Robotic Platform Turns Shop Vac Into Roomba

The robotic revolution is currently happening, although for the time being it seems as though most of the robots are still being generally helpful to humanity, whether that help is on an assembly line, help growing food, or help transporting us from place to place. They’ve even showed up in our homes, although it’s not quite the Jetsons-like future yet as they mostly help do cleaning tasks. There are companies that will sell things like robotic vacuum cleaners but [Clay Builds] wanted one of his own so he converted a shop vac instead.

The shop vac sits in a laser-cut plywood frame and rolls on an axle powered by windshield wiper motors. Power is provided from a questionable e-bike battery which drives the motors and control electronics. A beefy inverter is also added to power the four horsepower vacuum cleaner motor. The robot has the ability to sense collisions with walls and other obstacles, and changes its path in a semi-random way in order to provide the most amount of cleaning coverage for whatever floor it happens to be rolling on.

There are a few things keeping this build from replacing anyone’s Roomba, though. Due to the less-than-reputable battery, [Clay Builds] doesn’t want to leave the robot unattended and this turned out to be a good practice when he found another part of the build, a set of power resistors meant to limit current going to the vacuum, starting to smoke and melt some of the project enclosure. We can always think of more dangerous tools to attach a robotic platform to, though.

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More Microwave Metal Casting

If you think you can’t do investment casting because you don’t have a safe place to melt metal, think again. Metal casting in the kitchen is possible, as demonstrated by this over-the-top bathroom hook repair using a microwave forge.

Now, just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s advisable. There are a lot better ways to fix something as mundane as a broken bathroom hook, as [Denny] readily admits in the video below. But he’s been at the whole kitchen forging thing since building his microwave oven forge, which uses a special but easily constructed ceramic heat chamber to hold a silicon carbide crucible. So casting a replacement hook from brass seemed like a nice exercise.

The casting process starts with a 3D-printed model of the missing peg, which gets accessories such as a pouring sprue and a thread-forming screw attached to it with cheese wax. This goes into a 3D-printed mold which is filled with a refractory investment mix of plaster and sand. The green mold is put in an air fryer to dry, then wrapped in aluminum foil to protect it while the PLA is baked out in the microwave. Scrap brass gets its turn in the microwave before being poured into the mold, which is sitting in [Denny]’s vacuum casting rig.

The whole thing is over in seconds, and the results are pretty impressive. The vacuum rig ensures metal fills the mold evenly without voids or gaps. The brass even fills in around the screw, leaving a perfect internal thread. A little polishing and the peg is ready for bathroom duty. Overly complicated? Perhaps, but [Denny] clearly benefits from the practice jobs like this offer, and the look is pretty cool too. Still, we’d probably want to do this in the garage rather than the kitchen.
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Rosie The Robot Runs For Real

On the recent 256th episode of the Hackaday podcast, [Kristina] mentioned her favorite fictional robot was Rosie from The Jetsons. [Robert Zollna] must agree since he built a reimagined Rosie and it even caught the notice of mainstream outlet People magazine.

We didn’t find much information outside of the TikTok video (see below; you can use the Guest button if you don’t have an account). However, there were a few clever ideas here. First, the robot mechanism is actually Rosie’s vacuum cleaner. Like a tail wagging a dog, an off-the-shelf floor vac tows the robot body.

Rosie herself is clearly an office chair base with an artistic body. The head rotates, and the mouth appears to open and close, so there’s apparently a little more electronics inside, but that’s nothing you couldn’t throw together with some RC servos and an ESP32.

Some videos cover the build so you might be able to glean more details, but the bite-sized videos aren’t very descriptive even though they are fun to watch. If you thought folks documenting their projects on YouTube was bad, you’re really gonna love the TikTok generation.

We like the look of Rosie, but as a practical matter, we need our robot vac to be smaller, not larger. However, using these off-the-shelf robots as a quick start for a robotics project is reasonable. Especially if you can pick up one cheap. Not that that’s a new idea. They even make stripped-down units with the intent that you don’t want to use them as cleaners.

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A red hot crucible is held with metal tongs above a white plaster mold. The mold is held in a bright pink silicone sleve atop a metal pan on a wooden workbench. Red cheese wax holds the sleeve to a metal funnel connected to a vacuum cleaner.

Lost Print Vacuum Casting In A Microwave

Hacks are rough around the edges by their nature, so we love it when we get updates from makers about how they’ve improved their process. [Denny] from Shake the Future has just provided an update on his microwave casting process.

Sticking metal in a microwave certainly seems like it would be a bad idea at first, but with the right equipment it can work quite nicely to develop a compact foundry. [Denny] walks us through the process start to finish in this video, including how to build the kilns, what materials to use, and how he made several different investment castings using the process. The video might be worth watching just for all the 3D printed tools he’s built to aid in the process — it’s a great example of useful 3D prints to accompany your fleet of little plastic boats.A hand holds a very detailed copper ring. It is inscribed with the words "Open Source Hardware" and the open gear logo associated with open source hardware. It looks kinda like a class ring.

A lot of the magic happens with a one minute on and six minutes off cycle set by a simple plug timer. This allows a more gradual ramp to burn out the PLA or resin than running the microwave at full blast which can cause some issues with the kiln, although nothing catastrophic as demonstrated. Vacuum is applied to the mold with a silicone sleeve cut from a swimming cap while pouring the molten metal into the mold to draw the metal into the cavities and reduce imperfections.

We appreciate the shout out to respirators while casting or cutting the ceramic fiber mat. Given boric acid’s effects, [PDF] you might want to use safety equipment when handling it as well or just use water as that seems like a valid option.

If you want to see where he started check out this earlier version of the microwave kiln and how he used it to make an aluminum pencil.

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Rebuilding A $700k Refrigerator

When cleaning out basements, garages, or storage units we often come across things long forgotten. Old clothes, toys, maybe a piece of exercise equipment, or even an old piece of furniture. [Ben] and [Hugh] were in a similar situation cleaning out an unused lab at the University of California Santa Barbara and happened upon an old refrigerator. This wasn’t just a mini fridge left over from a college dorm, though. This is a dilution refrigerator which is capable of cooling things down to near absolute zero, and these scientists are trying to get it to its former working state.

The pair are hoping to restore the equipment to perform dark matter experiments, but the refrigerator hasn’t been in use since about 2016 (and doesn’t have an instruction manual), which is a long time for a piece of specialty scientific equipment to be collecting dust. The first step is to remove wiring and clean it of all the grime it’s accumulated in the last decade. After that, the pair work to reassemble the layers of insulation around the main cooling plate and then hook up a vacuum pump to the device which also needed some repair work.

The critical step at this point is to evacuate the refrigerant lines so they can be filled with expensive Helium-3 and Helium-4. The problem is that there’s still some of this valuable gas in the lines that needs to be recovered, but the risk is that if any air gets into the cold section of the refrigerator it will freeze and clog the whole system. After chasing some other electrical and vacuum gremlins and discovering a manual from a similar refrigerator, they eventually get it up and running and ready for new scientific experiments. While most of us won’t discover a fridge like this cleaning out our attics, this refrigerator powered by rubber bands is a little more accessible to the rest of us.

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Vroomba Gets Upgrades And A Spoiler

[Electrosync] is the creator and driver of the world’s fastest robotic vaccum cleaner, the Vroomba. It’s a heavily modified roomba capable of speeds of around 60 kph, well beyond the pedaling speed of most bicyclists. Despite being rejected by Guinness for a world record, we’re fairly confident that no other vacuum cleaners have gotten up to these speeds since the Vroomba first hit the streets. That’s not going to stop [electrosync] from trying to top his own record, though, and he’s brought the Vroomba some much needed upgrades.

The first, and perhaps most important, upgrades are to some of the structural components and wheels. The robot is much heavier than comparable RC vehicles and is under much greater strain than typical parts are meant to endure, so he’s 3D printed some parts of the chassis and some new wheels using a nylon-carbon fiber filament for improved strength. The wheels get a custom polyurethane coating similar to last time.

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Old Robotic Vacuum Gets A New RC Lease On Life

To our way of thinking, the whole purpose behind robotic vacuum cleaners is their autonomy. They’re not particularly good at vacuuming, but they are persistent about it, and eventually get the job done with as little human intervention as possible. So why in the world would you want to convert a robotic vacuum to radio control?

For [Lucas], the answer was simple: it was a $20 yard sale find, so why not? Plus, he’s got some secret evil plan to repurpose the suckbot for autonomous room mapping, which sounds like a cool project that would benefit from a thorough knowledge of this little fellow’s anatomy and physiology. The bot in question is a Hoover Quest. Like [Lucas] we didn’t know that Hoover made robotic vacuums (Narrator: they probably don’t) but despite generally negative online reviews by users, he found it to be a sturdily built and very modular and repairable unit.

After an initial valiant attempt at reverse engineering the bot’s main board — a project we encourage [Lucas] to return to eventually — he settled for just characterizing the bot’s motors and sensors and building his own controller. The Raspberry Pi Zero he chose may seem like overkill, but he already had it set up to talk to a PS4 game controller, so it made sense — right up until he released the Magic Smoke within it. A backup Pi took the sting out of that, and as the brief video below shows, he was finally able to get the bot under his command.

[Lucas] has more plans for his new little buddy, including integrating the original sensors and adding new ones. Given its intended mission, we’d say a lidar sensor would be a good addition, but that’s just a guess. Whatever he’s got in store for this, we’re keen to hear what happens.

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