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Society Of Robots
Thursday, 19 July 2007

ImageI wanted to point out this robot resource web site, if you've not already seen it: Society Of Robots

The site's main focus is DIY robot building, and although the 914 is a ready made robot - it is of course open to being hacked, modified and generally tailored to your own requirements. So if you are thinking about building your own add-on accessory, an arm for instance, then this is a good place to start.

Of particular interest is the working with materials section, the electronics and mechanics sections, and also a rather large section on sensors - as well as a whole lot more!.

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Wireless Battery Charger
Wednesday, 18 July 2007

ImageC6jones720 previously showed us his 914 development platform along with some industrial solar cells he intends to use for charging up the batteries. Chris has been doing some more work on supplying external power to the Bot - using inductive power transfer so that there is no direct electrical connection.

Chris has written a short document on his findings so far which you can view in PDF format: WirelessBatteryCharger.pdf (118Kb)

Some very interesting results so far using off the shelf parts. I guess the next steps will perhaps be to try conveying power over a larger air gap - to save having to pry those magnets apart when charging has finished.

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Preliminary Python
Monday, 16 July 2007

I recently showed you my Media Server project which allows phrases to be spoken sounds to be played on the Bot by connecting to it over the network and sending command strings.

I've now also written something similar which allows the 914 itself to be driven around. This was written in C# using the White Box Robotics .NET controls to talk to the hardware. The sensor data, 'safety' and 'drop' events are served up on a socket, as well as it accepting left and right wheel velocity data to drive around

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My intention for this is to build a modular control framework that I could interface to from a variety of other components and languages - primarily Python. I also intend to allow interfacing to Bots running Linux and Player - there's more of an update about that in my Python project progress blog.

I've made a short video of the Bot doing another auto roam around the room. On the surface this looks quite a bit like the previous video I posted, however the key differences here are that the Bot is running Windows this time, the .NET sockets server is being used to interface to the hardware instead of Player, the speech is coming from my Media Server, and lastly - the overall control is coming from a Python script running over a wireless network, instead of running locally on the Bot - you see a brief glimpse of that running on my laptop in the video.

As Python is interpreted and also in this case running on the end of wireless connection, it seemed safer to allow the native 'drop' and 'safety' support built into the .NET controls to be used for actually stopping the Bot when needed. The sensor data is read by the Python script along with the nature of the event stopping it, and then a decision is made based on the data about what to do next. At the moment it can only turn away from the object and carry on again, but the next step is to take other inputs such as vision data from RoboRealm to help with the decision making process. There will also be a 'Pseudo AI life loop' running at some point which will add it's two cents about what to do next - hopefully resulting in some emergent behaviour.

I would also like to try some very rudimentary mapping using sensor data, perhaps with some additional sensors as I discussed recently. This will likely take the form of a 'wall follower' to take crude measurements and populate a 2D array to draw out an approximate map of the environment. I guess this will be a bit like measuring the room from different points with an ultrasonic tape measure - but it being dark so having to follow the walls with your hands to find the corners.

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914 Comic - Silicon City part 10
Sunday, 15 July 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 tenth part of the Silicon City story - only two more to go before the final episode.

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

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The Biggest BEAM Robot
Tuesday, 10 July 2007

C6jones720 has given me some pictures and info to publish about his 914, which he has simply named 'Happy Robot'.

Chris got hold of the 9-Series development platform in it's most basic form so that he could build as much of it as possible to custom requirements. Chris says the following - click on the pics for bigger versions:

Here's my new robot out of the box - thanks to Rich, Tom and White Box Robotics!:
I redesigned the wiring loom  - that's the schematic in the background, and also added this power splitting module to allow easy access to the various power rails:
My new computer, a Jetway J7F2 mini-itx – it wasn't the default board but it was pretty cheap and features a Via C7 CPU!. Hang on a minute... don’t I need a fan for this? (The computer turns itself off at 50’C):
A trip to Maplin's later and Ive added two fans. The computer now runs at about 20’Celsius, which is fine by me. I’ve used Inventa (which is like Lego) to permanently mount the fans in place. So next comes the joy of installing an operating system:
Guess what - my girlfriend didn’t enjoy the mess I made (for two days).

So now I've got a robot that almost does something. Now the robot has two great batteries in the base and an estimated 2/3 hour run time, I don’t think anybody has come up with a docking station yet so I thought to myself - Hmm I wonder if I can charge the batteries on the fly? So I came up with the crazy idea of charging my robot using solar panels when the main power switch is turned off.
It just so happens that at work they were scrapping a load of 24V heavy duty solar cells. I asked my boss nicely and I ended up with one. These were originally fitted to coin-op pay-and-display car park ticket machines as their only source of external power:

I fixed it to the rear of my robot to see how feasible it was - it's pretty big.

Here's the 914 robot complete with a 10W 24v solar cell - it’s a Solarex SX10 and I also got a solar charge regulator to go with it. I don’t think the regulator is that efficient, the designer used linear electronics so there's a big power transistor (heater) to bleed off excess current. I could have designed one myself but, hey it was free!
See if you’re lucky you can get about 12-15volts out of it, which is about enough to charge a lead acid battery.
So there we go, Mark Tilden Eat your heart out!. This must be the worlds biggest BEAM robot! – there's only one thing, this has been the worst British summer for ages!. Living in England means the sun is in short supply so realistically in order to charge my batteries up I have to detach the panel from the robot and put it in my window sill, which stops it being portable.
I can imagine that in a hotter country like most of the US or Europe, where there is more light, this would make a much more practical project.

Chris will give us some more updates as his work progresses. If you have any similar news or views then let me know and I'll give you a share of front page fame!

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VGA Drive Bay Monitors
Sunday, 08 July 2007
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One last reminder that you only have 24 hours left to submit your order for a 4" drive bay mounted VGA monitor. White Box Robotics are offering these for just $299 USD. Tuesday 10th July is the last day for orders.

Check out the previous article for ordering details.

 
914 Comic - Silicon City part 9
Sunday, 08 July 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 ninth part of the Silicon City story.

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


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Animatronic Heads
Friday, 06 July 2007
ImageI saw this article over at Techblog about robotic cats. The first video of the Yellow iCat is worth watching - it uses a mechanical face to convey various emotions with different expressions which is, in part, something similar to what I was hoping to achieve with my 'face pulling man' and a small VGA display on my 914.

The 914 has quite a lot of it's own personality and good looks, so although I had planned to hack one of those animatronic chimpanzee heads and stick it on top, it seems a shame to draw the attention away from the look and feel of the 914 itself. On the other hand there are various other mechanical heads and faces out there to buy if you wanted to try this type of robot-human interaction. Perhaps something in plain white would be a more suitable match, or even something simple you can paint up yourself...?

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Linux and Player Video
Wednesday, 04 July 2007
I decided that there weren't enough videos of the 914 on YouTube, so I've started to put a few up. The first is a video of the 914 running Player on Linux using the sample roam/avoidance program supplied by White Box Robotics.

I think the video also helps to give a better idea of the physical size and nature of the 914 for those who've never seen one in real life - photos just don't do it justice. You can see one of my dogs helping out with the testing here in a relatively normal household environment.

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VGA Drive Bay Monitors
Monday, 02 July 2007
ImageJust a reminder that there's only one week left to place your order for a "4 VGA drive bay mounted monitor.

If you wish to order, check out the previous article.

Make sure you get your order in by 10th July!.

 
914 Comic - Silicon City part 8
Sunday, 01 July 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 eighth part of the Silicon City story.

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






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