Robotic Ball-Bouncing Platform Learns New Tricks

[T-Kuhn]’s Octo-Bouncer platform has learned some new tricks since we saw it last. If you haven’t seen it before, this device uses computer vision from a camera mounted underneath its thick, clear acrylic platform to track a ball in 3D space, and make the necessary (and minute) adjustments needed to control the ball’s movements with a robotic platform in real time.

We loved the Octo-Bouncer’s mesmerizing action when we saw it last, and it’s only gotten better. Not only is there a whole new custom ball detection algorithm that [T-Kuhn] explains in detail, there are also now visualizations of both the ball’s position as well as the plate movements. There’s still one small mystery, however. Every now and again, [T-Kuhn] says that the ball will bounce in an unexpected direction. It doesn’t seem to be a bug related to the platform itself, but [T-Kuhn] has a suspicion. Since contact between the ball and platform is where all the control comes from, and the ball and platform touch only very little during a bounce, it’s possible that bits of dust (or perhaps even tiny imperfections on the ball’s surface itself) might be to blame. Regardless, it doesn’t detract from the device’s mesmerizing performance.

Design files and source code are available on the project’s GitHub repository for those who’d like a closer look. It’s pretty trippy watching the demonstration video because there is so much going on at once; you can check it out just below the page break.

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Telepresence Robot Navigates Upgrades

As time marches on and a good percentage of us are still isolating from society at large, the progress of technology isn’t kept as stagnant. Earlier this year we featured a project about a much-needed small telepresence robot with an exceptionally low barrier for entry, and with the progress of time it has received several upgrades and some crowdfunding, all while preserving its original intent of a simple and easily-operated way of keeping in contact with others.

The new robot is still based on the cardboard design that holds a smartphone and drives it around using a microcontroller platform, but thanks to its small size and low power requirement this seems to suit it nicely. Improvements over the original design include a more robust one-size-fits-all phone mount and a more refined cardboard body. Also, since the small size is a little bit of a downside when navigating anywhere that isn’t a desk or counter, the new version makes it easier to make modifications such as adding a pedestal which can elevate the phone and improve the experience of the remote driver. A number of other optional modifications are possible as well, including a grabbing arm.

While telepresence robots unfortunately are needed now more than ever, we are happy to see people like [Ross] take on projects like this which will hopefully help improve our shared situation by allowing us to have a more involved level of contact with people we would otherwise prefer to see in person. If you’d like to build your own without waiting on the crowdfunding, be sure to check out the original project we featured back in April.

Get Back Out There, Robotically

When interacting with reality at a distance is the best course of action, we turn to robots. Whether that’s exploring the surface of Venus, the depths of the ocean, or (for the time being) society at large, it’s often better to put a robot out there than an actual human being. We can’t all send robots to other planets, but we can easily get them in various other places with telepresence robots.

This tiny telepresence robot comes to us from [Ross] at [Crafty Robot] who is using their small Smartibot platform as a basis for this tiny robot. The smartibot drives an easily-created cardboard platform, complete with wheels, and trucks around a smartphone of some sort which handles the video and network capabilities. The robot can be viewed and controlled from any other computer using a suite of web applications that can be found on the project page.

The Smartibot platform is an inexpensive platform that we’ve seen do other things like drive an airship, and the creators are hoping that as many people as possible can get some use out of this quick-and-easy telepresence robot if they really need something like this right now. The kit seems like it would be useful for a lot of other fun projects as well.

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Robotic Ball Bouncer Uses Machine Vision To Stay On Target

When we first caught a glimpse of this ball juggling platform, we were instantly hooked by its appearance. With its machined metal linkages and clear polycarbonate platform, its got an irresistibly industrial look. But as fetching as it may appear, it’s even cooler in action.

You may recognize the name [T-Kuhn] as well as sense the roots of the “Octo-Bouncer” from his previous juggling robot. That earlier version was especially impressive because it used microphones to listen to the pings and pongs of the ball bouncing off the platform and determine its location. This version went the optical feedback route, using a camera mounted under the platform to track the ball using OpenCV on a Windows machine. The platform linkages are made from 150 pieces of CNC’d aluminum, with each arm powered by a NEMA 17 stepper with a planetary gearbox. Motion control is via a Teensy, chosen for its blazing-fast clock speed which makes for smoother acceleration and deceleration profiles. Watch it in action from multiple angles in the video below.

Hats off to [T-Kuhn] for an excellent build and a mesmerizing device to watch. Both his jugglers do an excellent job of keeping the ball under control; his robotic ball-flinger is designed to throw the ball to the same spot every time.

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ArrBot Is A Fast Way To Get Out Standing In A New Field Of Robotics

[Junglist] correctly points out that agricultural robotics is fast on its way to being the next big thing (TM) and presents his easy to build ArrBot platform so others can get hacking fast. 

The frame is built out of the same brackets and aluminum tubing used to add handrails to stairwells on buildings. Not only is this a fast way to do it, the set-up can be guaranteed to be sturdy since hand rails are often literally standing between life and death. The high ground clearance allows for all sorts of sensors and devices to be mounted while still being able to clear the plants below. 

For motion hub motors driven by an ODrive were re-purposed for the task. He explored turning the wheels as well, but it seems like  differential steer and casters works well for this set-up. ROS on an Nividia Jetson runs the show and deals with the various sensors such as a stereoscopic camera and IMU.

We’re excited to see what hacks people come up with as research in this area grows. (Tee-hee!) For example, [Junglist] wants to see the effect of simply running a UV light over a field rather than spraying with pesticides or fungicides would have.

The Demise Of Pebble As A Platform

Despite owning five, including the original Pebble, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about smart watches. Even so, the leaked news that Fitbit is buying Pebble for “a small amount” has me sort of depressed about the state of the wearables market. Because Pebble could have been a contender, although perhaps not for the reason you might guess.

Pebble is a pioneer of the wearables market, and launched its first smartwatch back in 2012, two years before the Apple Watch was announced. But after turning down an offer of $740 million by Citizen back in 2015, and despite cash injections from financing rounds and a recent $12.8 million Kickstarter, the company has struggled financially.

An offer of just $70 million earlier this year by Intel reflected Pebble’s reduced prospects, and the rumoured $30 to $40 million price being paid by Fitbit must be a disappointing outcome for a company that was riding high such a short time ago.

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Pips Help Everyone Around The House

Sometimes you start a project with every intention of using it in a specific way, or maybe your plan is to have a very well-defined set of features. Often, though, our projects go in a completely different direction than we might have intended. That seems to be the case with [Dave] and his Pips. These tiny devices were originally intended to be used by people with disabilities, but it turns out that they’re a perfect platform for this “Internet of Things” thing that we’ve been hearing so much about.

Built around the Bright Blue Bean microcontroller platform to take advantage of its low energy requirements, the Pips were originally intended to be placed around the house where they would light up to remind the user to perform some task. Once the button was pushed, the next Pip in the sequence would activate. While they are quite useful for people with cognitive or sensory impairments, they can also be used in a similar way to the Amazon Dash button or any other simple internet-enabled device. Especially when used in conjunction with a home automation setup, this device could be used in novel ways, such as automating your morning routine without having to add a weight sensor to your bed.

We are also pleased to see that all of the project files are available on GitHub for anyone looking to try this out. Its interesting when something that was originally intended to help out anyone with a disability finds a use somewhere else that it might not have originally been intended for. After all, though, the principle of using things in novel ways is kind of the entire basis of this community.