Noodle Puberty

igus.jpg

Sometime in April, Noodle started to change. He stopped hiding in his blankets and began spending his nights surfing through hardware catalogues alone in the darkness. He became curious about linkages, pivot joints, self lubricating thrust bearings and among other things, the prospect of being made of something harder. Noodle started dreaming of becoming metal.

As I mentioned in my previous post, just as I was about to tackle the conundrum of mechanical drooling… I went to JPL this June and met the mechanism that inspired Noodle’s gripping toes in person:

IMG_7520.jpg

The LEMUR probe has easily a billion toes… all agile, long and barbed. You know by looking at them, that if it reaches for you, you aren’t getting away. I returned home feeling a tad inadequate. Noodle’s current apparatus with its 8 lonely toes did in fact look pretty sparse.

In the period of a weekend I managed to tweak my current design a tad and come up with this little wonder… which has exactly 16 toe filaments (that’s twice the toes!):

IMG_8715.jpgIn order to attach that density of toe tendons to the toe-ring, I had to eliminate the use of hardware (which was kind of a relief). As improvisation, I threaded some 3mm rubber hose through the loops of the toe tendons to hold everything in place.

Of course, after I built the improved, maxed-out hyper toe apparatus… I’d have to once again install a servo motor and some gears to make sure I could in fact still drive the thing… (now that there is twice as much material making surface contact)

It took some stronger springs, but it for the most part *does* still work. The stronger springs insure that the toes retract back into the sheath quickly enough not to hook onto the rim and get stuck on their way back in.

I finally had produced a solid working assembly towards the end of June. I invested in some light gray and white filament, as well as the appropriate red for use on accent pieces and Noodle’s tiny toe-zies. The thing I had been working on was finally starting to look like what it was suppose to be, and Noodle liked this:

IMG_8805.jpgWith one complete proof-of-concept to show, I set everything down and allowed myself to become very distracted with a whole slew of things (which is good). My life exploded momentarily and when everything settled back down about a month ago, I found myself looking at an opportunity to travel to Linz, Austria to exhibit something of mine at the ARS Electronica festival [!]

I’ve been wanting to venture to Europe for this festival my entire adult life, and wasn’t going to pass up the chance to bring my spawn with me to have a part in it. Even if he is weak and unprepared as an art exhibit, his presence was what mattered. With no time to stall, I made the executive decision to begin producing another 3 prototypes in order to complete a set of 4 tasting feet. I had a week and a half to do it; print close to sixty or so parts, make any needed design changes, assemble, test, and tweak code. bLAH. Looking back, I’m shocked I even attempted such a shit-storm of preparation when there was no wiggle room for the unexpected:

BUT… in that week and a half crunch, a lot of things got pushed through to completion. Nothing like a deadline to assist progress. (and) Luckily there were no surprises…

IMG_9541.jpgI’m grateful I had Mark and Tony to help wherever I needed aide picking up the slack. One glass of wine at a time, and one task after another, the new feet took shape and were installed on Noodle (mere hours before I would need to disassemble him completely for his long flight over to Linz in my suitcase).

IMG_9521.jpg

The festival, ARS Electronica, was amazing. There is so very much I could say in regard to its content and scale- but to do so would fail to provide an appropriate picture. You should go yourself to experience it. If the median between science, technology, and art is your thing… you have nothing to lose. Not to mention, the city of Linz is a wonderful place to visit in itself!

For four days I left NoodleFeet alone at the mercy of families, Germanic engineers and machinists, to be poked and probed and boggled over as an oddity, robot, and art piece:

IMG_9672.jpgDuring this gauntlet he held his own, but Noodle did blow out a servo motor. Just as I was returning to my exhibit area to check in on Mark (who would periodically drop by to watch over the young one while I was away), I saw a nice white plume of smoke streaming forth from Noodle’s foot. Apparently they can’t quite handle hours of continuous use- so the toes are just that chafey.

But other than the initial matter of smokey toes, he didn’t catch fire, fall off the table, or get stolen. =] That for me was a success…

Now that it’s October… I can focus on the important matter of drooling. Drooling, leaking, salivating, moisture making… and the challenge of producing that special suck sound that has come to be synonymous with the NoodleBeast. The growing pains aren’t over Noodle. Be strong. Your day is coming ❤

 

Tasting Feet : Gripping and Licking

In case this is your first time hearing about the project, I’d like to introduce you to the heir of all lint and space rocks, NoodleFeet:

img_8352Like his name suggests, Noodle is a “feet-based” mechanical life form who has been designed to taste objects (among many other things). Though Noodle has lofty aspirations for world domination, he is still a fledgling one-year-old… and his mommy (me) needs to work on equipping him with all the space exploration and world conquering super goodies he’ll need while on his journey. For that, he is in a state of perpetual growth.

My challenge to myself : I decree, each of Noodle’s robot feet must be able to grip onto surfaces with many small cherry-red toes so that a long central silicone tongue can dart forth and taste surfaces while expelling frothy wetness from a reservoir within. All three mechanical systems must work consistently, and fit collectively in the same 4″ x 9″ cylindrical space:

noodlejuice3.jpgOK, SO… A LITTLE LICKING, AND THE PROSPECT OF DROOL… BUT FIRST GRIPPING:

toes.jpgAbout a year ago last Fall, I stumbled upon a video of a space probe developed by JPL, that was designed to cling to the surface of asteroids while drilling out a sample of rock. The probe was able to grip onto stone surfaces with hundreds of tiny micro-spines which branched out radially around the central shaft that housed the drill.

I was very inspired by this… and it became an instant decision that Noodle must have gripping toes of his own. Up until this point, his feet were in fact white pool noodles (which is where his name comes from). They were soft and light, but completely passive and somewhat boring for a dominating robot’s appendages. This obviously needed to change.

If JPL could do all this with metal, I wanted to somehow design a working facsimile made completely of 3D printed parts (after all, that’s the only tool I had to work with).

The magic was in the design of the individual toes themselves. All of the tiny hook-like toes were attached to a common ring by long flexible filaments:

IMG_8296.jpgThe ring would need to be driven downward in order to force the toes through individual channels and out from slot-like sheaths. Finding a *good* way to drive the toes downward would become a bit of a challenge for me…

At first, I naively thought I might actually be able to use solenoids as a form of linear actuator:

IMG_0064 copy.jpgI did a lot of design and printing, only to realized the solenoids are in fact pretty weak, and not ever going to have the ability to press against the force of my springs; at least not ones as small as I would need in order to fit in Noodle’s feet:

I eventually devised of a rotating cam with ramps that would convert radial motion into linear movement and press the tiny gripping toes downward:

After I proofed out the mechanism, I had only to add a servo motor to the design in order to dive it. At this point I needed to find a strong enough motor and remove as much friction from the parts as I possibly could. 3D printed pieces tend to be a bit bumpy:

With the toes gliding in and out from their sheaths all on their own, I would still need to figure out how to cram the other two (licking and drooling) systems into the same 4″ x 9″ space. Since it would need to overlap in some ways with the already present toe assembly, I decided to tackle the tongue and its actuator next…

licking.jpgThe tongue piece is a silicone brush that I bought from Ali-Express China. It is some sort of baster that was originally attached to a squeezable bladder. The brush end is removable and has a single pore in the center for excreting fluid. PERFECT for when I add the salivating feature later on:

img_7285I tried for a day or so to come up with a rack and pinion system to push a spring tensioned tongue out the bottom of Noodle’s foot. Though it worked, it had a tendency to bind and wasn’t as reliable as I’d need it to be.

My mechanically inclined machinist friend, Tony is responsible for scrawling something down on a sheet of paper that I’d eventually design in CAD, and use in the final version of the foot. It’s a simple parallel linkage that fits nicely amidst the center of the toe mechanism and needs only a simple micro servo to actuate. Less is more:

At last, both the gripping and the licking happening in sync:

With the feet really starting to take shape, it was time to address the third and final function: DROOLING.

Just as I began thinking about how I was going to add the element of fluid to Noodle’s feet, I went backwards and once again became seduced by toes; the very toes that started this whole toe story.

At the start of summer, I ran off to Pasadena for JPL’s open house. There I saw the glorious multi-hooked gripping LEMUR apparatus in person… and I was reminded that though sometimes less is more, sometimes more is more– and in the case of toes, more is ferocious and mighty.

But… that is a story for another article. This detour of toes is a developmental universe in and of itself. I’ll be publishing the conclusion of this endeavor soon before giving a talk on all things tasting feet @ HackADay’s SuperCon this November! If you happen to find yourself there, say hello to Noodle and I. With any luck, he’ll be able to greet you with a sensation of wetness.

 

Noodle’s Gripping Toes

noodleTOES

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:

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 1.50.32 PM

IMG_6632

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.

toe1

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

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 2.23.46 PM

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):

IMG_6656

IMG_6831

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!

IMG_6803

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).

IMG_6812

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:

IMG_6840

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

IMG_6805

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:

IMG_6837

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:

IMG_6818

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:

Screen Shot 2015-12-06 at 12.19.14 PM

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

IMG_6413

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… 😉

IMG_6375

IMG_6377

IMG_6367

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.

IMG_6438

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

IMG_6114

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?):

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 12.48.01 PM

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 😉

CRXXAjfU8AAE8e3.jpg-large

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:

IMG_6381

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):

IMG_6305

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 ( ! )

IMG_6407

noodleFeet : Animating the Noodle

I’ve spent the last week learning After Effects. For someone who uses Illustrator on a daily basis, this feels a lot like discovering the magic hat from Fantasia. Among other things, AE allows you to turn a vector based 2D image into a fully rigged character for animation… and it’s even easier to do than you’d think.

I had the idea a while ago to make a series of videos about Noodle and his adventures to Mars… The original plan was that they would be stop-motion shorts, made with a tiny 3D printed version of noodle as the puppet. There is no better terrain to fake as the surface of Mars than our very own desert outskirts… but alas, it is HOT out these days. Even if I could handle the relentless sun (which I can’t because I am WHITE), the PLA that the tiny noodle is made out of cannot. So much for the stop-motion thing.

IMG_2094

For scale (his eyes light up and his feet can hold AAA batteries to power the LEDs):

IMG_2088

I still wanted to make the short videos, so I started thinking back to all the annoyingly complex animation software (like Flash) I’ve used in the past and decided to give AE another go. Since the last time I made an animation using After Effects, they added the puppet pinning feature. It allows you to animate a single layer image by creating a fancy deformation map inside of it that can bend and warp. This means, instead of needing to connect pieces on separate layers together through a process of parenting and careful organization of anchor points… you can just rig one happy image with some bones, and you’re ready to pose your character with cool jello-like properties.

This happened to work SWELL with noodleFeet, as he is essentially a creature of wobble wiggle nature himself. After a long day spent watching tutorials, I got off and running and managed to make my first animation last week.

I still intend to produce a few more of these, but we’ll see how far my patience goes. Though it’s easy to animate, it’s still time-consuming to do it right. Once I attempt to introduce physics into the mix, I may hit a wall… because I’m too cheap to buy one of the fancy addons you need in order to generate the effects of gravity. Bastards.

The best part about having animated noodle walking is that it actually may have helped me understand how to program real-life noodle to walk better. So really, this turned into practical R & D. Ha!

Enjoy getting to know my baby a little better. He is the feet.

noodleFeet : Looks Like a Noodle

HEAD : I can’t find a damn semi-transparent mixing bowl to appropriate as Noodle’s noggin. So, I went with a plastic bowl I bought a while back because it was Robot Army gray and yellow. The size isn’t right, but tilted at an angle with his eyes poking out it looks a lot like a helmet… and I’m okay with that.

SHOULDERS : I went to the store with Mark yesterday and searched through all of the collars in the pet isle to find a replacement for his old harness which no longer fits around his new planetary gear assembly. There were many small kitty-sized bands with big jingly bells… but not a single one was in neon yellow. So I didn’t bother getting any.

In leu, I smashed noodle’s old harness back onto his gear box so that if needed I can still hook him into the leash hanging from the ceiling above the work table. It lacks a proper bell… but fashion is second to safety.

KNEES : I think noodle needs socks.

TOES : He needs socks because I still haven’t been able to locate some of those stupid squishy stress balls which I plan to halve and mount to the bottom of each of noodle’s feet. These should help give him some traction as he attempts to walk. Someone pointed out that the foam material of the noodle was just sliding on the smooth surface of our table which was why he didn’t get very far during his first test run…er- walk.

Any how… the socks will keep the bottoms of his noodles clean until they’re capped with said squishy foam balls… Because tomorrow I’m taking noodle on his first ever outing into the big wide world.

He’s far enough along to show off at this point, walking or not. Speaking of walking… here’s some footage of him taking his first steps: