Older blog entries for ROB.T. (starting at number 27)

5 Aug 2003 (updated 5 Aug 2003 at 15:43 UTC) »

First of all, I brought the mechanically completed (no brain yet) bricklayer to my July TCRG robot meeting. It looks like I'll have to redesign the arm extension, but this design works pretty well. The Robocities concept is still a go.

The boards are done and on their way from Bulgaria. I just ordered all the parts for the boards, and all the motors I think I'll need. The only kicker is that one of the parts - the accelerometer, isn't due to ship until 3 days before I'm suppose to have this project finished and tested, so that's no good.

I've got some little sub projects, like making a brass cutter and an Acrylic cutter that I want to build before I build the next onslaught of robots. This sounds like a distraction, but one of my objectives for this project is to create Infrastructure tools that will allow me to build better robots faster. So that's what I'm doing today.

The ``true test'' of my faith in my robotics abilities has finally arrived.

A little background - I've been working on the Robocities concept (the concept of having multiple little robots construct a place they can ``call their own'' out of foam) and I have created a prototype bricklayer that will be a little slow but should work. The goal of this project is to introduce a book and a web page that will inspire advanced robotics hobbyists to build their own cities.

With this in mind I've opted to order the full complement of prototype boards for 10 controller sets - a total cost of $4,500 - which, in addition to some of the boards I already have, will be used to control 7 robots 4 infrastructure projects, and 1 user/computer interface. I estimate I'll need about another $2,000 to begin to raise the cities and to complete the infrastructure projects.

Normally I would simply stretch this out over the next 3 years or so and gradually get it done. But the taxes on our new home just shot up another $350 a month, and my monthly cash outlay has now exceeded my cash intake. So now I have an extreme need to make more money, which frankly, I doubt I'm going to get through mobile robotics at this time. So that means I'm going to have to either work two jobs, or get a better job, either way robotics time is going to get shelved fairly soon.

So this is it. I've opted to extend myself as far as I can go financially to get this robotics project together and out to the community, and after this, I don't know.

5 Jun 2003 (updated 7 Jun 2003 at 04:22 UTC) »

OK, college is finally over (after 16 years) and I've got me one of them there pieces of paper. So now the question is do I pursue robotics or do I get a real job (complete with career)? After talking to my wife, I've determined that I can always get a real job later, and for now I will focus on robotics.

This is good because I made one of those napkin contract (lower left corner - I might have been drinking...) with Bruce Shapiro, a guy from my robotics club with deep affiliations with our local Science Museum, indicating that if I complete my Robocities concept and he will talk to the science museum people and find a space for my creation.

I consider this a no-brainer since I was going to complete this project anyway and even go so far as to write about it.

I've already secured a lot of the proto-type boards I want to use and was working on the mechanical side of thing - when disaster struck. A little detail I ignored - commonly referred to as ``physics'' - informed me that the way I was planning to build walls would produced more torque on a particular motor then it was capable of handling.

Needless to say my carefully laid plans have been dashed on the rocks below.

So for the next day or two I'll be working on ``plan B'' which I hope works because ``plan C'' will reduce my robot's efficiency roughly in half.

So there it is folks, the nitty-gritty of robot- building in action.

I have two weeks left of school for my CS degree and then it's over ...

My second wave of boards are on their way from Olimex. It'll take me about a month to test them.

Predecessor is experiencing an ``operational pause'' due to low funds (external factors sucked my robot budget dry). I'm really not in the mood to switch projects in mid stream, but hey, finances are finances. I take some comfort in the knowledge that my other two major projects integrate nicely with the technologies developed for Predecessor. So I picked one of the other projects to work on with the remainder of this years funds - Robocities.

Robocities is a pretty cool concept - robots build a city- like structure using foam blocks. I did some extensive work on this concept about three years ago, but lost interest when my class load increased. Kept in the back of my mind as one of the ``Big Three'' projects that I want to write about, it will make a nice transitional project for intermediate hobbyists and a good collective project for universities who work on ``swarm'' robotics.

Since Robocities shares the same technologies as Predecessor, a tremendous amount of work is already done. Another plus is I can prove the concept by building one robot - three machines gets the whole thing up and going. I've ordered the motors for those machines, but I'm still developing the sensor set I'll need to make the project work.

In other news it looks like my robotics group TCRG is experiencing some frustration at low turnout and project stalls. I'm generally unable to attend meeting - lately because of school - but I should be at the next one (in a month) to share my project construction experiences. Maybe I'll even have a small Robocity Robot up and running.

I still need to order the parts, but I just sent the PCB order for the second and hopefully last order before I order all the boards for the platform (took long enough). I decided I'm not ready to solidify the design so I'll be ordering more prototyping boards instead of developing a new task-specific board for the leg.

I also bought 2 more of those swell 58 lb. batteries. Damn straight I'm going to put them on my robot, bringing the robot weight in at 232 lbs for batteries alone. Heck, that's almost a battlebot weight!

23 Feb 2003 (updated 23 Feb 2003 at 15:11 UTC) »

The DARPA Grand Challenge confrencies are posting results from the conference in the Forum. It looks like the judges expect the ~250 mile course to be run in 6 - 10 hours by the autonomous vehicles. I need 30 days so...

I'm out.

I performed some experiments on the motors I have and came up with some interesting results. Instead of a stall torque of 50 lbs. at 12V 3.5 Amps, the stall is more like 100 lbs. at ~6 amps. This is good and bad. Good because my robot is going to have plenty o' power to move around (maybe even with a payload) bad because the L298 motor driver I was planning to use ain't enough. My solution is to make my own motor driver using FETs .

After blowing up a few "test units" (10 so far) learning to work with them properly, I learned two things - A.) You've gotta tie your gates down when you aren't using them. B.) Don't play around with blowing up FETs, get a FET driver with a high-side charge pump. I did some research and determined the HIP4081A fits my purposes well - I also found out (via the internet) that a few of my TCRG hommies have already gone down this path and are using the HIP4081As now. I just placed an order with Newark for a few drivers and I'm waiting for them now.

While playing the FET game, my supposedly good gel-cell 12V 17-AH batteries from Mendelson Electronics didn't perform very well - like at all. Maybe I didn't take proper care of them, maybe I got jacked, whatever. My next move was to stop playing around with gel cells and get a decent deep-cycle 12V marine battery. I found a swell battery that put out 105 amps and at 58 lbs would be a freakin' mongo lump in the middle of my `bot. I got 2 of them and I'm going to put them both in the frame - aesthetics be damned.

I put (mostly) together what amounts to the new proto-type leg and immediately determined I need bearings. I've been hunting for them all day and finally stumbled across a bearing source on the net - I order a couple pairs to play with. Along with the bearings I need to lathe a decent aluminum axle (here is my future aluminum source ) for each leg joint (I'm up to 5 per leg). There have been many little changes to this leg design along the way and I expect there will be many more.

I came up with this modular method of prototyping boards I was going to use across the board on my robot. I've decided that would be a bad idea, and will only be using prototype boards to figure out what the standard boards will be. When I get it right I'll make a more economical board to put in the robot.

This robot project is spinning off sub-projects out of necessity. One thing I want to do is automate Kenneth Maxon's oven-soldering method. Another thing I want to do is morph my Sherline lathe into a stand-alone lathe/mill (this is mandatory). I'm trying not to lose focus and get distracted by these sub-projects, but I might take a month and bang them out. Luckily the same technologies used in this robot project are easily morphed into these sub projects. (If I say this often enough I might start to believe it).

I hope you guys don't mind my embedding the links into this entry - I sometimes use these entries to figure out what the hell I was thinking when I did/bought whatever it was that is in question. Someday I'll actually sit down and do a web site -

you know, when I have time...

27 Jan 2003 (updated 28 Jan 2003 at 07:19 UTC) »

I've finally moved past the problems with my ICE200 emulator -

Problem #1: The emulator produced random noises on the lines and wouldn't output the data to the ports in a regular fashion.

Fix: I was using the 9VAC 200-ma power supply I used on my tiny ICE200 emulator, I switched to a Radio Shack 9VDC 800- ma power supply.

Problem#2: While port B, C, and D functioned properly, port A only sort-of functioned with some lines responding properly and some lines not turning on at all.

Fix: I read the manual (finally - this is my second edit of this post). It seems I neglected to hook AVCC to VCC which must be done when the A/D stuff isn't being used. Who knew.

The board review and testing continues. I hope to have a second proto-board set ordered early February.

On the hardware side I've produced a decent coupler for the type of motor I'm using, but I still have to test it. I've also received a gear-rack set I want to test with the idea of using gear racks to extend the legs.

Life lessons -

Your microcontroller tools will change without warning. (Let me back up) Atmel has two different types of ICE200 emulators - the ICE200 and the tiny ICE, both of which have an ICE200 instruction manual. Who knew? I spent a good couple of hours trying to figure out why the ICE200 was producing random signals on the ports (actually, I might have played a little quake somewhere in there). I switched back to my old emulator (the tiny ICE) on a whim, and all was well. Another problem is the new AVR studio doesn't see my ICE200.

Frankly testing new boards is not the time to find out your tools don't play well together. I'm this close >| |< to finding a friendlier microcontroller...

OK, I'm done venting. Here is an update on my boards -

I'm avoiding programming the controller board as long as possible (really I'm avoiding the learning curve) by operating off the emulator board and the expansion board. Since the whole objective of plugging this brand new stuff together is to test it, you can imagine the problems I'm running into. Problems like placing pass-through connectors incorrectly aligned (damn!), ordering the wrong parts, receiving the wrong parts, not receiving parts until next month, leaving stuff out, etc. My boards are so bad I might be forced to order and populate a new set of ``trial'' boards. This is a huge hit in time and money, but the trade off is I get my boards closer to solid operation before I lay down real money for the Predecessor-platform boards.

One thing I have to keep in mind - once the problems with these boards are smoothed out and I know they work, then the circuitry component of my robotics infrastructure is secured (for the time being) and I can move on to other things.

Other things like welding aluminum parts - which I haven't been doing. I'm waiting on a part for my Sherline Lathe - a 4-jaw self-centering chuck. I think this will make the whole mechanical motor interface thing go a lot smoother because I can center one of the holes so much easier.

On the brighter side - I figured out (for the most part) how I want my legs to extend from the body. It's hella- cool, I'm going to use gear racks (more on this later).

What else? Oh yeah, my last class is tomorrow. I somehow managed to pass all the courses for my CS degree, but I don't have enough credits to graduate from this particular University, so I get to take this last class. Yeah, my life is like that.

Whatever, as long as I get this robot to work.

11 Jan 2003 (updated 11 Jan 2003 at 14:56 UTC) »

I got my boards back from Olimex the other day, they look nice, real professional. I'll be hard pressed to go back to etching my own PCBs. The only real problem I had was it took almost 3 weeks to get them. Olimex had them done and shipped in two days, but it took a few weeks to get to me. Shipping was probably delayed because of Christmas.

As expected I'm finding errors in my schematics and PCB layouts, so I'm documenting them with the intent of fixing before I order the next set. I'm also having a slight problem getting some of the connectors, they won't be available until 1/22/03. I haven't tested the boards yet, but most are at least partially populated and they look good and fit together great.

I've also been working on a leg axis design that includes a mounted motor and a potentiometer for position sensing. While welding two separate pieces of aluminum, I've been having problems due to one piece being made of a different grade of aluminum than the other and melts faster. Another problem is getting all the pieces to lined up properly. I'm thinking up some tools and methods to get me past these difficulties and speed up development time.

Design wise, I have finally gotten the number of robot- size options to two, the difference being the us of 8 batteries or 4 batteries. I'll probably build for 8.

I promised my robot club that I would submit the UML diagrams I'm using during the design phase of my robot, so today I'm working on that.

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