Amazing “Connect Fore!” Robot Challenges Your Putting Practice

We’ve just come across [Bithead]’s amazing, robotically-automated mashup of miniature golf and Connect Four, which also includes an AI opponent who pulls no punches in its drive to win. Connect Fore! celebrates Scotland — the birthplace of golf, after all — and looks absolutely fantastic.

Scotty the AI opponent uses this robotic turret to make their moves in a game of Connect Fore!

The way it works is this: players take turns putting colored balls into one of seven different holes at the far end of the table. Each hole feeds to a clear tube — visible in the middle of the table — which represent each of the columns in a game of Connect Four.

Each player attempts to stack balls in such a way that they create an unbroken line of four in their color, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. In a one-player game, a human player faces off against “Scotty”, the computer program that chooses its moves with intelligence and fires balls from a robotic turret.

[Bithead] started this project as a learning experience, and being such a complex project, the write-up is extensive. We really recommend reading through the whole thing if you are at all interested in what goes into making such a project work.

What’s particularly interesting is all of the ways in which things nearly worked, or needed nudging or fine adjustment. One might think that reliably getting a ball to enter a hole and roll down a PVC tube wouldn’t be a particularly finicky task, but it turns out that all kinds of things can go wrong.

Even finding the right play surface was a challenge. [Bithead]’s first purchase from Amazon was a total waste: it looked bad, smelled bad, and balls didn’t roll well on it. There are high-quality artificial turfs out there, but the good stuff gets shockingly expensive, and such a small project pretty much pigeonholes one as a nuisance customer when it comes to vendors. The challenges [Bithead] overcame serve as a¬†reminder to keep the 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle) in mind when estimating what will get a project to the finish line.

Right under the page break below is a brief video tour of the completed table, and after that, you can watch a game in action as [Bithead] faces off against Scotty the AI. Curious about the inner workings? The last video has some build details that fill in a few blanks from the write-up.

We’ve seen an automated Chess table before, but this is an entirely other, utterly fantastic level of work.
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Enjoy This Animatronic Eyeball’s Smooth Moves

[Enza3D] shows off a surprisingly compact articulated animatronic eyeball that can be intuitively controlled with a Wii nunchuk controller. The design uses 3D printed parts and some tiny servos, and all of the necessary electronics can be easily purchased online. The mechanical design of the eye is very impressive, and [Enza3D] walks through several different versions of the design, the end result of which is a tidy little assembly that would fit nicely into masks, costumes, or other projects.

A Wii nunchuk is ideal for manual control of such a device, thanks to its ergonomic design and ease of interface¬†(the nunchuk communicates over I2C, which is easily within the reach of even most modest of microcontrollers.) Of course, since driving servos is also almost trivial nowadays, it doesn’t look like working this into an automated project would pose much of a challenge.

The eyeball looks great, but if you want to try for yourself, accessing the design files and code will set you back $10 which might look attractive if an eye like this is the missing link for a project.

On the other hand, enjoying the video (embedded below) and getting ideas from [Enza3D]’s design notes will only cost you a few minutes.

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Shake With Your New Robot Hand

Korean researchers have created a very realistic and capable robot hand that looks very promising. It is strong (34N of grip strength) and reasonably lightweight (1.1 kg), too. There are several videos of the hand in action, of which you can see two of them below including one where the hand uses scissors to cut some paper. You can also read the full paper for details.

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Waterjet-Powered Speedboat For Fun And Research

There are a lot of cliches about the perils of boat ownership. “The best two days of a boat owner’s life are the day they buy their boat, and the day they sell it” immediately springs to mind, for example, but there is a loophole to an otherwise bottomless pit of boat ownership: building a small robotic speedboat instead of owning the full-size version. Not only will you save loads of money and frustration, but you can also use your 3D-printed boat as a base for educational and research projects.

The autonomous speedboats have a modular hull design to make them easy to 3D print, and they use a waterjet for propulsion which improves their reliability in shallow waters and reduces the likelihood that they will get tangled on anything or injure an animal or human. The platform is specifically designed to be able to house any of a wide array of sensors to enable people to easily perform automated tasks in bodies of water such as monitoring for pollution, search-and-rescue, and various inspections. A monohull version with a single jet was prototyped first, but eventually a twin-hulled catamaran with two jets was produced which improved the stability and reliability of the platform.

All of the files needed to get started with your own autonomous (or remote-controlled) speedboat are available on the project’s page. The creators are hopeful that this platform suits a wide variety of needs and that a community is created of technology enthusiasts, engineers, and researchers working on autonomous marine robotic platforms. If you’d prefer to ditch the motor, though, we have seen a few autonomous sailboats used for research purposes as well.

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Robotic Ball-Bouncing Platform Learns New Tricks

[T-Kuhn]’s Octo-Bouncer platform has learned some new tricks since we saw it last. If you haven’t seen it before, this device uses computer vision from a camera mounted underneath its thick, clear acrylic platform to track a ball in 3D space, and make the necessary (and minute) adjustments needed to control the ball’s movements with a robotic platform in real time.

We loved the Octo-Bouncer’s mesmerizing action when we saw it last, and it’s only gotten better. Not only is there a whole new custom ball detection algorithm that [T-Kuhn] explains in detail, there are also now visualizations of both the ball’s position as well as the plate movements. There’s still one small mystery, however. Every now and again, [T-Kuhn] says that the ball will bounce in an unexpected direction. It doesn’t seem to be a bug related to the platform itself, but [T-Kuhn] has a suspicion. Since contact between the ball and platform is where all the control comes from, and the ball and platform touch only very little during a bounce, it’s possible that bits of dust (or perhaps even tiny imperfections on the ball’s surface itself) might be to blame. Regardless, it doesn’t detract from the device’s mesmerizing performance.

Design files and source code are available on the project’s GitHub repository for those who’d like a closer look. It’s pretty trippy watching the demonstration video because there is so much going on at once; you can check it out just below the page break.

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Interplanetary Whack-A-Mole: NASA’s High-Stakes Rescue Plan For InSight Lander’s Science Mission

People rightly marvel at modern surgical techniques that let surgeons leverage the power of robotics to repair the smallest structures in the human body through wounds that can be closed with a couple of stitches. Such techniques can even be applied remotely, linking surgeon and robot through a telesurgery link. It can be risky, but it’s often a patient’s only option.

NASA has arrived at a similar inflection point, except that their patient is the Mars InSight lander, and the surgical suite is currently about 58 million kilometers away. The lander’s self-digging “mole” probe needs a little help getting started, so they’re planning a high-stakes rescue attempt that would make the most seasoned telesurgeon blanch: they want to use the lander’s robotic arm to press down on the mole to help it get back on track.

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DJ Xiaomi Spins Beats And Brushes At The Same Time

Direct from the “Just Because I Can” department, this blog post by [Eddie Zhang] shows us how easy it is to get the Xiaomi robotic vacuum cleaner working as what might be the world’s most unnecessary Spotify Connect speaker. Will your home be the next to play host to an impromptu performance by DJ Xiaomi? Judging by the audio quality demonstrated in the video after the break, we doubt it. But this trick does give us a fascinating look at the current state of vacuum hacking.

For the first phase of this hack, [Eddie] makes use of Dustcloud, an ongoing project to document and reverse engineer various Xiaomi smart home gadgets. Using the information provided there you can get root-level SSH access to your vacuum cleaner and install your own software. There’s a sentence you never thought you’d read, right?

With the vacuum rooted, [Eddie] then installs a Spotify Connect client intended for the Raspberry Pi. As they’re both ARM devices, the software will run on the Xiaomi bot well enough, but the Linux environment needs a little tweaking. Namely, you need to manually create an Upstart .conf file for the service, as the vacuum doesn’t have systemd installed. There goes another one of those unexpected sentences.

We’re certainly no stranger to robotic vacuum hacking, though historically the iRobot Roomba has been the target platform for such mischief. Other players entering the field can only mean good things for those of us who get a kick out of seeing home appliances pushed outside of their comfort zones.

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