Sonic The Self-Balancing Robot: Face-Plants And The Challenges Of Sensor Integration

Watching a child learn to run is a joyous, but sometimes painful experience. It seems the same is true for [James Bruton]’s impressive Sonic the Self-Balancing robot, even with bendable knees and force sensitive legs.

We covered the mechanical side of the project recently, and now [James] has added the electronics to turn it into a truly impressive working robot (videos after the break). Getting it to this point was not without challenges, but fortunately he is sharing the experience with us, wipe-outs and all. The knees of this robot are actuated using a pair of motors with ball screws, which are not back drivable. This means that external sensors are needed to allow the motors to actively respond to inputs, which in this case are load cells in the legs and an MPU6050 IMU for balancing. The main control board is a Teensy 3.6, with an NRF24 module providing remote control.

[James] wanted the robot to be able to lean into turns and handle uneven surfaces (small ramps) without tipping or falling over. The leaning part was fairly simple (for him), but the sensor integration for uneven surfaces turned out to be a real challenge, and required multiple iterations to get working. The first approach was to move the robot in the direction of the tipping motion to absorb it, and then return to level. However, this could cause it to tip over slightly larger ramps. When trying to keep the robot level while going over a ramp with one leg, it would go into wild side-to-side oscillations as it drops back to level ground. This was corrected by using the load cells to dampen the motion.

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Sonic The Hedgehog Self-Balancing Robot Can Bend At The Knees

Building your own self-balancing robot is a rite of passage for anyone getting into the field of robotics. Master of robots, [James Bruton] has been there, done that, and collected a few T-shirts. Now he’s building a large Sonic the Hedgehog self balancing robot that can bend at the knees and hip, allowing it to lean while turning and handle uneven terrain. Check out the first video embedded after the break.

Standing about 1 m tall, the robot is inspired by Boston Dynamic’s box handling bot, Handle. It’s “skeleton” consists of 20×20 aluminium extrusions, bolted together using a bunch of 3D printed fittings in the signature blue and red of Sonic. The wheels and tyres are also 3D printed, and driven by brushless motor via a toothed belt. The knee/hip mechanism is actuated using a ball screw, also driven by a brushless motor.

[James] intends to implement an active shock absorption system into the leg mechanism, using the same technique he tried on his OpenDog robot. It works by bolting a load cell onto one of the leg extrusion to sense when it flexes under load, and then actuating the knee mechanism to absorb the force. His first version of the system on OpenDog used PWM signals to send the load cell data to the main controller, but the motors on the legs induced enough noise in the signal wires to make it unusable. He has since started experimenting with the CAN bus protocol, which was specifically designed to work reliably in noisy systems like modern automobiles. If he gets it working on the two legs of this Sonic robot, he plans to also implement it on the quadruped OpenDog.

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Augmented Arthropod Gets A Self-Balancing Ride

There are many people who find being around insects uncomfortable. This is understandable, and only likely to get worse as technology gives these multi-legged critters augmented bodies to roam around with. [tech_support], for one, welcomes our new arthropod overlords, and has even built them a sweet new ride to get around in.

The build follows the usual hallmarks of a self-balancing bot, with a couple of interesting twists. There’s twin brushed motors for drive, an an Arduino Uno running the show. Instead of the more usual pedestrian IMUs however, this rig employs the Bosch BNO055 Absolute Orientation Sensor. This combines a magnetometer, gyroscope, and accelerometer all on a single die, and handles all the complicated sensor fusion maths onboard. This allows it to output simpler and more readily usable orientation data.

The real party piece is even more interesting, however. Rather than radio control or a line following algorithm, this self-balancer instead gets its very own insect pilot. The insect is placed in a small chamber with ultrasonic sensors used to determine its position. The insect may then control the movement of the bot by moving around this chamber itself. The team have even developed a variety of codes to dial in the sensor system for different types of insect.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen insects augmented with robotic hardware, and we doubt it will be the last. If you’re working on a mad science project of your own, drop us a line. Video after the break.

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Balancing Robots From Off-The-Shelf Parts

In this day and age, we are truly blessed as far as the electronics hobby is concerned. Advanced modules such as gyros and motor controllers are readily available, not just as individual parts, but as pre-soldered modules that can be wired together with a minimum of fuss and at low cost. This simple balancing robot is a great example of what can be done with such parts (Google Translate link).

The robot has an ESP32 running the show, which provides both the processing power required, as well as the WiFi interface used to control the ‘bot from a smartphone. This is achieved using an app from JJRobots, an open-source robotics teaching resource. Stepper motors are controlled by DRV8825 modules sourced from amazon, and an MPU6050 gyro rounds out the major components. Naturally, source code is available on GitHub for your reading pleasure.

It’s remarkable that in this day and age, it’s possible to build such a project with little to no soldering required at all. With a credit card and a healthy supply of patch leads, it’s possible to whip up complex digital projects quite quickly. We’ve seen a similar approach before, too. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]
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Junk Bin Self Balancing Bot With ESP8266

As we all know, sometimes the projects we plan simply never materialize. You have an idea, maybe even buy some of the parts you need, and then…nothing. Maybe you changed your mind, or maybe the idea was never that good to begin with. In any event, time marches on, the parts pile up, and the ideas come and go. Such is the life of the hacker.

[Andrius Mikonis] writes in to tell us how his graveyard of abandoned projects ended up providing exactly what he needed to embark on a project he’s been fascinated with for years: the two-wheel self balancing robot. He started with a motor and wheel set that was originally intended to be part of a rover, added an accelerometer, and tied the whole thing together with an ESP-01 he had lying around. The final result certainly looks the part, and goes to show that projects don’t always need to be 1000 hour labors of love to accomplish their goals.

The construction of this little bot is simple in the extreme. A piece of plywood makes up the primary structure, with the wheels glued to the bottom and the electronics taking up residence in the top. It’s powered by two lithium battery cells that were salvaged out of an old laptop, with a DC-DC buck converter to provide a stable 3.3 VDC for the ESP-01 and MPU6050 accelerometer. To control the motors themselves, [Andrius] is using a cheap L293 controller that he found on eBay.

For interactive control, [Andrius] is making use of the ESP’s Wi-Fi to provide a web-based interface. This lets you control the bot from essentially any device that has a browser, rather than having to use a dedicated hardware transmitter.

Self-balancing robots of various levels of complexity are a relatively common project in the hacker world. There’s just something magical about the way they scoot around, seeming to defy gravity.

A Robot That Can Still Keep Its Balance After A Night In The Pub

One of the star attractions at the recent bring-a-hack prior to our London unconference was [Dan]’s two-wheeled self-balancing robot. As the assorted masses of the Hackaday readership consumed much fine ale and oohed and ahhed over each others work, there it stood on a pub table, defying all attempts to topple it.

In a way a successful self-balancer can look surprisingly unexciting because it achieves the seemingly unimpressive task of just standing there and not doing much except trundling about, but to take such a superficial view belies the significant feat of engineering that gives the self-balancer its party trick. And it’s no mean achievement to create one from fairly basic hardware, so how has he done it?

The 3D-printed frame holds a pair of stepper motors to do the hard work, while a piece of stripboard acts as carrier for boards containing the MPU6050 accelerometer and DRV8825 stepper motor drivers. Meanwhile the brains of the whole show started as an Espruino Pico but has since been moved to an ESP32.

There is a linked GitHub repository with all the code, and if our description of seeing it in a London pub isn’t good enough for you then you can see it in action in the video below.

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I Am Science Fiction Incarnate; I Am Handle

This is the first official look at Boston Dynamics’ new robot design, called Handle, and it’s a doozy. They are a trusted source of cutting-edge real-world robotics, which is good. If this came from an unknown source we’d be scrambling to debunk it as fake. This robot shows incredible utility, the likes of which has been relegated to the computer graphics of the movie and video game industries.

Impressive ability to keep 'hands' stationary in 3D space
Impressive ability to keep ‘hands’ stationary in 3D space

At the beginning of the month, we saw a demonstration of the robot but it was simply cellphone footage of a conference hall video. This is a crystal clear 60fps video from Boston Dynamics themselves with a few juicy details to go along with it. Chief among them (for us anyway) is that this prototype has a battery range of about 15 miles between charges. The efficiency is due in large part to the wheeled nature of the beast. It balances on two wheels, but the design attaches those wheels to two fully articulated legs rather than directly to the frame of the body.

The result is a quadruped that is distinctly not human in appearance but can perform well in similar environments and with similar tasks. Handle is capable of offsetting its body weight, allowing the front limbs to pick up heavy objects while maintaining balance. The combination of both electric and hydraulic actuators let it perform feats like jumping over four-foot high objects. The independence of each wheel is shown off with ramps to simulate uneven terrain.

Bravo BD. We can’t wait to see Handle wheeling down the street placing smile-adorned boxes on each stoop as it revolutionizes home delivery. Oh, and kudos on the 80’s-style freeze frame at the end of the video below.

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