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.

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The Road to DefCon 22

It’s that special time of year again (already!?). Summer is swiftly coming to a close and I’m stupid busy planning for that infamous weekend of mayhem known as DefCon. This conference is a good opportunity to learn something new while also bringing your own flavor to the stew. Here are a few ways I’m getting involved (and you can too!) :

The Darknet Project

Last year Jeff’s friend, Smitty, started a new type of competition called the Darknet Project, loosely based on the novel, Daemon. This event is a live RPG meant to lead you around the convention following clues, learning new skills in order to solve puzzles and ultimately progressing a quest line. Due to chance, he recruited me to develop his brand and make a bunch of spiffy propaganda to help promote the project. Long story short, the contest is going to span more this year and we had a larger budget for visual stuffs.

So far I’ve revamped the site… rebuilt the logo… and have prepared flyers, stickers and shirts for the occasion! The tangible forms of the digital images are looking sharp so far. I’m also relieved all of this is done well ahead of time.

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If you didn’t know about the contest last year, I strongly encourage you to check it out. There will be a kit to assemble in the Hardware Hacking Village that will yield a spiffy badge which will allow communication with other Darknet participants. There will also be a ton of other stuff to get involved with… so much that I shouldn’t attempt to scratch at the details of its scope.

My Own Personal Disruptions

With Smitty now running Darknet, Jeff picked up the torch last year and took charge of DefCon’s more classic contest, Crash and Compile. In addition to designing visuals for him, I was asked to be a part of the team whose role during the contest is to “distract” the competitors who are drinking… and simultaneously attempting to write code. As a means to do this effectively, I wore the “strap-on” Mark and I developed for our art project, Lick. It’s basically a fat piece of tubing attached to a thick belt that has a lollypop poking out of a gem encrusted 3D printed mushroom… which rotates on a stepper motor :

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I prompted competitors to lick the lollypop… and towards the end of the contest when they were good and drunk, some actually did. =]

This year I have to do something different of course, but how on earth do I one-up a flashy licking apparatus such as this? Well, I have an idea worked out that’ll do the trick… which I’ll reveal a build log for closer to the event. ::evil snicker:: It has to do with voices and ponies.

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I updated the logo for the Crash and Compile pint glasses again =] Jeff went ahead and got pilsner glasses this year for a change of pace. I think they look sharp! Everyone competing (or distracting) will get one of these :

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Our Name Badges

Last year I created name badges of working artistic circuitry for our immediate group. I drew the designs by hand and added SMT pads in Eagle, then etched them at home :

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This year Mark and I had our badge designs professionally fabricated with OSH Park. I can’t wait to document them… Pictures of the finished product will come in my next post (the unfinished boards alone look fabulous but they’re a secret for now)!

Robot Army @ Defcon

One of my biggest frustrations all summer has been in keeping our army of robots on the back burner. The project is still in a fetus stage of development due to the fact that most of our time has been spent in the fulfillment of our Kickstarter. Never-the-less, I’m trigger happy about showing the damned things off…

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As such… Mark and I will have a presence at DefCon this year on Friday night, which in the end, I’m quite excited about. The prospect of setting up and babysitting the display until 2am is sort of daunting, but having a chance to maraud around in a space all our own in an environment where anything goes is quite enticing.

At some point next month, Mark and I are shipping our little disassembled babies out into the world. We can’t wait to get feedback from our supporters, not to mention seeing what cool stuff people do with our design. By September we can return to our effort of completing the collective. From then on… it’s all about preparation for the next big thing (100+ robots strong).

We’re at no loss of crazy stuff to prepare for in the next week. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and some of the new ones we made at Maker Faire this spring. Conventions are just an excuse to travel and drink, right? Cheers to that! See you all in a week!

Robot Army : Entering Phase 3

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Fremont Street Procession

To celebrate our first successful Kickstarter campaign, Mark and I threw a soiree at SYN Shop with our close friends. Much to our surprise, everyone brought liquor! Nerds drink? Heh. Once good and numb they toted me down Fremont Street with one of my robots in a royal procession on our friend Bill’s newly crafted dolly. I can’t believe this happened… the experience was surreal (Thank you guys for making me feel special!). The video explains the night better than I can :

The War Room

No one can mastermind a scheme for world domination without a proper war room to do it all in. During this first week since the end of our Kickstarter, we’ve transformed Mark’s workspace into a factory. We fashioned a 4′ x 8′ sheet of wood into a painted, polished table complete with central two tier hutch and power outlets (oh, and speakers of course… you can’t take over the world without listening to Rush). This is going to be where the remainder of our prototyping, manufacturing, and construction will happen as we dive head on into fulfillment mode! Which reminds me… in addition to building kits, we have a disgusting amount to do in the next two months ::quivers::

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We Are Doing Maker Faire

…not just Mini Maker Faire in Las Vegas on April 5th, but the full blown big kid Maker Faire in San Mateo on May 17th and 18th- which means in addition to compiling kits, we need to have several pallets worth of deltas built and functioning with a proper show demo in a little less than ten weeks!?!!!1 zomg. Can’t slip up now. I’ve been dreaming about showing my field of light in the Bay Area now for the past year, ever since I walked into their dark room with Jeff and thought to myself ‘I will own this one day‘. Little did I expect I’d have my chance so soon! While I’m pleased to announce that Mark and I will be there… my test starts now.

So, 2400 yellows…

Mark and I will be assembling a grand total of 215 kits for our backers (you guys rock!). We also need to build an additional 150-200 deltas for our own devices. At six yellow arms per unit that puts us at a nauseating 2400ish pieces we’ll need to produce. Sadly, we didn’t quite hit our mark to get big kid injection molds tooled. The method of 3D printing the parts will take more printers than we have access to in order to get things made before Maker Faire. The solution to this issue is to cast our arms. I was really apprehensive about considering this as an alternative, however Mark has made me some rather sound samples and it’s starting to look like the way to go. If our test parts hold up to a good long torture run- we’ll likely be pouring molds for the arm pieces and dying the resin neon yellow. This will take a little bit of tuning and set up, but on the bright side… once we’re ready we’ll get ALL of our arms made in a few days, rather than months (SWEET).

We’d be making several big molds of ten to twelve arms each. This was our test mold/cast :

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We’ll continue testing different resins throughout the week, while trying to match the color! Wish us luck!

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The Lone Delta

In other sorta sad, but good news…. Mattias has been running nonstop in the window at SYN Shop for the past week  WITHOUT FAIL. Looks like we have a winner. It’s still there as I write this, bobbing and wiggling in its tweaky way. We know you miss us but you’ve made mommy and daddy very proud, and you’ll always have something all the other little deltas won’t. Experience.

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If you are a part of this project or want to be, join our brand new forum and start talking about stuff robot related! You can also like our facebook page– because why not?

Robot Army : Push Notification Dance

How awesome would it be if you had an adorable little robot bob up and down to let you know when you receive a tweet, message, or get an update on a feed? SUPER AWESOME!  In order to provide a more utilitarian use for our delta robots, we’ve mocked up some example code that scans JSON packets from the internet in order to trigger a response of some sort.

For our first project related update Mark wrote code that causes a delta to dance around every time we receive a new backer for our Kickstarter (our robots should be as happy about that as we are). We let this application run all day on Tuesday to test the reliability of the code, however by doing this we apparently opened a rift of unfortunate irony… and didn’t receive a single backer ALL DAY long. This resulted in one very sad stationary robot and two very discouraged drunk engineers.

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The good news is that in spite of our brief plateau, the code DOES work… and our test robot is the first one to know when we receive new support from the world.

Over at SYN Shop… our window display yet again underwent some unexpected trouble. After replacing the outdated arms on our three torture test robots, we left them for the weekend to… well, be tortured. They were working fine until someone from the hackerspace emailed us Monday with news that they were once again in piles. ::sigh:: When I stopped in that night I was pleased to find that this round of failure was not due to their joints, rather the new servo brackets split in half (odd). It turns out these new brackets were a hair too thin, and the PLA does get a little dry over time. The dryness caused the new tighter joints to bind up, which put strain on the brackets and over time cracked them.

Once more I scooped my children into my arms and drove them home to be tuned up by daddy. He figures the solution is… more lubricant (of course).  This is what a torture test is all about though, so I’m glad we’re getting the chance to iron out these bugs.

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Anyhow, over the past two weeks since the launch we’ve gotten many requests for more detailed information about our machine. If anyone is curious, here are some specifics about the yellow beast :

What are the robot’s dimensions?  The delta robot is approximately 20cm x 20cm wide, and 20cm tall when at rest (a little less than 8” x 8” x 8”).

What is the end effector’s range of motion?  The end effector can reach a diameter of approximately 28cm (about 11”) and can travel up and down on its z-axis 13cm-15cm (about 6”).

How much weight can the robot hold? The robot is able to lift around 12oz (a can of soda) with its end effector.

How fast can the end effector move? Running at full speed, we were able to clock our delta moving approximately 150mm/sec on its z-axis (up and down), and 250mm/sec on its x-y axis.

Having done this, I felt inspired and drew this a few days ago :

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Now that we’re at the halfway point of our campaign… Mark and I are starting to get hungry. We keep reworking our marketing strategy every couple of days in order to reach new audiences. Our plan this week involved making a Facebook page for our LLC and investing in some paid advertising………. you know- the annoying links on the right column that try to profile you (for my demographic its engagement ring ads and stuff to do with babies). I have no idea how this will work out for us, but we figured we’d give it a try.

If you haven’t done so, check out our campaign : Robot Army Starter Kit

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!