Saturday, December 31, 2011

Moving On to New Challenges

I look back on 2011 as a great success! Building 6 robots, making new friends, showing off our collective skills in some competitions. After all of that work is has been good to be on vacation.

I have been a busy circuiteer this vacation (I hope Apple doesn't sue me for building an 'I Stand')!
(A stick with an alligator clip to hold my FET sensor). Using a LCD with the PICAXE has been more useful than I thought; it is nice to get telemetry without the debug screen. I have been trying to improve my static field detector to self calibrate and to adjust to changing atmospheric conditions (when the air gets dry, by basic system goes into constant alarm because the floor level of static energy is high).

I have also revisited the FEZ Domino (have not ordered the FEZ Panda II yet); have repeated most all of the exercises in the FEZ Tutorial (though I still hardly understand object-oriented blah blah (OO). Getting C# to do basic things is not too hard; the leap here is combining a lot of basic things into a real-world embedded project with classes, inheritance, etc. Controlling LEDs, relays, LCD, is a piece of cake. The payoff for trudging through this is to acquire new capabilities like reading and writing to a RAM stick, connecting to networks and making an internet appliance.

I have ordered several Texas Instruments (TI) Launch Pad kits. That exercise in ANSI C will be all about manipulating the registers to get the outputs we want. The TI guide for the Launch Pad has what I was missing a year ago when I first tried to master the MSP430 processor: a guide to set up the A/D converters. If I overcome the novice challenges, I can than make use of my other TI modules (and my fancy wristwatch) (I have wireless sensors and a couple of USB development tools that have been accumulated over the years. My watch has an accelerometer, temperature sensor, barometer and wireless link).

I will be creating new blogs for each of these endeavors (committed to open source).

Please keep me updated on your projects as well.


New Horizon 2012 with FEZ Panda II [Link]

2012 Detour with Texas Instruments MSP430
My real and previously stated goal for the year is to master the FEZ and C#; but I am considering an intermediate step for a couple of months and taking a wack at the Texas Instruments (TI) MSP430 which programs in ANSI C. It follows a logical progression of programing skill; begining with BASIC, then C, then C#. The financial commitment FEZ requires is $39-$140; TI offers a MSP430 starter kit for under $6. I have played with other TI MSP430 chips, and I can at least flash an LED. I would like to see just how different it would be to repeat some of the things we did with the PICAXE (less the robots) using C (i.e. motor control, PWM, RS-232, etc.) A refresher with C will help with the C#.
Anybody else want to take a stab at this with me? Together, (combining our experience and intellect) we can go a lot farther than 'flashing a LED' (as far as I got so far).
LaunchPad Kit [Link] 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dabbling with Dataloggers and RTC

Blog on RTC (Real Time Clock) and the makings of a data logger [Link]

AXE110 Data Logger Brochure [Link]

Example code for AXE110 [Link]

Example code for retrieving the data [Link]

Using i2c with PICAXE info [Link]

My other blogs [Link]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Robot Spec Comparison

People in the Ant-Scale competition are close to finishing their robots, so I put together a spec sheet template to compare our designs. I put my first 5 robots specs in as examples (I will only enter robot #5 for this competition). In 2 weeks we will do the robot Olympics and soccer games to complete this project.

Spec Comparison Template [Link]

My other blogs [Link]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday, October 7, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lunch-in-Learn Intro to Ant-Scale Robotics and PICAXE Programming

Some friends at work are getting together for about a month's work of weekly lunch-in-learn meetings to get everyone up to speed on building and programming an ant-scale robot. Then we plant to have a nice competition involving robotic soccer, an Olympics and an autonomous event.

Details [Link]

My other stuff (kayaking, plant identification, etc.) [Link]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Hotter/Colder" Talking Temp Sensor

This builds on my previous 'Phrasealator' blog by having a PICAXE microcontroller control the SpeakJet voice synthesizer without a PC. I wanted to get familiar with I2C, a serial inter integrated circuit serial protocol commonly used so microprocessors can read data from any sensor 'on the I2C bus'. The sensor I used was TMP102, a Texas Instruments temperature sensor (available from SparkFun). It is a low power device, the whole circuit (excluding the amplified speakers) drew only 3mA. The basic code was less than 40 lines. In operation, the system compares the current temperature measurement to the last one, and if it has changed over a degree, it speaks either "hotter" or "colder". I used the free SpeakJet Phrasealator application to generate a phoenetic string, which I cut and pasted into my basic code. Its dictionary contained the word "hot", to which I added "AXRR" to get the 'ger' of "hotter".

hotter  \HE\OH\TT\AXRR = (20,96,21,114,22,88,23,5,6,183,136,191,151)

Video [Link]

Circuit Diagram [Link]

Basic Code [Link]

SparkFun [Link]

Parts List [Link]

My other interests (Kayaking, plant identification, etc.) [Link]

Monday, September 5, 2011

Phrasealator Speech Synthesizer

In this blog, I add a Maz232 serial interface chip to the SpeakJet IC so it may be controlled by a computer. The application (available on SparkFun) is the Phrasealator speech editor. It has a library of 1400 words, sound effects, DTMF and the phonetics to create any words not in the dictionary. This SW also lets you export the code to cut and paste in your favorite microprocessor (like the PICAXE).

Video of project [Link]

SparkFun [Link]

Magnavision [Link]

My other stuff (kayaking, etc.) [Link]

SpeakJet Voice Synthesizer Demo

I am playing around with the SpeakJet chip to give a future robot a voice. In this video, I am just checking it out in demo mode; which runs through all of the pre-programmed phonics. The chip is made by Magnavision and is available through SparkFun.

Video [Link]

Magnavision [Link]

SparkFun [Link]

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Robot 3: Autonomous Sensor Platform 'Jimbo'

This is my first autonomous robot (he has a mind of his own!) And boy, what a wayward child he's been!
I built this to explore various sensors and sensor interfacing to the PICAXE-18M2 micro-controller.
His mission is to search for a magnet using Hall-Effect sensors, and to avoid obstacles like walls and cliffs using reflective IR (infra-red) sensors. When he encounters an obstacle, he has to stop, back up, turn a random angle, and proceed forward again until he finds the magnet. When the prize if found, he stops and blinks a green LED. It took 4 tweeks of the program to get it right.

Instructables Blog [Link]

Video of Robot in Action [Link]

My other interests (kayaking, plant identification, sea beans, etc.) [Link]

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Survey of Sensors

A remote-controlled robot relies 100% upon the operators senses. For an autonomous or semi-autonomous robot, we need to impart awareness of its environment. Even for a robot that is not autonomous, telemetry of sensor data can be valuable. In this blog, I surveyed the low-hanging fruit of the abundance of inexpensive sensors. The average cost per sensor is $12. Almost anything you can imagine can be measured: proximity, distance, temperature, light, magnetism, sound, barometric pressure, vibration, etc. I am really tempted to combine a bunch of sensors and construct a tricorder (like on Star Trek) for the Ghost Adventures show. (Can a spirit actuate a capacitive touch sensor?)

Sensor survey matrix: [Link]

My other stuff (kayaking, plant ID, sea beans, etc.): [Link]

Saturday, July 23, 2011

RCOC Robot Club Values

RCOC Values

Building robots is a fun activity; but for me there are also high ideals that guide my efforts. Helping others to succeed, encouraging experimentation, sharing knowledge, making learning fun, building friendships and inspiring a community of enthusiasts are all desires that focus my passion. Four inter-related disciplines that are foundational for this effort are summed up in the acronym RCOC:

Repeatability: this blog exists to serve other robot enthusiasts. That means I will try to refreign from using odd, one-of-a-kind or hard-to-obtain parts. Any person of average intelligence and strong desire should be able to reproduce anything posted here. I will do my best to assist anyone having technical issues.

C.O.T.S. (Commercial Off-The-Shelf (products)): robots will be built using generic parts from major vendors where possible (like McMaster Carr, Digi-Key, SparkFun, Pololu, Servo-City). Ideally, each part or a similar one should be available from multiple sources.

Open Source: everything is disclosed: electrical, mechanical drawings, source code and parts lists to enrich the community. That also means that everyone is encouraged to contribute to the knowledge base.

Competition: to promote creativity and excellence, non-destructive competitions will take place that will cultivate more robust, flexible and effective designs.

If you want to be a part of this community, contact me and join the E-mailing list (and not miss postings).

James the Quack

My other stuff (kayaking, plant ID, sea beans, etc.) [Link]

Robot Motors

A brushed motor without gear reduction is practically useless for robotics. To move things (perform mechanical work) we could use gear-head brush motors, servos or stepping motors (yes, there's others...solenoids, piezo thing-a-ma-jigs, etc.) For locomotion, high-torque and 'horse-power', nothing beats a good gear-head motor. The gear reduction effectively multiplies the torque of the original motor, trading speed for 'umph'. The link below takes you to a matrix of the motors that I have evaluated so far.

Motor Matrix: [Link]

My other stuff (plant ID, kayaking, sea beans, etc.) [Link]

Robot Batteries

When I was playing with 'Jim-Bob', my toy tank-tread robot, I was appalled by how quickly those little gear motors ate AA batteries! I hate throwing AA alkaline batteries in the trash for so many reasons: environmental, financial and personal thrift. The weight of my first robot, 'Little Jimmy' was nearly 50% gel cell battery. The electric car industry faces similar dilemmas of achieving the needed voltage and capacity at the lowest possible weight and volume (bulk) at a cost people can accept. There are a lot of choices in battery chemistry for secondary (rechargeable) cells: lead acid, gel cells,  nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, lithium-ion polymer. They do not come without risk: a few years ago the industry had a rash of exploding lithium lap top batteries. Each type of battery chemistry requires a different charging system. (Batteries in the hands of idiots are dangerous!) Every element of robot design and construction requires research, and batteries are no exception. Attached is a matrix of my research on various battery specs. The conclusions I came up with is that for an Ant-Weight (1 lb) robot like 'Jim-Bob', a 6V NiMH battery pack is a good choice. For a Hobby-Class robot like 'Little Jimmy' (10 lbs) a lead acid gel cell is just fine.

Battery Matrix [Link]

My other interests (Kayaking, plant ID, sea beans, etc. ) [Link]

Monday, July 11, 2011

Comparison of RF Links for Remote Control of Robots

From left to right top row: RC transmitter, RC receiver, XBEE, XBEE Breakout Board
From left to right bottom row: XBEE USB Explorer, Wixel, Nordic, BlueTooth

Comparison (check out all 3 page tabs listed at bottom of spreadsheet) [Link]

Though I have been using an IR (infra-red) remote control for indoor prototype robots, RF is required for good distance and performance outdoors. Due to outrageous Chinese exports, the cheapest and easiest system to implement is the conventional RC (radio control) using PWM signals. Any of the other 2.4GHz link modules will require more smarts in the robot to process the commands, and either a computer or an elaborate self-made transmitter control box. The one big advantage of using these RF module links is that they are transceivers (i.e. they both transmit and receive data), so they make telemetry possible (the receiving of sensor and status signals form the robot.)

My main blog list : [Link]

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

IR Remote Control of PICAXE Processor

In this blog I explore using a universal TV remote control to send IR signals to a PICAXE-18M2 micro-controller to  command a servo, LED and a gear-head motor to actuate. This demonstrates how a robot could be remote controlled easily and inexpensively.

My Instructable on the circuit:

My video of the demo:

My other stuff:

Parts List:

Circuit Diagram:

Basic Code:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Robot 1: "Little Jimmy"

Blog's Purpose

It has been a life-long dream of mine to build my own robots; but getting traction on actually assembling one proved difficult. Connecting wheels to motors is not as easy as it looks. Much of what is on the Web either assumed the hobbyist had a large budget, or access to machine shop. Robots can be built with C.O.T.S. (common, over-the-counter stock) if you know what to ask for (or 'Google'). Though I'm an Electronic Technician, there was a lot of mechanical terminology that I was not familiar with. It is my desire in this blog to share what I have learned and help many others succeed in building their own robot. As I build more robots, I intend to publish all circuit designs, drive trains, RC interfacing, battery charging systems and easy programming. I live in an apartment, so I also had to learn to scale down my tools and methods to work in that environment (limited space, noise concerns, thrift) so I will also detail how to work with tools and materials. Not only am I cheap, I'm a little green; recycling and scavenging wire, motors, batteries from any electronics on it's way to a landfill. Feel free to write, share your projects, ask for help.

Why Do I Build Robots?

They are neat! It stimulates my brain. Mechatronics is a synergy of mechanics, electronics, programming, art and science. This keep me studying and learning on myriad disciplines and have loads of fun at the same time.

Survey of Robotics Parts Sources

My "Instructables" Blog (Step-by-step instructions)

Photo Album of Building Robot 1

 Video of "Little Jimmy's" First Steps

Robot 1 Parts List

Robot 1 Spec Sheet

PICAXE Basic Code

PICAXE Servo Receiver Motor Controller Circuit

My other blogs and stuff (I'm interested in plant identification, nature, kayaking, sea beans, Christianity.......)