The Return of RoboGames

RoboGames, the huge cross-disciplinary international robotics competition, is running a kickstarter campaign to bring back the event in 2015, and they need your help to do it.

We love RoboGames. The range of competitions is so broad, there is opportunity for participation from roboticists of all backgrounds. We received a silver medal in the bartending division of the art robots category in 2011 with Drink Making Unit 2.0. In 2013, we helped Super Awesome Sylvia create the WaterColorBot, which won silver in the painting robots category. We helped to produce the medals for the winners in 2009 and 2013. But more important than our personal successes and participation, we have been privileged to see the excitement that comes from the entrants, whether they are competing in soccer, fire-fighting, sumo, or crowd-pleasing combat.

RoboGames is also planning production of a video series around the event, to bring it to those who can’t be there in person, and so that you can enjoy it whenever you need a good dose of robots.

A Requiem for CandyFab

Coil

The CandyFab 4000, 5000, and 6000 were three early DIY 3D printers that we built in the years 2006 through 2009. They worked by using hot air to selectively melt and fuse granulated media, and were capable of producing large, complex objects out of pure sugar, amongst other things.

CandyFab is no longer an active project — it hasn’t been for a few years. But the time has come to retire it officially and document its history. We have taken some time to write an in-depth article about the history of the CandyFab project, the different CandyFab machines, why and how they were built, what they were capable of, and the lessons that we learned in the process. Have a seat; we have a story to tell.

The CandyFab Project: 3D Printing in Sugar. Big, DIY, and on the cheap. 2006 — 2009.
Link: candyfab.org

Introducing the EggBot Pro

EggBot Pro

An EggBot is a compact, easy to use art robot that can draw on small spherical and egg-shaped objects. The EggBot was originally invented by motion control artist Bruce Shapiro in 1990. Since then, EggBots have been used as educational and artistic pieces in museums and workshops. We have been working with Bruce since 2010 to design and manufacture EggBot kits, and our well-known Deluxe EggBot kit is a popular favorite at makerspaces and hackerspaces around the world.

Today we’re very proud to release the newest member of the family: the EggBot Pro, a near-complete reimagining of the EggBot, designed for rigidity, ease of use, and faster setup.

EggBot Pro

The EggBot Pro is as sturdy as can be: Its major components are all solid aluminum, CNC machined in the USA, and powder coated or anodized. (And isn’t it a beauty?)

The most common mechanical adjustments are faster with twin bicycle-style quick releases, and repositioned thumbscrews for easier access.

EggBot Pro

The frame also has an open front design that gives much better visibility while running, and greatly improved manual access when setting up.

EggBot Pro

And, it comes built, tested, and ready to use — no assembly required.  Assuming that you’ve installed the software first, you can be up and printing within minutes of opening the box.

The EggBot Pro begins shipping this week. We’ve also put together a little comparison chart, so you can see how it fits in with the rest of the family.

 

A template for BristleBot Competitions

Aesthetically Interesting

For the robotics team that we mentor (FRC team 3501), we created an “Advanced Bristlebot Competition” to serve as an off-season team building exercise. We are publishing our competition template (PDF download) here so that anyone can use it as a starting point for their own events. The goals of the competition are to provide a self-contained, resource-constrained and time-limited introduction to a robot competition environment, and to get new and continuing students working together on solving simple engineering challenges.

Arenas

The competition consists of three challenges: sprint (distance time trial), mountain climbing (same, on an inclined plane), and sumo (a two-robot competition that rewards going in circles).

Working together

The group of students is split into teams of two, trying to pair new students with team veterans.

Distributing supplies

Each team is given a set of rules and a small pile of toothbrushes, motors, and batteries.

construction supplies

Beyond this, one table is designated for tools and supplies, and has an assortment of craft supplies including things like coffee stir sticks, wires, twist-ties, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pom-poms, and tape. Building tools include hot glue guns, scissors, bolt cutters (for cutting the heads off of toothbrushes), and wire strippers.

Ready for competition

After a building period, the robots are “bagged and tagged” prior to competition. For the BristleBots, this means they are placed on paper plates marked with their team number for inspection to ensure that they meet the competition requirements.

Practice match

The competition takes place in two rounds, separated by an interval of building time between them.  The extra time allows the students to redesign and implement changes based on what they learned during the first round of matches.

Vrooom...

We witnessed a couple of great moments during our event. We overheard some students watching our original BristleBot video on a phone, and when they noticed us watching them, they defended themselves, saying, “The rules don’t say we can’t!”

Go!

One of the most technically inclined students on the team, after building several prototypes and studying the performance of his BristleBots on the ramp for about 10 minutes asked, “This can’t actually be done, can it?” Minutes later, a veteran student from another team, proudly set his robot on the ramp and it whizzed up in one solid go in about 10 seconds. Later, during competition, another student watched her BristleBot zoom up the ramp in 3 seconds flat, using a variation on that successful design.

Materials & Resources

BAMF 2014: Taktia

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Part of our continuing coverage of highlights from the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire.

One of the most exciting new technologies that we saw at Maker Faire was from Taktia, a startup making augmented-reality power tools. They were showing off their semi-automated handheld wood router.

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The router sits in a robotic cradle with a computer vision system and a screen. The human guides the router by hand, keeping its center within a 1 inch diameter circle shown on the LCD screen. As the human moves the router, the cradle makes fine corrections to put the router bit exactly where it needs to be, allowing a non-expert to cut precise, complex shapes, while only moving the router along a coarse path.

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In the photo above you can see some wooden shapes that visitors were cutting out, by only moving the router freehand, while letting the robotic cradle do the hard work. We can certainly imagine other tools getting the same “robotic upgrade” — this startup will be worth watching.

 

 

BAMF 2014: Open Source Sprinkler Controls

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Part of our continuing coverage of highlights from the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire.

We can’t say how many times we’ve heard people ask questions about hacking or building their own sprinkler controllers, but apparently here are the ones that everyone has been looking for. These open source hardware sprinkler controllers from Ray’s Hobby —  designed so that you can hack and build your own — look well-made and genuinely useful. There are neat irrigation (and multipurpose relay) controls, including Arduino-flavored variants as well as versions for Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone lovers.

Highlights of the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire

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The 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire was an amazing, amazing event. We took hundreds of photos, which we have posted in a flickr set here. Here are just a few of the highlights— both technological and artistic, and we’ll be featuring several more over the course of the next week or so.

(Above: Rolf and Abhishek show off the new Arduino Zero in the Arduino booth.) Continue reading