Robot Army : All Systems GO!

Ok, ok… I’m done lamenting about the late nights. They work… I’m happy. Time for a beer and some heavy hype building. Share this with your friends and stop by our booth at Maker Faire if you plan to be there. =] Robot Army FTW

Elemental Mood Lighting : Just Add Love

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We probably shouldn’t have taken on this side project amidst all the pressure to prepare on time for our display at Maker Faire, however I’m glad we have this awesome life relic to show for it!

Since my last update, I took the four complete 3D printed stones and gave their surface a rather sharp makeover. All those years in art school came in handy again. It surprises me just how many techies have never heard of gesso … so I’m tapping this apparent art secret for the sake of painting on an otherwise stubborn surface. ABS will take acrylic paint, however instead of priming it with anything you might get from Home Depot in the paint section… you can go to Blick and grab a pint of clear gesso (canvas primer). It may be a little more expensive, but it’s less volatile, doesn’t have any fumes, and has the best tooth when it dries for painting on… you’ll be thankful you spent the extra money.

So, I gessoed my rocks… and painted them over with a nice solid undercoat of dark muddy brown. The lighter color was dry brushed on top with a healthy amount of baby powder added to the paint to give it a matte, chunky appearance when it dried. The final texture is pretty sharp :

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After they were polished up, it was time to get them ready to fulfill their purpose. We ended up using an old revision of the board we designed for our delta robot Kickstarter kit as the brain to drive the LEDs and servos. They have an ATMega 328 on board, so we used the Arduino platform to upload our code onto them (This is Rev A of our delta brain from last year) :

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Since there is only one input for a single RGB LED we had to make some Y cables so that all three LEDs could be powered in parallel :

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guts splayed out :

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Also, the easiest and best way I’ve found to make excellent light diffusers is to go to the Container Store (or some place that has lots of plastic boxes for cheep) and buy something that has a frosted appearance. I found some boxes for under a dollar a piece with perfectly flat lids that I cut triangles into for the tops of these stones :

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Here is what the LED tiles inside look like again :

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Mark got some basic code on the brains to make them do :

As soon as they were ready we rushed to the living room and set up an altar around the sofa! It was late, but we wanted to test out how they worked as ‘mood lights’. Mark programmed the LEDs to pulse slowly… which was a cool effect because the overall color ambiance of the room would shift slightly as they all faded in and out at random intervals. I am pleased to report they definitely serve their purpose well! Right now each is powered with their own wall wart, but once we switch those out with battery packs they will become permanent fixtures in the living room!

Just add love…

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So… I’d call the mood lighting project a success, however like all projects there are some things we learned along the way and would improve if we had to do it all over…

Here is what we’d do better :

Mark and I plan on making the STLs for these available on our website so that anyone can potentially use up an entire role of filament and make their own set of stones too! Before we do that, we want to optimize the design so that they can be printed in fewer pieces giving them a more seamless appearance in the end. The top portion needs to be removable so that the mechanical bits can be installed, so we’ll explore a more aesthetically pleasing way to achieve both in the future.

The wedge pieces are a tad too snug in their slots now that they’re painted. As such, the little servos we used don’t have quite enough torque to push them out like they need to… so we’ll tweak that as well.

The segments of our next revision should lock together somehow, eliminating the need for foam core inside as structural support.

I think other than some minor tweaks in proportion, that’s it. If you do want to print your own, the natural color filament really did work out nicely when painted over. Do keep in mind that we used up an entire role for the first three stones (and we printed on the lowest setting with 10% infill!) >.<

In addition… we want to have the stones active with sensors (instead of an on and off switch) so that they can truly be as theatrical as in the movie. We were thinking of using a collection off different types to detect an approximation of their corresponding element (you know… it would be unwise to set the fire stone on fire and all). We’re open to suggestions! Right now we’re pondering on anything from moisture seniors, photo resistors, pressor sensors, and those nifty magnetic sensors… =D

I think tonight we’ll watch the Fifth Element amidst our new life saving, light-giving stones of glowing awesomeness… I’ve seen the movie 409567209384760587217348 times, but it’ll feel a bit cooler now because I have this sense of ownership that I didn’t before. =]

Thanks for following our project! Show us yours if you decide to make them. We’d love to see improvements to our design!

Back to pooping out delta robots,

-Sarah & Mark

 

Robot Army : Las Vegas Mini Maker Faire

I started composing an update a week ago… and never finished it. Now Mini Maker Faire is over. Oh well.

In any case… back then everything felt like it was falling apart. I wrote venting about how terrified, annoyed and disappointed I was that things wouldn’t just go the way they were suppose to. As we encountered one complication after another, each bump yielded an even better solution than what we were originally planning.

Long story short, all is going great again. Better in fact. We had an excellent Mini Maker Faire on Saturday. All of our friends and local backers came to see our kids perform and talk to us about our maniacal future schemes. Though we brought a soldering station and work lamp just in case an all systems failure occurred… nothing went wrong. Everything just worked…. the whole time (aside from the stupid Processing app crashing every now and then).

I could break it down in words and give you a play by play, but we decided to film it instead. So here’s a video to sum it all up :

Now that that’s over, time to start getting things ready for the real deal in San Mateo next month. We had originally planned on bringing 60 deltas with us to display (six pallets worth), but after experiencing the set up for just one with all the work it took to maintain them… Mark and I decided to lower that number to 30. This amount will fit in his Kia! So no mess with trailers and the like! We can’t wait! =]

Oh yeah… we ordered ALL of our servo motors today… for the kits and our installation. That’s 1000 servos….. =O Also, the largest purchase I’ve ever made in my life. Fun times. It’s happening!! The yellow onslaught is coming!

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Robot Army : Our First Rush

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There were some experiences involved with launching a Kickstarter that I had been heavily anticipating. The most obvious of which being the excitement that follows your first big rush of backers. – Sort of like Christmas, but in the form of a global affirmation that your ideas are liked, understood, and that there is a place in the world for people who dare to seize their dreams.

Though Mark and I were off to a respectable start… our momentum pittered out rather quickly and for a good day and a half we crawled through six or seven percent. It was agonizing. Maybe we were expecting too much. Since we haven’t yet been picked up by any major feeds, its been a matter of sitting in front of the laptop every morning and kindly reminding/begging people to post about our project and help us get the word out.

After blasting yet another batch of such emails to a whole bucket of contacts, I sprawled out on the couch and dozed off. It was a nap of acceptance and release. At some point, Mark walked into the living room and yelled at me for sleeping. He sat down next to me quietly and gave me a hug, feeling something similar- which I can’t really define. A moment later I picked up my phone and checked to see how long I had been out, to find that I had an endless list of push notifications informing us that we had new backers.

Long story short… I suppose Kickstarter featured our project, and once this happened we started getting traffic in a big way. We went from 37% to 76% by the end of the day… which is huge! It’s still sort of funny that this wasn’t the result of any PR we have done. Never the less… it’s good to see your hard work pay off.

Today, I am answering questions about international shipping costs. It eludes me how I can only seem to get astronomical quotes outside of the US. =/ It’s like I’m missing something. Angry customers is bad- so I’m doing everything I can to fix this. We are almost to 90% now. I feel lite and giddy. I may have a piece of cheesecake in celebration. As soon as we are funded however, Mark and I are both getting mega steak.

Robot Army : LAUNCH!

In spite of all of the things that looked like they were going to delay us, we got approved in time for our February 1st deadline and launch at midnight! ON TIME! (WOOOO!!!!)

CHECK IT OUT! : ROBOT ARMY STARTER KIT

Today has been exhausting. We’ve been blasting all of the social channels and so far things are off to a pretty promising start… although Mark and I are both running on empty. We were up until close to 3am last night because we were too excited to sleep. It’s taken everything we’ve got not to just sit and hit the refresh button on our KS page all day long… so we’re getting stuff done at the shop… like set up a nice display in the window.

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We plan to make it look like a pet shop window, with graph paper shaving and food bowls filled with scrap electronics… so the little deltas can run their chicken code and charm tourists on Fremont Street. We hung these chintzy xeroxed adoption flyers all over and gave them to our friends to hang up at work.

As I write this we are hanging at 15%…which isn’t a bad start. Hopefully once the weekend is over, we get a mention or two on some tech blogs and things will take off. We’ll see. I really, really hope all my PR pays off. Wish us luck! Better yet… don’t wish us luck- buy a shirt :

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We are in the process of getting a bunch of these made; jersey knit with soft ink… vintage style. They’re going to be sharp!

Robot Army : Kinect and Kinematics

All day Tuesday Mark messed with the delta math trying to map the motors to the Kinect input. It seemed like no progress was to be made until the 11th hour when he ran his code and everything suddenly went from fail to working perfectly. So that spooky kinematics hurdle has now been cleared.

Today is turning out to be a bit stressful. I’m preparing to leave for a ten-day winter pilgrimage back east to visit family, and as such am going over a list of things that Mark and I must both take care of over the duration that we are not conjoined at the hip. He’ll be handling all the tangible stuff – while I crunch numbers and go into deep marketing mode.

In other news, we were able to do some actual “light playing” this weekend. As a member of our hackerspace suggested, it would be really neat to see the delta robots paint with their LEDs in some long exposure shots. After another round of promotional pics, we took a robot in the bedroom, set the tripod up and turned out the lights…heh. The result was magical :

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I can’t forget to mention that Rev B came in from OSH Park. WOO! If these work, I’ll be ordering another handful this week so that we have enough brains in time for January. With luck, our demo size just doubled from three to six- if not, I have new fancy pasties =]

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Interested in making a delta robot? For the full scoop on Light Play, visit : lightplay.zoness.com

Robot Army : Kinect Success!

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Today was cold. I drove to Mark’s with frost caked on my car from the morning dew. BRR. Once I arrived, I drank a million cups of coffee and attempted to get some work done on my spread sheet… but let’s be honest, everything I did today was boring (prices and PR), and everything Mark did was amazing. So lets focus on his achievements.

Ever since Saturday Mark and I have both been trying to figure out how to get the Kinect communicating with some servo motors. It seems that all the example code on the internet no longer compiles because of some issue between the new processing, java, and Arduino. In short, Mark began from scratch and at last today, typed in the magic numbers that made everything work.

The Kinect isn’t controlling actual delta robot kinematics however. For today, the triumph is in having mapped a motor to each of the x, y and z-axis of your hand. That’s right, if you wave your hand around… the delta robot will move according to where it is in 3D space. It isn’t very intuitive looking yet, but by golly it’s a damn good start. As soon as Mark figured this out we cracked open some beers and filmed this video, calling it a day. We’ll start on the more complex stuff Friday. Good job Mark. You’re a wizard. =]