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It’s fair to say that building electronic gadgets is easier now than it ever has been in the past. With low-cost modular components, there’s often just a couple dozen lines of code and a few jumper wires standing between your idea and a functioning prototype. Driving stepper motors is a perfect example: you can grab a cheap controller board, hook it up to a microcontroller, and the rest is essentially just software. But recently [mechatronicsguy] wondered if even that was more hardware than was technically necessary to get the job done.

It’s not that he was intentionally looking to make things more complicated for himself, of course. His rationale was entirely economic; if you’re looking to drive a dozen or more stepper motors, even the “cheap” controllers can add up. So he started to wonder if he could skip the controller entirely and connect the stepper motor directly to the digital pins of an Arduino. Generally speaking this is a bad idea, but if you’re careful and are willing to take the risk, [mechatronicsguy] is living proof it’s possible

So what’s the trick to running a whopping seventeen individual stepper motors directly from the digital pins of an Arduino Mega? Well, to start with you’re not going to be running the beefy NEMA 17 motors like you might find in a 3D printer. [mechatronicsguy] is using the diminutive (and dirt cheap) 28BYJ-48, a light duty stepper used in many consumer products. Even with this relatively tiny motor, you need to crack open the case and cut a trace on the PCB to switch it from unipolar to bipolar.

Beyond that, you need to be careful. [mechatronicsguy] reports he’s had success running as many as ten of them at once, but realistically the fewer operating simultaneously the better. This is actually made easier due to the relatively poor specs of the 28BYJ-48 motor; its huge eleven degree step size means its not really susceptible to the same kind of slippage you’d get on a NEMA 17 when powered down. This means you can cut power to all but the actively moving motor and be fairly sure they’ll all stay where you left them.

With as popular as the 28BYJ-48 stepper is, there are several projects this “quick and dirty” method of interfacing could potentially work with. This small “barn door” star tracker is an obvious example, but we’ve also seen some very nice robotic arms built with these low-cost motors which could benefit from the technique.

Anansi in African folktale is a trickster and god of stories, usually taking physical form of a spider. Anansi’s adventures through oral tradition have adapted to the situation of people telling those stories, everything ranging from unseasonable weather to living a life in slavery. How might Anansi adapt to the twenty-first century? [odd_jayy] imagined the form of a cyborg spider, and created Asi the robot companion to perch on his shoulder. Anyone who desire their own are invited to visit Asi’s project page.

Asi was inspired by [Alex Glow]’s Archimedes, who also has a project page for anyone to build their own. According to [Alex] at Superconference 2018, she knew of several who have done so, some with their own individual customization. [odd_jayy] loved the idea of a robot companion perched on his shoulder but decided to draw from a different pool of cultural folklore for Asi. Accompanying him to various events like Sparklecon 2019, Asi is always a crowd pleaser wherever they go.

Like every project ever undertaken, there is no shortage of ideas for Asi’s future and [odd_jayy] listed some of them in an interview with [Alex]. (Video after the break.) Adding sound localization components will let Asi face whoever’s speaking nearby. Mechanical articulation for legs would allow more dynamic behaviors while perched, but if the motors are powerful enough, Asi can walk on a surface when not perched. It’s always great to see open source projects inspire even more projects, and watch them as they all evolve in skill and capability. If they all become independently mobile, we’ll need clarification when discussing the average velocity of an unladen folklore robot companion: African or European folklore?

Regular readers of Hackaday have certainly seen the work of [Jeremy Cook] at this point. Whether you remember him from his time as a writer for this fine online publication, or recognize the name from one of his impressive builds over the last few years, he’s a bona fide celebrity around these parts. In fact, he’s so mobbed with fans at events that he’s been forced to employ a robotic companion to handle distributing his personalized buttons for his own safety.

Alright, that might be something of a stretch. But [Jeremy] figured it couldn’t hurt to have an interesting piece of hardware handing out his swag at the recent Palm Bay Mini Maker Faire. Anyone can just put some stickers and buttons in a bowl on a table, but that’s hardly the hacker way. In the video after the break, he walks viewers through the design and construction of this fun gadget, which takes a couple unexpected turns and has contains more than a few useful tips which are worth the cost of admission alone.

Outwardly the 3D printed design is simple enough, and reminds us of those track kits for Matchbox cars. As you might expect, getting the buttons to slide down a printed track was easy enough. Especially when [Jeremy] filed the inside smooth to really get them moving. But the goal was to have a single button get dispensed each time the device was triggered, but that ended up being easier said than done.

The first attempt used magnets actuated by two servos, one to drop the button and the other to hold up the ones queued above it. This worked fine…at first. But [Jeremy] eventually found that as he stacked more buttons up in the track, the magnets weren’t strong enough to hold them back and they started “leaking”. This is an excellent example of how a system can work perfectly during initial testing, but break down once it hits the real world.

In this case, the solution ended up being relatively simple. [Jeremy] kept the two servos controlled by an Arduino and a capacitive sensor, but replaced the magnets with physical levers. The principle is the same, but now the system is strong enough to hold back the combined weight of the buttons in the chute. It did require him to cut into the track after it had already been assembled, but we can’t blame him for not wanting to start over.

Just like the arcade inspired candy dispenser, coming up with a unique way of handing out objects to passerby is an excellent way to turn the ordinary into a memorable event. Maybe for the next iteration he can make it so getting a button requires you to pass a hacker trivia test. Really make them work for it.

Hackers seem intent on making sure the world doesn’t forget that, for a brief shining moment, everyone thought Big Mouth Billy Bass was a pretty neat idea. Every so often we see a project that takes this classic piece of home decor and manages to shoehorn in some new features or capabilities, and with the rise of voice controlled home automation products from the likes of Amazon and Google, they’ve found a new ingredient du jour when preparing stuffed bass.

[Ben Eagan] has recently completed his entry into the Pantheon of animatronic fish projects, and while we’ll stop short of saying the world needed another Alexa-enabled fish on the wall, we’ve got to admit that he’s done a slick job of it. Rather than trying to convince Billy’s original electronics to play nice with others, he decided to just rip it all out and start from scratch. The end result is arguably one of the most capable Billy Bass updates we’ve come across, if you’re willing to consider flapping around on the wall an actual capability in the first place.

The build process is well detailed in the write-up, and [Ben] provides many pictures so the reader can easily follow along with the modification. The short version of the story is that he cuts out the original control board and wires the three motors up to an Arduino Motor Driver Shield, and when combined with the appropriate code, this gives him full control over Billy’s mouth and body movements. This saved him the trouble of figuring out how to interface with the original electronics, which is probably for the better since they looked rather crusty anyway.

From there, he just needed to give the fish something to get excited about. [Ben] decided to connect the 3.5 mm audio jack of an second generation Echo Dot to one of the analog pins of the Arduino, and wrote some code that can tell him if Amazon’s illuminated hockey puck is currently yammering on about something or not. He even added a LM386 audio amplifier module in there to help drive Billy’s original speaker, since that will now be the audio output of the Dot.

A decade ago we saw Billy reading out Tweets, and last year we presented a different take on adding an Alexa “brain” to everyone’s favorite battery powered fish. What will Billy be up to in 2029? We’re almost too scared to think about it.

Hackers seem intent on making sure the world doesn’t forget that, for a brief shining moment, everyone thought Big Mouth Billy Bass was a pretty neat idea. Every so often we see a project that takes this classic piece of home decor and manages to shoehorn in some new features or capabilities, and with the rise of voice controlled home automation products from the likes of Amazon and Google, they’ve found a new ingredient du jour when preparing stuffed bass.

[Ben Eagan] has recently completed his entry into the Pantheon of animatronic fish projects, and while we’ll stop short of saying the world needed another Alexa-enabled fish on the wall, we’ve got to admit that he’s done a slick job of it. Rather than trying to convince Billy’s original electronics to play nice with others, he decided to just rip it all out and start from scratch. The end result is arguably one of the most capable Billy Bass updates we’ve come across, if you’re willing to consider flapping around on the wall an actual capability in the first place.

The build process is well detailed in the write-up, and [Ben] provides many pictures so the reader can easily follow along with the modification. The short version of the story is that he cuts out the original control board and wires the three motors up to an Arduino Motor Driver Shield, and when combined with the appropriate code, this gives him full control over Billy’s mouth and body movements. This saved him the trouble of figuring out how to interface with the original electronics, which is probably for the better since they looked rather crusty anyway.

From there, he just needed to give the fish something to get excited about. [Ben] decided to connect the 3.5 mm audio jack of an second generation Echo Dot to one of the analog pins of the Arduino, and wrote some code that can tell him if Amazon’s illuminated hockey puck is currently yammering on about something or not. He even added a LM386 audio amplifier module in there to help drive Billy’s original speaker, since that will now be the audio output of the Dot.

A decade ago we saw Billy reading out Tweets, and last year we presented a different take on adding an Alexa “brain” to everyone’s favorite battery powered fish. What will Billy be up to in 2029? We’re almost too scared to think about it.

For an electronics person, building the mechanics of a robot — especially a robust robot — can be somewhat daunting. [Jithin] started with an off-the-shelf 4 wheel drive chassis to build an off-road Arduino robot he calls the Badland Brawler. The kit was a bit over $100, but as you can see in the video below, it is pretty substantial, with an enclosed frame and large mud tires.

The remaining parts include an Arduino, a battery, and a motor driver IC. The Arduino is one with WiFi (an MKR 1000, in fact) and there’s a phone app for controlling the robot.

Honestly, once you have the chassis taken care of, the rest is pretty easy. Of course, the phone app is a bit more effort, but you could replace it in a number of ways. Blynk, comes to mind, for example.

The motor drivers are easy to figure out. This would be a great platform for some sensors to allow for more autonomy. We liked how the frame had mount points for a lot of different boards and sensors and could hold everything, for the most part, inside. That’s probably a good idea for a robot which will be traversing rugged terrain.

If you do decide to roll your own app with Blynk, we’ve done it with a very different kind of robot. Four-wheel drive robots don’t have to be big, as we’ve seen in the past.

For an electronics person, building the mechanics of a robot — especially a robust robot — can be somewhat daunting. [Jithin] started with an off-the-shelf 4 wheel drive chassis to build an off-road Arduino robot he calls the Badland Brawler. The kit was a bit over $100, but as you can see in the video below, it is pretty substantial, with an enclosed frame and large mud tires.

The remaining parts include an Arduino, a battery, and a motor driver IC. The Arduino is one with WiFi (an MKR 1000, in fact) and there’s a phone app for controlling the robot.

Honestly, once you have the chassis taken care of, the rest is pretty easy. Of course, the phone app is a bit more effort, but you could replace it in a number of ways. Blynk, comes to mind, for example.

The motor drivers are easy to figure out. This would be a great platform for some sensors to allow for more autonomy. We liked how the frame had mount points for a lot of different boards and sensors and could hold everything, for the most part, inside. That’s probably a good idea for a robot which will be traversing rugged terrain.

If you do decide to roll your own app with Blynk, we’ve done it with a very different kind of robot. Four-wheel drive robots don’t have to be big, as we’ve seen in the past.

We don’t think we’d want to trust our fire safety to a robot carrying a few ounces of water, but as a demonstration or science project, [Tinker Guru’s] firefighting robot was an entertaining answer to the question: “What do I do with that flame sensor that came in the big box of Arduino sensors I bought from China?” You can see a video of the device below.

You can see, it is a pretty standard two-wheel robot with the drive wheels to the rear and a skid plate up front. There are a flame sensor and a water pump up forward, as well. You can probably guess, the device notices a flame and rushes to squirt water on it.

That got us thinking, though. What would it take to build a real robot fireman? Turns out you don’t have to look hard to find out there are several out there already. The Thermite robot seems to have a lot of traction — in the market, that is, although its oversized treads probably give it good traction in that way, too. Most of the robots don’t carry their own water, and there’s even one — THOR — that looks like a human. Well, as much as a pie looks like a cake, anyway.

Interestingly, none seem to carry any sort of chemical fire extinguisher. Of course, we’ve seen cases where water was the best, anyway. If you want a slightly more practical home build — but only slightly — check out [Ivan’s] robot that holds a liter of water.

When you think of sports, you usually think of something that takes a lot of physical effort. Golf is a bit different. Sure, you can get some walking in if you don’t take a cart. But mostly golfing is about coordination and skill and less about physical exertion. Until you want to practice driving. You hit a bucket of balls and then you have to go walk around and pick them up. Unless you have help, of course. In particular, you can delegate the task to a robot.

The robot that [webzuweb] built looks a little like a plywood robot vacuum. However, instead of suction, it uses some plywood disks to lift the balls and deposit them in a hopper. The electronics consist of an Arduino and an Orange Pi Lite. A GPS tells the robot where it is and it develops a search pattern based on its location.

Although [webzuweb] notes he isn’t done with the project, it looks pretty good. He describes the software, but it doesn’t appear to be posted anywhere. However, he does describe its operation and how it changes mode based on its current state.

We can’t decide if golf is really a sport or more of a game. We were surprised to read that if you carry your own bag and don’t use a cart you can burn about 360 calories an hour which is somehow more than a gymnast burns, which hardly seems possible.

Of course, most people use a cart and a caddy, so they aren’t going to burn those calories. If you are in the market for a cool cart, we liked this one. Or, perhaps you’d like one with more power.

The first thing to notice about [Bijuo]’s cat-sized quadruped robot designs (link is in Korean, Google translation here) is how slim and sleek the legs are. That’s because unlike most legged robots, the limbs themselves don’t contain any motors. Instead, the motors are in the main body, with one driving a half-circle pulley while another moves the limb as a whole. Power is transferred by a cable acting as a tendon and is offset by spring tension in the joints. The result is light, slim legs that lift and move in a remarkable gait.

[Bijuo] credits the Cheetah_Cub project as their original inspiration, and names their own variation Mini Serval, on account of the ears and in keeping with the feline nomenclature. Embedded below are two videos, the first showing leg and gait detail, and the second demonstrating the robot in motion.

There’s more than one way to make a robot cat, of course, and here’s another design that doesn’t completely evict motors from the limbs, but still manages to keep them looking sleek and nimble.

[via Let’s Make Robots]



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