My PATREON for World Domination

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So, I launched a PATREON page today. O_O

…I feel as though it was done sort of on a whim. I signed up on the Patreon site Sunday night, and I’m already rolling this thing out, video and all… just four days later. crazy!

If you don’t know what Patron is or how it works, it’s basically a crowd funding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, accept… its purpose is for content creators to raise a monthly income from their supporters instead of one larger lump sum. Where it is less appropriate for launching big projects or bringing products to market, it’s great for writers, artists, and makers who could use some support from their followers to take their passion to the next level.

I learned about Patreon when my favorite webcomic artist launched his campaign back a few months ago. His was quite successful and resulted in freeing him up to pretty much draw on stuff all the time. That’s heaven.

I had been mulling the idea of launching another Kickstarter to support my personal robotic projects, like NoodleFeet. But the nature of that sort of beast leads you into deadlines, promises, and ultimately a lot of time spent fulfilling… and not creating.

Where I do see Mark and I running another Kickstarter campaign in the future, this time I’m trying out something new. The Patreon platform seems pretty great so far, as it is low pressure in nature. You can edit your project page and your rewards even after its launched and you don’t have to ship anything out if you don’t want to. Additionally, there is no campaign period as with Kickstarter. Your Patreon just is. If people find you tomorrow, or in six months… the page will be there, and they can throw you some change!

Really, the worst thing that could happen is nothing.

My hope is to raise enough money per month that I can make larger purchases without cringing. Sometimes the next step in a project is to buy better motors, or have metal pieces cut at a fab shop… and I come to a screaming halt because I can’t afford to do so. In return, I’m going to continue doing what I’ve always done. I document the creation of everything and publish what I learn along the way. I’m happy to give advice about anything, to anyone- you just have to approach me. I’m trading my experience for support.

So, alas… this is the link to my virtual tip jar.

IMG_7322.jpgIf you enjoy the content on this blog and would like to see more of it… A LOT MORE of it, then consider checking out my Patreon. I made a firkin video of Noodle begging for money with cue cards, so at least give that a look… ;]

-S

 

Assembling Carl the Flamingo

Sticking out from my toaster’s head like a crude antenna, is a classic lawn ornament, the flamingo I’ve come to call Carl. Unlike most of the other residents in the lab, he is not an electronic or robotic thing. It has been my intention since I brought him home last September, to liberate Carl from his static form to join the ranks with his mechanical compadres:

IMG_7221Carl’s fate is to become a ball-balancing robot… one with motors and wheels… that can balance… on a ball. If you’ve ever seen one, ball balancing robots are impressive as hell and fascinating to watch… because you almost can’t believe that they could work as well as they do! I mean, heck… I can’t even balance on the floor sometimes.

The first thing I learned upon researching these beasts, is that in order to build one of my own… I was going to need to locate some “omni” wheels to play with. Never having heard of an omni wheel before, I googled the term and found hundred of pictures of crazy looking shapes that reminded me of futuristic frisbees or saw blades:

IMG_2278So, they’re wheels with wheels. heh. They’re needed so the ball can glide freely in whatever direction the motors collectively force it to… like butter. Friction is bad. Binding is bad.

I ordered the smallest wheels I could find in two varieties. Surprisingly, for such complex looking shapes, they weren’t terribly expensive; about $5 on average a piece. While waiting for them to arrive in the mail, I started designing the “body” of the robot.

I came to learn that there are in fact a lot of similarities between the delta robots I’ve built in the past… at the three pronged balancing bot. At least, in that they both involve three motors working together mathematically to resolve a common point. Since they are both radial bots… I proceeded to use one of the delta robot’s acrylic bases as a mounting plate for Carl’s stepper motors.

Rather quickly, I printed some brackets on Monday:

IMG_2307Almost immediately after putting together this first base assembly, I drew what I thought I’d want the finished robot to look like… and saw in my own sketch that the assembly could be a lot more “talon-like” if the mounts of the motors branched out at 45 degree angles from a central point (instead of just being stuck to a big plate).

So… I started over. The hard part about making the new bracket design was taking into account while I modeled it, that one side must lay flat on the print bed >.< This threw my head in loops for a while, but I eventually hammered out a piece that worked…

IMG_2276By this time my omni wheels had arrived, so my next challenge was to figure out how to mount them to the gear shaft of the steppers. Sadly, the wheels came with no couplers of any sort, so I would have to print my own. =[

  • The shaft I designed would have to fit snugly in the center of the wheel
  • and also couple onto the gear shaft of the stepper motor by means of a set screw

IMG_2302This coupler took me fourteen- YES ( 14 ) ! revisions to get the tolerances juuuuuusssst right… the shaft inside the wheel fits tight but not too tight:

IMG_7248With the wheels mounted to the steppers, the assembly looks kind like a big chicken foot:

IMG_2318…which is what I wanted… BOCK!

IMG_2312At some point Thursday night… I pulled Carl from his metal legs and did the morbid task of marking his belly with a dotted line. Instead of doing the messy deed of severing his drum-sticks immediately, I got distracted and went to bed, leaving Carl nestled in Noodle’s blankie to suffer over night with thoughts of what would happen to him the following day.

IMG_7237Cutting the big oval around his little birdy nubs wasn’t at all hard… Once I drilled a starter hole, the thin blown plastic cut like paper with a pair of nippers. When I finished, I held Carl and told him everything was going to be alright…

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Sarah soothes the legless Carl

I used Carl’s disembodied gams to measure how large the adaptor for his chest would need to be. The pipe which would act as Carl’s… leg… would mount at a 25 degree angle into his belly. Designing this part was not as difficult as I thought it would be. The actual pipe mount and belly adaptor ended up being two separate pieces (for ease of printing):

IMG_2285The screws that connected this fancy shape to Carl, went through his belly and met a plate of nuts set on the inside, clamping everything firmly in place (but this wasn’t easy to execute!):

IMG_2291There wasn’t anything to hold the plate on the inside of his body while I screwed into it… other than some tape, which kept coming loose and plopping down into the cavity of Carl… forcing me to start the process over again.

After a couple tries I got everything screwed on, and Carl felt a lot better about himself… so did my conscience:

IMG_2294On the opposite end of the pipe, I made another adaptor that connected to the motor assembly:

IMG_2321Once this was added, I put everything together and had this sexy looking bird before me. The essence of the flamingo:

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Carl, el Robo Flamingo

Carl isn’t technically a “new” sibling… but now that he’s a moving robot, Noodle sees him as competition. Hopefully in the weeks to come they can learn to get along and share their living space.

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Carl & Noodle, BFFs forever

The next step of the project is to wire up those steppers to some driver boards and start moving them. I anticipate that every piece of Carl will be redesigned and optimized in the near future to make way for the mounting of his brain… and power supply. I just couldn’t help myself from designing the robotic form first. To me that’s the fun part… =

Carl will also have his own presence on my personal site, zoness.com. So look for new bird art in the coming weeks as we dive deep into Maker Faire season.

Why I Love Blade Runner

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When I was ten, my dad would bring me dinner on his way home from work, pick a movie for me to watch from their towering VHS collection… and then leave with my mom for a night out.

I had recently seen the Fifth Element in the theater and adored it. Having drawn visual similarities between the two, my dad decided to show me Blade Runner. One night, he put the tape on our big screen, brought me Chinese takeout and was gone for hours. Alone, I sat on the floor and paid careful attention to the film… but before long, fell asleep.

Admittedly, the story drags somewhat in the middle, and it would take me another four or so attempts that week until I finally finished the whole movie from start to finish.

Until then, four times I went on the journey to the smoggy marketplace, into that little neon refrigerator with the Chinese scientist, and then up to Tyrell’s antiquated perch where he’d be slaughtered in the most uncomfortable, jarring way by a white-haired character that was the embodiment of many qualities I didn’t like at that age.

Finally, on that fourth trip through the carefully sculpted dystopia, I found myself on the roof in the rain watching the villain sit in ribbons of his own blood as he uttered some gorgeous nonsense and then died with this unforgettable smirk on his face.

At that moment something happened in my mind that either broke me, or opened me. I didn’t understand it. I was ten… and I was perhaps a tad embarrassed to feel something that strongly. But that feeling lead me to make any excuse to watch the movie again and again for several months.

In spite of this feeling’s power, I didn’t try to understand it… A year later I was sitting with my dad in the living room, and we happen to stumble across the end of the movie on TV. Again, Roy died… and the same wave came and crushed me with overwhelming emotions. After it was over this time I went into my room and started writing (a story I’ve been working on for years called Zoness).

With a couple of decades behind me to meditate on the film, I’ve now seen many iterations several hundred times and I can say exactly what it is I love about it.

First however, I want to state that it isn’t just one aspect that causes me to declare this movie my all time favorite. There are several dozen qualities that I could gush about, like cinematography, soundtrack, special effects, costumes, setting, delivery, script, symbolism, or character development to name a few… but they aren’t what I wish to focus on. This little article is about Roy.

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Roy Batty

For most other people, what the movie does is question your notion of humanity by slowly shifting your perspective. At the beginning, you’re completely content with the idea that the replicants must die for being soul-less pigfarts, and that the lamenting and vacant protagonist has every right to just get the chore of killing them over-with, so he can go back to his depleted existence.

By the end of the movie, you perhaps empathize with the replicants a little more than you’d expected… which makes their deaths feel progressively more tragic. After all, they are being hunted when they’re going to die anyway.

For me, the kicker was the smirking white-haired villain, Roy. There was something about him I related to when I was ten, but couldn’t put my finger on.

My whole life I’ve had this nagging need for the preservation of my ideas. This urge is literally what drives everything I do. It got me to begin writing my thoughts down as a kid and is why I’m an illustrator and artist now. I can’t stand the fact that one day, in spite of the universe that’s confined in my head… I’ll decay and all that I am will be gone.

In the movie, Roy confronts and murders his maker, risking his life in other acts of bloody brutality… so that he might find a way to live a little longer. But it’s not just the fact that Roy wants to live to save his experiences that I relate to him so much. Roy also knows he is capable of great things. He was made to be more than everyone and everything else. I would think to myself how terrible it would feel to knowingly have such potential, and be doomed to die aware of the life you might have had.

By the end… the half-naked animal running around in the rain became me. By this, I don’t mean I think I’m better than everybody, just that I understood Roy’s awareness of his own capacity to do things. This capacity being the motive for his survival.

This character I didn’t like very much grew into something I empathized with completely and in a sense, fell in love with.

The journey from one end of the “feels” spectrum to the other jogged everything I thought I knew and understood about myself (at the age of ten). It’s like someone grabbed the table-cloth of my being and yanked it out from all the things stacked on top of it. Once it all came crashing down, I was a completely different person.

Bottom line, the movie very effectively made me see myself in something that I otherwise would never have considered. That’s a pretty powerful transformation to go through… and perhaps that “change of heart” is the emotional journey I relive each time I watch the film.

Sure, it’s a beautifully shot movie. It’s cyber-punk. It’s a rainy-wet garbage pile wrapped in smoke and neon… and everyone adores it for being such a sensual setting. For me though, it’s about ending up on that roof and sitting with Roy as we come to terms with our mortality.

Blade Runner is the reason I tend to fall for everything I presume to hate.

Making an Anaglyph!

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You know those cool images that become 3D when you put on the spiffy red and cyan glasses? This weekend I accidentally learned how to make them! They’re actually ridiculously simple to create… and extremely fun to layout once you get the hang of it!

I was adding the finishing touches to the next page of my webcomic. The subject needed to appear “glitchy” so I decided to mess with the registration of the RGB channels. Sure enough, this produced the appropriate effect I was going for.

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By shifting the channel registers, I was trying to produce an anaglyph style, but I had no intention of the effect actually working. After all, I assumed those nifty dizzying images were hard as hell to make.

Out of our shared desire to figure out how things work, Mark dug up a pair of 3D glasses and we started fussing with the channel layers. As I shifted the channels to the left and right, I was able to make the panels retract and extend from the foreground. Eureka.

So I did a little bit of homework on the subject (which I’m surprised I’ve never done in the past). It turns out that with the help of Photoshop, it’s quite easy to create your own 3D anaglyphs. You just need to plan what it is you want your image to do.

Here’s How

FIRST and foremost, you’ll need an image editing program like Photoshop, and a pair of anaglyph shades.

Start thinking about how many levels of depth you want your image to have. You’ll also want to decide what parts will recede from the foreground and what you want to pop out at you.

For my example, I’m going to use this sketch of Noodle with his lint:

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Foreground: His feet will pop out the most, sitting over his pile of lint

Middle-ground: the lint pile will be slightly under his feet

Background: the rest of his body will set slightly behind the pile

Each level of depth should be completely separate from the others. In other words, if you use many layers in Photoshop to create your image, just make sure none are shared between your levels. I separated all of my assets into folders to make sure this didn’t happen (and to make the process less confusing!) You can see the folders for my three levels of depth below:

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Now with the foreground level at the top of your list and the background level at the bottom, go ahead and make a copy of each level. Add the tag “RED” to one and “CYAN” to the other:

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Tweaking the channels

Open the layer options for each. If you’ve selected the copy which you’ve tagged “RED”, you’re going to want to uncheck the “blue” and “green” channel like this:

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Do the opposite for your “CYAN” layer:

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Shifting the Register

The way you’re able to achieve the illusion of depth is by tricking your eyes into converging where you want them to with the magical glasses. In short, the farther the red and cyan channels are from one another, the more 3D they appear. Whether they retract back or pop out at you depends on which direction the colors are shifted from one another:

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(NOTE: In the image above it appears that the colors are doing the opposite of what the text says. This is because the color channels will visually appear opposite of what they are)

Choosing Your Levels of Depth

For Noodle’s body (my background), I’ll select the move tool and nudge the CYAN channel twice to the LEFT, and the RED channel twice to the RIGHT:

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For the middle ground, I’ll nudge the CYAN channel 5 to the LEFT, and the RED channel 5 to the right. Lastly, for Noodle’s feet in the foreground, I’ll move the red and cyan channels the furthest apart, at 8 strokes in either direction:

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That is all there is to it. Crazy easy, huh??

Further Show Boating

I went ahead and drew an additional pile of lint and added it above the foreground over noodles feet for EXTREME depth. The cyan channel was moved ten hits to the left, and the red was moved ten to the right:

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Lets not leave the background begging. I splayed some empty taco wrappers in Noodle’s wake (all robots love tacos). To put these BEHIND noodle, I nudged the CYAN channel to the RIGHT (not the left this time) four or so taps, and the RED channel to the LEFT:

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You should see five separate levels, like a paper diorama or shadow box.

It’s completely up to you how your levels are parsed, so have fun with it! I will usually keep my glasses on and watch as I shift the channels to figure out what looks best.

From here, there are some fancier things you can do with the color channels to create angle effects, and even give your object sculptural dimension… but I haven’t figured out how yet. When I do I’ll surely share. Until then, expect to see some interesting anaglyph panels in my comic pages… because things are better in 3D.

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Noodle’s Gripping Toes

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For the past year, the four tawny stalks that NoodleFeet balances upon have remained common pool floaties, 2.5 inches in diameter, hollow, providing nothing more than the obvious support needed to function as legs… but Noodle longs for something greater.

GRIPPING TOES

When Noodle feels threatened, there is little he can do to defend himself. He can beep and perhaps canter away at a slow speed… but he is passive and therefore vulnerable. He isn’t equipped to handle the harrowing task of world domination::cough:: I mean, daily life. To fix this, I decided to add another layer of complexity to Noodle’s most important characteristic: RETRACTABLE GRIPPING TOES for his feet.

A while back, I came across a video of a rock drilling probe concept by JPL. This neat claw attaches itself to a surface by splaying out a hundred or so mini grappling hooks in all directions, which catch on the rock and help anchor the central cylindrical drill in place. I saw this and thought to myself… Noodle needs four of these, as shoes.

Like a good mother, I started brainstorming how to create said shoes. Originally I designed long claw-like toes that rotated out and back, sort of like switch-blades:

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They fit into Noodle’s original 2.5″ diameter noodle material, and even added stability… but there wasn’t enough area to actually install any motors to actuate things.

With a little bit of trial and error I rethought the whole design and came up with a solution that made use of 3D printed plastic’s flexibility. This new concept worked more like a cat’s retractable claw, and was similar to the drill from the video that had inspired me.

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Each individual toe (in red) would be forced through a curved internal channel and out the side via two thin bendable “tendons”:

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How The “Tendons” Work

An individual toe has two strands of tendon attached to the back. When the tendons are pulled in opposite directions, it causes the toe to torque upwards or downwards.

Why Do the Toes Need to Tilt Back and Forth?

If the toe goes straight back into the sheath the way it came out, it won’t unhook from whatever its currently gripping. Also, the tip of the toe will likely snag on the edge of the sheath on its way back in. To properly “detach”, the toe should arc upwards slightly as it retracts.

My first prototypes were designed to fit inside the 2.5” diameter noodle material. I was able to make it work, but it didn’t leave much room for the other future functions of his feet (his tongue):

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In the end I really needed more space to fit moving parts and hardware. Luckily I have a noodle fairy living with me (Mark) who harvested a larger piece of noodle stock from a pile in his garage. It is 4” in diameter and offers me much more room to play around with! Plus, fatter feet will give Noodle more stability!

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4″ PRO-TOE-TYPE 1.0

I tweaked my design for the new 4” material and printed my first prototype with a set of eight twinkling magenta toes (I haven’t ordered red filament yet).

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The reason for the tendons being slightly different in length is so that when they are fixed next to one another, it creates the needed outward/upward tilt:

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(so, this is what a toe flower looks like):

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I originally planned to connect both tendons of each toe to a common ring piece (above). When the ring is pushed downward towards the sheath, it would force all of the toes through their channels and outward at the same time. I also added a spring and guide rod (a long screw) below the ring to push it up again once downward force is removed:

The first complete 4″ prototype worked more or less… It certainly passed the “carpet snagging” test:

I learned right away that I couldn’t actually connect both tendons to the same ring and run it through the inside of the sheath without it binding (which now seems pretty obvious). The only way I could get the above demonstration to work was if I left the longer set of tendons sticking out freely, attached to nothing… so that the toe has no preset angle bias as it attempts to travel through the channel:

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However, in order to make it work at this point, all the little purple pieces sticking out had to be pressed down together at the same time first, or else everything would bind up and destroy itself.

4″ PRO-TOE-TYPE 2.0

Each tendon should be attached to its own independent ring…

…so that when the ring attached to the inner set of tendons is pressed downward, it causes the toes to tilt upward first as they begin to move down through the channels. Then the top ring hits the second ring below it which the outer tendons are attached to, and then the two travel together pushing the toes outward the rest of the way while maintaining the slight upward torque. This allows the toes to torque gradually as they travel through the channels, without binding up:

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This second prototype (above) is more or less final. I’m going to fine tune it from here, but something very much like this will end up as Noodle’s toe-feet.

The greatest part about this design is that I have nearly 36mm wide of space in the middle to fit his secondary foot function! … ( ? ) … Which is tasting if you didn’t know!

Stay tuned for my next post on the development of Noodle’s TASTING FEET; small silicon wedges that will salivate and lick:

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As I typed that it just occurred to me that I’m pretty much making a tube that can grip onto something while licking and drooling on it. -heh- He’ll have four of these devices. Noodle will be feared by other robots his age.

The only downside to these new complex feet is that I’ll likely have to learn to knit him a pair of custom socks for Christmas. (and I think I actually will)❤

Read about my past progress on NoodleFeet on my website!

More to come soon!

A Creeper with a Beeper

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There comes a time when it is more important to pour hours into your offspring’s Halloween costume than your own. This was the year that happened to me. As it was Noodle’s first Halloween, I decided to make him into a huggable creeper from Minecraft… so he could steal all the hearts with his cuddly adorableness.

I spent over a week hand sewing this little number together from soft fluffy fleece. It was surpassingly time-consuming to make each of the four cubic creeper feet booties that slipped snuggly over Noodle’s noodles. I designed them with clearance slots so they wouldn’t obstruct his ability to move. Noodle was the happiest…😉

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I took him out a little during the weekend to make sure he got proper exposure… but wasn’t quite ready to actually let him try to trick-or-treat on the street.

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His creeper feet were so wide that he was more or less safe from falling over, so I coded some quick creeper behaviors to animate him a bit. I wasn’t quite able to figure out the appropriate “creeper walk” motion, but I’ve decided to take another stab at it soon. Until then, you can see him wiggle here:

Throughout the month of October I had been preparing for the HackaDay SuperCon. I gave my first talk on designing kinetic things as characters. Noodle was my primary example, so I made sure to finish up a few of his functional quirks in time for the conference. One such feature was his beeper paired with the accelerometer sensor.

beeper + accelerometer = panic voice

This enables the behavior of calling out whenever noodle accidentally tips over. Kinda like a real baby! Every time you pick Noodle up and tip him in a direction past a certain degree, he beeps to indicate so:

I hope he doesn’t ever complain about his childhood sucking.

 

 

The Walking Noodle

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NoodleFeet finally took his first few wobbly steps a couple of weeks ago. I’m so happy to have finally wrapped my head around a walk cycle that works in spite of his obvious physical limitations; wobbly joints, weak motors, and top-heaviness.

Now that this milestone has been reached, he can no longer remain in his weak proto-form any longer. Noodle must grow to become the powerful little leg-hugging monster he was always destined to be. PHASE 2 BEGINS!!!

The most important upgrade I needed to make was to his brain. A custom PCB would replace the current Arduino and allow Noodle all of the other behaviors and abilities he would like to have, such as beeping, balancing, and of course… actually seeing!

With help, I tossed together a fully loaded board sporting an ATMEGA328 that houses the potential for all of those systems, and will also connect to a Raspberry Pi when I’m ready to dip my toes in OpenCV (Noodle’s ability to see and comprehend what he sees). Not only is this new Noodle Brain far more capable… it also looks sufficiently Noodle-some too. I completely embraced the “curve” trace tool. (It’s ramen-esque! – heh, get it?):

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Also about two weeks ago, I applied to give a talk at HackaDay’s first SuperConference in San Francisco. I proposed to tell all about my process designing and building mechanical forms that are inspired by character illustrations… (with Noodle being my primary example)! I’m excited to say that I was accepted. I have a new thing to look forward to this fall; it will be my first talk ever😉

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Any how, all the more reason to do some more upgrades to my Noodle child! Upon making my travel arrangements for San Fran, I also ordered a full set of high torque metal gear servos to replace the so-so resin ones that he’s made do with so far. This ultimately involved completely dismantling Noodle. Knowing he wouldn’t like this, I made sure to take out his old brain first:

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When my fabs arrived, I quickly soldered one up and installed it this week along with the Raspberry Pi (attached to the back of the brain):

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Noodle as he stands now, has the power to punch through walls with his feet, the ability to balance, beep, and eventually see- once the raspberry pi camera module arrives from SparkFun. Here’s a video of the first wave of upgrades taking place:

I can now return to honing his walk cycle… so that he’ll be a bit more mobile for the SuperCon next month. It’s quite possible I’ll still be replacing some of his plastic parts to remove more of his new-born wobble… but we’ll see.

( ! ) TEASER ( ! ) My next post will cover preparation for Noodle’s first Halloween ( ! ) TEASER ( ! )

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