Noodle Puberty

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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:

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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).

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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 ❤

 

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Light Play : Spawning for Maker Faire

Maker Faire in San Mateo is imminent! Last year my partner Mark and I showed an installation of 30 delta robots which mimicked the physical gestures of people. All of the robots however did the exact same thing… which was impressive if you’ve never seen them before, but hardly to the extent of awesome I have in mind for the project.

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Though we’ve been working hard, Light Play still has a long way to go development-wise. Until they’re feeding off neural input and hopping through cities in flocks, I’m continuing to slowly expand our numbers. For now, that number is 84, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot in the face of the thousand I dream of having… yet as I sit on the couch night after night building these little monsters, 84 feels plenty enough to my calloused finger-tips:

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This is what takes the most time to assemble. The motors mounted to their acrylic bases:

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Hardware: the biggest hardware upgrade we’ve made this year has been to the bases the robots sit inside of. Their honeycomb-shaped pods have been redesigned with frequent transportation in mind seeing as the wooden ones we made last year took a bit of a beating and were awkward to carry. In addition to holding three less delta robots per pod, the new bases are also made from black ABS… which means they mostly disappear in darkness, are lighter, and also a lot more resistant to bangs and dings.- Oh! And holding seven robots instead of ten makes for a nice round shape too!

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We had these new honeycombs cut professionally at a metal-fab here in town; well worth the extra money not to have to supervise cutting all the shapes ourselves at SYN Shop. Where we did save some time doing this, there is really no getting around glueing the cut pieces together, so Mark and I have been attaching things with ABS weld in his garage a little each day.

When all is done, we’ll be able to lay out these modular pods to fit whatever space we’re showing in. Our setup for Maker Faire this year will consist of 12 pods that are arranged in something of a dome, like this (but one tier higher):

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Software: I mentioned the robots should be doing interesting things. Yes. Imagine, if each delta robot were a blade of grass in a field, and your movements were the wind… every hop, skip and wiggle you made would send ripples of complex rolling patterns through the field as a response. That’s the end goal, and very much Mark’s department.

The robots are networked with the DMX lighting protocol now. They also have a snazzy GUI which Mark designed in Netbeans to simulate and visualize the behavior of the field. We’re still deciding on what type of sensor will be responsible for capturing input.

The use of the Xbox Kinect last year, though it worked marvelously, became a nightmare from hell. It turned our field into an exhibit more than a curiosity and tied us to the booth explaining to thousands of people one by one how to control the flock… To avoid a similar situation… our setup this year will respond to the environment at large. For people walking up and observing, it won’t be immediately apparent whether or not the robots are reacting to them. This will fuel engagement and hopefully allow us more zen time to detach and enjoy the rest of the show.

Robo Wagon: Like Scooby Do, Robot Army is going to have its own touring transportation of sorts. It might not be an actual van… and probably not as cool as the picture- but in the next month we will figure out a more permanent method of packing and hauling our kinetic circus:

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With less that six weeks left, it’s crunchy again. I’ll find time to post updates when I can… but for now, back to soldering brains. ❤ Oh yeah, while we build the new homes, the deltas are getting acquainted with noodleFeet in the workroom. DAWWWW:

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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 : Kickstarter Video Do

Somehow, just as I was starting to recover from whatever it was I picked up over the holidays, I managed to contract another illness. I’ve spent the entire year so far being sick… which SUCKS because it’s slowing me down. I was worried about whether or not I had gorilla glue hanging out of my nose while making contacts throughout CES, and I had to cough in the middle of every shot while filming today. I don’t even have that sexy raspy quality to my voice to make up for it. BLAH!

Mark and I filmed my main monologue and a couple supplementary clips this weekend. We want the video to spoon feed the viewer all the important details about the project while throwing in notes of playfulness bordering on insanity. This takes some finesse. As such, while Mark was away at work today I gave my speaking parts another shot while in solitude… to nail the correct freaky to geeky ratio.

For fun we also staged one of the concept drawings I made last week :

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This shot is actually from a time-lapse video. We sat for ten uncomfortable minutes while the sun went below the horizon. The dead grass felt like broken glass underneath the tarp… but it was worth it. The sped up version will look cool as a cut away.

Aside from the video, I’m working on the press release package I’ll be sending out the week before launch. This includes some new graphics I made last week, which are propaganda-like in essence :

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If you’re interested in our project and are thinking about throwing us a couple bucks for a sticker or perhaps buying a kit, join the mailing list : Robot Army Mailing List

Robot Army : CES Week

This week was exhausting. It involved a lot of walking, chatting, setting up, tearing down, and practicing the good ‘ol elevator pitch. Myself, Mark, and his friend Gregg took off to make the most of CES- exploring for two long days on the showroom floor, and then attending events in the evening. It was a lot of fun and we made some new promising contacts (woo!).

Last night we did our first demo with the six working delta robots we have at Pololu Robotics. They held a nice shindig for those attending the convention who were involved with robotics and hackable electronics. It went over well and our kids did a fantastic job, seeing as it was their first recital. >.< Now to double our numbers… Mommy and Daddy must get busy.

Finally, with a moment to relax, Mark and I went over our BOM and caught up on emails this morning over bloody marries. We also started shooting our Kickstarter video now that I have my voice back! We plan to film discreet segments tomorrow around town, so hopefully by next week we’ll have enough content to edit into something awesome.