Let's Make Robots!

Steam Punk Robots

I was visiting my sister this past weekend. I showed her son Alec some of the great bots here on LMR. Alec has a couple of interesting model engines, and has been trying to generate electricity with them. His dad actually does this on a bigger scale with diesel engine running biodiesel and a generator.

Anyway, one of Alec's engine models is a Stirling engine. He has this model.


Alec had previously dis-assembled it, and now it is not working so well. He's very patiently tweaking the position of the flywheels to fix it.

Alec's model steam engine looks a lot like this one.


He is using a small DC motor that came with a little solar panel to try to couple to the steam engine and generate enough voltage to drive an LED.  He was only getting about 1 volt, so I helped him understand gear ratios a bit, and that he needed the motor to turn faster to get above 1.5 volts so he could easily run the LED. I also left him with some notes on using capacitors to clean up the power, if he gets past the raw voltage issue.

Anyway, it made me think about one day using a little engine as an alternative to battery power for electrical supply.  Plenty of people have made battery and even solar powered bots.  I don't see too many steam or gas engine bots out there.  It would be cool

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I've been thinking about steampunk robots for a while, but never mechanically, just aesthetically. I think this is a really cool idea, pulling it off would definitely be a challenge. 

This guy has some really cool steam powered robots (mostly remote controlled, rather than autonomous).


There's a research group at Berkeley working on developing a μm scale internal combustion engine that would be small enough to replace normal sized batteries but deliver much more power. Not exactly steampunk, but pretty damn cool.
As for myself I'm working on a PEM Hydrogen/Oxygen Fuel Cell powered bot, using auxilliary solar panels to charge it up when viable. Also hoping to build a direct ethanol cell and a bacterial cell when I can get the efficiency high enough to be feasible.

Make sure you tell Alec to use a rectifier diode if he's adding capacitors to smooth the motor output, otherwise the negative power part of the DC cycle will deplete the capacitor charge instead of boosting it.

The bit that frightens me about doing it on a small scale (at home) is that steam requires heat. Heat for these little engines normally comes from ethanol or something.I'd be worried in case it fell over.

That said, I'd love to see someone making a PID (adjust-to-reach) loop which monitored and controlled the steam output so that just enough energy is created - none wasted.

Segways can be ported directly to a gas generator, and seeing as their robotics platform is based on the same bits it should too.


Crabfu make silly robots with personality and steamtoys to dream about

I just remembered this site, run by a teacher at the County College of Morris in NJ. He provides plans for building steam engines, but for teaching he runs them on compressed air for greater safety.

If I had access to a machine shop, I think I would try this out.

I have an idea for an "autonomous" compressed air powered robot using no electrics. It could be programmed to independently control two drive wheels, and maybe some actuators for arms.  It would also accept an interrupt if a bumper was hit, so it could stop it's normal program routine and execute a different sequence.

I don't live too far away from this college. I wonder if this teacher would consider a collaboration if combining his air powered steam engines with automaton generated interest from the students.

I recently inherited a lathe and I'm being encouraged to make a steam engine as a practice piece. I suppose carrying around a tank of compressed air would be safer than carrying around an explosive mixture. I've been chasised before for the suggestion of using explosives as fuel.
Testing your steam engine with compressed air would be a good idea. You can always use it with steam, but with air you'll have saver testing.

Air pressure is your safest, but I seem to remember using a low boiling point liquid as an alternative to water. It may have been a chlorinated / fluoronated solvent, like Freon. Today it probalbaly would be classified as hazardous and not eco-friendly.

BTW, these are just Steam engine models, Steampunk is a whole different animal, more of an artistic style.