A Robotic Whiteboard Cleaner Keeps The Board Ready To Go

Wiping a whiteboard can be a tedious chore. Nobody wants to stick around after a long meeting to clean up, and sensitive information is often left broadcast out in the open. Never fear, though – this robot is here to help.

Wipy, as the little device is known, is a robotic cleaner that scoots around to keep whiteboards clear and ready for work. With brains courtesy of an Arduino Uno, it uses an IR line-following sensor to target areas to wipe, rather then wasting time wiping areas that are already clean. It’s also fitted with a time-of-flight sensor for ranging, allowing it to avoid obstacles, or busy humans that are writing on the board.

If Wipy lacks anything, it’s probably discretion. Despite its cute emoji-like face, it’s not really capable of tact, or knowing when it’s not needed. It’s recommended to keep Wipy powered down until you’re completely finished, lest it barge in and start wiping off important calculations before you’re done.

Fundamentally, it’s a fun build, and a great way to learn how to use a variety of sensors. If you’ve done something similar, be sure to let us know on the tips line. Else, consider automating the writing side of things, too. Tongue-in-cheek infomercial after the break.

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Robotic Cheetah Teaches A Motors Class

It seems like modern roboticists have decided to have a competition to see which group can develop the most terrifying robot ever invented. As of this writing the leading candidate seems to be the robot that can fuel itself by “eating” organic matter. We can only hope that the engineers involved will decide not to flesh that one out completely. Anyway, if we can get past the horrifying and/or uncanny valley-type situations we find ourselves in when looking at these robots, it turns out they have a lot to teach us about the theories behind a lot of complicated electric motors.

This research paper (gigantic PDF warning) focuses on the construction methods behind MIT’s cheetah robot. It has twelve degrees of freedom and uses a number of exceptionally low-cost modular actuators as motors to control its four legs. Compared to other robots of this type, this helps them jump a major hurdle of cost while still retaining an impressive amount of mobility and control. They were able to integrate a brushless motor, a smart ESC system with feedback, and a planetary gearbox all into the motor itself. That alone is worth the price of admission!

The details on how they did it are well-documented in the 102-page academic document and the source code is available on GitHub if you need a motor like this for any other sort of project, but if you’re here just for the cheetah doing backflips you can also keep up with the build progress at the project’s blog page. We also featured this build earlier in its history as well.

Humanizing Industrial Robots By Sticking A Jibo On Top

A great many robots exist in our modern world, and the vast majority of them are highly specialized machines. They do a job, and they do it well, but they don’t have much of a personality. [Guilherme Martins] was working on a fun project to build a robot arm that could create chocolate artworks, but it needed something to humanize it a bit more. Thankfully, Jibo was there to lend a hand.

For the uninitiated, Jibo was a companion robot produced by a startup company that later folded. Relying on the cloud meant that when the money ran out and the servers switched off, Jibo was essentially dead. [Guilherme] managed to salvage one of these units, however, and gave it a new life.

With the dead company unable to provide an SDK, the entire brains of the robot were replaced with a LattePanda, which is a Windows 10 single-board computer with an integrated Arduino microcontroller. This was combined with a series of Phidgets motor drivers to control all of Jibo’s joints, and with some Unity software to provide the charming expressions on the original screen.

With the Jibo body mounted upon the robot arm, a simple chocolate-decorating robot now has a personality. The robot can wave to humans, and emote as it goes about its day. It’s an interesting feature to add to a project, and one that certainly makes it more fun. We’ve seen projects tackle similar subject matter before, attempting to build friendly robot pets as companions. Video after the break.

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One-Legged Robot Does The Hop

At first, we thought this robot was like a rabbit until we realized rabbits have a 300% bonus in the leg department. SALTO — a robot from [Justin Yim], [Eric Wang], and [Ronald Fearing] only has one leg but gets around quite well hopping from place to place. If you can’t picture it, the video below will make it very obvious.

According to the paper about SALTO, existing hopping robots require external sensors and often are tethered. SALTO is self-contained. The robot weighs a tenth of a kilogram and takes its name from the word saltatorial (adapted for leaping ) which itself comes from the Latin saltare which means to jump or leap.

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Robot Hummingbird Imitates Nature

Purdue’s Bio-Robotics lab has been working on a robotic hummingbird and, as you can see in the videos below, have had a lot of success. What’s more, is they’ve shared that success on GitHub. If you want to make a flapping-winged robot, this is definitely where you start.

If you’ve ever watched a hummingbird, you know their flight capability is nothing short of spectacular. The Purdue robot flies in a similar fashion (although on a tether to get both power and control information) and relies on each wing having its own motor. The motors not only propel the wings but also act as sensors. For example, they can detect if a wing is damaged, has made contact with something, or has changed performance due to atmospheric conditions.

In addition to the tethered control system, the hummingbird requires a motion capture sensor external to itself and some machine learning. Researchers note that there is sufficient payload capacity to put batteries onboard and they would also need additional sensors to accomplish totally free flight. It is amazing when you realize that a real hummingbird manages all this with a little bitty brain.

The published code is in Python and is part of three presentations later this month at a technical conference (the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation).  If you don’t want to wait on the paper, there’s a post on IEEE Spectrum about the robotic beast, available now and that article contains preprint versions of the papers. The Python code does require a bit to run, so expect a significant flight computer.

The last hummingbird bot we saw was a spy. We’ve also seen robots that were like bees — sort of.

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Battlebots To The Skies!

If you’re too young to remember Battlebots on the television, there are two things that you should know. First is that there are plenty of highlights of this epic robot battle royale on YouTube, and the second is that now there’s an even better version with drones instead of robots merely confined to land. It’s called DroneClash 2019, and it looks like it was amazing.

Not only were the robots set up in a box and asked to battle each other, they first had to navigate down a corridor with anti-drone measures. The drones have to make it through and into a battle royale in the final room. If this wasn’t good enough, the event was opened by a prince of the Netherlands and is put on by a university.

This is an annual event to push the state of the art in drone and anti-drone tech, but we’d be happy to see it optioned for a TV show. If it doesn’t, you might be satisfied with a giant human-driven robot competition from a while back, or maybe just head down the rabbit hole of old Battlebots clips.

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Televox: The Past’s Robot Of The Future

When I read old books, I like to look for predictions of the future. Since we are living in that future, it is fun to see how they did. Case in point: I have a copy of “The New Wonder Book of Knowledge”, an anthology from 1941. This was the kind of book you wanted before there was a Wikipedia to read in your spare time. There are articles about how coal is mined, how phonographs work, and the inner workings of a beehive. Not the kind of book you’d grab to look up something specific, but a great book to read if you just want to learn something interesting. In it there are a few articles about technology that seemed ready to take us to the future. One of those is the Televox — a robot from Westinghouse poised to usher in an age of home and industrial mechanical servants. Robots in 1941? Actually, Televox came into being in 1927.

If you were writing about the future in 2001, you might have pictured city sidewalks congested with commuters riding Segways. After all, in 2001, we were told that something was about to hit the market that would “change everything.” It had a known inventor, Dean Kamen, and a significant venture capitalist behind it. While it has found a few niche markets, it isn’t the billion dollar personal transportation juggernaut that was predicted.

But technology is like that. Sometimes things seem poised for greatness and disappear — bubble memory comes to mind. Sometimes things have a few years of success and get replaced by something better. Fax machines or floppy drives, for example. The Televox was a glimpse of what was to come, but not in any way that people imagined in 1941. Continue reading “Televox: The Past’s Robot Of The Future”