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 : Brains!

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Ok, I feel warm and fluffy right now… in a nostalgic sense. Our brain boards just came in the mail this morning from OSH Park. This was one of the last big checklist items that we were waiting on. The box contained over 300 little hexagons and deceptively weighed more than I was expecting. As I opened it and laid the sheets of royal purple and gold across the table I relived the memory of sitting at SYN Shop sometime last summer when I drew this :

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This was the first brain sketch. It would be the fourth board I ever designed in Eagle, and the very first I would ever send away to have professionally fabricated :

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Since then Mark, with all of his engineering prowess, has taken over the task and made an even better brain for the deltas. It’s taken us five revisions to get it just right…

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Along the way during fulfillment of our Kickstarter, we’ve made friends with the awesome people who fabricate our boards. The gang at OSH Park are makers like us fueled with geek-genius. They offer a service that goes above and beyond what any other like theirs has ever been willing to do. They’ve simply figured it out, and as a result produce excellent boards with the quickest turn around time available to hobbyists like Mark and I. This is important because their having created a faster more affordable service is ultimately enabling us to do what otherwise would have been too expensive a decade ago (Mark tells me that five revisions would have been upward of 500 dollars in the not-so-distant past).

Working with other businesses established by fellow makers is resulting in an amalgamation of awesome. With the power of these new resources combined, everyone can become a little factory, no longer at the mercy of the big and scary prospect of handling production overseas alone.

I’m so very excited and pleased to show off these works of art. So much has gone into them and even more will come out once we get this project to its lofty apex. =]

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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!

Bunny Slippers of Death

My birthday was this past week and Mark made me something so frekkin awesome that I had to write a post to share it. First of all, we all know gifts that are made are far better than gifts which are bought. Gifts are even better still when they were made with inspiration from something you did… in this case, a drawing I made that Mark pulled into reality with his craftsman/techie prowess!

BEHOLD. Bunny feet of death :

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Mark collaborated on these with his awesomely talented friend from work, Emily Wiersma… who designed the ears, which she engineered to stand up and hold their shape when worn, as well as the adorable bunny faces!

Mark created the eyes, which are 3D printed compartments that hold both a power supply and tiny SMT LED!

I drew these almost a year ago back when I first started planning the Robot Army Kickstarter Campaign. Since I already own the red hooded robe, I can now actually wear this costume to Maker Faire. All I need now is the big centurion helm :

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HUZZAH!

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❤ Thank you Mark and Emily for yet another amazing life relic.

Robot Army : Printing + Drinking

Nitrogen Capsules = LED Diffusers

Here’s a St. Patricks Day story for those of you who are into that sort of thing. As you might have gathered, Mark and I like to drink beer while we work. Lately our brew of choice has been Guinness. We’ve been so busy now that we’re in fulfillment mode that we’ve neglected to haul our empty beer cans from the past two or three weeks to the curb. There is a mound of them piled in the corner of the kitchen waiting to be tripped over.

In short, we haven’t had any luck finding a more reasonably priced lens to go over the LED of our robots. The one we had found, though perfect in size and shape is freakishly expensive (We’re talking several times more than the amount we allocated for that part on our BOM). We had given up on finding a replacement for now, when this Monday on St. Patty’s Day Mark was making bacon and needed a place to pour off the grease. No doubt, an empty Guinness can was in reach… so he chopped one in half to use. Inside of the can was the little nitrogen pellet-ball thing that releases the gas once the can is opened. Would you believe that this stupid little white ball when cut in half at its seam is the EXACT size, shape and thickness we need for our lens? It even has holes on the sides for mounting. The best part of this discovery is that we already have 9075629081863587 empty Guinness cans lying around with little capsules inside waiting to be harvested. I hope some of you out there can appreciate how hilarious and awesome this is. How’s that for hacking and being environmentally friendly?

Like pulling pearls from an oyster :

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We aren’t sure if we’ll actually end up using them, but we figured since the universe handed us this coincidence, we’d give it a shot and see how they look with an LED inside. I’ll post pictures once I have one on a delta.

One-Million Yellow Arms

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In other news, I’ve printed more yellow arms than I can count. We just received our money from Kickstarter today (over two weeks since the end of the campaign), so the first order of business was to buy more filament. We’re well on our way to producing all the parts we’ll need… but this first batch will be used for our own installation coming up in April.

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Hexagons. They’re everywhere.

The Mini Maker Faire here in Vegas will be a test run for all the various elements in our installation. Jeff helped me cut the first wooden platform on the ShopBot last Monday which will house the deltas at a safe distance from one another so they don’t clash :

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If the design works out nicely we’ll need to make six of these total before the big Maker Faire in May. I’m thinking the design will need to be revised a little, but this is a good start! The hexagon design is quite fetching :

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This week we sanded and primed the base for its fancy paint job :

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We sprayed the finished piece a flat 50% grey. I plan on painting the hex ring bits that hold the robots in place a slightly lighter shade, and the edges will be a darker grey to give the base extra depth :

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Since I’ve adopted the honeycomb pattern… I started seeing it everywhere. Mark and I spotted this while running errands :

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It might seem like my yellow robots in their massive numbers nested on a hexagonal grid is a metaphor for bees. Hmmmm…. This occurred to me a couple of days ago while I was sitting outside having a glass of wine when a bee decided to land on the lip of my glass and take a dive. Mark scooped the bee out and set him on the ground to dry off. He was stained pink and rather uncomfortable seeing as he was soaked in stinging alcohol. He hobbled around while rubbing his little face with his bee hands… so Mark and I talked to him until he dried off and finally sobered up enough to fly away. We made a new friend.

This week I’ve been switching out all the old parts of my original prototype deltas for the new generation of parts that will be included in our kit. Once everything has the latest and greatest hardware we’ll see how the kids performs at their first live recital at the Mini Maker Faire. =] Delta Do!

Again, if you haven’t liked our Facebook page, you should!

And if you happen to make robots yourself- get on our forum and brag about what you’ve done. Now. ❤

Oh, I’ll leave you all with this… So! It was my birthday this week and the night before I had an interesting dream. Now, I haven’t played WoW in years, but for some reason I dreamt that there was an event for my birthday which was causing people to get a delta robot as a pet in game. While I ran around as my paladin, everyone had tiny delta robots hopping behind them everywhere they went. It amused me. I may have to animate this…

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 : 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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