Earlier this month, the youth motocross champion, special effects creator, inventor, TV presenter, and Robot Wars competitor, [Rex Garrod] died at the age of 75 after a long battle with dementia. We do not often carry obituaries here at Hackaday, and it’s possible that if you are not a Brit you may not have heard of [Rex], but his work in the time before YouTube would have made him an international must-watch star had he been operating in the age of on-demand Internet video.
I first became aware of Rex when he appeared as assistant to [Tim Hunkin] on his Secret Life of Machines TV series in the late 1980s. He was the man whose job we all wanted, making the most incredible machines and operating them for our entertainment. Our Hardware heroes tribute to [Tim] has a picture of him operating the needle on a giant mock-up of a sewing machine, but he appeared in many more episodes. Of the many tributes to [Rex] that have appeared over the last few days it is [Tim]’s one that probably says the most about his appeal to our community. His propensity for picking up interesting parts from junkyards strikes a chord, and the tale of hugely overpowering car wiper motors by allowing them to be submerged in water is pure genius.
To a slightly younger generation he is best known for his appearances in the British Robot Wars series‘ with his Cassius series of fighting robots. He created one of the first really potent flipper robots in UK robotic combat, and incidentally the first effective self-righting mechanism. As one of the many members of the SMIDSY team that didn’t appear on the recorded TV series’ I encountered him only peripherally, but I remember his work being a major influence on SMIDSY’s run-any-way-up design. Meanwhile for a younger generation still he created the models for the popular children’s TV character Brum, an anthropomorphised scale-model Austin 7 car.
We’ll leave you with a couple of videos featuring [Rex]. The first is from The Secret Life of Machines, in which along with [Tim] he helps explain electronics from first principles, while the second is a fan-created medley of his Robot Wars appearances. Rest in peace [Rex], and thank you.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Back 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!