Sunday, January 31, 2010

Home Made Diffraction Grating Projector

Here's a pretty cool video of a project a guy did using some lasers and some diffraction grating.  He turned his bedroom into a rave, and a pretty cool one at that.  (Warning the background music contains explicit lyrics.  Why go mess up something cool with trashy lyrics???  Sheesh.)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Cool Mechanical Music

He's a cool video to watch, although the sound that comes out is, well, less than stellar.  It's called a Pin-Barrel Harp.  This is just one of many videos on  There is a series showing the construction of the piece.  Just search for Pin-Barrel Harp.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Honda's Living With Robots

If you like the robot ASIMO built by Honda and want to know a little more about why a car/motorcycle company is interested in building such a robot, here's your chance.

Critical Thinking

As I have gone through my life, I have learned very important ideas. One extremely important thing I have learned is to think for myself. It’s something I try to do in every aspect of my life; my beliefs, my morals, my profession, my hobbies, what I watch on TV, advertising, my finances, the news, wars, what I eat, what people tell me, the internet,… well, you get the idea.

To do this, a person needs to develop critical thinking. I am a student of critical thinking, always evaluating my decisions and ideas. It is especially important in engineering, thus it is also important in my hobby of Lego robotics. Here is a video about critical thinking that I have watched several times and I completely buy into. It moves pretty fast at points, but I think it is very important.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I was checking over my fresh copy of the Lego Education catalog I got in the mail yesterday and I noticed a couple of pretty cool robotic arms. Normally, I just glance over them mainly because they are super expensive and why buy one when I could build one. The big one called Brutus is $3500 and pretty detailed and would be fun to play with, but more fun to build.

Then I noticed the smaller one called Rooster. Rooster isn’t really a robotic arm, but an R/C arm. I took a glance at it and it looks like it can be fairly easily made using five PF motors; two driving motors, one arm lifting motor, one gripper tilting motor and one gripper motor. You could really get lots of bang for the buck. And of course, you could throw a NXT and some servos and some sensors in it to make it programmable.

I think that a PF project like this has some serious “playability.” Imagine chasing the kids and the cat around the house with something like that? I might even let my four year old play with it. This guy is certainly going into my “Will Build” project list.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spirit is Stuck

Well, NASA's Mars Rover Spirit is officially permanently stuck in the Martian soil.  It's still alive so NASA is using it as a "stationary science platform."  They expect it to continue to be alive for months longer, and possibly even years.  It has already greatly outlived it planned life expectancy of at least 90 days.  The rover has been on Mars since 2004.

I am thinkin' 'bout hopping in my truck and takin' a ride to see what I can do.  Anyone want to join me?

Lego-er Gets Some Attention.

It’s really cool when an adult Lego enthusiast gets some big attention from large media outlets. Sean Keeney, who created and is a LEGO Certified Professional was recently showcased on a Japanese documentary called “New York Wave.” Check out the 20 minute video on his site,

I admit it; I look at non-NXT Lego sites. Some really, really cool stuff is built by people who use Lego for more conventional purposes. If you only check out Lego robotic sites and blogs, you may be missing out. If you look at only one other Lego/Non-NXT site, make it The Brothers Brick. Every day they showcase at least one very detailed MOC.

I have even dabbled (mostly unsuccessfully) in the realm of building standard Lego creations.  A couple of years ago, I took a stab at building a large 8' long paddlewheel.

Robotic Competition

I love robotic competitions. They always encourage innovative thinking, they are great spirited, plus it gives geeks and nerds such as me an opportunity to socialize with like-minded people.

NASA currently has a competition called the Lunabotics Mining Competition.

The purpose of the Lunabotics Mining Competition is to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, in a competitive environment that may result in innovative ideas and solutions, which could be applied to actual lunar excavation for NASA.
Unfortunately it’s open only to colleges and universities. I wish that there were a competitive arena for teams of adults to create Mindstorms robots. I would like it to be very much like FIRST Lego League but more advanced. 

One idea have thought about is a Mars Mission competition. My dream is to have a large table that is built from four 4x8 plywood sheets arranged in a square pattern with a 4x4 opening in the middle.

The competitors would be given some data about the mission but not all. The table would be set up with ten missions and each team would be given 15 minutes to accomplish as many missions as possible. It would be designed so it would be nearly impossible to do all 10 missions, so there would be points awarded for different missions based on difficulty.

Teams would be made up of 3-5 team members or even more. There would be no limit to how many NXTs, RCXs, sensors (including HiTechnic and MindSensors), motors and Lego pieces, but I would set it up so that the robot must initially fit into an eighteen inch cube to fit into the transport vehicle that will get it to Mars. All parts must be Lego, HiTechnic, or MindSensors parts.

The table would have different terrains, such as sandy, rocky, shallow water, elevated, slippery and so on. Each competitor would be given basic information about the terrain, but no information about where on the table the terrain would be located. This would create some challenges in creating a platform that could traverse all the terrains.

Missions would be varied throughout the table and would include challenges such as:

• “Locate the downed satellite,” where the robot would locate and mark or even pick up the HiTechnic Infrared Electronic Ball.

• “Locate liquid water,” where the robot would find water and measure the temperature and store the data correctly.

• “Correctly place a solar collector,” where the robot places a Lego solar cell correctly near a bright light so the motor that is connected runs.

• “Locate the rare mineral,” where the robot finds and marks a section of the terrain that has blue rocks or blue sand.

• “Identify possible future landing site,” where the robot would find smooth, firm ground that would be possible future landing sites.

• “Collect organic material,” where the robot would find something that is the color green, pick it up and carry it away.

• “Map the terrain,” where the robot does some basic mapping functions, such as identify features it has found, where it picked up the satellite, where it placed the solar collector, where it found water, etc.

• “Identify seismic activity,” where the robot finds sections of the terrain that are vibrating or making sounds.

These are just a few ideas, more could be added, the course could be changed, etc, etc.

Has anyone else had thoughts about this type of competition? Is there any adult interest in stuff like this, or am I the only one??

REMINDER. I have opened up my commenting so that you do not have to be signed in to comment, you can comment anonymously, or you can use a code name, whatever.  I would like to hear what you have to say, good, bad or indifferent.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lego Technic Eight-Legged Spider

Here is an eight-legged walker built out of the old Technic beams and parts.  I like it because the builder has done his homework.  The thing is small and light, the legs move in a lifelike motion, and best of all, it is powered by a single motor.  I wish he would have used a more powerful motor because I think it would walk better, but I respect him for using only the old Technic stuff.  I am going to bookmark this mechanism because I am going to reproduce it.  It's a great design and I have a thing for interesting linkages.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Equal rights

I came to the table where I am working on MARVIN today and I found a piece of literature on the table..

Apparently, while I sleep, MARVIN is attending Union meetings.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Bot now has a name….MARVIN, or Mindstorms Anthropomorphic Robot-Verbalizing Interactive Nerd. Thanks to all of you that suggested names and voted!

I have been spending tons of time programming MARVIN. I have to tell you, creating an interactive robot with tons of sensors and motors is a HUGE task. I have spent more time programming than building, and I still have a long, long way to go to achieve my goals.

Here are some of the specs.
MARVIN is 28 inches tall, 22 inches wide, but the arms extend out to the side so it can be about 18" wider. If I had to guess, it probably weighs about 20 lbs.

The hardware includes:
4 NXTs
9 servos
5 PF motors, three XL and two MED
3 IR Receivers
2 micro motors
1 PF battery box
The HiTechnic SMUX
17 sensors,
• HiTechnic Compass
• 2 HiTechnic IR Links
• 4 ultrasonic sensors, three on the bumpers and one on the chest.
• 3 touch bumpers
• 1 touch for an emergency stop
• 4 sound sensor for emergency stop, yell louder than 95 and the robot dies,
• 2 light sensors, which picks up light signals from the master as commands, since there is no BlueTooth capability for fours NXTs using RobotC

Not all sensors are completely written into the code yet. I have envisioned what I want to do, but there just isn't enough time in the day to do it all.

Both arms and the face are controlled by functions that receive pre-programmed parameters from arrays such as...
int FaceArray[][]=
{9, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 30, 200}, // Brows Only
{0, 0, 0, 100, 30, 100, 30, 0, 0}, // Eyes Only
{0, 0, 0, -100, 30, -100, 30, 0, 0}, // Eyes Only
{0, 0, 0, 0, 30, 0, 30, 0, 0}, // Eyes Only
{0, 120, 80, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0}, // Mouth Only
{0, 10, 80, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0}, // Mouth Only
{0, 120, 80, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0}, // Mouth Only
{0, 0, 80, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0}, // Mouth Only
{0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, -30, -200}, // Brows Only
{6, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, -30, 200}, // Brows Only

This way, each motor can run completely independently thru their own task. Each array is created in Excel (easier to read the numbers) and exported into a data file that is read by the program.

Since there are 4 NXTs, I can run multiple motors and functions at the same time. Each arm has 3 degrees of freedom, plus the gripper motion.

The eyes move up & down and side to side. The eyebrows move up and down and turn in and out to make scowling and other facial movements reflecting mood. The more I look at MARVIN, he reminds me of Wall-E.

Here is a very basic look at how the robot is controlled; Master NXT (1) controls the drive motors, runs the face and sends a BlueTooth signal to NXT (2). NXT (2) then sends simultaneous light signals to NXT (3) and NXT (4) which run the arms. NXT (3) runs the grippers and NXT (4) sends a BT signal to NXT (3) when it is time to close the right gripper on NXT (4).

So basically, there is a "script" of several actions. For example, NXT (1) says "run Action 12". On all the other NXTs, they then run whatever Action 12 is, whether it be play a sound, move the right arm, play a tone, move the face, turn on a light etc. Multiple things happen all at the same time. MARVIN can sense the presence of someone (or something) right in front of him and can hear them.

He can do things such as “see” an object with sonar, yell "Ahhhh!" (moving his mouth while raising his eye brows), raise both arms, turn around and drive away. Then he can turn back around, point his arm at you and laugh. I have several actions such as this that I am working on teaching him. I hope to be able to set up 20-30 actions with more than 30 sound files that are standard with the NXT software.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

NXT 1.0 at TRU for $144.99

I was at my local Toys-R-Us in Ontario, Ohio tonight and took a look at the NXT inventory. I was absolutely amazed to see that they had the NXT 1.0 on the shelf marked for $144.99!!  Incredibly it was not a sale, it was the regular price. Right beside it was the NXT 2.0 and it was marked at $299.99.

I checked on the TRU online store and they are not selling the 1.0 anymore. Then I checked out S@H and they are selling just the brick for $144.99.

So if you want to stock up on parts, sensors and a NXT brick or two, check out your TRU quick because I imagine that once they are gone, you will be out of luck.

Friday, January 22, 2010


If you have 18 minutes to watch a really cool video that will certainly leave you inspired, watch this video.  It is a presentation by Dr. Dennis Hong of Virginia Techs RoMeLa (Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory).  He shows a few new robotic platforms, how his team gets inspired to create new designs, and how his team works together.

I found this incredibly inspiring video over at

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Robots in Space

I covered robots underwater, robots in inner space, now some robots in outer space.  These are three robots created by MIT that are powered by compressed CO2 gas on the International Space Station.  That's not the cool part.  The cool part is that they perform a nearly perfect chase pattern around in a circular pattern.

Found on BotJunkie


I had a comment on one of my posts about a sign that is behind my current project. The sign is a real OSHA sign that is used around actual industrial robots. I had the opportunity to pick up a couple of signs and they make an awesome addition to a robot building area.  

I did some searching and they are pretty easy to pick up. Prices range from about $10 for a decal up to about $25 for a large aluminum sign. Here are a few links.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Rollin' Justin

I am working on an anthropomorphic robot. This video just makes me feel inadequate.  But I really love the base.. it gives me ideas.

Interlocking Lego Rings

If you are lucky enough to have a significant other who appreciates your hobby, this is for you. Personally, my wife looks at me weird because I have a Lego key chain.

From Craft

Wall Climbing Robots

All the big robot and technology sites are featuring this video and it fits on Tinkernology too, so here it is.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lego CL!CK

In case you have missed it like I have, Lego has launched a new site called Lego CL!CK. I first found the link over on Wired Magazine's GeekDad. I took a peek at this new site and I am not sure what to think about it yet. There doesn’t seem to be much content but yet it still takes a long, long time to load. Maybe it takes so long to load that little Lego helicopter that keeps flying in front of what I am trying to read. Or maybe it's to load the code that makes the screen scroll while I am trying to read it. Am I missing something?

Anyway, this video is really cool.

High Bay Warehouse Robot Arm

Xander Soldaat (mightor) has posted video of a HUGE robot arm that is part of the huge High Bay Warehouse.  Xander also has given us some details at his blog, I'd Rather Be Building Robots

Very sweet!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Name Poll

I have put up a poll on the side bar to name the bot.  All these names would be great, so when the poll closes on Sunday, the results will be final.

Friday, January 15, 2010

iPhone Steeting Wheel

This gets my for "Best Technology Use Where It's Not Needed."  It's still cute tho.

From TechEBlog

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Name that Bot!

I have been working on the big monster for a few weeks now.  Everyone I have shown it to has asked "What's its name???"  Frankly, I haven't put much thought to it, I have been working to hard on the guts and the brains.  I have a couple of ideas, but none are really good.  I have high hopes that the video will be seen by lots of people, so I want to make sure the name fits.  The bot has 4 NXTs, 15 motors, 16 sensors and all will work in concert (so far, so good).

I would like to ask you, my faithful readers what you think.  Do you have any ideas what I should name this giant?  I should tell you, he will definitely have a personality.  Let's just say that he will be the class clown.


I found this video over on BotJunkie.  It's a video of an industrial robot that has been programmed to do some graffiti.

Communicating with Light

I just discovered something really cool!

I use RobotC and one of the major drawbacks is that the people at RobotC haven’t released a way for the NXT bricks to communicate with more than one brick at a time. So while I am building this big robot with 4 NXTs, I have to come up with a way to communicate between them. My idea was to use a PF LED as the transmitter in a motor port and a Lego light sensor as a receiver on two bricks. As it turns out, this is a very effective way to communicate.

My first thought was that I could turn the light on for 100 ms and the light sensor could read how long it is on and that time length would be the signal. Then I could string together several blinks as a “code.” For example, one signal with three messages may be 100 ms, 250 ms, and 150 ms. My thought was that it takes time for the LED to come on and turn off, plus the light sensor has some lag time too.

But it turns out that the light sensor and the PF LED can be operated faster - MUCH faster. The LED can be turned ON full strength and completely OFF very quickly and the light sensor can read it nearly instantaneously. I am able to consistently send and receive a five digit code that looks like this: {15, 20, 15, 20, 15}. The message that is typically received is something like {16, 21, 16, 22, 16} I have never had a time reading error of more than 3ms! Not bad!  The ON/OFF cycle can't be seen with the naked eye, so all I see from the LED is one short blink that shimmers a little bit.

Each blink is separated by a 15 ms “off” time, so the total send time is 145 ms. So it’s not nearly as fast as Bluetooth, but it’s not far off. Plus I sent 5 messages in that time period.

New Cool Invention

If anyone has ever built one of these, please let me know where I can find some pictures, I would love to see it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Another Musical Robot

Here's yet another cool musical robot.  This one is probably the most involved yet.  But be warned, you are about to hear 40 seconds of smooth Jazz.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lifelike Pong Game

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the greatest game ever, you know, Pong.  Someone has built an incredibly lifelike version.  They even when so far as to calculate and incorporate the physics as if the ball were real and the game table was uneven.

On a serious note, this would be a cool yet silly build.  There are several games like this that could be built.  One of my favorite would be an interactive pinball game.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Notes About The Bot

I have some very ambitious goals with this bot. Some emotions or actions I will be trying to produce in the programs; Frightened, greeting, angry, cheering, Peek-a-boo, eating, yawning, stretching, laughing, sneezing, in pain, woops, burp, watch out…..etc, etc.

I also hope to be able to make the bot react to stimulus it encounters. For example, loud noises, bright lights, people approaching, etc.

One thing I learned early in this project is that I absolutely need to take good notes. In that process I noticed that my port list got long….VERY long. I thought I would share it with you.

NXT #1
Sensor Ports
1. HiTechnic IR Link, Operates drive motors and eye brows
2. HiTechnic COMPASS
3. Lego Sound
4. HiTechnic SMUX
  Port 1, Lego Ultrasonic, Left
  Port 2, Lego Ultrasonic, Middle
  Port 3, Lego Ultrasonic, Right
  Port 4, Lego Light
Output Ports
A. Servo, Mouth
B. Servo, Eyes, up and down
C. Servo, Eyes, left and right

NXT #2
Sensor Ports
1. Lego Touch, Bumper, Left
2. Lego Touch, Bumper, Middle
3. Lego Touch, Bumper, Right
4. Open
Output Ports
A. PF LED Light, signal
B. Open (likely will be lights for show)
C. Open (likely will be lights for show)

NXT #3
Sensor Ports
1. Open (Possibly be HiTechnic Acceleration)
2. Lego Sound
3. Lego Light, Signal Receiver
4. HiTechnic IR Link-Operates Grippers
Output Ports
A. Servo, Left Shoulder Extend
B. Servo, Left Shoulder move out
C. Servo, Left Elbow

NXT #4
Sensor Ports
1. Open
2. Lego Sound
3. Lego Light, Signal Receiver
4. Lego Ultrasonic
Output Ports
A. Servo, Right Shoulder Extend
B. Servo, Right Shoulder move out
C. Servo, Right Elbow

PF IR Receiver #1
Left: XL PF Motor, Left Drive Motor
Right: XL PF Motor, Right Drive Motor

PF IR Receiver #2
Left: XL PF Motor, eyebrows up and down
Right: Two micro motors, Tilts eyebrows in and out.

PF IR Receiver #3
Left: Open (likely will be lights for show)
Right: Open (likely will be lights for show)

PF IR Receiver #4
Left: Med PF Motor, Opens and Closes Left Gripper
Right: Med PF Motor, Opens and Closes Right Gripper

Leaked Image.

So I was tinkering around with a bunch of mechanisms, and before I knew it I was into another project and it kept getting bigger and bigger. Take Omnibot, throw in some Kismet with some Lego Lips, and this is what you get.

It’s far from being done. Right now, it has 4 NXTs, 9 servos, 3 Ultrasonic sensors, 3 touch sensors (bumpers), the compass sensor, 5 PF motors, the HiTechnic SMUX, and on and on. More will be added soon. I'll give full details along with a video when it is done.

OK, I know I said I was going to build a car factory. I still have a bunch of pieces lying around waiting to be worked on. I am trying to design a cool car that can be handled by the grippers and that is an unforeseen problem. I have bunches of Technic pieces, but not a lot of small car parts.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Robotic Competition

I just stumbled upon this 10 long minute video.  I thought is was inspiring, so I want to share it.

I had a chance to go to the Case Western Reserve EECS/BIOL 375/475 Easter Egg Hunt competition a couple of times and really enjoyed it.  Nothing brings out the best more than friendly competition.

Cleaning bot

Robots do the three "D's" (dangerous, dull, and dirty work) .  This bot covers at least two of those categories.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lego Domino Row Building Machine

I checked the stats of some of my YouTube videos today.  I got to the Domino Printer and found that the views had exploded from about 300 in about 2 months to nearly 4,000 in the last day or two.  Then I found out why.  Someone has posted this video and it went viral.  The vast majority of my views were from the "Related Video" link.  Still, I will take nearly 4,000 hits.

I have messed around with building a bot that sets up dominoes, but this guy takes the cake.  It's a dumb machine that works perfectly.  I have a feeling that people will take this idea and add some steering and some domino storage and make some really cool stuff (please do!)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lego Report on ABCs Nightline

I was looking around Robotique NXT Qu├ębec and found this interesting link to a report done on ABCs Nightline.  It’s a 6 1/2 minute report on Lego just about loosing the company and then pulling it out of the toilet. It's an interesting report.

Plus they talk about some weird adults who build with Lego. Strange.

Cool, functional Lego Furniture

OK, completely not robotic related, but too cool furniture.  They are from a company called LunaticConstruction.  They are callled LunaBlocks.  They have been around for a couple of years, but I somehow missed them.

Here is a gallery of just 54 of the infinite possibilities.  Man, I wish Christmas wasn't so far away!!!

More documents: Sales flyer and the accessories.

Lego Airships.

The other day I posted some video of Lego below the surface. Now I would like to showcase some Lego above the surface. Flying Lego.

Strapping a six foot helium balloon to a few hundred dollars of Lego electronics is equally cool, and equally as hazardous as putting them in the drink. You risk the chance of dropping the robot from very high, getting it tangled in a tree or a telephone pole, or even worse watching the prevailing winds accept your gift and running away with your prized possession.

Anyway, here are a few cool videos of people who have accepted the challenge. I wouldn’t hesitate to do this, but the ceilings are far too low in my ranch style home.

The first video is at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The video quality is poor, but the message gets through. It’s pretty cool.

This video is now one of my favorites. It shows great innovation by using cheap garbage bags as the balloons.  Not to mention the father-son interaction is note worthy.

And probably this riskiest of all balloons, the H.A.L.E. project, which sent NXTs up to 100,000 feet (almost 19 miles!)

More can be found about the H.A.L.E. project.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mindstorms + Water ????

I think you probably feel the same way that I do about getting your Mindstorms electronics close to water. You don’t even want to chance it. But I would love the chance to build a robot that isn’t restricted to movement in two dimensions. I think I could create some really interesting stuff. The whole shape of a submarine robot would be completely different that things I make now. It would also take some calculations to get the buoyancy correct so it doesn’t float or sink too much.

Parts would likely be an issue. You might have to create non-Lego parts for ballast tanks. Not to mention the mostly ineffective propellers and screws that Lego makes.

I was looking around the other day, and I found three videos of people who don’t feel the same way about sinking their Mindstorms in water. It appears that all of these videos were made at institutions of higher learning so the possible loss of high dollar electronics would be covered by the school.

One thing I found really interesting is that in two of these videos, the 9-volt gear motors are fully exposed to the water. Reading some of the comments, the poster says that the motors are almost completely waterproof and very little water enters the housing. I still don’t know if I would take the chance with my own stuff.