This Machine-Vision Ekranoplan Might Just Follow You Home

What is it that’s not quite either a plane or a boat, but has characteristics of both? There are probably a lot of things that fit that description, but the one that [Nick Rehm] is working on is known as an ekranoplan. Specifically, he’s looking to make the surface-skimming ground-effect vehicle operate autonomously.

If you think you’ve heard about ekranoplans around here before, you’d be right — we’ve covered a cool LIDAR-controlled model ekranoplan that [rctestflight] worked on about a year ago, and more recently, [ThinkFlight]’s attempts to make an autonomous ekranoplan that can follow behind a boat. The latter is where [Nick] enters the collaboration, and the featherweight foam ground-effect vehicle shown in the video below is his test platform.

After sorting out the basic airframe design and getting the LIDAR integrated, he turned his attention to the autonomous bit, which relies on a Raspberry Pi 4 running ROS and a camera with a wide-angle lens. The Pi uses machine vision algorithms to find an “AprilTag” fiducial marker in the scene, which gives the flight controller information about the relative orientation of the ekranoplan to the tag. [Nick] tested tag tracking using an electric longboard, and the model ekranoplan did an admirable job of not only managing the ground-effect, but also staying on target right behind him. And hats off to [Nick] for keeping all the balls in the air and not breaking his neck in the process.

We’re looking forward to seeing what [Nick] built here end up in [ThinkFlight]’s big ekranoplan build. Ground-effect vehicles like these are undeniably cool, and it seems like they’ve got the potential to solve some interesting transportation problems.

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Building A Multi-Ton Power Loader For Fun

Exoskeletons, power suits, and iron suits in science fiction have served as the inspiration for many engineers and engineering projects over the years. This is certainly the case at [Hacksmith Industries], where Hackaday alum [James Hobson] has been building a massive mechanical exoskeleton since January 2019, inspired by the P-5000 Power Loader from the Alien movies. (Video, embedded below.)

Unlike the movie version, the [Hacksmith] power loader is not bipedal but built on top of the chassis of a small tracked skid-steer loader. Its existing hydraulic power unit also feeds all the upper body hydraulic cylinders. The upper body maintains the basic look of the movie version and was built from plasma-cut steel sections that fit together with a tab and slot system before being welded. Each arm has five degrees of freedom, controlled by proportional hydraulic valves. The power loader is controlled by an industrial grade control system based on the Raspberry Pi, running ROS.

Every single actuator is capable of applying enough force to kill, so safety is an important consideration in the design. It has emergency stop buttons mounted in several locations, including on a wireless remote. The ROS controller monitors the position of every cylinder using string potentiometers for closed-loop control, and to trigger the emergency stop if an actuator goes out of bounds. The power loader can be controlled by the onboard pilot using a pair of simulator flight controller joysticks, or remotely using a PS4 controller.

[Hacksmith Industries] is clear about the fact that they are building multi-ton power loaded for fun and entertainment, not because it’s necessarily practical or a commercially viable product. However, other exoskeletons have proven that they are a viable solution for reducing fatigue and risk of injury for industrial workers, and carrying heavy loads in rough terrain.

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Robot Dogs Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, September 29 at noon Pacific for the Robot Dogs Hack Chat with Afreez Gan!

Thanks to the efforts of a couple of large companies, many devoted hobbyists, and some dystopian science fiction, robot dogs have firmly entered the zeitgeist of our “living in the future” world. The quadrupedal platform, with its agility and low center of gravity, is perfect for navigating in the real world, where the terrain is rarely even and unexpected obstacles are to be expected.

The robot dog has been successful enough that there are commercially available — if prohibitively priced — dogs on the market, doing everything from inspecting factory processes and off-shore oil platforms to dancing for their dinner. All the publicity around robot dogs has fueled a crush of DIY and open-source versions, so that hobbyists can take advantage of what the platform has to offer. And as a result, the design of these dogs has converged somewhat, with elements that provide a common design language for these electromechanical pets.

Afreez Gan has been exploring the robot dog space for a while now, and his MiniPupper is generating some interest. He’ll stop by the Hack Chat to talk about MiniPupper specifically and the quadruped platform in general. We’ll talk about what it takes to build your own robot dog, what you can do with one once you’ve built it, and how these bots can play a part in STEM education. Along the way, we’ll touch on ROS, lidar, machine vision with OpenCV, and pretty much anything involved in the care and feeding of your newest electronic pal.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, September 29 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Do Your Part To Stop The Robot Uprising

One of the pleasures of consuming old science fiction movies and novels is that they capture the mood of the time in which they are written. Captain Kirk was a 1960s guy and Picard was a 1990s guy, after all. Cold war science fiction often dealt with invasion. In the 1960s and 70s, you were afraid of losing your job to a computer, so science fiction often had morality tales of robots running amok, reminding us what a bad idea it was to give robots too much power. As it turns out, robots might be dangerous, but not for the reasons we thought. The robots won’t turn on us by themselves. But they could be hacked. To that end, there’s a growing interest in robot cybersecurity and Alias Robotics is releasing Alurity, a toolbox for robot cybersecurity.

Currently, the toolbox is available for Linux and MacOS with some support for Windows. It targets 25 base robots including the usual suspects. There’s a white paper from when the product entered testing available if you want more technical details.

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Jetson Nano Robot

[Stevej52] likes to build things you can’t buy, and this Jetson Nano robot falls well within that category. Reading the project details, you might think [Stevej52] drinks too much coffee. But we think he is just excited to have successfully pulled off the Herculean task of integrating over a dozen hardware and software modules. Very briefly, he is running Ubuntu and ROS on the PC and Nano. It is all tied together with Python code, and is using Modbus over IP to solve a problem getting joystick data to the Nano. We like it when existing, standard protocols can be used because it frees the designer to focus more on the application. Modbus has been around for 40 years, has widespread support in many languages and platforms.

This is an ongoing project, and we look forward to seeing more updates and especially more video of it in action like the one found below. With the recent release of a price-reduced Jetson Nano, which we covered last week, this might be an excellent project to take on.

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ArrBot Is A Fast Way To Get Out Standing In A New Field Of Robotics

[Junglist] correctly points out that agricultural robotics is fast on its way to being the next big thing (TM) and presents his easy to build ArrBot platform so others can get hacking fast. 

The frame is built out of the same brackets and aluminum tubing used to add handrails to stairwells on buildings. Not only is this a fast way to do it, the set-up can be guaranteed to be sturdy since hand rails are often literally standing between life and death. The high ground clearance allows for all sorts of sensors and devices to be mounted while still being able to clear the plants below. 

For motion hub motors driven by an ODrive were re-purposed for the task. He explored turning the wheels as well, but it seems like  differential steer and casters works well for this set-up. ROS on an Nividia Jetson runs the show and deals with the various sensors such as a stereoscopic camera and IMU.

We’re excited to see what hacks people come up with as research in this area grows. (Tee-hee!) For example, [Junglist] wants to see the effect of simply running a UV light over a field rather than spraying with pesticides or fungicides would have.

Bobble-Bot Teaches Modern Real-Time Robot Control

Bobble-Bot uses the standard inverted pendulum problem to teach modern robotic control using a Raspberry Pi, RT-Linux, and ROS.

We’re really impressed by the polish and design effort put into this project, and it’s no surprise that it’s a finalist in the 2019 Hackaday Prize. Bobble-Bot is a top heavy bot sitting on two BLDC motors. The brains of the operation is a Raspberry Pi running real-time Linux and ROS. This allows the robot to respond in a predictable manner to its inputs, and also allows for more control over thread priority than a regular kernel. In the past we’ve seen these inverted pendulum bots mostly being run on micro-controllers for just this reason, so it’s cool to see it make the jump to Linux.

Mechanically the bot can be printed on any consumer grade printer and assembled. We really appreciate the small details like making sure one screw size could be used to assemble the entire bot, eliminating the need for multiple tools.

They also have a simulator, and the bot’s software was built inside of that. It was a big moment when the real-world behavior finally matched the simulated performance. In fact, if you’re interested in the Bobble-Bot, you can try it out in simulation before committing to building the whole thing.

This project seems like a fun build for any hacker. We would have loved to have a project as polished and up-to-date as this one when we were learning controls in university. Video introducing it after the break.