These Micro Mice Have Macro Control

Few things fascinate a simple Hackaday writer as much as a tiny robot. We’ve been watching [Keri]’s utterly beguiling micromouse builds for a while now, but the fifth version of the KERISE series (machine translation) of ‘bots takes the design to new heights.

A family of mice v1 (largest) to v5 (smallest)

For context, micromouse is a competition where robots complete to solve mazes of varying pattern but standardized size by driving through them with no guidance or compute offboard of the robot itself. Historically the mazes were 3 meter squares composed of a 16 x 16 grid of cells, each 180mm on a side and 50mm tall, which puts bounds on the size of the robots involved.

What are the hallmarks of a [Keri] micromouse design? Well this is micromouse, so everything is pretty small. But [Keri]’s attention to detail in forming miniaturized mechanisms and 3D structures out of PCBs really stands out. They’ve been building micromouse robots since 2016, testing new design features with each iteration. Versions three and four had a wild suction fan to improve traction for faster maneuvering, but the KERISE v5 removes this to emphasize light weight and small size. The resulting vehicle is a shocking 30mm x 32mm! We’re following along through a translation to English, but we gather that [Keri] feels that there is still plenty of space on the main PCBA now that the fan is gone.

The KERISE v5 front end

The processor is a now familiar ESP32-PICO-D4, though the wireless radios are unused so far. As far as environmental sensing is concerned the v5 has an impressive compliment given its micro size. For position sensing there are custom magnetic encoders and a 3 DOF IMU. And for sensing the maze there are four side-looking IR emitter/receiver pairs and one forward-looking VL6180X laser rangefinder for measurements out to 100 or 150mm. Most of these sensors are mounted on little PCB ‘blades’ which are double sided (check out how the PCB shields the IR emitter from it’s receiver!) and soldered into slots perpendicular to the PCBA that makes up the main chassis. It goes without saying that the rest of the frame is built up of custom 3D printed parts and gearboxes.

If you’d like to build a KERISE yourself, [Keri] has what looks to be complete mechanical, electrical, and firmware sources for v1, v2, and v3 on their Github. To see the KERISE v5 dance on a spinning sheet of paper, check out the video after the break. You don’t want to miss it!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Micro Robots For Education

[Joshua Elsdon] and [Thomas Branch] needed a educational hardware platform that would fit into the constrained spaces and budgets of college classes. Because nothing out there that was cheap, simple and capable enough to fit their program, the two teachers for robotics at the Imperial College Robotics Society set out to build their own – and entered the Hackaday Prize with a legion of open source Micro Robots.

These small robots have a base area of 2 cmand a price tag of about £10 (about $14) each, once they are produced in quantities. They feature two onboard stepper motors, an RGB-LED, battery, a line-following sensor, collision-sensors and a bidirectional infrared transmitter for communicating with a master system, the ‘god bot’. The master system is based on a Raspberry Pi with little additional hardware. It multiplexes the IR-communication with all the little robots and simultaneously tracks their position and orientation through a camera, identifying them via their colored onboard LED. The master system also provides a programming interface for the robots, so that no firmware flashing procedure is required for students to get their code running. This is a well-designed, low-cost multi-robot system, and with onboard sensors, stepper motor odometry, and absolute positioning feedback, these little robots can be taught quite a few tricks.

Building tiny robots comes with a lot of regular-sized challenges, and we’re delighted to follow [Joshua Elsdon] and [Thomas Branch] on their journey from assembling the tiny PCBs over experimenting with 3D printing and casting techniques to produce the tiny wheels to the ROS programming. The diligent duo is present in the Hackaday prize twice: With their own Micro Robots project and with their contribution to the previously covered ODrive – an open source BLDC servo controller. We are already curious about their next feat! The below video shows a successful test of the camera feedback integration into the ROS.

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Hacklet 106 – Robots That Teach

One of the best ways to teach electronics and programming is with hands-on learning. Get the concepts off the computer screen and out into the real world. Students of all ages have been learning with robots for decades. Many older Hackaday readers will remember the turtle robots. These little ‘bots would drive around drawing shapes created in the logo programming language. This week’s Hacklet is all about the next generation of robots that teach electronics, mechanics, programming, and of course, hacking. So let’s check out some of the best educational robot projects on!

edubotWe start with [Tom Van den Bon] and Edubot Controller (Benny). Buying one or two robots can get expensive. Equipping a classroom full of them can break the bank. [Tom] is hoping to make robots cheaper and more accessible with Edubot, his entry in the 2016 Hackaday prize. Edubot rides on a 3D printed frame with low-cost gear motors for a drive system. Edubot’s brain is an STM32F042, a low-cost ARM processor from ST micro. The micro and motor drives are integrated into a custom board [Tom] designed. He’s has even begun creating lesson plans so students of various ages and skill levels can participate and learn.

microbotNext up is [Joshua Elsdon] with Micro Robots for Education. Big robots can be intimidating. They can also cause some damage when hardware and software created by budding engineers doesn’t operate as expected. Tiny robots though, are much easier to wrangle. [Joshua ] may have taken tiny to an extreme with these robots. Each robot is under 2 cm square. The goal is for each one to cost less than  £10 to produce. These micro bots have big brains with their ATmega328P micro controllers. [Joshua] is currently trying to figure out a low-cost way to produce wheels for these robots.

Next we have [shamylmansoor] with 3D printed mobile robot for STEM education. Robots are expensive, and international shipping can make them even more expensive. [Shamyl] is shooting for a robot which can be made locally in Pakistan. 3D printing is the answer. The robot’s chassis can be printed on any FDM printer. Wheels,and tires are low-cost units. Motors are RC servos modified for continuous rotation. The brains of the robot is an Arduino Mega 2560, which should provide plenty of inputs for sensors. [Shamyl] even included a solderless breadboard so students can prototype circuits and sensors right on the robot’s body.


plobotFinally we have [Rodolfo] with Plobot. Plobot is a robot designed for the youngest hackers – those from four to seven years old. [Rodolfo] designed Plobot to be programmed with RFID cards. Each card contains a command such as move forward, turn, start, and reset. Many of the language mechanics are inspired by the Scratch programming language. Plobot’s processor is a Sanguino, running [Rodolfo’s] custom code. An ESP8266 allows Plobot to be connected to the outside world via WiFi. [Rodolfo] has even created a custom over the air update system for Plobot’s firmware. Plobot has already been tested with students, where it made a great showing. We’re hoping both [Rodolfo] and Plobot do well in the 2016 Hackaday Prize!

If you want more mind hacking goodness, check out our brand new educational robot list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!