Gentle Electric Eel

It’s no shock that electric eels get a bad rap for being scary creatures. They are slithery fleshy water snakes who can call down lightning. Biologists and engineers at the University of California had something else in mind when they designed their electric eel. Instead of hunting fish, this one swims harmlessly alongside them.

Traditional remotely operated vehicles have relied on hard shells and spinning propellers. To marine life, this is noisy and unnatural. A silent swimmer doesn’t raise any eyebrows, not that fish have eyebrows. The most innovative feature is the artificial muscles, and although the details are scarce, they seem to use a medium on the inside to conduct a charge, and on the outside, the saltwater environment conducts an opposite charge which causes a contraction in the membrane between to the inside and outside. Some swimming action can be seen below the break, and maybe one of our astute readers can shed some light on this underwater adventurer’s bill of materials.

One of our favorite submarines is the 2017 Hackaday Prize winner, The Open Source Underwater Glider. For a more artistic twist on submersibles, the Curv II is one of the most elegant we have seen.

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Modular Robotics: When You Want More Robots in Your Robot

While robots have been making our lives easier and our assembly lines more efficient for over half a century now, we haven’t quite cracked a Jetsons-like general purpose robot yet. Sure, Boston Dynamics and MIT have some humanoid robots that are fun to kick and knock over, but they’re far from building a world-ending Terminator automaton.

But not every robot needs to be human-shaped in order to be general purpose. Some of the more interesting designs being researched are modular robots. It’s an approach to robotics which uses smaller units that can combine into assemblies that accomplish a given task.

We’ve been immersing ourselves in topics like this one because right now the Robotics Module Challenge is the current focus of the Hackaday Prize. We’re looking for any modular designs that make it easier to build robots — motor drivers, sensor arrays, limb designs — your imagination is the limit. But self contained robot modules that themselves make up larger robots is a fascinating field that definitely fits in with this challenge. Join me for a look at where modular robots are now, and where we’d like to see them going.

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San Francisco: Let’s Learn to Build Some Robots!

Hone your skills at basic robot building. You’re invited to join Hackaday for a Beginner Robotics Workshop on Saturday, May 12.

For this workshop we’re pairing up with FIRST robotics mentors and students from the Bay Area. FIRST is an international high school robotics competition and you won’t believe what these teams can do. The workshop will start with an overview of the three major parts that go into a robot project: mechanical design, electronic design, and programming. From there, choose one of the three you want to focus on for the afternoon and let the hands-on fun begin as we break out into small groups to tackle some robotics problems!

The mechanical group will explore robot building using OnShape CAD software. The electronic group will work hands-on with Arduino-based prototyping and breakout boards. The programming group will utilize the Arduino IDE. Workshops will wrap up with a group discussion of how these three concepts are integrated in a single robotics effort.

Right now the Robotics Module Challenge of the 2018 Hackaday Prize is in full swing. We’re excited to see more roboticists in the world and are happy to bring you a workshop that is both technical and accessible. Come build some ‘bots and take home some new knowledge to pour into your project, and your Hackaday Prize entries!

The Cake Robot is No Lie

[52 Skillz] didn’t know anything about building robots. So he decided to not just read about it or make a simple robot. He jumped right in and wanted to build a robot that could make a cake. It took about a year and a half but it now — mostly — works, as you can see in the video below.

Granted it isn’t perfect and it isn’t really all that practical. But as a learning exercise, it was certainly ambitious and successful. Apparently, you still have to scrape the bowl a little by hand to get some of the flour off the bowl walls. Also, loading the ingredients might be more work than just making it by hand, but that really isn’t the point.

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Friday Hack Chat: Control Schemes For Robotics

The Hackaday Prize is in full swing if you haven’t heard. It’s the Academy Awards of Open hardware, and the chance for you — yes, you — to create the next great piece of hardware and a better future for everyone. Right now, we’re in the Robotics Module Challenge portion of the prize. This is your chance to build a module that could be used in robotics projects across the world! Show off your mechatronic skills and build a robotics module that’s transferable to other builds!

Not coincidentally, for this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking all about Robotics Modules. We’re taking a deep dive into actuation and control schemes for robotics, and you’re invited to take part. Everyone wants affordable robotics, and stepper and servo motors are no longer the domain of high-budget industrial robots. Everyone can build a robot, but how do you do that? That’s what we’re going to find out this Friday in the Hack Chat!

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat is [Ryan Walker]. He holds a diploma in Mechatronics and Robotics from BCIT. He’s worked on everything from prosthetics to industrial automation, and his current hobbies include designing and building control algorithms that drive electronics and enable cheap hardware to excel! If you want to learn about robotics, this is the Hack Chat for you.

In this chat, we’ll be talking about:

  • Control schemes
  • How to actuate your projects
  • Wheels, tweels, and ways to make your project move
  • Automating robotics

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, April 27th.  Here’s a clock counting down the time until the Hack Chat starts.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

3D Printed Tank Tracks

[Ivan] has been keeping his 3D printers busy with parts he’s experimenting with to build a tracked motion setup for a tank-like vehicle. His design uses several interlocking parts, so if you want to duplicate it, we hope your printer calibration is up to snuff. He’s still printing more parts and promises to release the files once the design proves out.

However, you can see he’s off to a good start. Small pieces fit together and accept a piece of filament as a sort of hinge. Some pins keep the filament from working out. Pads fit into the main parts and hold down with zip ties. The whole flexible tread locks into sprockets and a groove on a drive wheel.

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Look Upon Eyepot, And Weep For Mercy

Hope you weren’t looking forward to a night of sleep untroubled by nightmares. Doing his part to make sure  Lovecraftian mechanized horrors have lease in your subconscious, [Paul-Louis Ageneau] has recently unleashed the horror that is Eyepot upon an unsuspecting world. This Cycloptic four legged robotic teapot takes inspiration from an enemy in the game Alice: Madness Returns, and seems to exist for no reason other than to creep people out.

Even if you aren’t physically manifesting nightmares, there’s plenty to learn from this project. [Paul-Louis Ageneau] has done a fantastic job of documenting the build, from the OpenSCAD-designed 3D printed components to the Raspberry Pi Zero and Arduino Pro Mini combo that control the eight servos in the legs. If you want to play along at home all the information and code is here, though feel free to skip the whole teapot with an eyeball thing.

A second post explains how the code is written for both the Arduino and Pi, making for some very illuminating reading. A Python script on the Pi breaks down the kinematics and passes on the appropriate servo angles to the Arduino over a serial link. Combined with a web interface for control and a stream from the teapot’s Raspberry Pi Camera module, and you’ve got the makings of the world’s creepiest telepresence robot. We’d love to see this one stomping up and down a boardroom table.

Seems we are on a roll recently with creepy robot pals. Seeing a collaboration between Eyepot and JARVIS might be too much for us to handle. Though we have a pretty good idea how we’d want to control them.