A circular wheeled robot sits on a white background. There is a green tank of butane/propane in the center surrounded by wires and electronics.

Doomba: Purifying Your Floors With Fire

If you’ve ever thought that your floor cleaning robot eating the fringe on your rug wasn’t destructive enough, [Kyle Brinkerhoff] is working on a solution — Doomba.

This blazingly fast RC vehicle has a tank of butane/propane gas nestled snugly amid its electronics and drive system to fuel a (not yet implemented) flamethrower. Watching how quickly this little bot can move in the video below certainly made our hearts race with anticipation for the inevitable fireworks glory of completed build. Dual motors and a tank-style drive ensure that this firebug will be able to maneuver around any obstacle.

As of writing, the flamethrower and an updated carriage for the drivetrain are underway. Apparently, spinning very quickly in circles can be just as disorienting for robots as it is for us biological beings. During the test shown below, the robot kicked out one of its drive motors. [Kyle] says the final touch will be putting the whole assembly inside an actual Roomba shell for that authentic look.

With spooky season upon us, it’s always good to have the cleansing power of fire at hand in case you find more than you bargained for with your Ghost-Hunting PKE Meter. While there’s no indication whether Doomba can actually run DOOM, you might be interested in this other Doomba Project that uses Roomba’s maps of your house to generate levels for the iconic shooter.

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Hackaday Links: January 30, 2022

After all the fuss and bother along the way, it seems a bit anticlimactic now that the James Webb Space Telescope has arrived at its forever home orbiting around L2. The observatory finished its trip on schedule, arriving on January 24 in its fully deployed state, after a one-month journey and a couple of hundred single-point failure deployments. The next phase of the mission is commissioning, and is a somewhat more sedate and far less perilous process of tweaking and trimming the optical systems, and getting the telescope and its sensors down to operating temperature. The commissioning phase will take five or six months, so don’t count on any new desktop photos until summer at the earliest. Until then, enjoy the video below which answers some of the questions we had about what Webb can actually see — here’s hoping there’s not much interesting to see approximately in the plane of the ecliptic.

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Roomba Gets Alexa Support With An ESP8266 Stowaway

The modern home is filled with plenty of “smart” devices, but unfortunately, they don’t always speak the same language. The coffee maker and the TV might both be able to talk to your phone through their respective apps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the two appliances can work together to better coordinate your morning routine. Which is a shame, since if more of these devices could communicate with each other, we’d be a lot closer to living that Jetsons life we were promised.

Luckily, as hardware hackers we can help get our devices better acquainted with one another. A recent post by [MyHomeThings] shows how the ESP8266 can bridge the gap between a Roomba and Amazon’s Alexa assistant. This not only allows you to cheaply and easily add voice control to the robotic vacuum, but makes it compatible with the Amazon’s popular home automation framework. This makes it possible to chain devices together into complex conditional routines, such as turning off the lights and activating the vacuum at a certain time each night.

The hack depends on the so-called Roomba Open Interface, a seven pin Mini-DIN connector that can be accessed by partially disassembling the bot. This connector provides power from the Roomba’s onboard batteries as well as a two-way serial communications bus to the controller.

By connecting a MP1584EN DC-DC converter and ESP8266 to this connector, it’s possible to send commands directly to the hardware. Add a little glue code to combine this capability with a library that emulates a Belkin Wemo device, and now Alexa is able to stop and start the robot at will.

We’ve seen this sort of trick used a few times before to add backdoor Alexa support to various gadgets, and it’s always interesting to see what kind of unusual hardware folks are looking to make an integral part of their smart home.

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Hackaday Links: March 7, 2021

It’s March, which means Keysight is back in the business of giving away a ton of test gear. Keysight University Live starts on March 15, with daily events the first week followed by a string of weekly live events through April. We always enjoy these Keysight events; sure, they’re clearly intended to sell more gear, but the demos and tutorials are great, and we always learn a lot. There’s also a feeling of community that feels similar to the Hackaday community; just a bunch of electronics nerds getting together to learn and share. If you’re interested in that community, or even if you’re just looking for a chance to win something from the $300,000 pile of goodies, you’ll need to register.

There’s another event coming up that you’ll want to know about: the 2021 Open Hardware Summit. Because 2021 is the new 2020, the summit is being held virtually again, this year on April 9. Tickets are on sale now, and we’re told there are still plenty of Ada Lovelace Fellowships available to those who consider themselves to be a minority in tech. The Fellowship covers the full cost of a ticket; it usually covers travels costs too, but sadly we’re still not there yet.

Once we do start traveling again, you might need to plan more carefully if cities start following the lead of Petaluma, California and start banning the construction of gas stations. The city, about 40 miles (64 km) north of San Francisco, is believed to be the first city in the United States to ban new gas station construction. The city council’s decision also prevents gas station owners from expanding, reconstructing, or relocating existing gas stations. The idea is to create incentives to move toward non-fossil fuel stations, like electric vehicle charging stations and hydrogen fueling. Time will tell how well that works out.

Go home Roomba — you’re drunk. That could be what Roomba owners are saying after an update semi-bricked certain models of the robotic vacuum cleaners. Owners noted a variety of behaviors, like wandering around in circles, bumping into furniture, and inability to make its way back to base for charging. There’s even a timelapse on reddit of a Roomba flailing about pathetically in a suspiciously large and empty room. The drunken analogy only goes so far, though, since we haven’t seen any reports of a Roomba barfing up the contents of its dust bin. But we’re still holding out hope.

And finally, if you’re not exactly astronaut material but still covet a trip to space, you might luck out courtesy of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa. He’s offering to pay the way for eight people from around the world on a planned flight to the Moon and back in 2023. Apparently, Maezawa bought up all the seats for the flight back in 2018 with the intention of flying a group of artists to space. His thinking has changed, though, and now he’s opening up the chance to serve as ballast join the crew to pretty much any rando on the planet. Giving away rides on Starship might be a harder sell after this week’s test, but we’re sure he’ll find plenty of takers. And to be honest, we wish the effort well — the age of routine civilian space travel can’t come soon enough for us.

Shhh… Robot Vacuum Lidar Is Listening

There are millions of IoT devices out there in the wild and though not conventional computers, they can be hacked by alternative methods. From firmware hacks to social engineering, there are tons of ways to break into these little devices. Now, four researchers at the National University of Singapore and one from the University of Maryland have published a new hack to allow audio capture using lidar reflective measurements.

The hack revolves around the fact that audio waves or mechanical waves in a room cause objects inside a room to vibrate slightly. When a lidar device impacts a beam off an object, the accuracy of the receiving system allows for measurement of the slight vibrations cause by the sound in the room. The experiment used human voice transmitted from a simple speaker as well as a sound bar and the surface for reflections were common household items such as a trash can, cardboard box, takeout container, and polypropylene bags. Robot vacuum cleaners will usually be facing such objects on a day to day basis.

The bigger issue is writing the filtering algorithm that is able to extract the relevant information and separate the noise, and this is where the bulk of the research paper is focused (PDF). Current developments in Deep Learning assist in making the hack easier to implement. Commercial lidar is designed for mapping, and therefore optimized for reflecting off of non-reflective surface. This is the opposite of what you want for laser microphone which usually targets a reflective surface like a window to pick up latent vibrations from sound inside of a room.

Deep Learning algorithms are employed to get around this shortfall, identifying speech as well as audio sequences despite the sensor itself being less than ideal, and the team reports achieving an accuracy of 90%. This lidar based spying is even possible when the robot in question is docked since the system can be configured to turn on specific sensors, but the exploit depends on the ability to alter the firmware, something the team accomplished using the Dustcloud exploit which was presented at DEF CON in 2018.

You don’t need to tear down your robot vacuum cleaner for this experiment since there are a lot of lidar-based rovers out there. We’ve even seen open source lidar sensors that are even better for experimental purposes.

Thanks for the tip [Qes]

Faux Cow Munches Faux Grass On A Faux Roomba

Out in the countryside, having a cow or to two wouldn’t be a big deal. You can have a cattle shed full of them, and no one will bat an eyelid. But what if you’re living in the big city and have no need of pet dogs or cats, but a pet cow. It wouldn’t be easy getting it to ride in the elevator, and you’d have a high chance of being very, very unpopular in the neighbourhood. [Dane & Nicole], aka [8 Bits and a Byte] were undaunted though, and built the Moomba – the Cow Roomba┬áto keep them company in their small city apartment.

The main platform is built from a few pieces of lumber and since it needs to look like a Roomba, cut in a circular shape. Locomotion comes from two DC geared motors, and a third swivel free wheel, all attached directly to the wooden frame. The motors get their 12V juice from eight “AA” batteries. The free range bovine also needs some smarts to allow it to roam at will. For this, it uses a Raspberry Pi powered by a power bank. The Pi drives a 2-channel relay board which controls the voltage applied to the two motors. Unfortunately, this prevents the Moomba from backing out if it gets stuck at a dead end. For anyone else trying to build this it should be easy enough to fix with an electronic speed controller or even by adding a second 2-channel relay board which can reverse the voltage applied to the motors. The Moomba needs to “Moo” when it feels like, so the Raspberry Pi streams a prerecorded mp3 audio clip to a pair of USB speakers.

If you see the video after the break, you’ll notice that making the Moomba sentient is a simple matter of doing “ctrl+C” and “ctrl+V” and you’re good to go. The python code is straight forward, doing one of four actions – move forward, turn left, turn right or play audio. The code picks a random number from 0 to 3, and then performs the action associated with that number. Finally, as an added bonus, the Moomba gets a lush carpet of artificial green grass and it’s free to roam the range.

At first sight, many may quip “where’s the hack” ? But simple, easy to execute projects like these are ideal for getting younglings started down the path to hacking, with adult supervision. The final result may appear frivolous, but it’ll excite young minds as they learn from watching.

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Homemade Wall Stops Roomba And Other Vacuum Tricks

If you have a Roomba, you know they are handy. However, they do have a habit of getting into places you’d rather they avoid. You can get virtual walls which are just little IR beacons, but it is certainly possible to roll your own. That’s what [MKme] did and it was surprisingly simple, although it could be the springboard to something more complicated. You can see a video about the build below.

As Arduino projects go, this could hardly be more simple. An IR LED, a resistor and a handfull of code that calls into an IR remote library. If that’s all you wanted, the Arduino is a bit overkill, although it is certainly easy enough and cheap.

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