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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Hackaday Links: March 18, 2018

Oh, boy. You know what’s happening next weekend? The Midwest RepRap Festival. The greatest 3D printing festival on the planet is going down next Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon in beautiful Goshen, Indiana. Why should you go? Check this one out. To recap from last year, E3D released a new extruder, open source filaments will be a thing, true color filament printing in CMYKW is awesome, and we got the world’s first look at the infinite build volume printer. This year, The Part Daddy, a 20-foot-tall delta bot will be there once again. It’s awesome and you should come.

We launched the 2018 Hackaday Prize this week. Why should you care? Because we’re giving away $200,000 in prizes. There are five challenges: the Open Hardware Design Challenge, Robotics Module, Power Harvesting, Human-Computer Interface, and Musical Instrument Challenge. That last one is something I’m especially interested in for one very specific reason. This is a guitorgan.

Building a computer soon? Buy your SSD now. Someone fell asleep on the e-stop at a Samsung fab, and now 3.5% of global NAND production for March has been lost.

Need to put an Arduino in the cloud? Here’s a shield for that. It’s a shield for SIMCom’s SIM7000-series module, providing LTE for a microcontroller. Why would you ever need this? Because 2G is dead, for various values of ‘dead’. 3G is eventually going to go the same way.

A bridge collapsed in Florida this week. A pedestrian walkway at Florida International University collapsed this week, killing several. The engineering efforts are still underway to determine the cause of the accident, but some guy from Canukistan posted a pair of informative videos discussing I-beams and pre-tensioned concrete. It’s going to be months until the fault (and responsibility) will be determined, but until then we have the best footage yet of this collapse. It’s dash cam footage from a truck that rolled up to the red light just before the collapse. This is one that’s going to go down in engineering history along with the Hyatt Regency collapse.

Need to test your app? Here’s a delta robot designed for phones. You would be shocked at how popular this robot is.

Glorious Body of Tracked ‘Mad Mech’ Started as Cardboard

[Dickel] always liked tracked vehicles. Taking inspiration from the ‘Peacemaker’ tracked vehicle in Mad Max: Fury Road, he replicated it as the Mad Mech. The vehicle is remote-controlled and the tank treads are partly from a VEX robotics tank tread kit. Control is via a DIY wireless controller using an Arduino and NRF24L01 modules. The vehicle itself uses an Arduino UNO with an L298N motor driver. Power is from three Li-Po cells.

The real artistic work is in the body. [Dickel] used a papercraft tool called Pepakura (non-free software, but this Blender plugin is an alternative free approach) for the design to make the body out of thin cardboard. The cardboard design was then modified to make it match the body of the Peacemaker as much as possible. It was coated in fiberglass for strength, then the rest of the work was done with body filler and sanding for a smooth finish. After a few more details and a good paint job, it was ready to roll.

There’s a lot of great effort that went into this build, and [Dickel] shows his work and process on his project page and in the videos embedded below. The first video shows the finished Mad Mech being taken for some test drives. The second is a montage showing key parts of the build process.

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The Sensor Array That Grew Into a Robot Cat

Human brains evolved to pay extra attention to anything that resembles a face. (Scientific term: “facial pareidolia”) [Rongzhong Li] built a robot sensor array with multiple emitters and receivers augmenting a Raspberry Pi camera in the center. When he looked at his sensor array, he saw the face of a cat looking back at him. This started his years-long Petoi OpenCat project to build a feline-inspired body to go with the face.

While the name of the project signals [Rhongzhong]’s eventual intention, he has yet to release project details to the open-source community. But by reading his project page and scrutinizing his YouTube videos (a recent one is embedded below) we can decipher some details. Motion comes via hobby remote-control servos orchestrated by an Arduino. Higher-level functions such as awareness of environment and Alexa integration are handled by a Raspberry Pi 3.

The secret (for now) sauce are the mechanical parts that tie them all together. From impact-absorption spring integrated into the upper leg to how its wrists/ankles articulate. [Rongzhong] believes the current iteration is far too difficult to build and he wants to simplify construction before release. And while we don’t have much information on the software, the sensor array that started it all implies some level of sensor fusion capabilities.

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TrackRobot Sports Welded Steel, Not Plastic

Don’t let the knee-high size of [Hrastovc]’s creation fool you. TrackRobot weighs in at a monstrous 60 kg (130 lbs) of steel, motors, and battery. It sports two 48V motors in a body and frame made from pieces of finger-jointed sheet steel, and can reach speeds of up to four meters per second with a runtime of up to an hour. The project’s link has more pictures as well as DXF files of the pieces used for the body.

Currently TrackRobot is remote-controlled, but one goal is to turn it into a semi-autonomous snow plow. You can see TrackRobot going through its first steps as well as testing out a plow prototype in the videos embedded below.

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Strumbot: The Guitar that Strums Itself

[Clare] isn’t the most musically inclined person, but she can strum a guitar. Thanks to a little help from an Arduino, she doesn’t even have to do that.

She built the strumbot, which handles the strumming hand duties of playing the guitar. While [Claire] does believe in her strumbot, she didn’t want to drill holes in her guitar, so hot glue and double-sided foam tape were the order of the day.

The business end of the strumbot is a micro servo. The servo moves two chopsticks and draws the pick across the strings. The tiny servo surprisingly does a great job getting the strings ringing. The only downside is the noise from the plastic gears when it’s really rocking out.

Strumbot’s user interface is a 3D-printed case with three buttons and three LEDs. Each button activates a different strum pattern in the Arduino’s programming. The LEDs indicate the currently active pattern. Everything is powered by a USB power pack, making this a self-contained hack.

[Clare] was able to code up some complex strum patterns, but the strumbot is still a bit limited in that it only holds three patterns. It’s good enough for her rendition of “Call Me Maybe”, which you can see in the video after the break. Sure, this is a simple project, not nearly as complex as some of the robotic guitar mods we’ve seen in the past. Still, it’s just the ticket for a fun evening or weekend project – especially if you’re introducing the Arduino to young coders. Music, hacking, and modding – what more could you ask for?

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Cell Phone Surveillance Car

There are many viable options for home security systems, but where is the fun in watching a static camera feed from inside your place? The freedom to really look around might have been what compelled [Varun Kumar] to build a security car robot to drive around his place and make sure all is in order.

Aimed at cost-effectiveness and WiFi or internet accessibility, an Android smartphone provides the foundation of this build — skipping the need for a separate Bluetooth or WiFi module — and backed up by an Arduino Uno, an L298 motor controller, and two geared DC motors powering the wheels.

Further taking advantage of the phone’s functionality, the robot is controlled by DTMF tones. Using the app DTMF Tone Generator and outputting through the 3.5mm jack, commands are interpreted by a MT8870DE DTMF decoder module.While this control method carries some risks — as with many IoT-like devices — [Kumar] has circumvented one of DTMF’s vulnerabilities by adding a PIN before the security car will accept any commands.

He obtains a live video feed from the phone using AirDroid in concert with VNC server, and assisted by a servo motor for the phone is enabled to sweep left and right for a better look. A VNC client on [Kumar]’s laptop is able to access the video feed and issue commands. Check it out in action after the break!

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