The Leap Motion Makes Robots Bend To Your Will

We just wrapped up the Human Computer Interface challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize, and this project is pushing boundaries we’ve hardly seen before. [Giovanni Leal] is using a Leap Motion controller to move a robotic arm around in space.

The robot arm in question comes from Owi, and it is by every measure not a good robot arm. It is, however, an excellent toy filled with motors and plastic linkages that serves as a good stand-in for a proper robotic arm.

Control of this toy robot arm is done through a Leap Motion controller. While the Leap Motion is a few years old at this point, it is a very effective way to ‘measure’ the position and rotation of a hand in 3D space. The only thing that’s required is the Leap Motion controller itself and a tabletop.

The end result is a robot that can be controlled by a hand. While this robot arm is really just a toy, it was fun to assemble and a little bit of hardware hacking with an Arduino turned this into a working robot arm controlled by a human. Scale this up, establish an island lair, and you’re on your way to taking over the world.

Wood Shines in this SCARA Robotic Arm Project

[igarrido] has shared a project that’s been in the works for a long time now; a wooden desktop robotic arm, named Virk I. The wood is Australian Blackwood and looks gorgeous. [igarrido] is clear that it is a side project, but has decided to try producing a small run of eight units to try to gauge interest in the design. He has been busy cutting the parts and assembling in his spare time.

Besides the beautifully finished wood, some of the interesting elements include hollow rotary joints, which mean less cable clutter and a much tidier assembly. 3D printer drivers are a common go-to for CNC designs, and the Virk I is no different. The prototype is driven by a RAMPS 1.4 board, but [igarrido] explains that while this does the job for moving the joints, it’s not ideal. To be truly useful, a driver would need to have SCARA kinematic support, which he says that to his knowledge is something no open source 3D printer driver offers. Without such a driver, the software has no concept of how the joints physically relate to one another, which is needed to make unified and coherent movements. As a result, users must control motors and joints individually, instead of being able to direct the arm as a whole to move to specific coordinates. Still, Virk I might be what’s needed to get that development going. A video of some test movements is embedded below, showing how everything works so far.

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A Peek at the Mesmerizing Action of a Cycloidal Drive

Cycloidal drives are fascinating pieces of hardware, and we’ve seen them showing up in part due to their suitability for 3D printing. The open source robot arm makers [Haddington Dynamics] are among those playing with a cycloidal drive concept, and tucked away in their August 2018 newsletter was a link they shared to a short but mesmerizing video of a prototype, which we’ve embedded below.

A 10:1 Cycloidal Drive [Source: Wikipedia, image public domain]
A cycloidal drive has some similarities to both planetary gearing and strain-wave gears. In the image shown, the green shaft is the input and its rotation causes an eccentric motion in the yellow cycloidal disk. The cycloidal disk is geared to a stationary outer ring, represented in the animation by the outer ring of grey segments. Its motion is transferred to the purple output shaft via rollers or pins that interface to the holes in the disk. Like planetary gearing, the output shaft rotates in the opposite direction to the input shaft. Because the individual parts are well-suited to 3D printing, this opens the door to easily prototyping custom designs and gearing ratios.

[Haddington Dynamics] are the folks responsible for the open source robot arm Dexter (which will be competing in the Hackaday Prize finals this year), and their interest in a cycloidal drive design sounds extremely forward-thinking. Their prototype consists of 3D printed parts plus some added hardware, but the real magic is in the manufacturing concept of the design. The idea is for the whole assembly to be 3D printed, stopping the printer at five different times to insert hardware. With a robot working in tandem with the printer, coordinating the print pauses with automated insertion of the appropriate hardware, the result will be a finished transmission unit right off the print bed. It’s a lofty goal, and really interesting advancement for small-scale fabrication.

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DEXTER Has the Precision To Get The Job Done

Robotic arms – they’re useful, a key part of our modern manufacturing economy, and can also be charming under the right circumstances. But above all, they are prized for being able to undertake complex tasks repeatedly and in a highly precise manner. Delivering on all counts is DEXTER, an open-source 5-axis robotic arm with incredible precision.

DEXTER is built out of 3D printed parts, combined with off-the-shelf carbon fiber sections to add strength. Control is through five NEMA 17 stepper motors which are connected to harmonic drives to step the output down at a ratio of 52:1. Each motor is fitted with an optical encoder which provides feedback to control the end effector position.

Unlike many simpler projects, DEXTER doesn’t play in the paddling pool with 8-bit micros or even an ARM chip – an FPGA lends the brainpower to DEXTER’s operations. This gives DEXTER broad capabilities for configuration and expansion. Additionally, it allows plenty of horsepower for the development of features like training modes, where the robot is stepped manually through movements and they are recorded for performance later.

It’s a project that is both high performing and open-source, which is always nice to see. We look forward to seeing how this one develops further!

A 3D-Printed Robot Actuator

Somehow, walking robots at our level never really seem to deliver on the promise that should be delivered by all those legs. Articulation using hobby servos is simple enough to achieve, but cumbersome, slow, and not very powerful. [Paul Gould] has a plan to make a better, 3D-printed articulated robot actuator.

His solution is both novel and elegant, a fairly conventional arm geometry that has at its joints a set of brushless motors similar to but a little larger than the kind you might be more familiar with on multirotors, paired with 3D-printed cycloidal gearboxes. Magnetic encoders provide the necessary positional feedback, and the result is a unit that is both compact and powerful.

With such a range of small brushless motor controllers on the market, it’s at first sight unexpected that he’s designed his own controller board. But this gives him complete control over his software, plus the CAN bus that ties everything together. He’s given us a video which we’ve placed below the break, showing the build process, the impressive capabilities of his system, and a selection of builds including a robot dog complete with tail. This is definitely a project to watch.

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Writing On A Whiteboard, Performed By A Robot

For some of us here at Hackaday, school is but a very distant memory. All that teenage awkwardness we’d rather forget, synth pop, and 8-bit computers were cool the first time around, and our newer classrooms didn’t have blackboards any more. The Whiteboard Future Had Arrived, and it came with solvent-laden pens that our more rebellious classmates swore would get you high if you sniffed them for long enough. Innocent times. Kids nowadays probably get their lessons from iPads, but the whiteboard isn’t finished just yet. [f4hdk] has updated his board with Scribot, a whiteboard-writing robot arm driven by a couple of stepper motors and a nicely-engineered set of belts, that writes text from ASCII files in a custom-designed vector font.

At the end of the arm is a whiteboard marker, and in a neat twist it has an eraser on its rear end. A quick flip of the servo holding the marker, and it can rub out any of its work. Behind it all is an LPC1789 Cortex M3-based Mbed board with appropriate servo driver boards, and for those curious enough to take a second look there is a full code repository. The result as you can see in the video below the break is a very well-executed whiteboard writer. Your 1980s teacher might have grumbled at the new technology, but certainly couldn’t accuse it of doing a bad job!

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Here’s Why Hoverboard Motors Might Belong In Robots

[madcowswe] starts by pointing out that the entire premise of ODrive (an open-source brushless motor driver board) is to make use of inexpensive brushless motors in industrial-type applications. This usually means using hobby electric aircraft motors, but robotic applications sometimes need more torque than those motors can provide. Adding a gearbox is one option, but there is another: so-called “hoverboard” motors are common and offer a frankly outstanding torque-to-price ratio.

A teardown showed that the necessary mechanical and electrical interfacing look to be worth a try, so prototyping has begun. These motors are really designed for spinning a tire on the ground instead of driving other loads, but [madcowswe] believes that by adding an encoder and the right fixtures, these motors could form the basis of an excellent robot arm. The ODrive project was a contender for the 2016 Hackaday Prize and we can’t wait to see where this ends up.