These Micro Mice Have Macro Control

Few things fascinate a simple Hackaday writer as much as a tiny robot. We’ve been watching [Keri]’s utterly beguiling micromouse builds for a while now, but the fifth version of the KERISE series (machine translation) of ‘bots takes the design to new heights.

A family of mice v1 (largest) to v5 (smallest)

For context, micromouse is a competition where robots complete to solve mazes of varying pattern but standardized size by driving through them with no guidance or compute offboard of the robot itself. Historically the mazes were 3 meter squares composed of a 16 x 16 grid of cells, each 180mm on a side and 50mm tall, which puts bounds on the size of the robots involved.

What are the hallmarks of a [Keri] micromouse design? Well this is micromouse, so everything is pretty small. But [Keri]’s attention to detail in forming miniaturized mechanisms and 3D structures out of PCBs really stands out. They’ve been building micromouse robots since 2016, testing new design features with each iteration. Versions three and four had a wild suction fan to improve traction for faster maneuvering, but the KERISE v5 removes this to emphasize light weight and small size. The resulting vehicle is a shocking 30mm x 32mm! We’re following along through a translation to English, but we gather that [Keri] feels that there is still plenty of space on the main PCBA now that the fan is gone.

The KERISE v5 front end

The processor is a now familiar ESP32-PICO-D4, though the wireless radios are unused so far. As far as environmental sensing is concerned the v5 has an impressive compliment given its micro size. For position sensing there are custom magnetic encoders and a 3 DOF IMU. And for sensing the maze there are four side-looking IR emitter/receiver pairs and one forward-looking VL6180X laser rangefinder for measurements out to 100 or 150mm. Most of these sensors are mounted on little PCB ‘blades’ which are double sided (check out how the PCB shields the IR emitter from it’s receiver!) and soldered into slots perpendicular to the PCBA that makes up the main chassis. It goes without saying that the rest of the frame is built up of custom 3D printed parts and gearboxes.

If you’d like to build a KERISE yourself, [Keri] has what looks to be complete mechanical, electrical, and firmware sources for v1, v2, and v3 on their Github. To see the KERISE v5 dance on a spinning sheet of paper, check out the video after the break. You don’t want to miss it!

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A Crust-Cutting, Carrot-Chopping Robot

[3DprintedLife] sure does hate bread crust. Not the upper portion of homemade bread, mind you — just that nasty stuff around the edges of store-bought loaves. Several dozen hours of CAD later, [3DprintedLife] had themselves a crust-cutting robot that also chops vegetables.

This De-Cruster 9000 is essentially a 2-axis robotic guillotine over a turntable. It uses a Raspberry Pi 4 and OpenCV to seek and destroy bread crusts with a dull dollar store knife. Aside from the compact design, our favorite part has to be the firmware limit switches baked into the custom control board. The stepper drivers have this fancy feature called StallGuard™ that constantly reads the back EMF to determine the load the motor is under. If you have it flag you right before the motor hits the end of the rail and stalls, bam, you have a firmware limit switch. Watch it remove crusts and chop a lot of carrots with faces after the break.

This is far from the dangerous-looking robot we’ve seen lately. Remember this hair-cutting contraption?

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Hackaday Links: November 22, 2020

Remember DSRC? If the initialism doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry — Dedicated Short-Range Communications, a radio service intended to let cars in traffic talk to each other, never really caught on. Back in 1999, when the Federal Communications Commission set aside 75 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9-GHz band, it probably seemed like a good idea — after all, the flying cars of the future would surely need a way to communicate with each other. Only about 15,000 vehicles in the US have DSRC, and so the FCC decided to snatch back the whole 75-MHz slice and reallocate it. The lower 45 MHz will be tacked onto the existing unlicensed 5.8-GHz band where WiFi now lives, providing interesting opportunities in wireless networking. Fans of chatty cars need not fret, though — the upper 30 MHz block is being reallocated to a different Intelligent Transportation System Service called C-V2X, for Cellular Vehicle to Everything, which by its name alone is far cooler and therefore more likely to succeed.

NASA keeps dropping cool teasers of the Mars 2020 mission as the package containing the Perseverance rover hurtles across space on its way to a February rendezvous with the Red Planet. The latest: you can listen to the faint sounds the rover is making as it gets ready for its date with destiny. While we’ve heard sounds from Mars before — the InSight lander used its seismometer to record the Martian windPerseverance is the first Mars rover equipped with actual microphones. It’s pretty neat to hear the faint whirring of the rover’s thermal management system pump doing its thing in interplanetary space, and even cooler to think that we’ll soon hear what it sounds like to land on Mars.

Speaking of space, back at the beginning of 2020 — you know, a couple of million years ago — we kicked off the Hack Chat series by talking with Alberto Caballero about his “Habitable Exoplanets” project, a crowd-sourced search for “Earth 2.0”. We found it fascinating that amateur astronomers using off-the-shelf gear could detect the subtle signs of planets orbiting stars half a galaxy away. We’ve kept in touch with Alberto since then, and he recently tipped us off to his new SETI Project. Following the citizen-science model of the Habitable Exoplanets project, Alberto is looking to recruit amateur radio astronomers willing to turn their antennas in the direction of stars similar to the Sun, where it just might be possible for intelligent life to have formed. Check out the PDF summary of the project which includes the modest technical requirements for getting in on the SETI action.

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Really Useful Robot

[James Bruton] is an impressive roboticist, building all kinds of robots from tracked, exploring robots to Boston Dynamics-esque legged robots. However, many of the robots are proof-of-concept builds that explore machine learning, computer vision, or unique movements and characteristics. This latest build make use of everything he’s learned from building those but strives to be useful on a day-to-day basis as well, and is part of the beginning of a series he is doing on building a Really Useful Robot. (Video, embedded below.)

While the robot isn’t quite finished yet, his first video in this series explores the idea behind the build and the construction of the base of the robot itself. He wants this robot to be able to navigate its environment but also carry out instructions such as retrieving a small object from a table. For that it needs a heavy base which is built from large 3D-printed panels with two brushless motors with encoders for driving the custom wheels, along with a suspension built from casters and a special hinge. Also included in the base is an Nvidia Jetson for running the robot, and also handling some heavy lifting tasks such as image recognition.

As of this writing, [James] has also released his second video in the series which goes into detail about the mapping and navigation functions of the robots, and we’re excited to see the finished product. Of course, if you want to see some of [James]’s other projects be sure to check out his tracked rover or his investigations into legged robots.

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Walmart Gives Up On Stock-Checking Robots

We’ve seen the Jetsons, Star Wars, and Silent Running. In the future, all the menial jobs will be done by robots. But Walmart is reversing plans to have six-foot-tall robots scan store shelves to check stock levels. The robots, from a company called Bossa Nova Robotics, apparently worked well enough and Walmart had promoted the idea in many investor-related events, promising that robot workers would reduce labor costs while better stock levels would increase sales. So why did the retail giant say no to these ‘droids? Apparently, they found better ways to check stock and, according to a quote in the Wall Street Journal’s article about the decision, shoppers reacted negatively to sharing the aisle with the roving machines.

The robots didn’t just check stock. They could also check prices and find misplaced items. You can see a promotional video about the device below. Continue reading “Walmart Gives Up On Stock-Checking Robots”

Wheels Or Legs? Why Not Both?

Out of the thousands of constraints and design decisions to consider when building a robot, the way it moves is perhaps one of the most fundamental. The method of movement constrains the design and use case for the robot perhaps more than any other parameter. A team of researchers at Texas A&M led by [Kiju Lee] is trying to have their cake and eat it too by building a robot with wheels that transform into legs, known as a-WaLTR (Adaptable Wheel-and-Leg Transformable Robot).

a-WaLTR was designed to conquer one of wheeled robots’ biggest obstacles: stairs. By adding a bit of smarts to determine whether a given terrain is better handled by wheels or legs, a-WaLTR can convert its segmented wheels into simple legs. Rather than implemented complex and error-prone articulated legs, the team stuck with robust appendages that remind us a little of whegs.

The team will show off their prototype at DARPA OFFSET Sprint-5 in February 2021, which is a program focused on building robots that can form adaptive human-swarm teams.

Thanks to the rise of 3D printers and hobbyist electronics there are more open-source experimental robot designs than ever. We’ve seen smaller versions of the famous Boston Dynamics’ Spot as well as simpler quadruped bots with more servos. a-WaLTR isn’t the first transforming robot we’ve seen, but we’re looking forward to seeing more unique takes on robotic locomotion in the future.

Thanks to [Qes] for sending this one in!

Nightmare Robot Only Moves When You Look Away

What could be more terrifying than ghosts, goblins, or clowns? How about a shapeless pile of fright on your bedroom floor that only moves when you’re not looking at it? That’s the idea behind [Sciencish]’s nightmare robot, which is lurking after the break. The Minecraft spider outfit is just a Halloween costume.

In this case, “looking at it” equates to you shining a flashlight on it, trying to figure out what’s under the pile of clothes. But here’s the thing — it never moves when light is shining on it. It quickly figures out the direction of the light source and lies in wait. After you give up and turn out the flashlight, it spins around to where the light was and starts moving in that direction.

The brains of this operation is an Arduino Uno, four light-dependent resistors, and a little bit of trigonometry to find the direction of the light source. The robot itself uses two steppers and printed herringbone gears for locomotion. Its chassis has holes in it that accept filament or wire to make a cage that serves two purposes — it makes the robot into more of an amorphous blob under the clothes, and it helps keep clothes from getting twisted up in the wheels. Check out the demo and build video after the break, because this thing is freaky fast and completely creepy.

While we usually see a candy-dispensing machine or two every Halloween, this year has been more about remote delivery systems. Don’t just leave sandwich bags full of fun size candy bars all over your porch, build a candy cannon or a spooky slide instead.

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