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 : 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