated Mark I eyeball to get decent results. This exhaust fan-equipped reflow oven is an attempt to take control of what’s perhaps the more challenging part of the reflow thermal cycle — the cool down.

No fan of the seat-of-the-pants school of reflow soldering, [Nabil Tewolde] started with a cast-off toaster oven for what was hoped to be a more precise reflow oven. The requisite temperature sensors and solid-state relays were added, along with a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a small LCD display. Adding the cooling assist started by cutting a gaping hole cut in the rear wall of the oven, which was then filled with a short stretch of HVAC duct and a stepper-controlled damper. The far end of the duct was fitted with a PC cooling fan; while it seems sketchy to use a plastic fan to eject hot air from the oven, [Nabil] says the exhaust isn’t really that hot by the time it gets to the fan. At the end of the reflow phase of the thermal profile, the damper opens and the fan kicks on, rapidly cooling the oven’s interior.

Unfortunately, [Nabil] still needs to crack open the oven door to get decent airflow; seems like another damper to admit fresh air would help with that. That would complicate things a bit, but it still wouldn’t be as over-the-top as some reflow builds we’ve seen. Then again, that calibrated eyeball thing can work pretty well too, even without a toaster oven.

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Autonomous Multi-Task Performing Robot

[Ruchir] has been pretty into robotics for a while now and has always been amused by the ever-popular obstacle avoiding robot, but wanted something that could do more. So, like any good hacker, he decided to build something himself.

He wanted to incorporate all the popular beginner robot capabilities into a single invention. His robot can follow a line, detect an obstacle, and retrieve an object without switching between modes. It can even follow another robot, which is pretty neat.

His robot has a lot of the hardware you would expect. It uses a Raspberry Pi for all the heavy image processing, has optical sensors for line following and obstacle avoidance, and includes a speaker for audio feedback. What’s especially cool is the impressive interface, called the Regbot GUI, that [Ruchir] is using with his robot. According to the Wiki page, the Regbot GUI appears to accompany an educational robotics platform developed by Professor Jens Christian Andersen of the Technical University of Denmark for teaching controls to engineering students. [Ruchir] was able to adapt the GUI to his particular bot no problem.

Using the Regbot GUI, [Ruchir] can monitor all the robot’s sensor data in real-time (accelerometer, gyroscope, distance sensor, servo, encoder, etc.), dynamically adjust its calibration settings if needed, or even provide a universal killswitch in case the unthinkable happens. We’d say it’s definitely worth a look before you embark on your next robotics project.

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Measuring The Time Is A Breeze With This Air Flow Clock

If you’ve ever had surgery, and you’re over a certain age, chances are good you’re familiar with the dreaded incentive spirometer. It’s a little plastic device with one or more columns, each of which has a plastic ball in it. The idea is to blow into the thing to float the balls, to endure that your lungs stay in good shape and reduce the chance of pneumonia. This unique air-powered clock reminds us a little of that device, without all the pain.

Like a spirometer, [Nir Tasher]’s clock has three calibrated tubes, each big enough to hold a foam ball loosely. At the bottom of each tube is a blower whose motor is under PWM control. A laser rangefinder sits below each ball and measures its height; the measurement is used by a PID loop to control the speed of each fan and thus the height of each ball. The video below shows that the balls are actually pretty steady, making the clock easy to read. It doesn’t, however, reveal what the clock sounds like; we’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that it’s pretty noisy. Still, we think it’s a fantastic way to keep time, and unique in the extreme.

[Nir]’s Air Flow clock is an early entry in the 2020 Hackaday Prize, the greatest hardware design contest on Earth. Everyone should enter something, or at least check out the cool things people are coming up with. It’s still early in the process, but there are so many neat projects already. What are you waiting for?

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