Let's Make Robots!

Hello all!

This is D. Jay Newman, also known as Dangerous Thing (as in "A little learning is a dangerous thing.")

I built several robots in from the late 1990's through the early 2000's. I had several articles and one book, Linux Robotics, published. Then my wife became extremely sick and I had to quit work to become her full-time caregiver. I was also forced to quit working on robots. Lately I realized I had to build things again or not be true to myself.

I've begun working on the troupe: Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, and eventually Chico. The theme is steampunk with a little borrowed from the Marx Brothers.

Steam Automaton Groucho: built on a wheelchair frame, with a NUC for brains, and a hierarchical set of BeagleBone Blacks for control and sensor systems. His primary tasks will be multi-camera vision and human interface experiments. I am working in making ethernet cameras out of RasPis. I have most of his internal components, but still need to get the wood to make the body of his frame. The eye stalks will be powered by Robotis MX-64s.

Steam Automaton Harpo: I bought a used Troussen Robotics Hexapod that I'll be using a BBB for the brains. I'm also working on a small laser harp as a side project for him to play. He will communicate with various beeps and cartoon sound effects.

Steam Automaton Zeppo is a basic differential drive robot, also bought used. I will also be using a BBB for the brains.

Hexo: Another kit, this is the Hexy kit. I'll see if it can be powered by a BBB, but I may have to use a Teensy 3.1 on it. He is meant purely for humor.

Eventually, Steam Automaton Chico is planned to be some sort of balancing robot. I don't have any particular parts for him yet.

Most of the decorations will be created by my coming Real Soon Now 3d printer, a Kickstarter. Luckily I have too much to do to be impatient. I will put the individual robots up as projects as soon as I can.

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Roxanna, I thank you for the kind words.

Yes, I wrote this book. However, as my wife became extremely sick during the last half of my writing and the publisher wouldn't give me extra time, the book is definitely not my best work. Though I still sell a few copies each year. I also recently picked up a copy of Servo, and was pleasantly surprised that they still advertised the book. And yes, I've put Linux on Groucho's NUC and the other bots in the troupe will run Linux also.

(We thought that she was dying and I quit my job as a Sr. Programmer/Analyst to become her full-time caregiver. I'm glad to say that she's still with us, but her health hasn't gotten much better.)

I will be sending in proposals for another book once I really start going on Groucho and the rest.

I'm also looking into mentoring a local robotics club, even if I have to make one. This is mainly because I need to speak with people outside the medical profession. :)

Seriously, outside of dinner with friends and a science fantasy role-playing games once per week, I pretty much only speak to Lee and medical professionals for her appointments.

And Lee is OK as she gets.

- J

Really sorry to hear about your wife's condition, that must be hard for you. I think tough you have the right idea, you do need to have some distraction, and robots are perfect for that. Robots don't complain when our lives become complicated, they just patiently wait for our return. :)

I'll be ordering that book, and I hope I can hit you up for linux advice as my robot starts growing up?
I have more ideas and dreams than I have skills, but its fun to chase my dreams!
 

And robots don't have to be taken to the doctor's several times a week. If I feel like fixing bugs today I can do it today.

On the other hand, puppies need to be taken for walks on their schedule, and we're getting one soon. Now that could be a use for a robot. :)

EDIT: Completed thought.

I wouldn't bother ordering the book unless you like Java. It really isn't that good. Not that I mind people buying it, but the later chapters is where things went pear shaped and thy were going to be the interesting ones.

For smaller bots, the RasPi and the BeagleBone Black are great. Larger ones have the space for a larger computer. Even the smaller ones can link to a desktop computer via wifi or Bluetooth.

We have more computing power available to us today than I did a decade ago when I wrote the book. One thing I'm planning to do is to create ethernet cameras with RasPi's and their cap camera modules.

I also suggest learning ROS. I'll admit that I'm just starting learning it myself, but it can add a lot of functionality that would otherwise have to be programmed in individually.

thanks! I'm not a big fan of java....  

I do have a larger bot, but I am going with RaspPi and multiple Propellers and ATTINY84's to get all the work done...as I like a challenge :)
 I may change my mind at some point and use a full computer for it's brains.  I just got a RoboPi board and have been tinkeriung on it. I'm on a steep learning curve still....  I really need a good simple example of serial communication between the Pi (c, python?) and the Prop (Spin), I seem to be stuck right now. I learn best by example. 

I'll need to look at ROS again, it did look interesting, I wonder if the Propeller would support it?

I have some RasPis that I'm going to be experimenting with for their cameras so I can pre-process the images before sending it back to Groucho. I can't afford real gigabit ethernet cameras, so I'll make something for now until I can.

I will be using BeagleBone Blacks as sub-processors for Groucho and as the main processor for the other robots.

For low-level processors I'll be using Adafruit Trinkets, which are mostly Arduino compatible. I'm thinking about using a Teensy 3.1. for some of this when it needs more memory/speed.

Do you have any pictures of your bot? Right now Groucho is just a bunch of parts scattered about. And I still have to figure out a way of getting my 24v 100a-hr battery to my house, which is the last major part other than the wood frame. I changed the wheelchair that I'm building him around so I have some big heavy boxes that I have to move to the basement. I ordered motors and a wheelchair frame from eBay, because I liked the frame I saw there better than the frame I had in the basement. So now I might use the extra wheelchair motors to make a big arm for Groucho and another for rotating the torso.

I had a big setback a few weeks ago when our house took a lightning hit and all our computers that were connected to wired ethernet died, plus parts of the entertainment center. Now the very first thing I have to put together is a home NAS for backups. Then I have to figure out how to fix one of the computers so I can get the data off it (two of the drives are in a RAID array, and I didn't think to mark which ones).

So yesterday I got my first issue of Servo magazine in the mail, and as I went through it an advertisement caught my eye. I have been working on the "brain" for my Big Robot Project, a Raspberry Pi with a RoboPi board. So, linux has been on my mind, and there in the magazine I see the ad for a book, "Linux Robotics" and today I see the author posted on LMR! Crazy Random Coincidence?

Really good to see you here!

Will the Groucho robot running the NUC have linux? 

Yes, you can ask me Linux advice, but I'm still coming up to speed again. I've been away from programming for many years and am having to relearn a bunch of stuff myself.

Groucho is running Ubuntu 14.04 or so, plus I have some RasPis and BeagleBone Blacks that all run Linux.

The batteries haven't arrived yet because of a problem with shipping. Their web software assumes everything can go FedEx, but lithium batteries have a weight limit, and a 100 amp-hr battery is pretty weighty.

So they have to send it freight, and I don't have a loading dock plus I have a strange schedule, so I'm having it shipped to the FedEx Shipping Center nearest my house. Plus I'll have to rent or borrow a truck and a friend to pick it up.

So what was supposed to be a simple thing turned into something rather complex. Gack.

Oh well.

DT

I also look forward to seeing your work.

I hope you let us know how you like the LiFePO4 cells you purchased (as mentioned here).

I hope your wife is doing okay.