noodleFeet : Goes Metal

I’ve relied on 3D printing for so many of my prototypes lately, and have finally come to a point where plastic won’t cut it any longer. I require metal, in this case aluminum. The likes of which I ordered from McMaster-Carr and received in the mail last week. I literally spent the majority of the weekend meditating over how to measure my cuts and holes… as for the first time in a long time, their accuracy and placement was entirely up to me and my calipers, not some Cartesian goo plotter as I’m so spoiled by…

While everyone was downing beer and watching the Stuperbowl, I was in the garage with Mark playing with his father’s ancient drill press. He eyeballed one axis, I checked it against the other, and we were able to punch the 24 holes needed on the four pieces of aluminum tubing which would soon be noodleFeet’s strong new legs.

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As you can see, I printed out little strips of paper with lines where holes needed to be drilled. It only occurred to us immediately after we finished how much easier this would have been if we had 3D printed a jig for drilling the holes instead… So alas, 3D printing could have potentially saved the day. Thoughtful or not… we did a pretty good job.

Once the aluminum femur was assembled, I realized I was going to need stronger springs. These flour legs are going to support eight motors, a board, and eyeballs; a decent amount of weight:

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The calf bit is essentially a bone buried within the noodle material. However, with my last prototype, the bone kept sliding out the clearance slot I cut in the noodle. So to remedy this I made these little braces that look like pac-man heads… which keep the bone centered within the tube and prevent it from popping out where it isn’t suppose to:

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The rare and beautiful white noodle was harvested by Mark from the great noodle beast itself. I cut the pieces to length with a Japanese saw and carved the appropriate clearance slots so that the legs can fold in on themselves like they should:

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The new servo and leg bracket is THICK. It is complete with roller bearings spaced a decent amount apart vertically to keep the intersecting pipe from wobbling around (as with my first prototype):

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The eight roller bearings hold the pipes perfectly parallel to one another and allow them to turn nice and smoothly. I also added stronger springs to tension the legs outward, so the new prototype is a little monster. Although… he looks sort of helpless up-side-down on my bench right now:

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At this point, Feet is nothing but a pile of feet. He needs eyes, and that is exactly what I’m going to do next… and maybe a brain. Over this weekend I’ll likely hook an Arduino up to his servos and figure out a walking pattern too.

I honestly have no idea what it’ll look like when he walks, but I’m hoping due to the springs counterbalancing his weight that he’ll have a little bit of a bounce. That’d be cute.

I also don’t know if he’ll be able to balance himself when he walks. Once summer happens and the noodle is less rare, I will go harvest some 4″ stock (in neon yellow) from Walmart and cut my prototype some new fat feet. That way he makes more contact with the ground and is less like to fall. Like training feet.

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Hopefully by my next update he’ll be moving some… like a robot aught to. Cheers!

noodleFeet : Proof of Concept

Last week I started building a new robot who I’m calling noodleFeet! He is essentially a spider-type walker who will locate nearby legs, approach and then lean on them. In addition to having that specific purpose, he needs to look a particular way. I’ve been drawing him in the margin of my notes for weeks now, so he’s become something of a character to me:

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In order to make a robot that does these things, I need to design the mechanism itself and how it will be attached to the motors driving the motion (challenging and fun). At the same time I need to learn about Open CV and figure out how to make a computer recognize all the different shapes that legs come in. This will involve a camera and some coding (hard and not fun). With these two elements combined, I’ll eventually end up with a leg hugger…… or leaner. I’ll talk about the details of those steps when I get to them.

To get started, my challenge for the weekend was to solve how to make the legs of the robot itself. I wanted to come up with a reverse knee-joint capable of folding into a single-stick. This took about three of four revisions to get right, at which point I went on to 3D print four copies for the proof of concept.

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The proof of concept is nothing more than a rough servo bracket that holds all of the motors in place at the point where the four legs attach to them. With these parts alone I was able to construct something that looks surprisingly already very much like the end product I’m aiming to create. It still isn’t a working prototype however. For this, my concerns were mainly measurement and proportion:

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I’ve gotten away with using 3D printed parts on many of my projects, but for this one plastic isn’t going to cut it. Even though the design is mechanically sound (I believe) and I could have wired some servo motors up to see some motion, the flimsy plastic legs don’t seem like they’d be able to support the combined weight of the motors… so I didn’t. Because of that, the next step is to replace the crucial parts that support the most weight with aluminum pieces. So I’ve gone ahead and ordered some hollow pipe and bearings for a more sturdy, motion-ready second prototype. In fact… the materials arrived today, so it’s a good thing I got documenting this out of the way!

Hopefully with my next post I’ll have video of noodleFeet making his first steps… or wiggles. You can see him in this illustration I recently drew to the right of our car:

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mechaFeet : Prototyping with Algodoo

I had to wait this week for the sensors I ordered to come in the mail before I continued progress on Jelly. With Jelly on hold, I couldn’t save myself from starting on yet another project idea I’ve had fermenting in my mind for a while now. It involves building a pair of mechanical chicken (or raptor) legs that can stride in sync with one another; both legs driven by the same moving part. The thing that initially inspired me to make a mechaChicken was this quirky and utterly gorgeous mechanical hand ostrich thing by Tim Lewis called “Pony” (that and all the stupid bipedal robotic dinosaurs that are in the stores for Christmas this season).

My problem is that I don’t have a whole lot of experience with big kid mechanical motion, so it took a lot of meditating on before I even got started.

Two nights ago, I laid in bed and mused over parallelograms. When I woke up, my mind was running an animation loop that I must have seen somewhere at some point in my life. In any case I understood what sort of shape I needed to build to get the movement I wanted. So, I rushed to the closest scrap of paper and drew it before the idea escaped:

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After I made the doodle I played geometry Sudoku with the lengths of the pieces. Once I was satisfied with my own logic, I designed the segments in CAD and printed the eight individual bits to test. I eagerly screwed them together to find that the ‘mechanical leg’ moved EXACTLY like I thought it should… the proportions needed to be tweaked a bit, but it worked:

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This wasn’t good enough in itself though. Now I had to figure out how to drive the leg in order to execute the motion correctly (which isn’t as easy as you’d think). After spiral-graphing the top of the ‘thigh’ in motion by manipulating the ‘foot’ of the piece, I saw that the thigh tendons were arching in circles, so I knew I needed to create a wheel of some sort… which I did, but it sucked:

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Sucky wheel sucked because I didn’t take into account that the tendon piece of the leg would need to clear past the center of the hub, flush with the wheel itself. Of course, I had a screw mounting the wheel in place, so the head of that said screw got in the way… ruining my night. Easily remedied… but… Bleeeeeeeh very fussing. so much tedious.

Around now, Mark suggested that there ought to be some sort of 2D motion simulation software out there in the ether that I could use to test my ideas. I was starting to wonder that too… as I was minutes away from hopping on Little Big Planet to make use of their physics tools, tehe.

Last night, after some hunting, I found Algodoo. What a wonderful discovery… It allows you to draw out (literally) your arms, connect the joints with screws and drive them with motors, just like life but without the toil of actually building the prototype. What do I mean? I made this in about 5 minutes and it gave me the exact same feedback:

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In my video I give a brief introduction to the software while explaining how to make my chicken leg. As of right now, I still haven’t figured out what kind of motion will properly drive it, but I’m well on my way to getting there (without wasting PLA!)

My New jellyBot Prototype, Racky

 

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About a year ago I started building a robotic jellyfish inspired by Festo’s submergible AquaJelly. I was just beginning to figure out how to get the thing moving when I got sidetracked with the prospect of launching a Kickstarter campaign and dropped the project cold. During this whole long year while I’ve been fulfilling the said Kickstarter, this poor jelly prototype (“Boney”) has watched silently from a distant shelf in the workroom, begging me to pick it up again. Finally this weekend I was able to spend some time giving the old parts a makeover… in yellow.

I added a nice gentle curve to the moving pieces, taking after the design of its cousins, the delta robots :

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Last year I decided to use a rack and pinion to get the parts to move in leu of Festo’s fancy linear actuator that they showcase in their model. Never having used, let alone designed a working rack and pinion before, this took some fussing about to get just right. The two servo motors I chose to drive the jelly’s motion are attached to a fixed central core of steel rods which two separate radial disks glide up down upon. All of the jelly’s flowing arms will be attached to the elbow of the mechanical arms, and as the disks these arms are attached to move back and forth, towards and away from each other, a sort of circular pumping motion is made.

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The two rack and pinion sets are in place now, each on opposite sides from one another moving different pieces in opposite directions. The rack passes through a slot in the opposing central disk, allowing it a deeper breadth of motion as well as keeping it in place. The only thing I seem to be missing at this point is a tensioner to press the rack against the gear on the driveshaft of the motor, so I have plans to whip one up later tonight.

On my old prototype, I used plain long strips of sheet ABS as stand ins for the jelly’s long flowing arms. They worked more or less, but weren’t very nice to look at :

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For this rendition of the bot, Mark offered me some of his old shelf liners from the garage to use. These happened to be an awesome semitransparent gray that matches the printed parts of the jelly perfectly! I decided on an elongated spade shape for the tendrils this time :

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These pieces connect at one end to a small ring, creating the umbrella of the jelly (the delta robots watch from the side in aw…) :

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The center of the umbrella mounts to the top portion of the drive shaft with a fancy pants shape sandwiching it in place like so :

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Once I design my tensioner for the rack and pinion and finish printing and attaching the rest of the jelly’s small arms (all of this depending on whether or not my printer stops being a butt) I can then start working on some test code to get the thing moving! I have no idea really if my design will work at all… I’ll just have to wait and see. For now though, it’s getting acquainted with all of its brothers and sisters in the war room. =]

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My next post will likely be about whether or not I succeeded mechanically in getting the jelly to do what its supposed to. Cheers!

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Robot Army : Shipping at Last

Much to my dismay… I woke up last week to find that it was September. While I struggle to remember where the summer went, I think I’ll make myself a cup of chai and recap whats been going on in the past month or so.

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The most exciting thing to take place was our dry run at SYN Shop. We invited a small number of people who preordered kits back in February to be the first to pick up their newly adopted robots in exchange for testing out our instructions. Everything went smoothy, however I’m still sitting here editing the instructions… and I’m tired of looking at them. ::shakes fist:: As much as I thought I had boiled down the steps… I need to expand several of them out even more to make absolute sure that people can’t skip or misread them.

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It’s taxing >.< I definitely need to do a little research next time before I dive into producing a visual guide to see if there is a recommended method for capturing images at consistent perspective views. I ended up having a massive CAD document where all of the steps are positioned with a zillion copies of all the molded parts… which works, but there is so much now that it’s confusing and difficult to sort through.

The last thing to finish off before we began boxing things was the software (of course). We figure a large percentage of the people who bought our kit will never bother to update or reflash the code on the brain, so we want to make sure it’s exceptional. For the entertainment of those who will only ever run their delta in auto mode, each DIP switch setting will contain a different emotion… happy, sad, caffeinated, and kill (yes, “kill” is an emotion if you’re a robot). Programming a delta robot to emote is a huge challenge though, especially when you only have three degrees of motion to work with. Mark and I have been mulling over the code with “Testie” or faithful test delta, for a few hours every day trying to figure out the nuance of each; a matter of tailoring subtlety.

We finalized the code on Saturday… and by the end of yesterday had the first 50 boards burnt, bagged, and added to the boxes with all the other things.

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So yeah… the master bedroom has been turned into our mailroom (it is under renovation anyhow). All of the individual assets come together here and are getting sealed up with shipping tape at last!!!

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After we push out the first 50 kits, it’s a matter of rinsing and repeating the boxing processes four more times…! Not too bad!

The one thing that might slow us down a little (because there is always something) is that Mark has been called to work every day this week due to some major changes taking place in areas where he’s needed. This leaves me alone finishing off the last of it all : shipping labels, bubble wrapping, and giving the website a good makeover.

I can’t possibly express in writing how excited I am to finally be sending the kids out into the world. I’ve been suffering from this weird form of anxiety lately… which stems from having all this creative energy, but forcing myself not to focus it on anything because of all the work we’ve needed to do… it’s like constipation. I am really glad that we did the Kickstarter, but man will it be nice to have my free time back to develop other projects.

Lesson learned : Kickstarter is a great way to gain exposure and raise money to bring an idea into the world… BUT, however long you believe its going to take to reach fulfillment (even if you really REALLY plan) expect for it to take twice as long. The last 10% turns out being the last 90% of it all… you just don’t know it yet. Things that you write off in your mind as a non-issue expand out into several bullet points worth of extra things to manage or take care of. Don’t think for a moment that “All we have to do is…” or “It won’t take that long to…” – Those things require attention and energy too. It’s all a gigantic sacrifice, as fulfillment will prevent you from perusing other ventures. As a creative person with a mind going a zillion miles an hour – you will spin out… like me! ::spins::

That is my wisdom to pass on. Again, SO glad I have done it – but SO happy for it to be nearly over.

Robot Army : Production Mode + Lime Light

Mark and I are FACTORY

Now that the hype and excitement of Maker Faire has passed, we’ve buckled down and gone headlong into Fulfillment mode. Last week we started bagging things, like steel balls and hardware :

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The acrylic base pieces are in a cue to be fabricated, and our Rev. E brain boards will be sent in sometime this week once we verify that these- yes THESE are the final rendition to be included in the kit. Our friend Andrew from SYN Shop is also helping us mass produce our parts on his fleet of 3D printers.

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The production of the robot parts is what will potentially push shipment back the most. Luckily though, Andrew also taught us how to make use of our second extruder so that we can print the same amount of parts in half the time. Since we’re getting twice as many parts in a day as we were before, we might just make up some time!

Oh yeah, 930 servos… O_O

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Making 250 kits ourselves isn’t too much stress. We can handle doing mostly everything on our own and as a result have complete control over the whole process to assure quality. (behold Mark’s adorable kitting notes) :

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Sadly though since we’re going to be busy putting stuff together, we won’t have much time to build any more of our own robots or work on development of our installation for a bit. The kids will have to hold tight just a little longer before we get them doing the cool stuff they were meant to do. Hopefully seeing us ship their siblings away in boxes doesn’t traumatize them too much.

In some less than spectacular news, it looks like we more than likely won’t be showing Light Play off at DefCon this year. This might just be a blessing in disguise, so I’m not too poopie-faced about it. On the bright side, we think we’ll be making another Silicon Valley pilgrimage with the deltas in November for “Hackers”, which is supposed to be a weekend-long retreat in the hills where a small amount of tech-savvy avant-garde meet for a con that has the show-and-tell aspects of Maker Faire with the mystique of DefCon. Mark and his friend Tsutomu have gone many times. They both say I’ll love it, so hopefully it works out that I’m able to make this year my first. I’m dying to discover the elite maker-innovator mecca…!

Down Town Podcast

So it’s been a couple of months since the kickstarter ended and we’re starting to get a little bit of press at last! Upon returning from Maker Faire, Mark and I were featured on the Downtown Podcast which showcases local hardware startups and other cool things going on in Las Vegas. We had a blast joking around with a beer in hand on camera. Our interview turned our pretty good. I’m happy to say we’re getting the swing of explaining our project on the fly! This appearance also lead to another write-up the following week…

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#VegasTech wrote probably the most detailed, organized, and properly cited article anyone has done about our project yet : Robot Army. I’m happy to know that they’ll also be doing a writeup on SYN Shop too in the near future! Our Hackerspace needs the push right now!

Robot Army : Maker Faire

Mark and I rolled into Vegas yesterday right before the sun started to bow out of the sky. We stopped at Chipotle and picked up some over-stuffed puppy bags to push into our faces with beer upon finally returning to the house we left in pieces a week earlier. It felt like we had survived the apocalypse. After that ice-cold Carona we untethered everything from the clump in the back of Mark’s Kia and began dragging things into the house where they belonged. Once all three pallets of robots made it onto the table we both collapsed on the couch and giggled in delirious exhaustion.

Maker Faire was exactly like it was last year; bursting with stimuli. The visuals were nonstop, even being trapped in our booth the whole time… which was right next to the bleeding stage Arc Attack performs on. I don’t care for tesla coils. They’re cool, but I don’t trust the continuity of physics enough to be so close to man-made lightning. I even told the Arc Attack guy that, not realizing he was the Arc Attack guy. Oops. In any case… none of our kids got zapped. The show didn’t interfere with our installation. I didn’t die. So I guess I’m over my phobia. Heh.

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The faire in itself was grueling. It had all of the monotony of booth duty at a trade show compounded with the claustrophobic *loud* nature of a rock concert. We had to invest in hearing protection just to get through the hourly performances, which was really just an excuse to buy cool yellow and grey Ryobi earphones. These came in handy for sneaking a sample of what people were whispering to one another around our booth. The headphones canceled out loud sound yet amplified near-by speech with the tiny microphones mounted on their front; great for ease dropping.

I’m ecstatic to report that setup went smoothly and we had no major failures. I had to get over the idea of other people controlling my babies… and again like at the Mini Maker Faire in Vegas, the small children couldn’t help from waving their hands around like seizuring addicts to see the robots whip around at neck-braking speed. In spite of all the jarring back and forth, they held up just fine, and by the second day I stopped being an obsessive mother and finally just let go.

Make posted a nice little article about the installation on their main page right before the show… I even got interviewed real quick by one of their editors which resulted in a video. Sweet!

After the lights turned back on at the end of the day we got to mingle with the other makers at the show. Mark and I met fellow inventors as well as some people who we’ve been in contact with through email since the launch of our Kickstarter. We finally got to hob-knob with the OSH Park crew, who we exchanged swag with and were promoting like hell in our booth for all the fantastic work they’ve done fabricating our boards. I saw some people I met from last year’s “bring a hack” dinner who were exhibiting with a laser shooting gallery. I also met a fellow kinetic artist whose area of interest is in drawing machines, the like of which I’ve been fascinated with since my early days in tech. I found a video this morning featuring Dan and his super sharp “Makelangelo” here :

All and all this was an amazing experience. We learned a lot and will likely change the format of our presentation as a result. The army will keep growing and the installation will naturally evolve over time.

Mark and I agreed not to set foot inside the war room until Monday… maybe even Tuesday… so until then I think I’m going to indulge in some frivolous Team Fortress 2. For those who we met this weekend, it was a pleasure making all these awesome memories with you. I hope to see you all soon enough (maybe at Defcon).