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We are the robots

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I’ve been looking up a few robots lately. There are a lot of impressive kits out there, and many of them pass as toys for kids, even if the technology included would have impressed researches 10 to 15 years ago. First out, the Pololu 3pi line following wheeled robot. It’s based on an ATmega328 chip, and can be programmed like an Arudino. It has five reflectance sensors to detect a line beneath its front, and two motors to control speed and direction. An Arudino library makes programming easy. It’s $100 from SparkFun.

Next, the Lego MindStorms NXT 2.0, a Humanoid with an impressive selection of sensors, including ultrasonic distance sensor, light, and colour. It is controlled by a 8-bit Renesas H8/300 micro controller, and can communicate over Bluetooth or USB. The programming environment is tailored towards kids, using a GUI box interface. However, most other major programming languages can also be used through third party compilers. As usual with Lego kits, the parts can be used to build other models as well. Instructions for four different robots are included, and your imagination is the limit to what other things you can build. At $280 from Amazon, this seems like very good value for money.

Over at Active Robots, they have several toys and kits, including the walking Penguin Robot, based on the  BASIC Stamp 2px24 micro controller. Although a bit clunky, it looks fun. And at £150, it sounds like a good intermediate kit.

However, on the high end, Active Robots stock the Hitec Robotics ROBONOVA-I. This looks like the king of hobby robots, with 16 servos controlling arms and legs. It’s based on the ATMEL ATMega 128 micro controller (aka Arduino Mega), with several optional sensor like “gyros, acceleration sensors, speech synthesis modules and operational devices such as Bluetooth controllers and R/C transmitters and receivers”. It comes at a stiff price though; at almost £600, or 700 Euros, it’s for serious hobbyists, and not Johnny’s xmas present. Make sure you check out the robot football game, and other corny moves on its home page.

Also have a look at Active Robots other robot links; plenty of interesting material to browser through.

Finally, I thought it would be appropriate to round of with Krafwerk’s 1978 classic, “The Robots” (original title in German; “Die Roboter”).  “We are the robots!

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Panorama Robots


It somehow seems inevitable; if you are into photography and electronics, you want to build a panorama robot. Coupled with very good software to stitch and render a panorama image, the results can be breathtaking even with little effort. For the stitching software, I recommend Hugin, the open source panorama stitcher. On a modern OS; just go yum / apt-get install hugin. For a good intro into setting up and shooting the single frames which goes into your panorama, see Robert. Cailliau’s article.

Once you’ve taken a few pictures, maybe five or even ten with a fairly wide angle lens, you realize that you can get even more detail if you use a zoom lens. Maybe 200 or 300mm. However, now you have to take hundreds of pictures to cover the same area in your finished panorama. This is were the robots come in.

The pocket camera on the turn table below is a very cheap solution; about 15 Euros. I have not found a specific product or manufacture name, though. It shows up in searches for “Panorama Drehteller“. Next to it is a more professional solution, the Gigapan Systems Epic 100 Panorama Robot. It can take a DSL, and pan both horizontally and vertically. You need both if you plan on using a 200mm lens.

So if you’re only into photography, and not DIY and soldering, those are maybe some of the solutions you’d go for. However, if you are able to build one yourself, what is stopping you? Nothing, it seems, judging by the number of home made panorama bots. Here is a Lego Mindstorms competition to build a pano bot with the winners from 2008. Here is a Jason Babcock’s second go at a panoramic turntable, using ULN2004A and BX-24 micro-controller.  And here is T. Emrich’s system which looks like a very solid setup, and clever control: His early work resulted in a horizontal rotation only solution. Later on, he built the GigaPanBot or Gigapixel Panorama Robot with complete freedom on both axis, seen in the picture below. Maybe most impressive, is how the whole system fits into his camera bag.

So what if you want to build your own. Well, nothing is stopping you, and there is plenty of parts to pick up to make a simple first system. Babcock’s first attempt was using a stepper motor from an old fax. Or you could buy a new stepper motors for less than 20 Euros.

To help you on your way, there’s the DollyShield, which I spotted on the Arduino Shield List. It includes control of two DC motors, shutter remote for the camera, joystick buttons and a LCD. “It is designed to provide an inexpensive and easy-to-use interface for two-axis motion control integrated with a camera.”

Building Robots: David Cook

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I just came across David Cook’s Robot Room. It includes several HowTos, tips & tricks. And he also has two books for sale on Amazon. I might pick up the  “Intermediate Robot Building”.

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Motors and robotics

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Looking at the 12 V stepper motor at SparkFun, I came across a few other fun links. Including instructions for stepper motor wiring, a DIY surveillance camera, and an example project for the Arudino, using an EasyDriver Stepper Motor Driver. Also interesting, were the hardware suppliers: here’s some clamping shaft couplers from ServoCity, and lots more from McMaster-Carr.

Finally, I was eyeing up on of the robotics kits at SparkFun: “The POP-BOT is an Arduino compatible, mobile robotic platform. It comes complete with wheels, motors, sensors, software, documentation, etc. The POP-168’s pin-out is similar to the Arduino Stamp“.

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Lego Robots

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Two Lego robots are making their rounds on the hyper links. I’ll just repeat them here:

A Lego felt tip printer, including CUSP / OS X printer driver

And a Lego Maker Bot, or MakerLegoBot

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