Hackaday Links: March 25, 2018

File this one under, ‘don’t do this yourself, but we’re glad they filmed it.’ [Denis Koryakin] flew a quadcopter to 10km, or about 33,000 feet. This was just an experiment to see if it was possible. A few items of note from the video: this thing was climbing at 14-15 m/s when it first took off. It was barely climbing at 2 m/s at 10km. Second: it was really, really cold. The ground temperature was -10 C, and temperatures at 8km reached -50 C. Density altitude is on this guy’s side, and I don’t know if this would be possible in warmer temperatures.

Hold on to your hats, there’s a gigantic space station that’s going to crash sometime in the next few weeks. Tiangong-1, an 8-ton space station launched in 2011, is going to reenter the atmosphere ‘sometime between March 30 and April 6’. Because of orbits and stuff, it’s more likely to reenter at the highest latitudes, and this space station has an inclination of 42.7 degrees. If your latitude is 42° N or 42° S, you should probably pull a Liza Minnelli on this situation and spend the next month in bed.

Hey, cool! The Tindie Badge is being used to teach orphans in Bosnia how to solder.

The BBC has decided to cancel Robot Wars. No, it’s not Battlebots — the house robots always seemed to be a bit overkill and added too much drama. No, it’s not Scrapheap Challenge or Junkyard Wars, but Robot Wars was legitimately fun, and cheap-to-produce reality TV. The engineering that went into these bots was amazing, and this is a loss for the entire engineering community. Here’s a change.org petition against its cancellation, but we all know how successful those change.org petitions can be.

FREE CHIPS!. Free motor drivers, actually, which is even more impressive. Aisler puts together BOMs for projects and such — think of it as an on-demand kitting service. They’re throwing in free Trinamic drivers with orders. Someone should build a motor driver breakout.

Ever Wonder How The Bots On Robot Wars Were Built?

Building a robot that can do anything well is a tough challenge. Building one that can stand up to another robot trying to violently put it out of commission is an even harder task. But it makes for some entertaining television! It is this combination that thrust a few creative robot building teams into the world of Robot Wars.

SMIDSY in the pits for series 5 of the UK Robot Wars TV show. From left to right: [Andy Pugh], [Robin Bennett], and [Mik Reed]. RIP [Mik].
SMIDSY in the pits for series 5 of the UK Robot Wars TV show. From left to right: [Andy Pugh], [Robin Bennett], and [Mik Reed]. RIP [Mik].
SMIDSY, short for the insubstantial excuse heard by many a motorcyclist “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You”, is a robot that competed in several seasons of the British incarnation of the Robot Wars TV show. It wasn’t the most successful of machines because its weapons were slightly weedy compared to some of the competition, but it was one of the more robust and reliable platforms on the circuit at the time thanks to its combination of simple uncomplicated construction and extremely good design. I had the pleasure of being on the team that built and competed with SMIDSY and carry from it some of the more found memories from that decade.

A few weeks ago I learned that a friend from that period in my life had died following an illness. I hadn’t seen [Mik] for a few years as our lives had drifted apart, but if we were to turn back the clock nearly a couple of decades you would find us and about twenty other fellow members of the Ixion British motorcyclist’s mailing list hard at work building a Robot Wars robot.

The hard work and determination make this a great story. But even more so it’s fun to look back on the state of the art of the time and see some clever workarounds in a time when robot building was just starting to be approachable by the average engineer.

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Ottawa Maker Faire: Droids And Pick And Place Machines

Three things that I love about participating in Maker Faires are seeing all the awesome stuff people have done over the past year, spending time with all my maker friends in one big room over two days and the reactions to what I made. The 2016 Ottawa Maker Faire had all this in spades.

BB-8 – Droid With Magnetic Personality

There’s just something about BB-8 that touches people. I once heard of a study that showed that when buying kid’s toys, adults were attracted to circles, that that’s the reason teddy bears often have round heads with big round eyes. Similar reactions seem to happen with BB-8, the droid from last year’s Star Wars movie. Adults and kids alike pet him, talk baby-talk to him, and call to him with delight in their voice. I got those reactions all throughout the Maker Faire.

But my favorite reaction happened every time I removed the head and lifted the top hemisphere of the ball to expose the electronics inside. Without fail the reaction of adults was one of surprise. I don’t know if it was because of the complexity of the mechanism that was revealed or because it was just more than they expected. To those whom I thought would understand, I gave the same speech:

“This is the remote control receiver taken from a toy truck, which puts out negative and positive voltages for the different directions. That goes to this ugly hack of a board I came up with that converts it all to positive voltages for the Arduino. The Arduino then does pulse width modulation to these H-bridge driver boards, for speed control, which then talk to these two drill motors.”

Bowie and BB-8
Bowie and BB-8

Those I wasn’t sure would understand were given a simpler overview. Mine’s a hamster drive (we previously covered all the possible ways to drive a BB-8) and so I showed how it sits on two Rollerblade wheels inside the ball. I then flipped it over to show the heavy drill batteries underneath, and then explained how the magnets at the top of the drive mechanism attracted the magnets under the head, which got another look of revelation. All went away satisfied.

But BB-8 sometimes needs a break from human interaction and seeks out its own kind, like Bowie which you can read about below along with more awesome Maker Faire exhibits.

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Hackaday Links: January 17, 2016

The BBC has commissioned a new series of Robot Wars. This is not Battlebots; that show was revived last year, and a second season will air again this summer. Robot Wars is the one with the ‘house’ robots. We would like to take this opportunity to remind the BBC that Robot Wars is neither Scrapheap Challenge nor Junkyard Wars, and by virtue of that fact alone is an inferior show.

[Fran] is a favorite around these parts. She’s taken apart a Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer, visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum warehouse, and is the occasional host of the Dinosaur Den with [Bil Herd]. Now, she’s relaunching her line of guitar pedals. ‘Boutique’ pedals are a weird market, but with the help of a few manufacturers, [Fran] is bringing her Peachfuzz pedal back to life through Kickstarter.

Want to be an astronaut? Here’s the application.

Here’s your monthly, ‘WTF is this thing on eBay’ link. It’s a clamshell/toilet seat iBook (c.2000), loaded up with an Intel i5 Broadwell CPU, 128 GB of Flash storage, 4 GB of RAM, a 12″ 1024×768 LCD, Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, and runs OS X El Capitan. I might be mistaken, but it looks like someone took the motherboard out of a 2015 MacBook Air, crammed it into a sixteen year old computer, and put it up on eBay. I’m not saying that’s what it is; this is from China, and there are people over there making new improved motherboards for a Thinkpad x61. Weirder stuff has already happened.

In the last installment of the Travelling Hacker Box, I asked if anyone can receive mail in Antarctica. A person with friends in the British survey team emailed me, but nothing came of that. It’s summer, so if Antarctica is going to happen, it needs to happen soon.

Mini Robot Wars Looks Fun and Only Slightly Scary

“Ahhhh! They’re so cute! Wait a second, does that little robot have a spinning blade of death?!?!?”  Yes, yes it does.

Welcome to Bristol University 2nd Annual Robot Wars Tournament. It’s loosely based on the old BBC show Robot Wars, where contestants would design and build fighting robots. This pint-sized version is just down right fun to watch. But don’t let their size fool you, some of these little bots pack a mean punch.

This competition follows the “Antweight World Series Rules” and must fit inside a 4 inch cube with a max weight of 150 grams. There are some not-so-fun rules attached to that, such as “No flame based weapons” and “no use of electricity as a weapon.” But hey, it still looks like a blast.

We can’t help but to think that a contest like this would be an amazing thing for local hacker spaces to set up and organize. The playing field seems to be a reasonable size, such that it could be set-up and torn-down without too much hassle. And with RC transmitters/receivers available so inexpensively these days, and ebay flooded with little robot parts from China, now seems like a perfect time to start a local robot competition. It might be a great way to draw people into making and hacking. You can watch the video of the competition and meet the makers after the break.

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Quadruped Robot Thinks it’s a Puppy

puppybotBack at New York MakerFaire 2012, we noticed an amazing little steampunk quadruped robot walking around in the crowd outdoors. The robot was amazingly well executed, and had a unique ability to draw children over with it’s puppy like animations. It turns out this is [Drew’s] Little Walking Robot (AKA Puppy Bot).

Puppy Bot has actually been around for quite a while. He was born from the spare parts [Drew] had left over after competing in Robot Wars and Battlebots. The robots in these competitions were often controlled by Radio Control plane or car transmitters. Most of these systems are sold as packs for an RC car or plane. In addition to the transmitter and receiver, the pack usually included a battery and 3 or 4 servos. Standard RC servos were much too weak for use in battle robots, so they remained in his parts box.

On what [Drew] calls a slow weekend, he started putting the servos together, and ended up with a basic robot that could crawl around the room. After that the robot took on a life of its own. [Drew] improved the battery system, and added a microcontroller to automate the various gaits and animations. He brought the robot along with him to one of his battlebot competitions, and it took home the “Coolest Robot” award – even though it wasn’t actually competing!

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Report from RoboGames 2012

Last week we reported on the upcoming 2012 Robogames competition would be held in San Mateo, California. Nobody from the Hackaday staff could make it this year, but luckily [Sabrina Merlo] from the Make: blog was able to provide a full report of the spectacle of fire, sparks and pierced metal this year.

For anyone who remembers the wonderful Battlebots TV show from 10 years ago, the main event is very familiar: two competitors face off with the remote-controlled extensions of themselves in a Lexan enclosed arena. The resulting battle is an orgy of flames sparks and mortally wounded robots. Yes, there are a ton of wedge robots, but most of them had very interesting weapon designs.

Off the main stage, there are also more traditional robotics competitions. Sumo robots try to push each other out of a ring, robot soccer tries to demonstrate a mechanistic Pelé, and foot-tall MechWarriors battle in the streets of a miniaturized city.

There were also a lot of not-really-battling robots like a robotic foosball table. It sounds like everyone had a blast, so we might be hitting up the bay area this time next year.