Wednesday, March 31, 2010


First, you get this...

Then this...

Then something like this happens...

I am paraplegic, so if you can walk, enjoy that you can walk. Don't take it for granted, don’t give it up for anything.

Visually Tracking Robot

I found this video very inspiring.  I believe that if I had the Mindsensors NXTcam and lots of programming time, I could come pretty close to achieving this with MARVIN.  And I would love to try.

Willow Garage Robot Folding Towels

If my wife were to see this video, she would insist that I either build one or buy one.

If that doesn't work (it didn't for me), Here is the direct YouTube Link

Rules for Roboticists

I found this article on the MAKE magazine blog and fell in love with it. I have read it twice because I am a firm believer in all eleven rules. Have you ever read something that it seems like you could have written? That’s the way I feel about this article. It is an excerpt from the book Absolute Beginner's Guide to Building Robots (Que, 2004) by Gareth Branwyn.

My only hands on experience with robotics is with Mindstorms, but I have 12 years of mechanical engineering experience and 25 years of Lego Technic experience and it all melds together nicely with this article. I feel that these rules were naturally developed in my own practice with experience, so if you want to know how I think, read it.

Here is the link to the MAKE blog entry.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fanuc Industrial Robot

A "Fanuc F200i parallel kinematic robot."  It's basically an inverted Stewart platform.  Pretty cool.

Rube Goldberg Machine.

Here' a really good RGM.  The builder tips his hand a little though.  They start the video with the machine working perfectly, and it takes a little over a minute.  It is really impressive, well built, and it doesn't look too cheesy, like some RGM tend to look, but after it runs perfectly, the author spends the rest of the six minutes showing failure after failure after failure.  It shows you just how hard it is to make one work.

What I find stunning is the silence.  If one of my creations failed that many time, I assure you, I would not be silent.  "Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep"

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Marvin Update

I have been busy...blah blah blah.  You don't want to hear that, you want to see new, cool stuff.  Well, here are more pictures of what I have been working on.

The body of MARVIN is nearly done, the six NXTs have been mounted, and I am beginning to mount all the new features.


MARVIN is now 33 inches tall.  The motor count is at 20 right now, and will grow by a couple at least.  The sensor count is over 20 and rising.  I am adding an on-board air compressor and some pneumatics.  Believe it or not, (I didn't) as big and heavy as he is, he moves with no problems on smooth surfaces, the XL PF motors barely bog down.

I have been thinking about the interactivity of MARVIN.  How can the user (aka the "victim") communicate with the robot?  I have two ways I am working on.  I have built one way and it is a card reader.

The user pushes the card between the wheels.  A touch sensor then senses there is an object.  The motor kicks on and pulls the card into the scanner.  The HiTechnic color sensor reads the first four colors, then the scanner spits the card back out to the user.  I would like to program the scanner to store several scans before starting the sequences.

Breaks over, time for me to get back to work

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New ASIMO P4 Is Arriving Soon

As I mentioned in a previous post, ASIMO is evolving.  Photos are starting to emerge of the latest version, P4

As reported, ASIMO P4 now has 34 degrees of freedom, 4 more than P3.  He has also went from 306 lbs. to 176 lbs.  They have added some blue covers on some areas, which I am not sure if I like or not.

There are no videos of him in action, but you can be certain that when they do, you will see them here.  I am pretty sure they will be quite impressive.

Found this information everywhere, but photos from Plastic Pals.

ASIMO in Canada.

I love this commercial.  Love.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Neat Manufacturing Process

There aren't many cool robot videos out right now.  So I'm gonna reach into a completely different bag of tricks.  I want to show you a video I found not too long ago demonstrating a welding technique called Friction Welding.  I didn't know that this type of welding existed until I found some videos showing it.

Basically what happens is they take two pipes or round shafts, put one in a stationary chuck and put the other in a rotating chuck.  They get the rotating shaft going very fast, then they jam them together.  The friction between the two shafts causes the metal to melt and creates a perfect, seamless connection between the two pieces.  It's pretty cool.  And don't worry; there are some industrial robots in the videos.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Big Problem

I am having a crisis. But it's a good one. As I build more on MARVIN, I keep getting ideas. Really good ideas. I mean really, really good ideas. They are good because they are relatively easy to accomplish, but my idea count is well over thirty and counting. Most of them are actions that I can make him do. The hardware is there, or will be there soon.

Every day I think of at least one new idea. I'm not even trying, but I see something happen during the day, or I see a cool robot video and say to myself "I bet I can make MARVIN do that." So I put a little thought into it and I am usually right. Some are very simple and would take just a few minutes to program; some are more elaborate and require some hardware and software improvement. But most of them can be done fairly easily.

I really wish that there was someone near me with programming experience and a several hours a week to work with me. I just don't have enough time to do it all. I am at the point where I might call the local high school and see if there is a computer club or someone to help.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Blocumentary

Take 30 minutes of your day, put this on full screeen and watch a very well made show.

AFOL A Blocumentary from AFOL on Vimeo.

From Make Magazine

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Some MARVIN Details.

So here are a few of the things I have been working on...

First, the base.  This is the original base.  I was having problems with the motors not being powerful enough, the rubber coming off the rims, and the casters were bending and not operating correctly.

This is the new base.  It is much larger, the wheels are bigger and geared down more and centered on the plate.  The casters are far more rigid and I added two more.  I have left two open axles (not shown) on the underside to add more PF motors if needed.  Each wheel can have up to three XL PF motors.  If you look at the side of the wheel housing there is a bit of axle sticking out.  I left this in case I want to add a rotation sensor later.  I also made the base more round to allow for easier turns so the corners won't get caught so much.  The wheels are the old solid supercar style so they shouldn't crush under heavy weights, plus there are two on each side.  The base is balanced so all six wheel touch the ground at the same time to distribute the weight better.

This is the light sensor communication hub I referred to a few days ago.  The clear round bricks in the middle are to diffuse the light in all directions.  The light on the sensor tends to shine directly forward and the bricks in the middle spread it.

I think I can overload this thing with PF and 9v motors.  I have two HiTechnic IRLinks and I have been doing some tests to see if I can use them at full capacity.  I learned that the IRLink is different than the IR Remote.  The remote really fills the air with signal, but the IRLink shoots forward for a limited distance.  As long as the IRLink is pointed directly at the receivers that you want to operate and all the stray and reflected signal is blocked, you can use two IRLinks in close proximity to each other.  This way I can control up to 16 more motors on top of the 18 servos directly controlled by the NXT.  I don't know if I will use that many motors, but it's nice to know that I can run up to 34 motors (WOW!)  I can stack up the rotation sensors and creatively program the bot to save on ports too.

Here is a turret I have been working on too.  It moves left, right, up and down.  It has an ultrasonic sensor  and an old RCX light sensor (behind the radar dish).  This will be used to search for light sources, obstacles, edges of tables and such.  There is one detail I'm not showing on purpose, but it is pretty cool and it's a surprise.

Anyway, you can see that I have been pretty busy.  Progress is definitely happening, not as fast as I would like, but it is moving along.

Ann Arbor Maker Faire

I have always wanted to go to a Maker Faire.  There is finally one near me, up in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Saturday, June 5, 2010.  If you are not familiar with Maker Faire, consider it an expo for inventors, artists, creators, and anybody generally who "makes" stuff.  It seems that there really is no limit to the definition of "stuff" that gets displayed, which excites me.  It will be an opportunity to see same awesome stuff, and possibly some really bad stuff too, but that's the fun of it.

It was reported that last year's event was a huge success.  Last year's event drew about 1100 people, so I would expect more this year.  If you want to look at some of the pictures from last year, check out the Flickr pool.

Make Magazine has become very friendly toward the Lego community, and this would be an excellent place to introduce a certain anthropomorphic robot....hmmmm.  Anybody want to go with me???

"Steampunk" Segway?

Ok, this is pretty cool...

Thank you Theo Jansen!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't Give Up on Tinkernology!

Sorry I haven't been posting, things have been crazy. Plus all the places I normally look for stuff to post have been unusually dry for the kind of stuff I post. It will pick up, it always does.

There have been several really good reasons I haven't been posting. First and mainly, my sister and two of her teenaged boys are in town. Both are pretty tech savvy, and when they saw the Lego room, they went nuts. So we spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday building and teaching RobotC. They are absorbing it up like sponges, so it made it lots of fun for me. Plus, the older one spent most of his time sitting in front of my computer programming so I didn't get much surfing time.

The second reason is that I have been working really hard on (re)building MARVIN. I took the big guy apart and I have rebuilt most of him. He is going to be much bigger, much stronger, more powerful and have lots more functions. Yes, I have added more to the previous 17 motors and 16 sensors...a lot more. I don't have a count yet because I am still building (and building.... ad infinitum)

I am experiencing something that I don't think I have ever experienced before. I am absolutely overwhelmed with ideas and they all seem to work. I have been writing them down and I currently have a list that is two pages long. I have the hardware to make them work. I have made a few sensor purchases so I should be fine in that area too. I have spent time going thru my list and choosing which ideas are worth spending time on and which to shelve. The best way to describe what I am going thru is to watch a bunch of YouTube videos and combining some of the really good ones into one robot, then adding a few more of my own ideas. It is absolutely exciting for me and I am struggling to not spend 20 hours a day building and programming.

I can't wait to share the improvements and additions.  I think you will like it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Third Party Lego Compatible Products

I am a die hard Lego purist.  In my creations my personal rule was the only non-Lego part I would use is string, only because Lego never provides good quality string.  Then came along HiTechnic and their deal with Lego.  Now I own several HiTechnic products and I am quite pleased with them.  I am also struggling with my personal convictions now because I really, really want the Mindsensors NXTcam-v3.

A third party product that hasn't convinced me yet to break my rule is the Firgelli miniature Linear Actuator, and that's only because I don't use a lot of LAs.  But I do think this little product is cool, and I wouldn't hold it against a builder if they used it in a cool way.

Here's a great demo of the LA in action, which I think most of have been curious to see...

Not to mention the stuff at the Inanimate Reason store and the Codatex RFID Sensor.  I tell you what, with all the cool third party products that are out there, it's got me rethinking my stance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Go Buckeyes!

Sorry, I let my fandom show.  Anyway, I got to see this vehicle while I studied Mechanical Engineering at The Ohio State University, but it was stripped down to a skeleton.  This is the first time I have ever seen it move.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Solved One of Many Problems

One MAJOR issue with programming MARVIN is NXT to NXT communications. I am putting six NXTs on this next version, so you can see where the issue is at. RobotC allows only one to one communications, while NXT-G allows up to four to communicate with one being the master so the slaves can't communicate directly. I think I have simultaneously solved both problems.

Enter the light sensor. Imagine six light sensors facing each other in a circle inside a dark box. Now imagine one of the sensors sending out a short stream of blinks in a code. The other sensors will pick up the light emitted from the sending sensor. It works, and it works well (so far)! The light doesn't turn on and off as quickly as the LED, but I can get a single blink on and off in less than 50 ms. So in a second, I can send a stream of blinks 20 blinks long. If you use a binary system like I have, you can send an elaborate coded message in a pretty short time. It doesn't compare with the speed of Bluetooth, but with this system, I could possibly leave the Bluetooth function unused. I like that thought.

And possibly the best part of the setup is that I don't have a master and a slave, each NXT can equally send and receive messages! Sweet! This has even got me thinking about throwing my other two RCXs in the picture, but I would likely use them purely as slaves. I have no idea what I would have them doing.

The possibilities are ENDLESS!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Container Crane

Here's a sweet Lego container crane.  I love lots of things about this project.  First, it's a huge build with few parts.  The crane doesn't bend under the weight of the crane (I was expecting it to!)  It's also completely automated except the loading of the containers, which is great.  The vehicle follows the line very straight without moving back and forth, which can be tough.  Overall, this is a great build and some pretty good engineering.

Mindsensors NXTcam Screen Capture

I really want the Mindsensors NXTcam, and here is yet another reason...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

MARVIN is Evolving

I have had a command decision. Much like Honda’s ASIMO evolved, MARVIN is evolving.

Here’s why. First and probably the biggest reason is that I am having difficulties with RobotC. I have hit a snag and I am not completely sure what is happening. Basically, when I change any part of the code, it doesn’t get downloaded correctly. I have been in contact with the development folks and I am told they are working on the problem. So while they are working on the program, I am putting the programming or MARVIN on hold.

Secondly, I as you may remember I purchased two more NXT 1.0 sets. So that means that I have increased capabilities. Yes, I am going to try to upgrade MARVIN to have six NXTs. I also have two RCXs lying around going unused, and I am considering throwing those in too, but that is a stretch. This means that the robot can be incredibly complicated both mechanically as well as programmatically. Communications will be a nightmare and I am investigating ways to accomplish this. Currently I use the PF LED and the light sensor and that will likely be how I do it again with more controllers.

Thirdly, after working with MARVIN for a few months, I have learned a ton of things. I have built some parts too weak and I want to upgrade them. The wheels can’t hold the massive weight of the robot and I am having problems getting him to move. The casters on the back aren’t sturdy enough to hold the weight either and those need to be beefed up. I also want to make the robot more modular, meaning when something goes wrong I want to be able to just take off the offending part and work on it away from the robot without having to disassemble the whole thing.

As I work on the robot, I am overwhelmed with all the ideas that I have had. When you have a very high number of motors, sensors and parts, the number of things you can do shoot thru the roof. I guess to give you an example, imagine taking several of the cool robots seen on blogs and on YouTube and mashing them all into one super massive bot. I want to spend some time investigating what I can do to accomplish this.

I am really enjoying working on MARVIN, and lots of people are interested in seeing the cool things he will be able to do, so I want to make sure I don’t disappoint. I am finding that this project really isn’t as difficult as you might imagine, but it takes lots of time to work thru the problems. To me, that is the fun part

Cool Optical Illusion

Here is an optical illusion the I found surfing.  I didn't believe it until I built it.  It is called the CafĂ© wall illusion.

Look at the horizontal lines.  You know that the Lego pieces are straight and parallel, but are they really??

Don't Do What I Just Did

There is only one way to put these four pieces together.  Um, don't do it.  It stinks getting them apart.

Personal Project Inspiration

I have been looking for more inspiration for MARVIN.  Here are a couple of videos that are hot right now on the Robotics sites I check out daily.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Industrial Syncro Drive

Here's a cool video of an industrial version of a syncro drive.  It gives me ideas.......

Of course, one of the Lego versions...

Lego Gyroscope

Here's a short little video showing the basic principle of a gyroscope.  And judging by the size of the hand in the video, it's one of the younger builders.  Nice job!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Brain Lock

We’ve all done it. Designing a project and not knowing how to solve a problem. I’ve been building with Lego for 25 years and I have experienced it many times. As a Mechanical Engineer, I have done it many times at work as well. Just last week, I was stuck on a problem for two days. Then 15 minutes before going home I had an idea. I jotted it down then came into work today and solved the problem in about thirty minutes. I was overjoyed. That got me thinking of ways that I have overcome brain lock, and I thought I would share some of them with you.

Brain Lock is the Engineer’s version of writer’s block. I have no training in the psychological happenings; I only know how I have dealt with it. For me, it usually happens when I have an idea that I have a bias toward. This means that I say “I want to use this piece” or “I want it to look exactly like this” or “I want this feature.” Then I spend lots of time thinking about it, but the first few ideas don’t work. Then I work on it more, but those ideas don’t work either, and a ruthless cycle begins.

It’s frustrating when you have sat at the Lego table for two hours and have nothing to show for it. For me, the first step in overcoming it is to recognize that I have brain lock. This may seem silly, but this is when the antidote needs to be administered. If you continue in the brain lock cycle and not knowing kick yourself out of it, the cycle will only last longer.

Here are some things that have helped me in the past:

-I talk to someone about the problem
This is good because it makes me explain what I am doing to someone who doesn’t know about what I am doing. It forces me to think about and verbalize the details, and sometimes while explaining the idea will strike. I often use my wife as a sounding board. She really couldn’t care less about most of my projects, but she usually will sit there with a glazed look on her face while I ramble.

-I think about it somewhere else.
I find that if I move to a different chair, go outside, or stand by a window I will think differently. You can exercise, take a shower, do anything; just go somewhere different.  I think we all can admit that we have had some really good ideas in the bathroom.

-I move on to something else
Completely stop thinking about the problem. Try working on a different part of the project. Let your brain relax.

-I brainstorm
This is my personal favorite. I do this a couple of different ways.

One way is to grab a notebook and a pencil and just draw the idea. Think of several different solutions and draw them. Don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how nice it looks; just get the idea down on paper. Cocktail napkins work great.

The other way is to build relentlessly. Even if you think it won’t work, try to build it anyway. Then when it doesn’t work, set it aside and don’t take it apart. Try to build it again, set it aside, etc. What you will find is that your mind works better when you see the problem and not just think about it. Your spatial imagination has limits and actually seeing the design not work will give you inspiration.

-I take a break
Simple enough. Walk away and don’t think about it for a while. Do something completely different. Trust me, the problem won’t go away so don’t worry about it.

-I look at something similar
I do this at work all the time. Walk away from the desk and go find something similar and look how they have solved the problem. I have a pile of about 20 mechanisms on my Lego table that I never take apart and I always find inspiration there.

These things work for me. Really the most important thing is to relax your mind and thoughts. A stressed mind is far less effective than a relaxed mind. And when you have those days when you have a million ideas and they all work, remember how you feel and how you are thinking. Then when you suffer from brain lock, try to get into that frame of mind again.

More High Bay Warehouse Video

I could watch this all day.