Maker Faire 2015

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I’ve been home for almost two weeks now from our Bay Area pilgrimage and life has pretty much reset. I rewarded myself by binge playing Starbound all weekend and partaking in other mindless immersive activities I’ve been too busy to enjoy so far this year. It was a nice break.

But back to work! I’m going to close this chapter by recapping our big adventure:

Over all, Maker Faire went firkin awesome! Last year = shitty location + loud tesla coils + high maintenance demo + no place to escape for peace and quiet. Since we had ample time to plan, we eliminated all these stress points!

TRANSPORTATION

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Our project this year was three times bigger than before at 84 individual nodes, so smashing them in the back of Mark’s Kia wasn’t an option. We didn’t quite have the money to spend on buying our own permanent trailer either, so for this trip we rented one from Uhaul. Quite snugly, three stacks of four delta pallets fit like Tetris inside with the rest of our props and support material wedged around the edges. Add in a crap load of the giant plastic wrap and everything was tethered solidly in place. No sweat.

I had a drink before opening the trailer once we arrived because the freeway up the central valley was more or less one unending pothole from hell. Happily, in spite of the violent rattling, everything arrived just as it was stowed. (Stress test for the babies as well as mommy too!)

…And nothing melted either. We traveled on a cool rainy day… which was lucky because one of my fears was that the heat inside the trailer would exceed the low melting point of PLA and we’d have nothing but piles of yellow sticks upon arriving. >.<

SET-UP

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With more to show, I figured it was worth requesting a larger central location away from the chaos of the tesla stage… OH, and barriers. We were pleased to have been assigned an excellent spot in the middle of the dark room that had ideal visibility. On top of that, we sorta lucked out because Arc Attack wasn’t even there this year… which means I didn’t have to wear my Ryobi headphones to keep my brain from melting.

From the get go… we engineered our installation to function as a fort capable of fitting two people comfortably inside. So when you look at these pictures, imagine me sitting on a stack of moving blankets with a table, fridge and laptop around me. That’s right, we made a DELTA ROBOT IGLOO. And it was the coolest part about our installation this year…

THE SHOW

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Due to the fact that our installation was automated rather than interactive (and completely caged in by barriers), Mark and I didn’t have to babysit the deltas and actually got to walk the rest of the show!

Here is Mark’s tour of all of the neat stuff in the dark room this year:

Instead of having our robots run slave to a Kinect, which has only been grounds for trouble in the past… Mark figured out how to control all of the robots as light fixtures in a pieces of DMX software called QLC+. This enabled us to orchestrate ‘shows’ consisting of preset motion and light patterns that the robots would circle through all on their own.

As for feedback, who wouldn’t like a mountain of dancing robots with twinkling light? Our display went over pretty well with the attendees… and we had a couple of fun moments in the limelight getting interviewed by press and the like.

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Once everything was said and done, we loaded the pallets up onto a pushcart, four at a time, and walked them out to the trailer in the parking lot (which expedited the deconstruction part). I was sad to see our nest get dismantled, but eager to get to the Bringahack dinner and have another drink.

This trip was infinitely less stressful thanks to some better planning and all the help we had from our friends. (Thank you!!!) I have great memories to immortalize through illustration over the next few weeks. I’ll also be posting about the fate of Noodle soon.

❤ Thank you for being with me on the summit of my shit mountain. It’s taken a lot of support and sacrifice from the world to pull this into reality for which I am extremely grateful.

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Light Play : Half Way There

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I’m tired. I will forever look at big art installations and wonder with silent reverence if there were two people at some point sitting on their couch at three in the morning assembling parts to the thing by hand.

Any how… WE’RE HALF WAY THERE! Two days ago everything came together at last. One by one we tested and plugged the new babies into their happy little nests. We even named a whole pallet after our favorite characters from Create TV, which we’ve had on in the background while doing a lot of the manual labor.

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Long story short, Mark fired up his Netbeans GUI and everything just worked. With a little tweaking over the weekend we got the 42 little ones to behave more or less like we were imagining. Mark even figure out how to turn off the stupid thing in the Kinect example code that waits for a hand wave before tracking. This means, it will just follow any hands it sees all on its own. Wish we knew about this last year >.<

After our appearance at the Science and Technology Festival tonight, the countdown resets for the big Maker Faire in a little less than three weeks. We have another six pallets to ready before then… not to mention the challenge of solving exactly how we’re going to get a gang of robots all the way up to Silicon Valley safely.

Wish us luck or something. After May is over I’m going to curl up in a blanket with my soft delta and watch the hobbit… and I don’t mean Mark. 😉

The art beast is a monster that wears its own face as a mask. We’ve gotten acquainted over the years, but as much as I think I know it, at the end of the day there is something else underneath that I can’t see. So in reality, I still know nothing of art.

Light Play : Brains Nerves and Butts

This past weekend Mark and I got a bunch more work done for the installation. We finished glueing and painting all the shiny black honeycomb pallets, so all twelve of them are now stacked neatly waiting to receive delta babies. …which means we need to build lots… and LOTs of delta babies. Thankfully, as I sit here and write this, that part is mostly done. For the past week or so the living room has transformed into a birthing chamber of plastic bins and Create TV.

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At an average of 15-20 minutes a piece, we built around 50ish more base assemblies. That’s the acrylic bit with the three motors attached.

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Obviously, they aren’t full deltas yet. They’re missing their snazzy yellow arms and blinky LED on top, but we wanted to get the hard part out-of-the-way first. The next step is to calibrate all of these little delta butts, and then screw all the grey paddles onto the gear hubs. >.< Which will also take a bit of doing.

Mark spent a crap load of time crimping custom cables which will tie the deltas together as one big happy collective consciousness. These will connect a series of relay boards to the individual brain PCBs of each robot:

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So yeah, brains…. less exciting, I’m soldering brains again. Boo. With all the other cool things to work on, its monotonous melting all the same pieces over and over to blank PCBs… but alas, it must be done sooner rather than later.

As the brains are tested and flashed with all of the knowledge of how to be a good little inverse kinematic thinking soldier… we’ll be gifting each baby with a brain one by one, and then adding them to their shiny honey comb home to dance the mightiest robot dance.

I even squeezed out some new art which we had sent away to become postcards. We’ll be handing them out wherever we happen to show things at for the rest of the year. I say all of this tantric preparation does sorta feel like jumping out of a plane with a skirt on… so the image is appropriate. PROPAGANDA!

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Our first gig of the season is in a little less than two weeks during Las Vegas’ Science and Technology Festival. Here we come!

 

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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jellyBot : Rolley (the second prototype)

Ok, so the proof of concept I worked on back in October looked awesome, but it couldn’t really move on its own… and there were a couple of reasons why:

  • I had mounted standard servos on the drive shaft instead of the continuous rotation type. I found out you need more than a breadth of 180 degrees to make a rack and pinion move far enough to do anything useful!
  • Also, my drive shaft needed some roller bearings to tension the rack down onto the pinion in order to stop all the slippage.

Since both of these things involve the mount of the motors specifically, I took the time to completely redesign that whole part to be more solid in general… after all, it is the very core of the robot- therefore the most important part! Tighter tolerances = happy jelly.

So what I ended up making was a set of brackets that both servo motors mount to… the roller bearing tensioner is a separate piece that screws into both, bridging the two and making it one solid piece:

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The extra gear bit (that kinda looks like a spur in the picture above) was added to help keep the rack in alignment, but it ended up causing more problems than solving them… so I removed it. The final working rendition had a roller bearing slightly above and below the pinion itself… instead of one directly on top of it:

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After these changes were made I hooked one of the new motors up to an arduino to test whether or not the thing moved… which it didn’t. =[ BUT- it wasn’t because of the improvements I had just made. I now had a new problem to solve.

SO- the bit that is actually supposed to be moving is a sort of vertebrae or disk that slides up and down on the metal rails which the stationary servos are mounted to. One of these disks is attached to the end of each rack, but only on one side. As this goes…. when the rack moves, it tips the disk slightly at an angle… which causes it to bind on the rail rather than slide up and down it at an ideal 90 degree angle. Eh.

The solution apparently was to add some linear bearings… which I didn’t have on hand- so I faked it and just added some cylindrical tubes to the part in CAD and reprinted them. This actually worked extremely well. Not as well as linear bearings, but it did get the thing working at last:

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Accept… a third problem appeared at this point. Now that the properly tensioned rack and pinion was actuating the properly guided disks up and down the rails… there was really no quick way to calibrate the motors back to center every time I unplugged the power. Eh. Since these are continuous rotation motors, there is no center… so I had to manually pluck the pinion off and guide the rack back down by hand…

Which sucked. So… it was time to graduate from my uber basic sweep code to something with feedback. I wired up four buttons on my breadboard and Mark helped me write some code in Arduino so that each of the two servos had a switch for up and down. Now I have absolute control over the range of the motors!

So, the new drive shaft more or less works mechanically, which is swell. The next phase of development will include adding limit switches and a way for the jelly to zero itself out when it needs to… as well as some motor choreography so it actually jellies like a jelly is supposed to.

Robot Army : Final Stretch

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe… who had so many deltas she didn’t know what to do. So she put them in boxes and shipped them away, to twelve different countries so they could revolt and take over the world one day… hehe.

We’ve shipped about 150 kits at this point. The poor printer has been running at a minimum of ten hours ever single day for the past six months and I’m starting to feel like I should buy it a drink or something.

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I estimate we should be sending the last troops out to their perspective families within the next 2-3 weeks. That means this whole Kickstarter process from the brainstorming of the campaign all the way to the end has taken one whole year: November to November ( ! ).

The eBook : The final thing I need to do once all is said and done, is document my story. I’ll get to noodle up tight with my plush delta, Stitchie, and regurgitate all that we’ve gathered from this growing experience in hind sight. I have a lot to say about it, and hopefully others out there in the hardware world will find my advice useful… or whimsical.

The Coastal Campaign : So, once Mark and I finally start building the army, we need to come up with a way to travel with all 100 or so of them like one big happy family. Our plans for the winter may involve a road trip up the coast to all the cities which have hackerspaces so we can introduce the little ones to the world.

What’s Next? We will continue to sell the Starter Kit on our site as well as others potentially, although a post-KS price change is to be expected.

On a few occasions Mark and I have stolen away and worked on our next project amidst all this shipping. We have a lot of ideas swimming around, but there is still a lot to get done to the tune of building out that army first… right? What do 1000 servos sound like?? We’ll soon know!

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Here are some fun facts :

For the Kickstarter we have printed…

1400+ yellow arms

700+ paddles

300 end effectors

and 1500 brackets

we’ve burned through 25ish rolls of filament from six different suppliers (depleting the neon yellow stock of a few)

I have soldered around…

6900+ male pin headers (Mark has soldered more)

and placed around 1200 SMT parts

We’ve used 3 industrial-sized rolls of quarter-inch bubble-wrap for packing

and have shipped kits to 16 different countries!

The place where the most robots are going to is… the bay area. Take good care of our kids, Silicon Valley.

jellyBot : Racky All in one Piece

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This weekend I started printing the newly redesigned pieces for my jellyfish robot. I got about 90% finished by Sunday, but not enough was intact to start testing out whether or not the design will move like it should.

Yesterday, I scraped together the short end pieces leftover from old roles of filament to finish printing the rest of the tiny arms for Racky. Now that I’ve added a slight curve to the length in addition to the U joint at one end, it was a pain deciding how to print the piece without ended up with a pile of pelvic fur. I had to position it rocketing off the build plate with some support material, which had a 50% success rate, (which sucked as I was nearly out of yellow). In spite of the failed attempts, I got them all done… just in the knick of filament :

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Once these small arms were added to the body, I needed to come up with a better way to attach the tendrils than with twist ties (like in my old prototype). So, I made a little U joint piece that could screw onto the under side of each arm :

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At this point I realized that the jelly as a whole needed to be disassembled so that I could secure the motors onto the steel rods somehow. I had the idea to use some of the square rubber grommets that came with the servo motors to slide onto the rod, filling the small gap between the two and wedging them in place :

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Once done, I was able to put the rest of the jellyfish back together around this piece. The last bits to screw together where the tendrils to the short curvy arms I had just attached to the body :

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Everything looks nice and I’m sorta confident it will work to some degree… but before I can hook the motors up and do any sort of testing, I need to design that tensioner for the rack and pinion. Otherwise nothing is going anywhere. Alas, I’ll get to it!