Let's Make Robots!

Terrapod Family- Parvus Mundus

Preserves and propogates life, tries not to run into or fall off of anything.

With all of the excitement and success of the latest rover on Mars, I got to thinking about experiments in robotics preserving, transporting, and protecting life on other planets. I thought about the other cool fundamentals of BEAM ethos and making a sustainable environment for life, some science fiction, and robotics merge, and create a family of robots that are born with an ecosystem or little world for a heart.  


For a first fun experiment, I started a small homemade terrarium globe with a sundew and moss in it, on a chassis powered with some hacked solar garden lights. That gave me 4.8V  220mAh top level charge, so the electronics are a 3.3v arduino pro mini and a couple low voltage drivers.  By the time I was done wiring everything, it was quite a crowded board, but I can reduce parts cost if I hack the servos to keep their circuits instead of gutting them into geared motors, or using smaller dc motors.  Regarding power, I hope that I can stack a reserve battery inside the chassis and extend the charging from the solar cells for more activity at night when this could travel a bit easier without lots of ambient IR.

The chassis itself was a fun challenge to print, and really set off the project well. If I can make it just a bit more efficient to produce on a 3d printer, I will put together a couple more and experiment with features like swarming and reporting their position w/ gps.  In the future, other pieces such as the wheels will be printed as well, or turned into cool linkage legs.


There is a lot going into the first prototype, and I think it represents a novel idea, but it isn't as repeatable as I'd like it to be. Some of the first people that I think should be able to build a terrapod are kids, and so I took some inspiration from other BEAM projects and am working on the smallest of these 'pods, which will be an analog drvien breadboard design mounted chassis. With the small breadboard, one could try any number of BEAM analog experiments or try some small mcu projects as well. I've reduced the cost of parts by making attachments that are quickly 3D printable but also able to be handmade with other materials. 

Code is currently nothing more than setting the IR sensors to watch for bumps and cliffs, and the CDS cells compare light levels to balance solar charging and rotate the terrarium evenly to avoid overheating. 

This robot's home is at Handmadecircuits.com, where I'll be producing a few of the first type for beta testing.




UPDATE 12.27.12

Got some rough code done and Terrapod can live in his own environment without falling off of stuff... most of the time. Still ironing out the stuff, and there is always a better way to do it, so those are next. Thanks to Tinhead, we got a cool event handling library working that helped simplify the code a bit.


-Terrarium ingredients list

-Build log for "Ambulans Mundi"

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The environmental thing of saving plants also reminds me of Eve in the Wall-e movie (cartoon movie).


Great bot Frank! Makes me want to build a fish bowl bot!


be careful it doesnt go to your head... but... OMG that ROCKS.

Is the terrarium connected, or is it just a passenger? Does the bot seek out light, or just optimise?

you could built a temperature and moisture sensor into the terrarium, to allow it to provide optimum conditions for the plants, although undertsanding the biological side of that would be even more complicated than the electronics side of it!

Taking inputs from the plant directly would be fun, and I've thought of trying to make something that draws its own moisture in when the plant gets too dry, for tnat we're going to need a bit more experimentation. :-)  Fun additions I hope to make soon.

Since the plants I'm using do fine with lots of sunlight, I figured having a rule that it can't sit in one place or direction too long was all I needed for the proof of concept. Right now, it seeks light, and balances sensor input to have multiple cells charge evenly, and rotates once in a good sunny position.

I think part of why I took to this idea initially is that I didn't know anything about plants or the fun world of plant hacking that terrarium forums and communities get you into. I was purely thinking of them as little alternate dimensions. Turns out that the science and art od terrsriu s is also really fun, and they mix well with robotics. :-) 

A mobile autonomous terrarium is an awesome idea at multiple levels, and it has been very cleanly executed. Congrats.

Also, I love the overall retro sci-fi look of it. :)

The idea behing this is really impressive, but better still, the look of that 'thing' (for lack of a more appropiate word) is truly engrossing.

That's an idea which is really creative. I remember a movie (from the 70's) where a guy in a big space ship took care of the green houses and a bunch of robots helped him. In the end the guy died and only one? robot continued to care the plants in the space ship.

The (i guess last) remaining robot in the movie was called "Huey" and the movie's name is "Silent Running". This movie impressed me a lot. The last scene show was the robot moving between the plants with a little watering can...soooo cute but also sad because no humans surived :-(


I think you are referring to a movie called "Silent Running" from 1972.

There were three robots, numbered 1, 2, & 3 which the main character renames "Dewey" (#1), "Huey" (#2), and "Louie" (#3). The ship's original assignment was to preserve the last remnants of plants and trees left on Earth, with the idea of someday cleaning up the Earth enough to replant them back on the planet. The owners of the ships decide to abandon the project and return the ships to (more profitable) commercial service.

...to be the guts for the legged version, Ambulans Mundi.  These guys deserve to be made into little BEAM creatures. Making these little worlds into a swarm hive is also on the horizon.


Thanks to my parents, classic sci-fi was a staple for brain food in our house when i was growing up. :-) 

That is a very creative idea and your robot has a cool Sci-Fi look about it.

My mother had terrariums when I was a kid but yours is the first I have seen that can wander about a table.