Parents, Kids and the Stuff We Obsess About

All posts tagged ‘Robots’

Flamethrower Combat Robots… Oh Yes, You Heard Me Right

Robot combat has come a long, wonderful way since I used to watch the shows on basic cable so long ago. The advancements in the sport are a thing to make any geek shed a tear of delight. Our friends at Geeks Are Sexy have just published a wonderful new video featuring some awesome robots fighting to the death. We bid you watch, and smile.

You can also catch the video in HD here.

And the post here.

HEXBUG Ant Giveaway

  • 9:23 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

The HEXBUG Ant has made it’s way online and I have secured five of them to give to our readers. Just drop a comment below for a chance to win. I’ll choose five lucky winners at noon central time tomorrow, April 9th.

We’ve been having a lot of fun dropping the Ants in the kitchen and watching the cats go insane. The ants are fast enough to be difficult to catch, and sturdy enough to withstand a swift kick. The axles are also removable to make cleaning out the lint easy.

The Ant’s web page has a new Design tab that shows some of the early prototypes and gives a peek into how these fun toys were developed. Click through to get a sneak peak at one of the earliest prototype ants.

Click through for a look at some of the first prototype ants.

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Win a Bioloid From Trossen

  • 8:30 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

Img_102Trossen Robotics has announced their next contest and the prizes this time are just short of awesome. First prize is the Bioloid Comprehensive Kit, second is the Bioloid Beginner Kit and third is an Robotis Ollo Bug Kit. We’ve got a couple Bioloid’s at work and they are fun to play with. I saw the Ollo Bug at the Toy Fair and it has potential. I will have a review of it sometime in April.

Trossen is trying something different this time. The entries must be in the form of a tutorial. Some the suggestions include explaining what a digital gyroscope signal is, explaining how motors and servos work, choosing the right microcontroller and inverse kinematics, dead reconning and spatial mapping.

So head on over to Trossen’s contest page for more details and see what you can come up with. If you submit any howtos, please comment a link here so I can read it.

Mindstorms Reloaded: LEGO Announces NXT 2.0

  • 6:00 am  | 
  • Categories: Lego

MindstormsNews has been percolating over the internet regarding the new LEGO Mindstorms NXT set, called NXT 2.0, due out this August.

If you’re not savvy to Mindstorms, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s simply LEGO with motors. Yes, it’s a robotic set put out by LEGO and it uses TECHNICS parts, but that’s just the beginning. People have used Mindstorms to create gadgets ranging from autopilots to microscopes, 3D printers to Rubik’s Cube solvers and rubber band chain guns to knitting machines.

Kids have also gotten in on the action, participating in the FIRST LEGO League, a worldwide robot design competition that has exploded on the scene in just a few brief years, going from 9,500 participants in 1999 to 106,000 in 2007.

So yeah, NXT 2.0. But what exactly will be different?

There’s been a lot of hopeful clamoring in the NXT community that the release would include a new NXT brick. This brick contains the microcontroller that runs all the sensors and motors that make up a robot. It’s the sort of tech that everyone always has ideas for improving — add more memory or a SD card slot, have a faster chip, more input and output ports, and so on.

No dice.

While the NXT brick may see some sort of redesign, it appears that the basic specs are identical. Cue a certain amount of disappointing mumbles from power users about how the 2.0 set wasn’t more revolutionary. However, I suggest these naysayers may be missing the point. The NXT brick’s strength is that, as a user-programmable microcontroller, its capabilities are pretty much what you make of it. And if you can’t take care of business with just one brick, you can always add a 2nd one…

There are two areas where we’re going to see a clear improvement: First, there is a new module that combines the features of a light sensor, a color sensor, as well as a lamp. Secondly, the software appears to be radically improved, with sound and icon editors, a remote control simulator, and a packaging tool that helps users share  their programs with their friends. As an added bonus, LEGO has softened the set’s rather formidable learning curve by providing some quickie robots that take only 30 minutes to complete.

Maybe this set is, as some people claim, more of an incremental refresh than a radical improvement. Either way, it’s good to see LEGO isn’t ignoring NXT.

Photo by Joe Meno

(Editor’s note: just to whet everyone’s appetites, GeekDad may very well get to host preview demonstrations of Mindstorms NXT 2.0 at our Maker Faire booth this May. Stay tuned!)

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A Wonderfully Geeky Wedding

  • 7:00 am  | 
  • Categories: Video

A coworker brought this geeky wedding video to my attention Monday and with the groom’s permission I am posting it here.  Mark and Christine exchanged their marriage vows during a break in the competition at the 2009 FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Midwest Regional.  It takes a very special woman to agree to get married during a robotics competition, let alone in the middle of the arena (though her armband reads "Official Scorer," so it couldn’t have been that alien a place for her). I’d like to take a moment and congratulate Mark on finding an understanding wife and wish them both the very best of luck and (if it’s in their plans) a geeklet or two in due time.

For more information about FIRST and the 2009 competition see the FIRST website.  And for the record, the Lunacy logo is for this year’s FRC season, and is therefore not commentary on Mark and Christine’s wedding.

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XKCD-Inspired Robot Makes Sandwiches

  • 8:00 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

I really love Bre Pettis and Adam Cecchetti’s Sudo Make Me a Sandwich robot, a tribute to a well-known XKCD comic:

This great project uses an Arduino, stepper motor controller cards with motors, two servos, and a cheap toaster oven. One of the best parts about it is that Bre and Adam show us how to build our own, with Bre’s cheese dispenser plans on Thingiverse and Adam’s Arduino code here. Also see Adam’s and Bre’s flickr sets for more geeky goodness.

I’ve been thinking — their bot makes cheese sandwiches, and cocktail robots make mixed drinks, what other excessively complicated food-making device can we come up with?

1) "Breakfast in Bed Maker" — I’m the one who never gets to sleep in at my house. Fresh squeezed orange juice, toaster waffles with syurp, maybe a slab of ham… mmmm. Set it to start cooking 5 minutes before wakeup.

2) Nothing beats a fresh-baked cookie. Get some of those frozen cookie dough balls, the sort you throw into a toaster oven to cook. Figure out how to drop it from a cold box into the toaster oven and away you go.

3) Sundae maker with pre-heated hot chocolate and whipped cream.

Leave your food machine ideas in the comments section.

FIRST Robotics Challenge Ship Deadline is Here!

  • 10:00 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

FRC TornadoTeams, put down your tools, it is time to ship the robots!

Today is the last day that FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) teams have to ship their robots.  It has been a crazy six week build for most teams and a great learning experience for all the students (and mentors).  I’m excited that Dallas is hosting a Regional Competition on March 12 through the 14th.  This will be my first opportunity to see a FRC competition up close.  You can find a schedule of regional competitions on the USfirst website.

The teams now get to spend their time honing their driving kills with a practice bot (if they had time or money to build one), tweak the autonomous and driver code, work on strategies, and promote their team.

Now that all the robot designs are finalized, the veil of secrecy is lifting and teams are more willing to share photos and videos of their robots.  Teaser videos are a significant part of the FRC culture  as team members learn to promote their teams.  I’ve started a  2009 FRC Teaser Videos playlist to help keep track of the videos.  If any FRC teams want me to add their’s, please send me a link.

Click through to see my favorite video so far, but I’m partial since the RoboWranglers are the local team and reigning world champs.

Continue Reading “FIRST Robotics Challenge Ship Deadline is Here!” »

Soon My Robot Army will be Complete!

  • 6:00 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

AntIMG_4922Fortunately for mankind this army of robots won’t be hell-bent on destroying the human race, just mischievously killing productivity and lifting spirits.

The Ant is the latest addition to the HEXBUG family.  Equipped with 6 wheel-legs, he is significantly faster than his siblings while touch sensors front and back help him to react to obstacles.  The Ant is fast enough that catching him can be a challenge in larger rooms.  Like the other HEXBUGs, the Ants will come in 5 colors: red, blue, green, pink, and orange.  All of the plastic shells are translucent, allowing full view of the circuit board.

The HEXBUG Ant should be available at RadioShack and at by the end of March.  I’ll post more pictures to my Flickr account tomorrow.

If you happen to be at the NY Toy Fair this weekend, be sure to stop by the HEXBUG booth and tell them you saw the Ant on GeekDad (and look for GeekDad Matt who will be wandering the convention center on Sunday)!

More Awesome Robots from the TRC Contest

  • 8:50 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

K9_winner Once again the guys on the Trossen Robotics Forum have come up with some great robots for the robotics project contest.  I can imagine the difficulties in judging this round since all the bots are innovative in many ways.

The winner this round is my favorite, and someone that the geeklets recognized right way.  DJSures’ version of the K-9 Robotic Dog is spot on with a lot of details.  I’m tempted to build one like this just so I have a friendly robot waiting for me when I come home.  K-9 is aware of his surroundings and actually drives around obstacles without bumping into them.

My next favorite only scored 3rd place.  It is just a bit too realistic, and about as creepy as robots get.  Garry Willett’s Animatronic project definitely freaked out the kids.  If you have time and some interest in building your own be sure to check out the videos and links he’s posted to the forum.  His process for making the eyeballs is amazing.  I’d really love to do something like this, but I won’t fool myself into thinking I have time to even start.  I’m also not sure I could sleep in the same house as one of these.  I think it’d be wise to keep it at the office just in case it wakes up hungry one night.

The most detailed entry comes from Sunithya.  Another animatron, but this time in the form of a Robotic Marionette.  The entire thread is worth a read as he goes into great detail about how everything was made.  Even if you don’t need a marionette, the techniques he uses can be applied to most build projects.

You can see the runners-up and some more commentary all the robots at Trossen’s blog.

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From GeekDad project to real business

  • 10:58 am  | 
  • Categories: Uncategorized

About two years ago, my then-9-year-old and I worked on a cool project to program Lego Mindstorms to fly a RC plane, which we cheekily called a Lego UAV. (And were then, even more cheekily, accused of "weaponizing Lego"–UAVs are export controlled as weapons!). It worked, amazingly, and was a lot of fun.

Then, as sometimes happens, I got obsessed, while he moved on to other things. In the past two years, I’ve made cellphone UAVs, Basic Stamp UAVs, autonomous blimps, and a true gyros+acellerometers+GPS autopilot version of the Lego Mindstorms UAV that’s now in the Lego Museum in Billund, Denmark. We set up an amateur UAV community at, and get thousands of people each day exploring this new dimension of aerial robotics.

Now this project has gone pro. Our first commercial autopilot, the Arduino-compatible ArduPilot, has been released and our goal of taking an order or two of magnitude out of the cost of an autopilot has been achieved: it’s $24.95!

Combined with a RC plane, this makes it easy to build a complete UAV for less than $500, which is really kind of amazing. As exciting as that it is, it’s also sobering to know that a technology that was just a few years ago the sole domain of the military is now within the reach of amateurs, so we spend a lot of time educating our community on FAA regulations and safe and responsible flying (always under 400 feet, stay within line of site, pilot always able to regain control).


As for my kids, well, the technology pretty quickly went over their head (in all senses of the word), but they’re still involved a bit: video taking, pointing the ground-based telemetry antenna at the plane, laughing at Dad when his plane crashes and being bribed with ice cream if they’ll tag along for yet another test flight. Someday, maybe one of them will want to get involved with some aspect of this again–programming, hardware design, even piloting. But until then, this counts as another project that started GeekDad and ended all Geek ;-)