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January 2008

Servo Magazine

Cover Story:
Zeno: The First Complete Character Robot

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Features

The iRobot Looj

The treaded, weatherproof, remotely controlled Looj from iRobot is intended to facilitate the dull, dirty, and often dangerous job of clearing gutters of leaves, pine cones, twigs, and other light debris. At $99, I couldn’t resist exploring the potential of the Looj as a robotics platform. Following is a tear down of the Looj and wireless controller...


Getting Control With the Propeller | Part 4 | Propeller Multi-Controller

This month, we wrap up our four part series by covering practical use of PWM on the Propeller using our multi-controller board. In last month’s article, Kevin McCullough covered stepper motor control and made schematics available on the project web page. These schematics use the L293D Quad Half-H Driver IC which provides bi-directional drive currents of up to 600 mA from 4.5V to 36V. We will use the L293D in this article for both motor control and light dimming...


CES 2008 Robot Roundup

As usual, in the second week of January, over 100,000 technology lovers converged on Las Vegas for the 41st annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The show went on from 8 AM to 5 PM for four days, and even then, it was almost impossible to see everything. CES took up 1.8 million square feet of trade show space, spanning all of the major convention centers in Las Vegas. So much walking is involved for the attendees, you can easily blow out your feet unless you are wearing running shoes...


RoboExotica

Now in its ninth season, RoboExotica’s goal is to explore the philosophical implications of man-machine interaction through interactive robotics projects, symposia featuring notable speakers from all over the world, and lots and lots and lots of alcohol. RoboExotica is brought to life by the Vienna Bureau of Philosophy and Austrian art groups Shifz and monochrom, whose tireless dedication to this festival and other projects such as Ars Electronica expand the frontiers of the study of ...


A Robotic Puppet

My interest in robotics has always been very diversified and I too have always been fascinated with the idea of creating the illusion of life. Perhaps that was a motivating factor that pushed me towards another of my hobbies — ventriloquism. It occurred to me that the techniques used in puppet construction might be of interest to many hobbyists interested in animatronics. A typical ventriloquist puppet is carved from wood or molded from some form of composite material such as plastic wood...


The CPLD Servo Driver

The hobby servo is an amazing device. The typical hobby servo is a collection of plastic or metal gears driven by a DC motor, which is under the control of a specialized motor driver IC and a feedback potentiometer. Back in the day, one would find hobby servos in most every model airplane and model boat. If you really put a brain cell to it, radio-controlled model planes, cars, and boats are actually specialized types of robots that depend greatly on the controlled motion provided by a hobby...


Multi-Purpose, Daisy-Chained Gait Detection System

Ever wanted to monitor your rhythm and stride pattern while you run? How about the G-force on your knees on the treadmill? Want to do simple motion tracking (inexpensively)? This article describes a simple but powerful design for a gait detection system (of course, along with all the software you would need!) using the highly configurable Cypress CY29466 microcontroller for control and ADX330 accelerometers for the sensors.


Control of Power-Assist Exoskeleton Robots With Biological Signals

A viable power-assist exoskeleton robot — sometimes called a power suit, man amplifier, or man magnifier — is something that many people in industry, military, and medicine, have been anxiously waiting for.


The MechBash Traveling Robot Show

One night, a gaggle of robot builders were posing questions like “how can we get robot combat — with all its associated cultural and educational benefits — back into the public eye?” Another question that came up was “how can I get paid to blow things up, and yet stay out of jail?” Needless to say, with the sheer, concentrated weight of genius crammed into that tiny, bamboo paneled Tiki bar, answers to these questions and many more besides were soon flowing thick and fast. And from these ...


Getting Control With the Propeller | Part 1

Recently, an artist friend asked me how he might go about automating his latest masterpiece using a BASIC Stamp®. After looking at what he had, it turns out he was going to need to control DC motors, hobby servos, and stepper motors. While there are solutions for controlling all of these devices it would generally mean having three separate controllers (one for each device). A better solution would be ...


The R2 Builders Club And The Jedi Code

A long time ago (1999), in this galaxy, in a continent far, far away from North America, Australian Dave Everett began the R2 Builders Club (R2BC), established for people interested in building 1:1-scale R2-D2s.


Gecko “Vampire”

“In Transylvania, cloves of garlic, sharp wooden stakes, hawthorn branches, and a cross are just a few of the necessary tools one needs to combat vampires ...” Running water, daylight and holy silver bullets are also potent vampire killers. If your vampire pest was once a mortal human being (most all of them were), every vampire killing tool I’ve just called out will do the job. However, if your vampire smells of silicon and steel, forget about getting any killer results from the garlic and ...


Reviving an Androbot BOB | Part 2

Last month, you read about how I started re-using some leftover robotics components to revive an old Androbot BOB robot chassis. I focused on what was needed to control the drive motors in the BOB base. I also covered upgrades to an old Handy Board controller to make it more suitable for use on a larger robot and enhancements to the board to make it more reliable. Since the only thing I had to start with was the empty robot shell and drive motors, this entire project is covering the rest of ...


MAKER Fair

What do robots have in common with recycled clothes, root beer, and medieval siege weapons? Why are the creators of these wonderfully interesting things suddenly more visible than they were in the past? What is Hyperbolic Origami? These are a few of the questions I pondered as I drove from Dallas to Austin, TX for the 2007 Austin Maker Faire. I had just returned from a road trip to Marfa, TX for the annual Chinati Open House art festival. It struck me as I took in the art and talked to the ...


Ambient Intelligence

The goal of this article is to offer a comprehensive view of AmI, from the current state-of-the-art to next-gen AmI systems with high-level cognitive capabilities.


Big Mamma Gear Motors

This month, we’ll pull together what it takes to design, build, and code a heavy duty DC motor driver module. First, we’ll look at the electrical theory behind the DC motor driver electronics. Then, we’ll build up the DC motor driver module’s “intelligence” and meld it with the DC motor driver’s “brawn.” If all of that passes the smoke test, we’ll code a simple RS-232 interface, which will allow you to control the big DC motor with simple serial commands. The DC motor driver IC of choice for...


Counting On The Tried And True Schmitt Trigger

For this year's Science Olympiad competition held in my home state of North Carolina ([url=http://www.sciencenc.com]http://www.sciencenc.com[/url]), my team was challenged to build an electric vehicle that would go a given distance and then stop. Our first car used a 555 timer circuit, but it did not give u s the accuracy we wanted. To be effective in the state competition, we needed a much better way to actually measure the distance the car went. Since we had built the car using the Vex Robotics kit from Innovation First...


Space Robotics

Since 2000, the NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission (MER) has been the main objective of hundreds of scientists and engineers; their life being completely dedicated to the mission for years...


Bring Up Your Own Mesh Network

Despite what most folks think, the science of robotics is not based on mobility and motion alone. Say the word “robot” to most anyone on the street and they will assimilate the word robot to a mobile humanoid-like mechanism that has superhuman intelligence and strength. In reality, Earth-bound robots have the ability to weld, cut, saw, drill, wash dishes, wash your underwear, wash your car, and cook your dinner...


Loki Crosses the Pond | Part 1

I began to entertain the idea of designing and building my own Loki. David’s Loki has what looks like aluminum legs and feet. I couldn’t figure out a simple way to solder or weld the leg and feet parts together. I later found out that the original Loki’s legs were made of painted aircraft-type plywood. Since I prefer working with metal, I hit upon the idea of making the parts out of PCB (printed circuit board) material. Double-sided PCB stock is fairly easy to cut, and easy to soft-solder ...


Building a Stepper Mottor Controller | Part 2

Now that I have a Minebea 29SM-K series 1.8°-per-step stepper motor shaft spinning back and forth on the bench, I figured it might be a good time to sit down and tell you how I persuaded an STMicroelectronics L6208PD to push current through the Minebea’s stepper motor coils. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a visual play-by-play of my Minebea’s alternately spinning motor shaft. However, I can give you a description of the hardware and software stuff you will need to make your motor spin under ...


The Pico ITX Johnny 5 Project | Part 3

In this third article, I will show some of the software advantages of having an onboard PC. While I used the Lynxmotion Johnny 5 kit as a platform for my project, the principles, concepts, and even components of this project can be applied to almost any robotics platform.


Pico ITX Johnny 5 Project | Part 2 | PC-based Robotics

Part 2: PC-based Robotics In this series of articles, we will explore my Pico-ITX based Johnny 5 project. In the first article, I detailed the work that went into upgrading and expanding the original kit to make it a more viable research platform. In this article, I will dive into the concept and implementation of PC-based robotics. Not only will we show how easy an onboard PC is to integrate, but we will begin to explore the many advantages of having that much horsepower locally on your robot.


Capacity: The Key to Battery Runtime

A look at emerging rapid-test technologies for deep-cycle, lead-acid batteries | The secret of battery runtime lies in the capacity. Capacity defines the energy a battery can hold. The definition for capacity is usually given in ampere-hours (Ah); it specifies the elapsed time when discharging a battery at a calibrated current to the end-of-discharge voltage. Portable batteries commonly use a one hour discharge; larger batteries are rated at either a five or 20 hour discharge period...


C Programming for Microcontrollers Made Easy

New, no-cost online system cuts start-up time from hours to minutes. | Many aspiring roboticists take their first steps in programming embedded controllers with interpreted languages, such as LOGO and Basic. These languages are fine entry points for beginners, but after a short time, their limitations can become frustrating. To tackle more sophisticated projects, sooner or later you will have to move up to writing code for microcontrollers in C...


When LEGO Meets Sumo

When I moved to Garrett County (a rural community in western Maryland), I really wanted to start a robotics club. I’d been working in underwater robotics for about 20 years, and I figured it was time for me to give something back to the community in the way of fun technical challenges for the area kids. Underwater robots are tough to build (water and electricity just don’t mix), so I decided that Sumo robots were the perfect place to start...


RobotGames 2008 | A World Class Event

Every year I go to RoboGames ([url=http://www.robogames.net]http://www.robogames.net[/url]), I am impressed with the quality and diversity of the robot events and even more impressed by the people who participate. This is the largest event of its kind on the west coast. Located in San Francisco, CA, this is the perfect place for engineering talent and artistic creativity to merge.


Reviving a Showbot

One cool aspect of the robotics hobby is that there are so many different areas to explore. This keeps it really interesting! Recently, I was fortunate enough to pick up an old promotional showbot which made a nice addition to my robot collection. The robot itself seemed to be in pretty good shape overall. However, it was missing all the extras like the remote control unit, wireless headset communicator and, of course, there were no docs ...


Reviving an Androbot BOB | Part 4

Extra sensors, original sensors, wireless operation, autonomy, and programming | I hope that those of you following this series have learned a few new things! The previous articles have primarily focused on the hardware aspect of reviving BOB. They have covered taking an empty robot shell, adding a new brain with larger H-bridge drivers, working with the sonar sensors, and adding a co-processor to help offload tasks from the main processor. This article on BOB will cover adding some extra...


A More Versatile Robotic Controller Using RobotBASIC

Today’s hobbyists can purchase robotic platforms with a wide variety of electronic sensors, mechanical actuators, and programmable microcontrollers. This means that constructing a powerful robot is within the capacity of almost everyone, even those with a minimal background in electronics. This availability of hardware is progressively forcing robot enthusiasts to change their focus from building robots to programming robots. As this emphasis on software grows, the number of people interested...


External Interface for the NXT Robotic Brick

A stock NXT can get pretty boring pretty quickly. Want to soup up this Honda Civic and turn it into a Lotus Esprit? Well then keep reading!


The Appliance of Science | The First Annual Franklin Institue Event

The Northeast Robotics Club ([url=http://www.nerc.us]http://www.nerc.us[/url]) has held a very successful event every February in Harrisburg, PA and this year, they partnered with the Franklin Institute Science Museum (www2.fi.edu) to add a second major event. The Institute is a modern, hands-on type of museum situated in the center of Philadelphia. It houses many large exhibits in a bright modern building which also includes an IMAX cinema. It is, in many ways, an ideal venue for a robotic combat event with a regular audience ...


Reviving an Androbot BOB | Part 3

Over the last couple months,I’ve been using a lot of leftover parts to revive an early Androbot BOB prototype.He was missing all of his brains and had been sitting for years as an empty shell.Although I would have preferred to find the original electronics, I decided that I should at least use some extra parts from past projects to get BOB rolling again. All of the new electronics just plug in and bolt on so that no alterations are done to the original shell. The February ‘08 issue covered...


BasicBoard Robotics | April 2008

Several years ago, I started a new hobby of programming embedded controllers using a development board known as the BasicBoard. I found it easy to use since you could program it in the Basic language and have all the features you could want already built in like LEDs, switches, speakers, LCDs, and expansion ports to connect servos and sensors. The robot shown here is a simple robot I built around the BasicBoard. Getting started with the BasicBoard is really simple...



Projects

Learning To Drive: The BLDC Motor

If you were to go back and survey past SERVO articles that I have written, you would probably conclude that I have this thing about motors and motor drivers. For instance, we recently tackled Universal Motors and constructed a Universal Motor controller. I also presented more than one SERVO stepper motor controller project. In these pages, we’ve driven linear actuators, rotated hobby servo rotors, and built circuitry to oversee the direction and speed of simple brushed DC motors...


The RoboCooler

I teach introductory programming classes at a local community college and I’m always looking for an involving project for my students. One of the problems with entry-level programming classes is that many students find the example programs they construct boring and somewhat removed from the real world. It’s hard for anyone — myself included — to get too excited about coding a bubble sort, for instance. I’ve tried various simple control projects before and sometimes the devices themselves ...


The Servo Buddy

This article introduces servo motor construction and operation, and describes an inexpensive circuit you can build to control a servo without a microcontroller. When I first started to build projects with R/C servo motors it became clear that, during construction, I needed a way to set the position of a servo manually. You can’t just grab the shaft and turn it, and writing software for a micro was overkill. Just a simple little circuit would do the job. That was the birth of the Servo Buddy....


The Super Stepper Driver

I love writting for SERVO. Why? ... Because I get to put together all kinds of neat stuff. And, when I’m done playing with my new garage-brewed toys, I get to show them to you and tell you all about them. So, get your soldering irons hot and stuff your face into that illuminated desktop magnifier. We are going to build an intelligent stepper motor controller from scratch that is based on the Allegro MicroSystems A3979. ...


A Digital RF DataLink

Wire is a wonderful thing. There’s not much that is more reliable than a short piece of stranded or solid copper wire between the ends of an electrical connection. However, there are situations where electrically tying devices together with long runs of wire is impractical. Light does a good job of replacing copper when the conditions are right, but if one needs to move electrons reliably over a relatively long distance there’s no better conductor than the Earth’s magnetic field...


Build The Ultimate Robot: Part 2 | Wheel Assembly

I have built many robots in the past and the drivetrain always causes most of my grief. The type of drivetrain you decide on will dictate some of the factors used in the design of your robot, including its size and how many batteries it can carry. Since I am going to be building two robots, I think it’s important that I give them names to make referencing them throughout this series easier...


Designing and Building a Robot from Scratch | Part 3

Next, we chose a frame type and the components along with determining the ideal layout. We completed the design of the robot (shown in Figure 1) and now we are ready to discuss final preparation before the actual construction phase!


Designing and Building a Robot from Scratch | Part 2

...we can now begin the actual design! In this installment, I will be discussing how to determine what you need for parts, how to choose them, developing your design, and more! There is one thing that is true about design ... it is an iterative process! While I have outlined the following steps in the order that is the best way to approach a design, you will find that you will spend much of the time going back and forth making adjustments, changing your mind, and fixing problems...


Designing and Building a Robot from Scratch | Part 4

Next, we chose a frame type and the components along with determining the ideal layout. We completed the design of the robot and learned some tools and techniques that can be useful when building a robot. With all of this done, we can now build the robot! In the next few sections, I have outlined the actual building process of the robot...


Compute Square Roots Fast

My particular application — as we discuss here — is in filtering input data used to calibrate the odometer in a road rally computer. After computing a best-fit line using a linear regression on a set of data points, square roots are needed to compute the distance of each data point from the line. If a data point is too far off the line, it is discarded on the assumption of human error and the line is recalculated. Square Root on a PIC in the November ‘06 issue of Nuts & Volts ...


Encoder Matching | Scaling And Inverting Encoder Values

One of the joys of the robotics hobby is mastering the art of interfacing. A lot of the parts are already in front of us and we just need to make them work together. Recently, I ran into a problem with a pair of quadrature encoders for the drive train on one of my robots. The encoders themselves worked fine and were generating perfect quadrature outputs. However, they were sending out data faster than the controller could handle at higher speeds. As a result, the encoder readings were ...


The Universal Motor

Electric motors come in a seemingly endless variety of shapes and sizes. If you’re into robots and mechanical devices that move about freely, DC (Direct Current) motors capable of operating on battery power are almost always your most practical motor choice. However, not every robot created by man or alien is a fully mobile Robby running around on forbidden planets. If your robot is a stationary collection of nuts and volts that’s at home working next to a wall outlet, you may be able to use...


Getting Control With the Propeller | Part 2 | Controller Servos

When designing a product that will sell millions of units, every cent counts, so engineers will often use very creative methods to program a single microcontroller to handle multiple tasks. These tricks can be difficult to comprehend, let alone implement. For one-time projects — especially for hobbyists — programming a second inexpensive microcontroller to perform the task achieves the same results but requires significantly less time. To simplify programming even more, many manufacturers sell..


Building A Sonar System

I’ve always wanted to do an ultrasonic ranging project. So, guess what we’ll be talking about and building up this month? Ultrasonic ranging is a great way to add eyes to your mechanical animal. I’ll bet you didn’t realize that there is an off-the-shelf ultrasonic ranging product out there that allows you to tune those “electromechanical eyes” to your robot’s environment. If you scan the pages of SERVO carefully, you’ll come across a company called MaxBotix. They produce a line of ultrasonic...


GPS | Part 4

I closed out last month's article by showing you how to connect the GPSLoggerOut program on your PC to a microcontroller. Let's take a closer look at the interface needed for each of the GPS modules we have covered in this series...


Get A Starter Motor Runnin’ In Your Robot

Auto starter motors are often overlooked for use in robot building. But, with a few hours and a few modifications, they can be a good replacement drive motor for your combat or other short duty cycle robot. Plus, they are inexpensive and readily available.


Pico ITX Johnny 5 Project | Part 1

In this series of articles, we will explore my Pico ITX based Johnny 5 project. We will detail the work that went into upgrading and expanding the original kit to make it a more viable research platform and we will also dive into the concept and implementation of PC–based robotics. Not only will we show how easy an onboard PC is to integrate, but we will explore the many advantages of having that much horsepower locally on your robot. While I used the Lynxmotion Johnny 5 kit as a platform for...


Build a PWM Circuit to run a VEX Motor

As part of this year’s Science Olympiad competition, the students were tasked with building an electric car that would go a certain distance and stop. While the Vex Robotics kit from Innovation First is ideal for building such a vehicle, the competition restriction on batteries precluded the use of the 7.2V NiCad that the Vex controller uses. Fortunately, this gave an opportunity to experiment with other ways to drive the Vex motor and control the car...


Build The Ultimate Robot: Part 3 | Nase Assembly

This month, I will show you how to build the main base assembly for our two characters. Keep in mind that the dimensions and hole sizes given are based on the RS-64 actuator used on the Megabot and the RS-28 used on the Firebot. You are free to change these actuators, but some of the dimensions and hole locations may need to be changed accordingly. In this series of articles, the final robot is not as important as the journey that we take to get there. Many of you won’t build the exact robots...


Getting Control With the Propeller | Part 3 | Stepper Motors

In this part of the series, we will take a “step” (bad pun intended) into the world of stepper motors. We will look at bipolar steppers in particular and some methods to improve their performance.


Building a Stepper Mottor Controller | Part 1

That figures as for the past six months, I’ve been working on an embedded project that is dependent upon the motion provided by the shaft of a stepper motor. So, it would be an understatement to say that I’ve been heads down in the design and implementation phases of deploying the embedded motor control application I’ve been sleeping with for the past six months. Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to build up and test various stepper motor control circuits. I’m on the verge of building ...


Loki Crosses the Pond | Part 2

In this second part of the Loki project, the QwikFlash controller board and its control softwaRE will be examined. This is a very useful board for all kinds of robotic projects. I have two running bots at this time and another one in the works!


Managing Your Mobile Monkey

As a robotician,think about all of the neat things that you have direct access to by way of the pages of SERVO. For instance,Parallax offers a variety of sensors that include a PIR (Passive Infrared) sensor,a color sensor, and a combination temperature/humidity sensor to name just a few. Digging deeper into a SERVO magazine I’m reading at the moment reveals a company called Maxbotix that is offering an ultrasonic sensor they call MaxSonar. If you want to sense with IR, you have the resources...


The Making of Apis Mellifera | Whne PICs Fly

Bees do it. Birds do it. Why shouldn’t robots do it, too — fly through the air, that is? Although there have been some military and commercial robots that fly, there have been very few home brewed autonomous flying robots. One reason that flying robots have not filled the airspace in backyards and robotics clubs is because flight imposes engineering obstacles that must be overcome. These obstacles are similar to those that confronted the early versions of bees and birds. In order to fly,bees...


Taking Control of Your SERVO Tankbot

As we discussed in the first Tankbot article back in September, the PICAXE servo command generates a continuous pulse-train in the background, suitable for driving the TankBot’s servo motors. The complete syntax of the command is “servo, pin, pulse” where “pin” refers to the PICAXE I/O pin to which the servo is connected and “pulse” is a value between 75 and 225 (in 10 µs units). Theoretically, 150 (1,500 µs or 1.5 ms) is the center value that will cause the servo to stop rotating altogether...


Build The Ultimate Robot: Part 1

WARNING! Before you read any further, I feel it only fair to warn you that this series is going to be akin to a very fast roller coaster ride.Over the years, I have built several robots of various shapes and sizes. Most of them were controlled by a microcontroller of one form or another. I have even built a few that were tethered to a desktop computer. It’s time to build a robust robot with an on-board PC computer. This will not be a toy. In this series, I am going to build two robots around ...


GPS Guided Autonomous Robot

I have been reading SERVO Magazine and Nuts & Volts for a few years, but throughout this time I have not been doing any robotics myself, so I decided that I needed to start experiencing things first-hand. This article describes my first venture into the world of robotics. I have been an electronics hobbyist since I was young and an engineer for many years. Throughout these years, I have been scavenging parts from cast-off hardware and from the trash at work, so I have a reasonable supply of ...


TankBot | Brain Alpha

Welcome to SERVO Magazine’s Tankbot kit series. We have put together a unique beginner robotic platform that will continue to grow and expand with you as you move from newbie to novice to seasoned pro. We will also have regular editorial coverage to challenge you through your learning process with projects and experiments. To purchase the kit, go to the SERVO Webstore and place your order. If you’re ready, let’s get started...


Reviving an Androbot BOB | Part 1

I enjoy restoring early personal robots to their original working condition. Most of my time is spent working on the HERO robots, but I always have other projects going on. One robot in particular — an early Androbot BOB prototype — was missing all of his brains and had been sitting for years as an empty shell. That was just not acceptable! Since the original electronics would probably never be found, I decided that I should at least use some of the extra robot parts from past projects to get...


BasicBoard Robotics | OEM Module Robotic Platform

I’m always looking at robotic bases and there isn’t a better source than SERVO Magazine. I’ve also run across many just by surfing around on the Internet. One of my favorite sites to visit is the Junun.org site developed for the Portland Area Robotics Society. I’ve never gone to any of their competitions or been part of their club, but I still like the parts offered at this site. What caught my eye the first time I went there was the Mark III Chassis Kit. For $10, I got all the metal parts...


Build A GPS Smart Logger

I recently did a GPS series covering various GPS modules and their interfaces. A project that I have had in mind for a while was a small GPS Smart Logger. I call it a smart logger because in addition to the GPS data, you can log various other telemetry. You can also set the conditions and type of GPS data that gets logged...


Designing and Building a Robot from Scratch | Part 1

When you are creating a custom robot, there is no manual, instructions, or tech support. You start with a blank slate, with thousands of options available to you. You have to ask yourself and answer questions like “How big will it be? What will power it? What materials will I use for the frame?” and many more. With an unstructured approach, this can seem like an impossible task. However, if you approach the problem with a plan, breaking down the problem into chunks, it is not as difficult as...



Columns

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Stereo Vision System Introduced
If your bot or other homebuilt device needs 3D vision, check out the Surveyor SVT™ : a dual-camera, dual-processor Wi-Fi system geared for robotics, embedded image processing, and Web-based remote monitoring. Surveyor ([url=http://www.surveyor.com]http://www.surveyor.com[/url]) points to features including on-board programmability, Wi-Fi connectivity, easy sensor and actuator interface, open source architecture, and a list price of $550 as key attributes...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Bot Gets Bio Brain
Placing a functioning human brain into a robot is still well within the realm of science fiction, but some folks at the University of Reading ([url=http://www.reading.ac.uk]http://www.reading.ac.uk[/url]) have created a biological brain of sorts and hooked it up as a robot controller. It has been known for some time that cultured neurons are somewhat like ants that have been scattered away from the anthill in that they can no longer function as a single unit. However, when interconnected in a culture dish, such neurons form simple...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Fecundity Begets Rotundity
If you tip over the average robot, all it can do is thrash around helplessly until someone picks it up. But being round and without external appendages, the Groundbot™ from Rotundus ([url=http://www.rotundus.se]http://www.rotundus.se[/url]) is always upright. It also can move through mud, snow, and sand without getting stuck, and, being hermetically sealed, is pretty much impervious to environmental threats. It’s also tough enough to survive drops of up to 10 ft (3 m)...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
More Little Ones
One of the latest additions to the world of artificial arthropods is the Hexbug Crab from Innovation First, Inc. ([url=http://www.innovationfirst.com]http://www.innovationfirst.com[/url]). The company specializes in providing control systems for educational robot competitions worldwide. The minirobots are geared toward kids, but Crabbie is proving to be a fine companion to the stress ball on your desktop...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
New Hopperbot Sets Record
Mechanical jumpers are nothing new, but one that was unveiled at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation appears to have, um, leaped ahead of its competitors in terms of jump distance. The tiny, 7 g mechanical grasshopper can jump 1.4 m, which is said to be 10 times farther — relative to its size — than any other existing jumping robot. The little bug was developed at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL, [url=http://www.epfl.ch]http://www.epfl.ch[/url])...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
The Vulture Seldom Comes Home to Roost
On a more celestial level, DARPA is also funding a competition to develop an unmanned aerial vehicle that will shatter endurance records. The bird will draw 5 kW of power, carry a 1,000 lb (450 kg) payload, stay aloft for at least five years, and remain in its assigned airspace 99 percent of the time while fighting winds encountered at operating altitudes, reportedly ranging from 60,000 to 90,000 ft (18,000 to 27,000 m). The goal is to provide long-term intelligence, surveillance...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Robytes | June 2008
Prof. Noel Sharkey is not exactly a silent, plodding evil genius, toiling away somewhere in an obscure lab. In fact, the rather colorful guy appears regularly on TV (about 300 appearances so far) and radio, and in a range of publications. But he is also — among other things — a Professor of AI and Robotics at the University of Sheffield ([url=http://www.sheffield.ac.uk]http://www.sheffield.ac.uk[/url]) and has an impressive string of academic abbreviations after his name. It is therefore worth noting that, in a keynote address to the ...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Robytes | May 2008 | Chatty Cathy Reincarnated
The concept of a mechanical talking adolescent isn’t exactly new, with the terminally cute Chatty Cathy dating back to 1960. But while Cathy — at her peak —could only speak 18 phrases, the iCub, designed by the RobotCub Consortium ([url=http://www.robotcub.org]http://www.robotcub.org[/url]), may soon be generating complex conversations on its own. An international group, led by the University of Plymouth ([url=http://www.plymouth.ac.uk]http://www.plymouth.ac.uk[/url]), began its Integration and Transfer of Action and Language Knowledge in Robots (ITALK) program on March 1 ...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Robytes | April 2008 | Monkey to Bot Interface Successful
Back in January, history was made when researchers at Duke University ([url=http://www.duke.edu]http://www.duke.edu[/url]) via the “Network Brain Machine Interface,” connected a monkey brain’s motor and sensory cortex to a humanoid robot located at the Japan Science and Technology agency. As certain neurons fired at different phases and varying frequencies, the signals were interpreted and converted to control the robot’s legs. Thus, as the monkey walked on a treadmill, the bot imitated its movements. The monkey was provided ...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Robytes | March 2008 | Climbing the Walls
In the common tradition of borrowing robotic concepts from nature is Waalbot, which needs no magnets or vacuum devices to attach itself to vertical planes. Like a common gecko, this Carnegie Mellon ([url=http://www.cmu.edu]http://www.cmu.edu[/url]) invention uses tiny fibers on its feet to adhere to just about any surface. The little guy isn’t much bigger than a quarter, but he sports two sets of three-footed wheels, each with its own motor. The spring-loaded tail keeps the critter pushing against the wall’s surface ...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Robytes | February 2008 | UAV Imitates Sea Birds
So one day Guy Meadows, director of the Marine Hydrodynamics Labs at the University of Michigan ([url=http://www.umich.edu]http://www.umich.edu[/url]), was floating around and saw a flying fish pop out of the water and soar over the waves. He was so impressed and inspired that he said, “Wow. I’ll bet I can build one of those,” hence the name of the UAV that he and some engineering researchers designed and built. Somehow the concept evolved away from fish and focused on sea birds, but the name stuck. In any event, Meadows and his ...

Robytes
by Jeff Eckert
Robytes | January 2008 | Goodbye E-Harmony, Hello Bot-Harmony
You may have noticed (or tried not to notice) that some robots are becoming a lot more lifelike and even alluring. One example is Dion, a Chinese babe who is said to mimic all sorts of human features, including facial expressions, skin temperature and elasticity, breath, and heartbeat. According to the manufacturer, she can even be built to resemble the specific person of your choice. Another deliberately seductive mechanism is Actroid DER2, developed at the University of Osaka and ...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Artificial Muscles
Electroactive Polymer Artificial Muscles (EPAMs) are a new actuating/motion technology based on polymers that react to electricity. The new actuators are useful across applications where motors are not as efficient or are simply not feasible. The basic EPAM is a rubber sheet made of a custom-formulated elastomer, explains Ilya Polyakov, a senior mechanical engineer at Artificial Muscle, Inc., creators of the EPAM. The polymer is applied so that electrodes plate the rubber sheeting on both...

GeerHead
by David Geer
A Self-Reassembling Robot
Ever seen a robot torn apart only to put itself back together? Jimmy Sastra, a student in the Modular Robotics Lab at the University of Pennsylvania has. He helped create it. As with most scientific endeavors, the Robotic Self-Reassembly After Explosion (SAE) project was a solution to a problem: how to get a robot to reassemble itself after ‘disassembly’ by ‘explosion’ (“Towards Robotic Self-Reassembly After Explosion,” the Modular Robotics Lab, University of Pennsilvania, Mark Yim, et.al.) ...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Robot250 Features BigBots | Robotic Artwork that Interacts and Responds
Robot250 is a city-wide extravaganza of large scale interactive robot art projects, workshops, festivities, events, and film held July 11-27 in Pittsburgh, PA. Sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and a number of local community groups like the Heinz Endowments, the program features BigBots interactive robot displays with artistic themes...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Intellibot Robotics IV800 Vacuum Makes Autonomous Clean Sweep
According to David Knuth, director of engineering at Intellibot Robotics, the IV800 is an autonomous mobile floor vacuum with an off-the-shelf, single board computer running navigation software and communications to several sensor and control subsystems...

GeerHead
by David Geer
MAARS Robots Taking Off for War
In 2005, I covered the SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Direct-action System) maneuverable military robots, which soldiers use as scouts and remote weapons systems in the war in Iraq. As reported, the SWORDS iteration of the robotic sentry is compatible with M16s, M240s, M249s, Barrett 50 calibers, 40 mm grenade launchers, or M202 anti-tank rocket systems. The SWORDS have many other features including advanced sensing. The robots use these technologies to locate enemy...

GeerHead
by David Geer
The Northern Bites RoboCup Team
RoboCup was born to call attention to artificial intelligence and intelligent robot research, according to RoboCup.org. The subsequent contests and competitions challenge roboticists from various colleges and universities around the world to build the best AI robots and prove their achievements by winning all-robot soccer meets. Playing soccer (football outside the US) requires robots to demonstrate many of the emerging technological capabilities that AI must rely on...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Rovio, Robotic House Sitter
Out of the west rides a three-wheeled guardian named Rovio. When the family is not at home, Rovio roams, the internal landscape (carpets, hardwood floors, tile), keeping a CMOS sensor eye open at all times, monitoring property, pets, and the home environment. Rovio uses a single VGA CMOS sensor to facilitate image capture and digitization so that images can be processed, stored, and transmitted over a network to the end-user via access points or the Internet. Rovio’s built-in computer “eye”...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Pace Robotics Labs | Activevision Robot Technology Captures Sights in 3D
Pace University Labs produced the “activevision” technology (per a Pace University academic paper) in conjunction with research into a much larger robot cognition project. With activevision, the robot models itself and its environment in a 3D world using graphics rendering engine technology from Ogre3D, just like that used in gaming software. The robot sees the world around it, then assembles it in 3D. It saves and works within that reservoir of graphical data in order to develop changing ...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Robot Leaves Breadcrumbs
Moravian College student and roboticist Wesley Moser (class of ‘08) built a robot that could trace its steps and map them out on a computer screen, albeit with a lot of help from Moser’s own software, which he programmed using multiple languages. The robot was the result of Moser’s Student Opportunity for Academic Research (SOAR) project at Moravian. Ben Coleman, assistant professor of computer science at the academic institution, guided Moser. The robot uses a variety of sensors to ...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Zeno - The Fist Complete Character Robot
Human interaction is its main attraction ... Zeno — due on the market as a toy in 2009 — is the closest thing to human that a robot has become. Its facial expressions are a story all to themselves, enabling the most complete robot personality and human-to-robot emotive interactivity to date. Want some proof? Read on! Zeno is a 16-inch, six-pound, interactive robot boy developed by Hanson Robotics with help from a number of vendors including RoboGarage and roboticist Tomotaka Takahashi ...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Kuka Robot Plays Air Hockey
Students from the Department of Technological Studies at Ohio Northern University found a fun, creative way to solve an industrial robotics problem: How can a robot pick parts from a bin if the parts are in motion? Answer: The same way it can play air hockey. Enabling an industrial robot — in this case, the KUKA KR3 — to play air hockey solves some of the same problems faced when trying to make it pick up moving parts. The robot has to identify the moving puck and direct its arm to meet it ...

GeerHead
by David Geer
Lewis, the Robot Photographer
At first brush, a robot that snaps people’s pictures might not imbue the mind with a novel image. But, a photographer that sets its subjects at ease, circumvents their shy and self-conscious natures and related facial reactions, and captures the essence of the subject unawares, now that’s a wonder to see! When Lewis the Robot Photographer first enters a crowded room, it gets attention. But, once people have adjusted to its roaming around, looking here and there, they forget all about it...

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | October 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | December 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | November 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
Rhyme of the Modern Submariner | Part 2
Last time, we detailed the build of our basic ROV (remotely operated vehicle) for the MATE 2008 ROV Competition using the ROV-in-a-box kit from !nventivity and the help of UCSD’s Tau Beta Pi chapter, CA Psi. After building a very basic working ROV from the kit and proving its functionality at the Southern California regional competition, it was now time to add onto the kit bot with our own mechanisms to allow it to complete three missions based on a scenario of mid-ocean ridge research...

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
Rhyme of the Modern Submariner | Part 1 | Special Edition
This month, we have the honor of presenting the ROV-In-A-Box Kit from !nventivity. ROV stands for Remotely Operated Vehicle, and while this can refer to a tethered vehicle that tackles any sort of terrain, it very often refers to an underwater vehicle, as was the case with this kit. After covering the AUVSI underwater robotics competition in 2006, we knew that there were competitions out there that catered to these aquatic bots, and we thought a competition would be a much more exciting way...

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | June 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | May 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | April 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
Back to Basics
As a mechanical engineering student, Evan has been learning about things like how Bessel functions are the eigenfunctions of the Sturm-Liouville Equations that can be used to describe heat conduction in nonrectangular geometries, and how computational methods like the Newton-Raphson method can be used to find the solution to large nonlinear systems. Such highbrow concepts in engineering — however interesting they might sound — can only be mastered with a firm grasp on the fundamentals of ...

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Pete Miles
Ask Mr. Roboto | February 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Pete Miles
Ask Mr. Roboto | January 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | July 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | September 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Dennis Clark
Ask Mr. Roboto | August 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Ask Mr. Roboto
by Pete Smith
Ask Mr. Roboto | March 2008
Your Problems Solved Here.

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
Surveyor’s Travels
The folks at Inertia Labs may have forever earned a celebrated place in the memory of combat robotics fans with their formidable and uplifting creations like Toro, but Alexander Rose and Reason Bradley have also put their energies into other, less destructive projects. One of their new endeavors at Inertia Labs is as a designer and distributor for the new quad motor Surveyor SRV-1Q from Surveyor Labs — a nifty little treaded robot outfitted with a high quality camera. Perhaps the most...

BasicBoard Robotics
by William Smith
BasicBoard Programming Options
This column started out building applications around the BasicBoard module sold at [url=http://www.beginnerelectronics.com]http://www.beginnerelectronics.com[/url]. I’ve since gotten several emails asking if the BasicBoard was offered in a form that doesn’t use the Basic Atom interpreter chip from Basic Micro. In a word, no. But that doesn’t make it a dead end...

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
There’s a New Humanoid on the Block
Humanoid shaped servo robots are some of the coolest robot kits around. They are generally simple to build, and the finished product is agile and undeniably entertaining. Robots this cool, however, often come with a hefty price tag. We’ve been lucky enough to review two such kits for SERVO so far. The surprising nimble Robonova-1 from Hitec will run you over $1,000, and the versatile Bioloid kit from Robotis comes with a price tag of about $900. These prices likely put these bots out of the...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Building Robots with the Arduino
The name Arduino may sound like some newly discovered quantum particle, but it’s actually a small and affordable microcontroller development board that is enjoying a rapid upsurge in popularity...

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
More Than Meets the Eye | The Mighty Morphing V-Bot
Last time, we had the honor to present two robots — the Roboquad and Robopanda — that approached the line between toy and robot from the robot side of the equation. This month, the V-Bot shows that a toy can also approach that fine line between electronic plaything and seemingly sentient automaton.

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
So You Want to Build a Robot
In this installment of Robotics Resources, we’ll touch upon several main points of interest you’ll need to be familiar with if you want to plan, construct, and operate your first robot. Of course, space limitations mean we can’t provide in-depth coverage of everything in this one column. To further your study of the robotics arts, you are advised to check out back issues of this magazine and Nuts & Volts, both of which are available in convenient CD-ROM electronic format.

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Robotics Via Remote Control
The typical amateur robot is completely autonomous; its own circuitry controls what it does and where it goes. That circuitry can be as simple as moving toward a light in the room, or as complex as carefully mapping and navigating the room using vision and other sensors...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
What You Need to Know About Radio Control Servo Motors
Since the early 1990s, servos for radio controlled airplanes and cars have been a preferred method of motorizing a robot. Many of the benefits of servo motors are obvious: They’re small, relatively inexpensive, and for the most part easy to use with most any robotic control system. Radio control (R/C) servos combine a DC motor, gearing, and control electronics in one compact package. Plus, most servos are engineered for convenient mounting. Just a couple of screws and the motor is tightly...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
The Recycled Robot
There’s an old saying — maybe it’s a new saying — that goes “Everything old is new again.” What we used to throw out in the trash are now collector’s items people buy and sell on eBay for top dollar. Popular fashions that peaked then ebbed in decades long past and were considered passé, are now all the rage. Again. Recycling is something we humans do by nature. Old things get repurposed inside new ideas. In the case of mechanical constructions such as robots, recycling is often cheaper and ...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Stocking Up With Surplus Electronics
Just because one person doesn’t want it doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. That’s the case with surplus. Simply put, surplus is excess stock for resale. Sometimes it’s used, sometimes it’s new. Occasionally, it’s worthless junk, but very often, surplus has a beneficial use to someone, somewhere. And just as importantly, surplus means the item isn’t being thrown away in the trash, so it’s not clogging up a land fill...

Different Bits
by Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Artificial Life | Part 3 | Genetic Algorithms: Interactive Evolution
The mathematical possibilities are exciting, but Genetic Algorithms can also be beautiful and it is this artistic and aesthetic potential we will be exploring in this article.

BasicBoard Robotics
by William Smith
Moving From BS1 to PIC
A high school teacher recently sent me an email asking for advice on the best path to move from the BASIC Stamp 1 (BS1) module to Microchip PICs. He had his students programming the BS1 Project Board (Figure 1) which is a very nice board for the price. He was happy with that board as an entry point, but the next step in the BASIC Stamp world was moving to the BS2 Homework Board, which is a $45 development board. He hoped to keep it below $25. He thought maybe programming a PIC microcontroller...

Different Bits
by Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Random Bits
Throughout this column, we have relied on the idea of randomness to seed all of our unconventional computing experiments. In this month’s article, we will take a brief detour from code and hardware to examine just what the concept of “random” actually means, how our microcontroller is implementing it, how this differs from a computer, and some schemes for creating “true” random number generators...

Different Bits
by Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Artificial Life | Part 1 | Introduction to Genetic Algorithms
Have you ever questioned the meaning of “life?” I’m not talking about existentialism here, but the meaning of the word — life — what it means to be alive? Have you ever wondered, for example, if there was some way, some possibility, that an electronic creation (your electronic creation) could one day be deemed alive?

Lessons From The Lab
by James Isom
NXT Packbot | Part 3
Let’s pick up where we left off in December and finish up the main chassis of the Packbot. Rear Chassis Assembly: The two sides are mirror images of one another that come together with a middle bracket that will eventually help organize the wires for your motors and sensors. Once again, I’ll include instructions for both sides to make it easier...

Different Bits
by Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Neural Networks For The PIC Microcontroller | Part 4 | Self-Organizing Maps
Imagine if your robot could learn to characterize its sensations. Could it evolve its own language to describe its “feelings?” They might be literal sensations derived from sensors rather than self-reflection, but it is still a provocative idea ...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Hand Tools for Robot Construction
Imagine robot building during Neanderthal times. Your only tools were various rocks, maybe an antler or two, and wood sticks that everyone else in your camp used for throwing at animals they wanted to eat. This most certainly made constructing that perfect line follower very difficult. Be grateful you live in the 21st century, where tools are the mainstay of our industrial existence. Starting with just the lowly screwdriver, an assortment of the right tools and the right time helps you build...

Different Bits
by Heather Dewey-Hagborg
Artificial Life | Part 2 | Genetic Algorithms: Hello World
Last time, we talked about the theory behind genetic algorithms and looked at an abstract example of how they work. In this month’s article, we will implement a simple example on the PIC to understand the details and difficulties of doing this kind of programming on such a limited processor...

BasicBoard Robotics
by William Smith
Hardware Serial Port Adapter
I’m working on a new robot application for the BasicBoard from Beginner Electronics.com. I chose one of the tractor type bases from budgetrobotics.com as seen in Figure 1. This is a great little base to build a robot from. In the process of doing this, though, I wanted to get the expansion serial port on the BasicBoard working for future add-on sensors and other future ideas. That extra serial port connection ends up pointing to the front of the robot so this could be really handy...

Appetizer
by David Calkins
What the Heck is a Robot, Anyway?
In 1921, Karl Capek wrote the play Rossum’s Universal Robots, thus coining the term “Robot.” (Okay, technically it was his brother Josef who amended Karl’s original term from either the Latin labori, or the Czech trudnik, but we won’t quibble. It was still Karl’s play.) In the play, they were not electro-mechanical humans. They were very much flesh and blood, manufactured in fleshy parts and later assembled. This very much follows the golum and Frankenstein mythos.And it is clearly the basis...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Small Brains for Your Bot
As a child, I imagined robots being governed by tubes and relays — not an unusual image given the science fiction movies of the time, like Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet. Today, fictional robots are depicted with miniature microelectronic brains, with “emotion chips” the size of a fingertip. And no wonder, because these things actually exist! Far from science fiction, with today’s technology you can build a robot with a brain no larger than a caterpillar. What’s more, these brains are ...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Robot Kits For Easier Robotics
I vividly remember the excitement of building my first electronics kit. Okay, so the kit was an old surplus reject that used vacuum tubes instead of transistors. But to an 11-year-old interested in the science of electronics, all that mattered was the scores of tiny parts packed into individual numbered plastic baggies, and the smell of smoldering solder as I methodically attached one wire to the next. The thing didn’t work when I first turned it on — in fact, sparks flew and it tripped ...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Getting Kids Into Robotics
Robots and kids go together like bacon and eggs, peaches and cream, resistors and capacitors. Thanks to low-cost construction kits — and not to mention popular movies that glamorize automatons — more and more children are exploring the world of robots.

Twin Tweaks
by Bryce Woolley, Evan Woolley
Geeking From France
This month, we have the privilege of introducing an intrepid robotic envoy all the way from France, courtesy of POB Technology. We were lucky enough to receive the POB Golden Kit, which includes a fully assembled robot, a software CD with an electronic manual, and a serial cable for programming. The robot is equipped with tank treads, a camera, and a claw for manipulating objects. The easily accessible circuit board boasts plenty of open terminals for the addition of sensors and mechanisms...

Appetizer
by Shane Colton
Build a Self-Balancing Scooter
MIT teams up with local high school to tackle the Segway

Appetizer
by Kym Graner
Dusting Robots One Woman’s View of Life With an Electronics Hobbyist
Rather than reflecting my daydreaming interest in a Better Homes & Gardens living space, our house now sports a look that was once described by a friend as looking like Godzilla swallowed a RadioShack and then threw up. There’s a part of me that wishes my home could revert to the “normal” decorator dream it started to become.

Appetizer
by Gerard Fonte
Terms of Endearment
What those familar tearms really mean.

Appetizer
by R. Steven Rainwater
Why Just Build a Robot? Be a Robot!
A-Kon is North America’s longest running national anime convention. It was first held in 1990 and it has been growing ever since...

Appetizer
by Camp Peavy
RoboGames: RoboMagellan 2008
It was a chilly June day above the Ft. Mason Center, San Francisco at the Great Meadow: 14 teams entered; eight took the field; five touched the goal; three touched the goal plus two bonus cones. “Zippy” and “Intrepid” traversing over 500 feet touched both bonus cones and the goal in exactly five minutes: 28 seconds ... a tie for the gold medal.

Appetizer
by Pete Smith
Judgement Day
I have competed in many robotic combat events and taught classes about the basics of that part of the hobby, but I have never judged any sort of competition. It was with a little trepidation then that I accepted a request to be a judge at a FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) Regional Championship held at the NC A & T State University in Greensboro, NC...

Appetizer
by John Sosoka
The Greatest Playground of All
The real world, what a place! The smell of freshly mowed grass, the breeze against my face, textures, colors, shapes. The real world is incredibly compelling to us. Life, from plants to animals to other humans, has an incredible draw for us. We’ve been finely optimized to survive in the real world. Looking at a beautifully rendered apple on a screen is a treat for me, having been a part of the computer graphics community for longer than I care to remember. But holding, touching, and biting...

Appetizer
by Kevin Berry
The Door Into Spring
WARNING: This Appetizer contains opinions which may not taste good to the robotics community! Consume with caution! It’s New Year’s Eve, I’m 50 years old, and instead of partying until I’m stupid, I’m home writing a column for SERVO. It’s amazing how a few years change things! Three decades ago, I thought New Years was the best party opportunity of the year; now it’s a quiet night to write. I’m reminded of the changes time brings because the soundtrack to this evening’s writing is my wife’s ...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Japanese Robotics
I have a book on the robotics bookshelf in my office entitled Inside the Robot Kingdom by Frederik L. Schodt. With a subtitle of “Japan, Mechatronics, and the Coming Robotopia,” Joe Engelberger, the father of the industrial robot, commented about the book on the back cover: “Western industrialists will learn more about competing with Japan from this book than from all the how-to books that have proliferated since Japan, Inc., became a popular ogre.” The amazing thing is this book was...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robotics - A Historical Perspective
Over the years, I have written about advances in all types of robot designs, robot technology, and various robotic subsystems in this column. In each article, I have tried to cover advances in the science of robotics and have covered the history of a part of robotics in a specific way. I have never tried to examine the way that we humans have viewed these creations of ours as they have slowly taken over many parts of our lives. I have often wondered just what mindset developed in people’s...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Books On Experimental Robotics
Good reference books on any particular subject are vital for anyone who really wants to know more about the topic, and robotics is no exception. The Internet can give you access to a lot of great information, but a good set of books on robotics is necessary to delve far into this exciting field. I’d like to discuss a history, of sorts, of some of the books that made the greatest impression on me for the past 30 years or so.As you can imagine, my choices for a great series of books on robotics...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robot Competitions and Contests
As long as there have been two people gathered together who have different ideas and skill sets, there have been competitions of some sort. The recent Summer Olympics was an extreme example of the world’s finest who gathered together in China to prove who the best athlete in many categories was. Old records fell as younger or more experienced athletes swam or ran faster than ever before, jumped higher or further, or performed some series of athletic motions with more finesse than the others...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robots - From Humanoid To Human Status
I take a lot of technical magazines, more than my postman or wife care to see. Many of them have very interesting viewpoints on technology and robotics. One is Managing Automation — a magazine concerned mostly with implementation of factory automation and robotics. MA has a monthly e-newsletter that covers many automation subjects. The August 1st issue had an interesting article entitled “More Human than Humans” by MA Editor-in-Chief, David R. Brousell...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robots - How We’ve Built Them Over The Years
We take for granted all the motors, sensors, high power density batteries, and microcontrollers that are contained within today’s experimental robots.

Lessons From The Lab
by James Isom
NXT Packbot | Part 4
Welcome to the final installment of Packbot instructions. There’s not much left now, so let’s get right to it and wrap it up.

Appetizer
by Allison F. Walton, Filomena Serpa
When Art and Servos Mix
When we were at FLOAT — the Floatation Center and Art Gallery — we started thinking about what we should pick for our December art show, robots as art came to us in an instant. Why not fill our gallery with DIY Bay Area robotic art? Hell, everyone loves robots, don’t they? And isn’t it the next brick and mortar Internet, the job of the future? Who knew how much work we were going to be taking on ... I guess we should be careful what we ask ...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Personal Robots: From Science Fiction to Reality
I’ve written about personal robots for years in this column. I’ve discussed some of the early machines available back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s such as the Heath Hero series, the Androbots, and the RB5X, among others. These machines certainly differed from their industrial cousins that toiled away in modern factories. They also differ from service robots that include ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that I wrote about last month, and AUVs ...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Mechatronics: The New Word in Robotics
I just read an interesting article in the June 30th Design News Webcast entitled “A Mechatronic Marvel: The Barcode Scanner.” The statement was made: “There are few things in the world today that would disrupt society more than if barcode scanners stopped working. Just think of all the places where you rely on one to accomplish some task. But what is a barcode and how does a barcode scanner work? This webcast explores the role of mechatronics in the development of this nearly indispensible...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Then and Now | March 2008
I was talking with my wife, Sue, about Women’s History month and she asked if an article on Women of Robotics would be an appropriate subject for my column. She knew that I had worked with various women in my robotics work over the years. After all, in September of last year I had written about Bala Krishnamurthy in “People of Robotics.” She has been in the field of robotics for over 25 years and designed and developed programming languages for Unimate’s robots, among many other things ...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robots Take To The Air
Back in December ’05, I wrote about robots that go to war. These were about robots that are on the ground, remotely operated from a distance. In my research, I have found so many acronyms that are tied to these types of robotic vehicles. ROV for ‘remotely-operated vehicle’ which is often tied to the underwater variety, though it has been used to describe any remotely-operated land, sea, or even aerial vehicle. AGV for ‘automated guided vehicle’ which often describes the automated vehicles ...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Power Tools for Robot Construction
Comedian Tim Allen’s most enduring character is Tim Taylor, of the ‘90s television show Home Improvement. Tim was the over-zealous host of a how-to program on using — and abusing! — tools and hardware. In just about every eposide, Tim attempted to “improve” some tool by adding extra horsepower. And, of course, it always backfired. Tim was a man who obviously loved tools and what they could do. For many, part of the fun of building robots is playing with the tools used to construct them in ...

Robotics Resources
by Gordon McComb
Robot Builder’s Bookshelf Redux
Despite fancy multimedia, Flash animations, and free Internet tutorials, the lowly book remains the most popular way of learning about a new subject. Books are portable and can be read when traveling, while waiting for your hamburger, or at home beside the fireplace. If you own the book, you can mark it up with a highlighter, or paste Post-It Notes on your favorite pages so you can return to them quickly later. And, unlike Web pages and many other Internet resources, your book won’t catch a ...

Appetizer
by Dan Kara
Robotics Events Reflect Hot Market Segments
As a conference developer serving the personal, service, and mobile robotics industry, I am constantly challenged with finding the ‘sweet spot’ in the market where sweetness is defined both by creating and running a profitable event, as well as serving the needs of the attendees and sponsors. Growing the overall robotics industry is also a bonus. From a strictly business standpoint, conference developers try to avoid overlapping coverage with existing events, particularly their own events ...

Appetizer
by Robin Lemieux
Building Character through ... Robot Building!
For the last two decades, I've been surrounded by robots and electronics. Could I recite Ohm's Law? Could I tell you what a capacitor does? Do I know the difference between servo and stepper motors? Is there a difference? Do I know how to design and build an autonomous robot? This last April marks 20 years of working at T&L Publications for me — publishers of Nuts & Volts and SERVO Magazine. I have proofread literally thousands of technical articles, but probably couldn't tell you what most...

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robot Shows
The Consumer Electronics Show. The Consumer Electronics Show Typical of everything in life, as time goes on, things change. The same thing applies to shows; robot and technical shows in particular. Displays are glitzier, lights flashier, and the atmosphere of today’s events are definitely higher energy affairs. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is no exception. Early January in Las Vegas each year is the annual CES, an electronics enthusiast’s dream that fills the huge Las Vegas ...c

Then and Now
by Tom Carroll
Robot Muscles - Electric Motors
What would a robot be without their version of muscles? Well, maybe it would be just a computer. Now, that’s not so bad if all you want to do is input data and information via a keyboard, CD-ROM, voice or some other means, have the computer do something with that information, and then have the computer store or output that data onto a screen, printed page, a speaker, or some other passive device. Most of us enjoy our computers quite a bit, but we expect some sort of movement from them...




Combat Zone

Cloud of Suspicion

in The Combat Zone

The wedge is one of the oldest and most successful types of combat robots. The effectiveness of a simple ramp with good drive power has yet to be matched by any other robot design.


Laying Out Your Work Area

in The Combat Zone

When it comes to entering combat or otherwise known robotics the easiest thing a builder can do to help themselves get prepared is to work out their layout.


Savage - Part 1

in The Combat Zone

When building a robot for someone else, I always listen to their design brief, put together a concept, and build to that design.


Robothon Robot Combat 2008

in The Combat Zone

It was the fifth Robothon event for Western Allied Robotics at the heavily trafficked Seattle Center’s Center House. Large crowds circulating throughout the day were entertained by three and 12 pound fighting robots.


Combat Robot Drive Systems

in The Combat Zone

There are many ways to move your robot around the arena floor. From the simplistic two wheel drive robot to the precision crafted complexity of a true walking robot, there are always different methods of movement to consider.


Micro Drive

in The Combat Zone

Micro Drive has competed at Marin Ant Wars 5, RoboGames 2006, SRJC Day Under The Oaks 2006, Marin Ant Wars VI, Halloween Robot Terror 2006, Smackdown in Sactown III, RoboGames 2007, SRJC Day Under The Oaks 2007, RoboGames 2008, and SRJC Day Under The Oaks 2008.


30 Pound Combat Robot - Mitch

in The Combat Zone

Frequently at events, I am inundated with questions on how to get started in combat robotics. I’m always honored by the requests, and enjoy the enthusiasm that potentially new builders bring to the sport.


Get Flippen

in The Combat Zone

Due to the weight limitations in the smaller, insect-sized robots, it is often hard to come across designs other than the powerful brushless motor spinners or plain ol’ wedge robots. Frustrated by this, I set out to build a unique ant weight robot (1 lb) that would also be competitive with the current generation of combatants.


2.4 GHz Radio Fail-safes

in The Combat Zone

Robotic combat is a dangerous sport in its very nature, and if participating, one must accept the safety risks that are all too often present in the sport.


Building Battery Packs Fit for Combat

in The Combat Zone

In the early days of combat robotics, builders were often forced to assemble their own battery packs if they wanted something robust that would tolerate conditions filled with shock, vibration, heavy G-loads, and constant flexing all while operating at very high temperatures.


Even More Things to Consider When Building a Fighting Robot

in The Combat Zone

In previous issues of SERVO, I’ve talked about weapon and drive systems in robot combat. There are a lot of important things to consider that don’t fit under either of those umbrellas but still merit consideration when building your bot.


Free Strength

in The Combat Zone

Fighting robots need to be strong. They also have to fit within a weight limit. This leads to a trade-off between building something capable of taking the forces we impose upon them and the amount of weight we have available for structures.


Combat Robot: $1.25 a Pound

in The Combat Zone

For many builders, combat robotics is about pushing the engineering envelope. You know, how many extra volts can we hammer through the system before it flames out?


K2

in The Combat Zone

K2 has competed at RoboGames 2007 and 2008.


My RoboGames Experience

in The Combat Zone

Ihave gone to RoboGames for quite a few years now and each year we have a wonderful time. It is awesome to see all the different types of robots and technology that come together in one place. There are many different events that go on throughout the weekend: soccer bots, Sumo bots, walking humanoids, robots that dance, art bots, hockey bots and, of course, combat robots.


Mall of America Rotunda Rumble

in The Combat Zone

In the post-televised robotic combat era, it’s good to see the sport can still draw a standing room only crowd. Such was the case at the Rotunda Rumble held at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, MN, where there were at times four floors of spectators cheering for more.


Robot Battles 2008

in The Combat Zone

What’s the second longestrunning robotic combat competition ever? It’s neither BattleBots nor Robot Wars.


Electronize Speed Controllers

in The Combat Zone

When first venturing into combat robot building, I, like most, began with RC car speed controllers. It quickly became apparent that even the most highly rated controllers were not robust enough to handle the power demands of the 30 lb class.


Roaming Robots Goes to Qatar

in The Combat Zone

John Findlay — head honcho of the United Kingdom’s Roaming Robots — was commissioned to do a show in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar. He graciously provided details and photos to Combat Zone for this article.


Power Switches

in The Combat Zone

The power switch is one of the most overlooked yet critical parts of a combat robot. Paraphrasing the Robot Fighting League rule set, all robots must have an easily accessible power switch that can be used to turn on and off the robot safely, quickly, and easily.


Chain Length Calculator and Chain Path Visualizer

in The Combat Zone

An endless source of information on bot building is the RFL forum on Delphi Forums ([url=http://www.chiefdelphi.com/media/papers/1598]http://www.chiefdelphi.com/media/papers/1598[/url]).


Terminal Blocks Made to Order

in The Combat Zone

Read the robot forums and everyone agrees: Crimp-on ring terminals and terminal posts are the most reliable means of making high current connections. The problem is there are a limited number of suitable commercial products and they are often the wrong size and shape, or made of brittle materials.


Touro

in The Combat Zone

Touro has competed in RoboGames 2006, RoboGames 2007, and 7 ENECA-Recife. Touro debuted in RoboGames 2006 achieving third place. Afterwards, it won Brazil’s III Winter Challenge and VI Robocore ENECA – both in 2006. In 2007, Touro won a RoboGames gold medal and kept both Brazilian competition titles.


Limblifter

in The Combat Zone

Limblifter has competed at Kilobots X, WBX-IV, Kilobots XI, and WBX-3.


A Brief History of WAR

in The Combat Zone

WAR has much of what you expect — flying shrapnel, destruction, winners and losers, but unlike real war, Western Allied Robotics competitions are always good natured fun.


Departments

Size Matters
by Bryan Bergeron in Mind / Iron
When Parallax announced their new 12 VDC motors with mount, wheels, and position controller, I couldn’t resist picking up a kit ($280). Finally, a ‘standard’ drive system designed for medium-sized mobile robots from the company behind the BASIC Stamp and the Boe-Bot...

Mind / Iron | January 2008 | Infrastructure
by Bryan Bergeron
A fundamental aspect of robotics is that the application domain can range from ocean beds and table tops to the nooks and crannies of extraterrestrial dunes. It’s no coincidence that the techniques and technologies described in the article featured in this issue of SERVO can be applied to virtually any application areas. However, if you have a particular interest in space exploration, then you’ll find Fulvio Mastrogiovanni’s article, “Space Robotics,” of particular note...