Kinetic Wire Animatronics Bend It Like Disney

The House of Mouse has been at the forefront of entertainment technology from its very beginnings in an old orange grove in Anaheim. Disney Imagineers invented the first modern animatronics in the 1960s and they’ve been improving the technology ever since, often to the point of being creepy.

But the complicated guts of an animatronic are sometimes too much for smaller characters, so in the spirit of “cheaper, faster, better”, Disney has developed some interesting techniques for animated characters made from wire. Anyone who has ever played with a [Gumby] or other posable wireframe toys knows that eventually, the wire will break, and even before then will plastically deform so it can’t return to its native state.

Wires used as the skeletons of animated figures can avoid that fate if they are preloaded with special shapes, or “templates,” that redirect the forces of bending. The Disney team came up with a computational model to predict which template shapes could be added to each wire to make it bend to fit the animation needs without deforming. A commercially available CNC wire bender installs the templates that lie in the plane of the wire, while coiled templates are added later with a spring-bending jig.

The results are impressive — the wire skeleton of an animated finger can bend completely back on itself with no deformation, and the legs of an animated ladybug can trace complicated paths and propel the beast with only servos pulling cables on the jointless legs. The video below shows the method and the animated figures; we can imagine that figures animated using this technique will start popping up at Disney properties eventually.

From keeping guests safe from robotic harm to free-flying robotic aerialists, it seems like the Disney Imagineers have a hardware hacker’s paradise at the Happiest Place on Earth.

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Robots Invade Your Personal Space

If you have ever had to complete a task such as building a LEGO model over a remote connection, you will know that the challenges are like an absurd grade school group project. The person giving directions often has trouble describing what they are thinking, and the person doing the work has trouble interpreting what the instructor wants. “Turn the blue block over. No, only half way. Go back. Now turn it. No, the other way. NO! Not clockwise, downward. That’s Upward! Geez. Are you even listening‽” Good times.

While you may not be in this situation every day, the Keio University of Japan has an intuitive way to give instructors a way to physically interact with an instructee through a Moore/Swayze experience. The instructor has a camera in typical pirate parrot placement over the shoulder. Two arms are controlled by the instructor who can see through stereoscopic cameras to have a first-person view from across the globe. This natural way to interact with the user’s environment allows muscle memory to pass from the instructor to the wearer.

For some of the other styles of telepresence, see this deep-sea bot and a cylindrical screen that looks like someone is beaming up directly from the holodeck.

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Rover V2 Handles Stairs as Easily as the Outdoors

Rover V2 is an open-source, 3D-printable robotic rover platform that has seen a lot of evolution and development from its creator, [tlalexander]. There are a number of interesting things about Rover V2’s design, such as the way the wheel hubs themselves contain motors and custom planetary gearboxes. This system is compact and keeps weight down low to the ground, which helps keep a rover stable. The platform is all wheel drive, and moving parts like the suspension are kept high up, as far away from the ground as possible. Software is a custom Python stack running on a Raspberry Pi that provides basic control.

The Rover V2 is a full mechanical redesign of the previous version, which caught our attention with its intricate planetary gearing inside the wheel hubs. [tlalexander]’s goal is to create a robust, reliable rover platform for development that, thanks to its design, can be mostly 3D printed and requires a minimum of specialized hardware.

An Integrated Electromagnetic Lifting Module for Robots

The usual way a robot moves an object is by grabbing it with a gripper or using suction, but [Mile] believes that electromagnets offer a lot of advantages that are worth exploring, and has designed the ELM (Electromagnetic Lifting Module) in order to make experimenting with electromagnetic effectors more accessible. The ELM is much more than just a breakout board for an electromagnet; [Mile] has put a lot of work into making a module that is easy to interface with and use. ELM integrates a proximity sensor, power management, and LED lighting as well as 3D models for vertical or horizontal mounting. Early tests show that 220 mW are required to lift a 1 kg load, but it may be possible to manage power more efficiently by dynamically adjusting drive voltage depending on the actual load.

[Mile]’s focus on creating an easy to use, integrated solution that can be implemented easily by others is wonderful to see, and makes the ELM a great entry for The Hackaday Prize.

The Weedinator Returns

We are delighted to see The Weedinator as an entry for the 2018 Hackaday Prize! Innovations in agriculture are great opportunities to build something to improve our world. [TegwynTwmffat]’s Weedinator is an autonomous, electric platform aimed at small farms to take care of cultivating, tilling, and weeding seedbeds. The cost of this kind of labor can push smaller farms out of sustainability if it has to be done by people.

Greater efficiency in agriculture is traditionally all about multiplying the work a single person can do, and usually takes the form or bigger and heavier equipment that can do more at once and in less time. But with an autonomous robotic platform, the robot doesn’t get tired or bored so it doesn’t matter if the smaller platform needs to make multiple passes to cover a field or accomplish a task. In fact, smaller often means more maneuverable, more manageable, and more energy-efficient when it comes to a small farm.

The Original Weedinator was a contender for the 2017 Hackaday Prize and we’re deeply excited to see it return with an updated design and new people joining their team for 2018. Remember, there’s money set aside to help bootstrap promising concepts and all you really need to get started is an idea, an image, and documentation. There’s no better opportunity to dust off that idea and see if it has legs.

See This Slick RC Strandbeest Zip Around

Bevel gears used to mount motors vertically.

Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest design is a favorite and for good reason; the gliding gait is mesmerizing and this RC version by [tosjduenfs] is wonderful to behold. Back in 2015 the project first appeared on Thingiverse, and was quietly updated last year with a zip file containing the full assembly details.

All Strandbeest projects — especially steerable ones — are notable because building one is never a matter of simply scaling parts up or down. For one thing, the classic Strandbeest design doesn’t provide any means of steering. Also, while motorizing the system is simple in concept it’s less so in practice; there’s no obvious or convenient spot to actually mount a motor in a Strandbeest. In this project bevel gears are used to mount the motors vertically in a central area, and the left and right sides are driven independently like a tank. A motor driver that accepts RC signals allows the use of an off the shelf RC transmitter and receiver to control the unit. There is a wonderful video of the machine zipping around smoothly, embedded below.

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Gorgeous Engineering Inside Wheels of a Robotic Trail Buddy

Robots are great in general, and [taylor] is currently working on something a bit unusual: a 3D printed explorer robot to autonomously follow outdoor trails, named Rover. Rover is still under development, and [taylor] recently completed the drive system and body designs, all shared via OnShape.

Rover has 3D printed 4.3:1 reduction planetary gearboxes embedded into each wheel, with off the shelf bearings and brushless motors. A Raspberry Pi sits in the driver’s seat, and the goal is to use a version of NVIDA’s TrailNet framework for GPS-free navigation of paths. As a result, [taylor] hopes to end up with a robotic “trail buddy” that can be made with off-the-shelf components and 3D printed parts.

Moving the motors and gearboxes into the wheels themselves makes for a very small main body to the robot, and it’s more than a bit strange to see the wheel spinning opposite to the wheel’s hub. Check out the video showcasing the latest development of the wheels, embedded below.

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