Robot Army : Less Than a Week Away

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So the video above condenses a whole weekends worth of work into ten minutes. In the beginning we don’t have anything flashed or calibrated… and the arms aren’t even installed yet on the newer robots. By Sunday night all three pallets worth are working in sync and are ready to be fine tuned.

As it’s Monday, I’m straightening out kinks now so that we have as smooth a time as possible once we arrive in San Mateo. Mark is required to work at Blue Man all week up until we leave, so he had to grind out the majority of the code/networking related stuff over the past three days so it’d all be done by now.

We’re still flashing them with tweaks to the delta math which effect their range of motion… still working on a solution for the LED cables being a hair too short… still trying to get answers from MAKE in regard to our booth. Time for a bloody Marry. I wonder if I can put a taco in my bloody…. like eight layer dip but with vodka drizzled on top then sucked through a straw. Why does that sound appealing?… my god.

I’m not quite sure how so much got pushed back to the end like this. At any rate… WE’RE SHOWING OFF STUFF AT MAKER FAIRE! WOOOOOOO!!!! I totally never expected to be doing all this so soon. This past year has yielded a ton of experience. =] I remember walking past this massive white colonnade in the lobby of an abandoned building every morning when I lived in Chicago, imagining my installation of dancing light flowers inhabiting the space. That was back in 2011!!! Through all distractions and detours, I am finally getting to show off this idea. ❤ ❤ ❤ The army of dancing lights is sitting next to me as I type and all the stress and work is completely worth it!

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Here’s our KS update from last week BTW :

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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 : 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 : From Tupperware to 3D Printing

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When I moved back home from art school in Chicago, one of the biggest drags was no longer having access to the beefy machine shop that was down the street from my apartment. I went from playing with a room-sized lathe and mill to having little more than a $20 soldering iron and dremel at my disposal. It seemed my metal-cutting days were going to end as soon as they started… well enough, this didn’t stop me from making the things I wanted to. I just had to use plastic now instead. Luckily for me, plastic was in abundance at my parent’s house. My mom hordes take-out containers and tupperware, so I had a bottomless stash to carve up.

Still pursuing my vision of creating the field of robotic flowers, I was trying to refine the design of my ‘steam’ into something a bit more controllable. At some point I ran across a video of a small delta robot someone had made on the internet. As I watched it bob up and down in that special twitchy, impatient way… I fell in love. From that moment on I became obsessed with building my own!

Long story short… Everything became a potential shape. I-beams. They’re everywhere :

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I used a lot of crappy plastic hangers. They made great paddles to connect onto the servo horn like you see below :

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In the beginning, mechanical joints mystified me. I didn’t quite understand what was going on with how a delta robot moved, so this prevented me from being particularly inventive with what I used to connect all the piece together. I read on a forum someplace that you could use 4-40 swivel ball links, which you can get from a hobby store… so I bought myself a set to try out. The thing is, they work great but they cost way more than any piece of plastic should (like… $18.00 for 12 of them. Just enough for one robot). ALSO, they require tiny spacers on either side of the ball. This helps give the rod a breadth of motion without smacking into the plastic piece its rotating in. The sucky part is that the pack of 12 joints form the hobby store only comes with half the number you’ll need (for a delta you need one on each side). The links are the pieces at the end of these 4-40 rods :

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In order to make a whole field worth like I was planning, I’d need to find a cheaper alternative that was less hardware dependent. For now though, these worked. I attached my paddles made of hanger bits to these arms :

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The next step was figuring out how to mount the delta robot. I realized that the servo motors would have to be elevated so that the paddles could swing below the angle of the table top. I didn’t have anything fancy to use at the time, so I took a pasta togo box from the cupboard and cut into it with my dremel to get some nice clearance slots :

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The next thing to figure out was how on earth I was going to mount the actual motors onto my base. A normal person would have used L-brackets of some sort, so I did precisely that… except again, mine were made from strips of plastic cut from togo boxes. >.<

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As you’ve guessed… the end effector was also eventually made from cut pieces of plastic. My first working prototype was practically a togo box with motors :

This was a great feat making my first functioning delta robot. I was proud of its frumpiness because though it wasn’t mechanically solid like a robot made of metal, it still worked. Of course, I wasn’t going to make a whole field of delta robots out of togo containers (although I probably could have because my mom surely had enough to do so). The next step was to shrink the design and refine the method so it could be repeated with ease.

My next prototype was still made of plastic, but I got classy and went to the Container Store and invested in some nice cylindrical boxes. These would become the new bases for my robots :

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I repeated the same steps, cutting the clearance slots for the paddles and making small L-brackets to mount the motors to the base. The base the motors were connects to was actually the lid of the container so you could remove it and use the bottom part as an enclosure for the board running it (clever!) :

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I had aspirations of building three of this particular prototype… to see if they could all be networked together and potentially all run at once :

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The two-dollar micro servos I bought from some nondescript hobby store (imported from China) were terrible quality. Though my second prototype worked, it moved like it had Parkinson’s disease. =/

I wasn’t really happy with this… but two dollars a motor was all I could afford at the time (I was still living at home with the folks). Eager to try again when I could invest in some more quality materials… I started rethinking the entire design.

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For the rest of the summer I meditated on what I had learned. The little blue servos from China stripped in a matter of days while I was testing out code… So I was left with nothing more than a delta shell.

One extremely fateful day I met the people of SYN Shop at an art faire downtown. The hackerspace was just a glimmer in someone’s eye at the time and was run out of the garage of the man who is now my collaborator (Mark Koch). They invited me to stop by some time and show off whatever I was working on. Eesh. Even though I was embarrassed and apprehensive, I brought the mangled corpse of my second delta prototype to show to people. In spite of its appearance, my gimpy child got a lot of attention for the mere fact that I managed to pull off making a delta robot from garbage. Mark had always wanted to build his own pick and place machine, so seeing my creation urged him to get off his butt and make one of his own.

This is when the discovery of 3D printing changed my life. Mark suggested that I design my delta’s parts in CAD and of all things…print them. I was familiar with 3D printers, however the one my art school had was huge and they charged an insulting amount just to produce tiny things with it. Up until then, I had no clue that desktop 3D printers even existed, so my mind was blown when I saw his Replicator for the first time. The usefulness of this tool was revolutionary. I could continue building my robots in plastic like I had been, but I wouldn’t have to machine my parts as if they were metal. How easy!

I spent the rest of the year learning Sketchup. This is a free piece of software that I highly recommend to beginners. It isn’t as powerful as Maya or Solidworks, but its intuitive so you can start making things with it immediately. You basically draw 2D shapes like you would in Illustrator and then extrude them upward to make basic geometrical objects. You can edit things from there of course. If you’re looking to design mechanical parts, this tool is a wet dream, but be patient because it has it’s irritating quirks and limitations.

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One day during CES in 2013, Mark came onto something rather brilliant while we were discussing our designs over margaritas. The solution for those expensive and convoluted swivel ball links (that I had been stuck using) was to use some sort of U-joint that could compress onto ball bearings and twist freely in all directions. The idea was simple and genius :

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This was an important quality because now we could completely divorced ourselves from having to source out any hobby parts. This means aside from some hardware, we no longer had to buy link joints, or cut rod in order to make the robot work. Everything was designed in CAD. Everything was 3D printed. My cost went down significantly, and at last I had the perfect model which I could realistically expect to afford building in mass… and all I had to do was hit ‘print’.

Once we mastered this technicality, it was a matter of implementing it throughout our designs. My personal delta robot went through many…….. many revisions before it became the thing it is now :

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It was at some point last spring that our robots reached their pinnacle. My first complete and polished delta made from 3D printed parts was named Jeden (after the Polish word for one), and Mark’s hanging delta robot was named Amber (after an inside joke Mark and I had at the time). This was the revision of Jeden right before I got my neon yellow filament in the mail :

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We had been working so hard that our collaboration was getting noticed by the others in our community and our friends from SYN Shop decided to interview us about our ‘rivalry’ for their first podcast :

We hadn’t really thought of one another as collaborators (or rivals for that matter) until that point in time. Once it was brought to our attention however we took off like rockets loaded with beer and nitrous. We’ve been working together ever since and within a year brought a delta robot kit to market… which is the thing I’m promoting so heavily right now on Kickstarter.

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This campaign is not only getting us our funding to build that elusive art installation I’ve been wanting to create, it’s also the introduction of our new company to the maker community. Mark and I don’t expect this will be our last kit. We’re sort of hooked on this process now and already have plans for what’s next. We are Robot Army LLC and it looks like we’re here to stay =]

It’s been a fantastic journey. I’m getting to strike a couple of goals off my bucket list. I started this blog two years ago to prove to the world (and myself) that anyone with a little bit of drive and passion can bring something from their dreams into reality… even coming from a position where you lack experience or expertise. There is a wealth of open knowledge and support out there to be drawn upon. If you choose to use it, anything is possible.

Robot Army : Final Stretch

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It was fun having our Kickstarter in tandem with the Olympics. It felt like we were participating in our own sort of event. As I watched the closing ceremony last night, I felt sadness because I knew our ship is setting sail soon and I’m at the point where all I can really do is sit tight and wave goodbye. We have less than a week left and I don’t want it to end. It feels like much more could have been done in regard to press, but Mark assures me that PR is sort of like the lottery. If I could accept that I’d stop banging my head over it like I’ve been doing, but alas… it seems I can’t. tehe.

Our campaign has been an exciting experience over all. Now that we’re switching gears from messy uncontrolled busy to just plain busy, I’ll be able to do some of the things I miss in my free time. This includes playing the occasional video game and shooting episodes of Geeky Freaky with Mark. We still have A LOT left to do. Fulfillment is nothing to be taken lightly, but at least I wont have to write articles about myself in third person every morning.

In preparation for the second phase of our Kickstarter, Mark and I set up a forum for communication with our backers… and I’m working on the design layout for our website, robot-army.com. This will be the official hub of our new LLC where our kit will live after it runs its course on Kickstarter, and where everyone can find updates as our project evolves. In addition, this is where our backers can showcase the neat things they do with our kit. I’m secretly hoping to start some weird culture around  exotic modifications done with delta robots (Project Lick would be an example of an exotic use for a delta).

In some other sort of news… Mark and I got a world map from the craft store the other week and decided to visualize where all our backers are located with push pins. Mark is also building us a long white table for his workspace which is now in the process of being transformed into the ‘War Room’. We can finally coral our robots into one area instead of having parts and pieces peppered throughout the house (which they currently are… it looks like a neon yellow boneyard). Any how, the map with all of its pins will go nicely on the wall at the end of the table. Muahahaha…..

We also confirmed that we’ll be showing our installation at the Las Vegas Mini Maker Faire in April. It probably wont be completely ready by then… but we’ll exhibit our progress in some form. Those of you in Vegas can come be the first to see what all the fuss has been about.

If you haven’t told your friends about our Kickstarter, then you might want to urge them to purchase a soldier of the neon yellow onslaught so that it can protect them once the robots start taking over. Just saying… : Robot Army Starter Kit

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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 : 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.