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914 Comic - Silicon City part 2
Sunday, 20 May 2007
Image Here's this weeks episode of the online 914 comic book which is written and illustrated by C6jones720. Comic episodes are published each week on Mondays and remain archived in the 914 Comic Series section.

This the second part of the Silicon City story where something really unexpected happens!.

Please click on the preview to the left to get this week's episode full size.




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Ubuntu Linux
Saturday, 19 May 2007
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I wanted to point out that as well as great Microsoft support, the 914 PC Bot also has excellent Linux Support.

Linux is becoming more mainstream all the time, we've even seen Microsoft collaborate with Novell over Suse Linux - a deal with many complex connotations for the open source community and the industry in general. Dell have also joined in with this deal, and in turn have also announced that they will ship machines with Ubuntu Linux pre installed.

White Box Robotics have published a new PDF guide for out of the box Ubuntu Linux Bots. This is definitely worth a read for anyone who's thinking about dabbling with Linux on their 914, along with the Install guide for Linux and Player/Stage which is a detailed guide for getting it all working from a blank hard disk.

I've been trying out Player on Linux myself recently as part of my PPCBPAIFP project. It was easy enough get Player to control the 914 along with Player Viewer for manual control to drive around. I had to tweak a few things to get Python bindings working, but now I can write a simple script to control the Bot. I've decided that my Core2 Duo Laptop is up to the job of running Ubuntu as a virtual machine under VMware, so this means I have one remote machine running Windows with RoboRealm for vision processing that also has Linux running on it at the same time. My 914 has the standard Via SP13000 mini-itx board in it as this is more than happy running Ubuntu and Player server, and on top of that the whole thing is portable for on-location demos!.

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914 Speaker Mod
Wednesday, 16 May 2007

This is a mod from James - the 914pcbots.com Admin.

The speakers I had installed in my 914 were really not up to much, these are not the speakers you get as standard, but some quite similar ones. They worked ok, but the sound was not very loud when you are demonstrating the Bot in a room full of people, turning them right up caused distortion and wasn't generally very nice.

I decided to modify the speakers I had to make them a bit more beefy by fitting some larger speaker units and some better amplifiers inside. I salvaged some speakers units from an old pair of computer speakers - these are relatively substantial, but of course no longer fit inside a 5.25" drive bay device. This can been seen by measuring them up to a spare CD ROM drive:

Anyway, I had a cunning plan which you will see as I continue… I bought some 3.5 Watt amplifier modules from my local electronics store, there are two – one for each stereo channel. As I dismantled the existing speakers I realised just how very much smaller the original speakers were than the replacements:

I cut some speaker shaped holes in the lid of the existing drive bay mounted unit. I also sealed up any other holes with Polymorph/Shapelock as the top and bottom had various vents in them. The speakers will stick out of the top of the box, then be covered with two small plastic project boxes that just happened to be the right size for each speaker:

Here are some more pictures of the speakers mounted up, the internal wiring of the amplifier modules, and the boxes finally mounted and screwed on. I taped up all the seams to stop vibrations and to make sure the sound went in the right direction:

There was quite a lot of audible noise as the amplifiers are powered from the M2-ATX power supplies which are switched-mode. I got this noise suppressor from a car accessory shop which is intended to filter noise out of in-car entertainment systems. It’s basically a filter that goes on the power line:

Obviously the unit is now almost twice as high as a 5.25” bay device. However I noticed that the beak IR sensor array of the 914 does not fill a complete drive bay – only the very front part. So, the modified unit still fits in fine - with the speaker ‘lumps’ behind the IR unit above it. I found these wine-drip-catchers in an up market department store. You will see where I used them below:

Here are the finished pictures. I’m still looking for a more suitable volume knob but this one will do for now. The USB ports are still active and are cabled to the mini-itx board internally, but the other sockets on the front are no longer in use.

The overall outcome is that the speakers are much louder than before, you can turn them right up before they distort – probably too much to use in a my lounge with a few people who can no longer really hear themselves speaking to each other. This will be quite good for public appearances however…

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Visual Studio 2005 Components Released
Monday, 14 May 2007
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The 914 PC Bot Visual Studio .NET components have been released along with some sample applications!.

These are now available on the White Box Robotics corporate site.

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914 Comic - Silicon City part 1
Sunday, 13 May 2007
Image Here's this weeks episode of the online 914 comic book which is written and illustrated by C6jones720.

Comic episodes are published each week on Mondays and remain archived in the 914 Comic Series section.

This the first installment of a new ten episode storyline featuring Tom, Kim and some other of our favourite characters.

Please click on the preview above to get this week's episode full size.

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914 Utility Bracket
Thursday, 10 May 2007

This is a project from James - the 914pcbots.com Admin.

I decided that it would be quite handy to have some sort of utility bracket or tray mounted above my 914's head. This would mean it could carry objects, or allow extra hardware to be mounted, such as further camera or sensors assemblies - possibly to mount an arm project at some point.

I didn't really want to damage the 914 skins or cut the chassis if I could help it so I wanted something that would fit around the existing chassis and head plastics.

Click on the pics below for bigger versions or check them all out in the image gallery.

 

I found these short table legs in my local hardware store which had screw on plastic feet. Each foot is held on with an 8mm bolt.

I cut a short piece of 8mm threaded rod so that the foot-end of the legs could be screwed to each other. This creates the main part of the bracket.

A piece of HDPE has been used which has nuts pressed into it for the bracket to screw onto. This piece screws onto the existing head plate mounting screw holes of the chassis with long M4 bolts to save drilling any new holes.

The bracket screws onto the nuts which are now on the reverse side, this puts it in a position to poke out through the 'decorative grille' hole in the back of the 914's head.
I have mounted a round stainless-steel drinks tray on the bracket for now, although I have some other projects planned to take advantage of the bracket that are coming shortly. At least now my 914 can serve drinks at parties.

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Ultra Hal Assistant 6.1
Monday, 07 May 2007
ImageUltra Hal from Zaberware is an application that has been mentioned many times in the forum, it is also used by Tom Burick on his extreme build 914. Version 6.1 of Ultra Hal Assistant has just been released, so it seems like a good time to give it a share of front page fame.

For those of you not in the know, Ultra Hal Assistant is a program that gives your PC a personality, you can chat to Ultra Hal with text or through speech recognition and it will learn what you have told it. There is a also a 'brain editor' application which allows for in-depth customisation of Ultra Hal's personality.

I'm currently experimenting with Ultra Hal myself, if you fancy trying it there is a free 30 day trial version available for download. The full version of Ultra Hal only costs $29.95 and there are various other expansion options available. For those of you who would like to easily add a bit of personality to your 914, this is definitely worth checking out.

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914 Comic - British Lessons
Sunday, 06 May 2007
Image Here's this weeks episode of the online 914 comic book which is written and illustrated by C6jones720. Comic episodes are published each week on Mondays and remain archived in the 914 Comic Series section.

The week’s episode deals with important issues relating to AI and machine learning.

Please click on the preview to the right to get this week's episode full size.

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914 for sale
Sunday, 06 May 2007
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Just a quick note to let anyone interested that there's a 914 for sale on eBay. This is Andrew Ruth's spare Bot that he previously talked about selling in the forums. The auction can be found here, I believe that the reserve is quite competitive on this item...

 
Compass and Sonar
Friday, 04 May 2007
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You may remember the PCI network card mod that was carried out by Paul Foster. For those of you that haven't checked Paul's A1-DW blog recently, there are many new things Paul has done with his 914 - he is in the process of adding sonar and a compass module to his 914 and plans a something similar to Dave Evan's rotating head mod.

By the looks of it Paul plans to use as many off the shelf parts as possible and integrate everything into Microsoft Robotics Studio.

Paul also has a video on his blog of a speech controlled robot demonstration at Microsoft, as well as details of a mini projector that can be fitted in a 5.25" drive bay.

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Game Adapter
Wednesday, 02 May 2007

I previously showed you my IDE disk caddy, which is a standard PC part that's really useful for the 914. Here's another device I've just got hold of that some of you might like to consider.

I've had a few issues in the past with the wireless USB adapter attached to my Bot. If you just leave it attached to one USB socket and never mess with it, then of course it works as well as if it were attached to any PC. However, I wanted to use software bridging to support IP web cams and I also use a variety of operating systems. I found some issues with reliability and so I was always having so plug and monitor and keyboard in to see what was wrong - normally with the Windows wireless network settings.

The device I have used instead is marketed as a Wireless Game Adapter, although it will allow any device with wired ethernet to be connected to a wireless network - it's basically a wireless bridge. I used a Netgear product but they are also made by Linksys and several other companies. The device itself contains the wireless settings and deals with the wireless connection, allowing whatever you plug into it just to attach to it's wired network point as if it were any other network. I've found this to be rock solid in terms of reliability so far. Check out the pictures below, click on the them for bigger versions, or check them all out in the Image Gallery.

 

Here's the Netgear WGE111 Wireless Game Adapter, it has a switch on the back that allows to you manually choose ad-hoc mode (peer-to-peer) or infrastructure mode (using an access point). This means that normally I can have the Bot attach to my access point at home, but if I take it somewhere else I can connect straight to it from a laptop without having to reconfigure the Bot to attach to someone else's access point or touch the operating system's wireless settings.


 

The WGE111 is little bigger than the original Linksys USB adapter, it does require an external 5V power supply as it is not a USB device, but this voltage can easily be sourced from one of the Bot's M2-ATX PSUs.


 

I made up this special lead that takes 5V from a drive bay connector to power the WGE111.


 

The device is installed under the head plastics, the green cable goes straight to the on-board network adapter of the mini-itx board.


  Here's the WGE111 with it's lights on saying it's all happy and communicating. It uses a web based utility to configure the wireless settings which can be accessed from either the Bot itself, or anywhere on the network once it's connected.

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