Book: Advanced Control Robotics

When it comes to robotics, the future is now! With the ever-increasing demand for robotics applications—from home control systems to animatronic toys to unmanned planet rovers—it’s an exciting time to be a roboticist. Whether you’re a weekend DIYer, a computer science student, or a professional engineer, you’ll find this book to be a valuable reference tool.

Advanced Control Robotics, by Hanno Sander

It doesn’t matter if you’re building a line-following robot toy or tasked with designing a mobile system for an extraterrestrial exploratory mission: the more you know about advanced robotics technologies, the better you’ll fare at your workbench. Hanno Sander’s Advanced Control Robotics (Elektor/Circuit Cellar, 2014) is intended to help roboticists of various skill levels take their designs to the next level with microcontrollers and the know-how to implement them effectively.

Advanced Control Robotics simplifies the theory and best practices of advanced robot technologies. You’re taught basic embedded design theory and presented handy code samples, essential schematics, and valuable design tips (from construction to debugging).

Sponsored by Circuit Cellar — Read the Table of Contents for Advanced Control Robotics. Ready to start learning? Purchase a copy of Advanced Control Robotics today!

 
You will learn about:

  • Control Robotics: robot actions, servos, and stepper motors
  • Embedded Technology: microcontrollers and peripherals
  • Programming Languages: machine level (Assembly), low level (C/BASIC/Spin), and human (12Blocks)
  • Control Structures: functions, state machines, multiprocessors, and events
  • Visual Debugging: LED/speaker/gauges, PC-based development environments, and test instruments
  • Output: sounds and synthesized speech
  • Sensors: compass, encoder, tilt, proximity, artificial markers, and audio
  • Control Loop Algorithms: digital control, PID, and fuzzy logic
  • Communication Technologies: infrared, sound, and XML-RPC over HTTP
  • Projects: line following with vision and pattern tracking
Hanno Sander at Work

Hanno Sander at Work

About the author: Hanno Sander earned a degree in Computer Science from Stanford University, where he built one of the first hybrid cars, collaborated on a microsatellite, and studied artificial intelligence. He later founded a startup to develop customized information services and then transitioned to product marketing in Silicon Valley with Oracle, Yahoo, and Verity. Today, Hanno’s company, HannoWare, seeks to make sophisticated technology—robots, programming languages, debugging tools, and oscilloscopes—more accessible. Hanno lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he enjoys his growing family and focuses on his passion of improving education with technology.

Self-Reconfiguring Robotic Systems & M-Blocks

Self-reconfiguring robots are no longer science fiction. Researchers at MIT are rapidly innovating shape-shifting robotic systems. In the August 2014 issue of Circuit Cellar, MIT researcher Kyle Gilpin presents M-Blocks, which are 50-mm cubic modules capable of controlled self-reconfiguration.

The creation of autonomous machines capable of shape-shifting has been a long-running dream of scientists and engineers. Our enthusiasm for these self-reconfiguring robots is fueled by fantastic science fiction blockbusters, but it stems from the potential that self-reconfiguring robots have to revolutionize our interactions with the world around us.

Source: Kyle Gilpin

Source: Kyle Gilpin

Imagine the convenience of a universal toolkit that can produce even the most specialized tool on demand in a matter of minutes. Alternatively, consider a piece of furniture, or an entire room, that could change its configuration to suit the personal preferences of its occupant. Assembly lines could automatically adapt to new products, and construction scaffolding could build itself while workers sleep. At MIT’s Distributed Robotics Lab, we are working to make these dreams into reality through the development of the M-Blocks.

The M-Blocks are a set of 50-mm cubic modules capable of controlled self-reconfiguration. Each M-Block is an autonomous robot that can not only move independently, but can also magnetically bond with other M-Blocks to form larger reconfigurable systems. When part of a group, each module can climb over and around its neighbors. Our goal is that a set of M-Blocks, dispersed randomly across the ground, could locate one another and then independently move to coalesce into a macro-scale object, like a chair. The modules could then reconfigure themselves into a sphere and collectively roll to a new location. If, in the process, the collective encounters an obstacle (e.g., a set of stairs to be ascended), the sphere could morph into an amorphous collection in which the modules climb over one another to surmount the obstacle.  Once they have reached their final destination, the modules could reassemble into a different object, like a desk.

The M-Blocks move and reconfigure by pivoting about their edges using an inertial actuator. The energy for this actuation comes from a 20,000-RPM flywheel contained within each module. Once the motor speed has stabilized, a servomotor-driven, self-tightening band brake decelerates the flywheel to a complete stop in 15 ms. All of the momentum that had been accumulated in the flywheel is transferred to the frame of the M-Block. Consequently, the module rolls forward from one face to the next, or if the flywheel velocity is high enough, it rapidly shoots across the ground or even jumps several body lengths through the air. (Refer to www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOqjFa4RskA  to watch the cubes move.)

While the M-Blocks are capable of independent movement, their true potential is only realized when many modules operate as a group. Permanent magnets on the outside of each M-Block serve as un-gendered connectors. In particular, each of the 12 edges holds two cylindrical magnets that are captive, but free to rotate, in a semi-enclosing cage. These magnets are polarized through their radii, not through their long axes, so as they rotate, they can present either magnetic pole. The benefit of this arrangement is that as two modules are brought together, the magnets will automatically rotate to attract. Furthermore, as one and then two additional M-Blocks are added to form a 2 × 2 grid, the magnets will always rotate to realign and accommodate the additional modules.

The same cylindrical magnets that bond neighboring M-Blocks together form excellent pivot axes, about which the modules may roll over and around one another. We have shown that the modules can climb vertically over other modules, move horizontally while cantilevered from one side, traverse while suspended from above, and even jump over gaps. The permanent magnet connectors are completely passive, requiring no control and no planning. Because all of the active components of an M-Block are housed internally, the modules could be hermetically sealed, allowing them to operate in extreme environment where other robotic systems may fail.

While we have made significant progress, many exciting challenges remain. In the current generation of modules, there is only a single flywheel, and it is fixed to the module’s frame, so the modules can only move in one direction along a straight line. We are close to publishing a new design that enables the M-Blocks to move in three dimensions, makes the system more robust, and ensures that the modules’ movements are highly repeatable. We also hope to build new varieties of modules that contain cameras, grippers, and other specialized, task-specific tools. Finally, we are developing algorithms that will allow for the coordinated control of large ensembles of hundreds or thousands of modules. With this continued development, we are optimistic that the M-Blocks will be able to solve a variety of practical challenges that are, as of yet, largely untouched by robotics.

Kyle Gilpin

Kyle Gilpin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kyle Gilpin, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Distributed Robotics Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he is collaborating with Professor Daniela Rus and John Romanishin to develop the M-Blocks. Kyle works to improve communication and control in large distributed robotic systems. Before earning his PhD, Kyle spent two years working as a senior electrical engineer at a biomedical device start-up. In addition to working for MIT, he owns a contract design and consulting business, Crosscut Prototypes. His past projects include developing cellular and Wi-Fi devices, real-time image processing systems, reconfigurable sensor nodes, robots with compliant SMA actuators, integrated production test systems, and ultra-low-power sensors.

Circuit Cellar 289 (August 2014) is now available.

24-Channel Digital I/O Interface for Arduino & Compatibles

SCIDYNE Corp. recently expanded its product line by developing a digital I/O interface for Arduino hardware. The DIO24-ARD makes it easy to connect to solid-state I/O racks, switches, relays, LEDs, and many other commonly used peripheral devices. Target applications include industrial control systems, robotics, IoT, security, and education.Scidyne

The board provides 24 nonisolated I/O channels across three 8-bit ports. Each channel’s direction can be individually configured as either an Input or Output using standard SPI library functions. Outputs are capable of sinking 85 mA at 5 V. External devices attach by means of a 50 position ribbon-cable style header.

The DIO24-ARD features stack-through connectors with long-leads allowing systems to be built around multiple Arduino shields. It costs $38.

[Source: SCIDYNE Corp.]

Artisan’s Asylum

Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, MA has the mission to promote and support the teaching, learning, and practicing of all varieties. Soumen Nandy is the Front Desk, General Volunteer, and Village Idiot of Artisan’s Asylum and she decided to tell us a little bit more about it.

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Photo courtesy of Artisan’s Asylum Facebook page

Location 10 Tyler St
Somerville, MA 02143
Members 400 active members
Website artisansasylum.com

Tell us about your meeting space!

We have around 40,000 sq. ft. that includes more than 150 studio spaces ranging from 50 sq. ft. to 200+ sq. ft. Our storage includes: lockers, 2 x 2 x 2 rack space, 40″ x 44″ pallets (up to 10′ tall), flexspace and studios. We have a truck-loading dock and a rail stop — yup, entire trains can pull up to our back doors for delivery. Can any other Maker Space say that? We also host a large roster of formal training courses in practical technologies, trades, crafts and arts, to help our members and the general community learn skills, and increase their awesomeness. (And not incidentally: become certified to safely use our gear.)

What are you working with?

Fully equipped wood, metal, machine, robotics, electronics, jewelry/glass shops, 12 sewing stations,  computer lab with all major professional modeling, CNC, and simulation packages (via direct partnerships with the respective companies). Multiple types of 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, lathes, mills, etc. Too much more to list; if the Asylum doesn’t own/lease it, often a member, their business, or an institutional member can get it from you or get you access. And yet, it’s never enough.

Are there any tools your group really wants or needs?

Quite a few things, but it’s a delicate balance between sustainable operations, growth and space for member studios vs. facilities. We’ve spun off or attracted many companies, so the empty factory complex we moved into (until recently the worlds largest envelope factory) has almost completely filled up.

Does your group work with embedded tech (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, embedded security, MCU-based designs, etc.)?

Many of our members do. The group itself is too diverse to easily characterize.

What has your group been up to?

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Hanging with a giant robot. (Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/ProjectHexapod)

We’re not purely a technological space. We have artists, artisans, tradespesons, crafters, hobbyists, and technologists. I know of at least two-million dollar Kickstarters that launched from here. Hmmm… How about the 18-foot wide rideable-hexapod robot that’s nearing conclusion (we call it “Stompy“) or the 4′ x 8′ large format laser cutter that should be operational any day now? These are just some notably big projects, not necessarily our most awesome.

Oh, wait. we did an Ides of March Festival, dressing up Union Square as a Roman Forum.

What’s the craziest project your group or group members have completed?

Well, a few weeks ago, I went home at 10 PM, and woke to a tweeted photo announcing that this had been built in our social area; It’s actually not among our most surprising events, but it has reappeared several times since (fast dis/assembly), and a reporter caught it once. I just happened to receive this link a couple of hours ago, so it was handy to forward to you. We do a lot of art and participation projects around Boston.

What does Artisan’s social calendar look like these days?

Too many events to list! We’re really looking to stabilize our base, seek congruent funding donors (we are a non-profit, but thus far have mostly run on internally-earned income). I’d be happy to arrange an interview with one of our honchos if you like—the goings-ons around here are really too much to fit in one brain. Those of us who give tours actually regularly take each other’s tours to learn stuff about the place we never knew.

What would you like to say to fellow hackers out there?

Keep getting awesomer. We love you!

Also, any philanthropists out there? Our members and facilities could be an excellent way to multiply your awesome impact.

Keep up with Artisan’s Asylum! Check out their website!

Show us your hackerspace! Tell us about your group! Where does your group design, hack, create, program, debug, and innovate? Do you work in a 20′ × 20′ space in an old warehouse? Do you share a small space in a university lab? Do you meet at a local coffee shop or bar? What sort of electronics projects do you work on? Submit your hackerspace and we might feature you on our website!

Robotics, Hardware Interfacing, and Vintage Electronics

Gerry O’Brien, a Toronto-based robotics and electronics technician at R.O.V. Robotics, enjoys working on a variety of projects in his home lab. His projects are largely driven by his passion for electronics hardware interfacing.

Gerry’s background includes working at companies such as Allen-Vanguard Corp., which builds remotely operated vehicle (ROV) robots and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) for military and police bomb disposal units worldwide. “I was responsible for the production, repair, programming and calibration of the robot control consoles, VCU (vehicle control unit) and the wireless communication systems,” he says.

Gerry recently sent Circuit Cellar photos of his home-based electronics and robotics lab. (More images are available on his website.) This is how he describes the lab’s layout and equipment:

In my lab I have various designated areas with lab benches that I acquired from the closing of a local Nortel  R&D office over 10 years ago.

All of my electronics benches have ESD mats and ground wrist straps.  All of my testing gear, I have purchased on eBay over the years….

PCB flip rack

PCB flip-rack

To start, I have my “Electronics Interfacing Bench” with a PCB flip-rack , which allows me to Interface PCBs while they are powered (in-system testing). I am able to interface my Tektronix TLA715 logic analyzer and other various testing equipment to the boards under test. My logic analyzer currently has two  logic I/O modules that have 136 channels each. So combined, I have 272 channels for logic analysis. I also have a four-channel digital oscilloscope module to use with this machine. I can now expand this even further by interfacing my newly acquired expansion box, which allows me to interface many more modules to the logic analyzer mainframe.

Gerry's lab bench

Gerry’s lab bench

Gerry recently upgraded his  Tektronix logic analyzer with an expansion box.

Gerry recently upgraded his Tektronix logic analyzer with an expansion box.

Interface probes

Logic analyzer interface probes

I also have a soldering bench where I have all of my soldering gear, including a hot-air rework station and 90x dissecting microscope with a video interface.

Dissecting microscope with video interface

Dissecting microscope with video interface

My devoted robotics bench has several robotic arm units, Scorbot and CRS robots with their devoted controllers and pneumatic Interface control boards.

Robotics bench

Robotics bench and CRS robot

On my testing bench, I currently have an Agilent/HP 54610B 500-MHz oscilloscope with the GPIB to RS-232 adapter for image capturing. I also have an Advantest model R3131A 9 kHz to 3-GHz bandwidth spectrum analyzer, a Tektronix model AFG3021 function generator, HP/Agilent 34401A multimeter and an HP 4CH programmable power supply. For the HP power supply, I built a display panel with four separate voltage output LCD displays, so that I can monitor the voltages of all four outputs simultaneously. The stock monochrome LCD display on the HP unit itself is very small and dim and only shows one output at a time.

Anyhow, my current testing bench setup will allow me to perform various signal mapping and testing on chips with a large pin count, such as the older Altera MAX9000 208-pin CPLDs and many others that I enjoy working with.

The testing bench

The testing bench

And last but not least… I have my programming and interfacing bench devoted to VHDL programming, PCB Design, FPGA hardware programming (JTAG), memory programming (EEPROM  and flash memory), web design, and video editing.

Interfacing bench and "octo-display"

Interfacing bench and “octo-display”

I built a PC computer and by using  a separate graphics display cards, one being an older Matrols four-port SVGA display card; I was able to build a “octo-display” setup. It seamlessly shares eight monitors providing a total screen resolution size of 6,545 x 1,980 pixels.

If you care to see how my monitor mounting assembly was built, I have posted pictures of its construction here.

A passion for electronics interfacing drives Gerry’s work:

I love projects that involve hardware Interfacing.  My area of focus is on electronics hardware compared to software programming. Which is one of the reasons I have focused on VHDL programming (hardware description language) for FPGAs and CPLDs.

I leave the computer software programming of GUIs to others. I will usually team up with other hobbyists that have more of a Knack for the Software programming side of things.  They usually prefer to leave the electronics design and hardware production to someone else anyhow, so it is a mutual arrangement.

I love to design and build projects involving vintage Altera CPLDs and FPGAs such as the Altera MAX7000 and MAX9000 series of Altera components. Over the years, I have a managed to collect a large arsenal of vintage Altera programming hardware from the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Mainly for the Altera master programming unit (MPU) released by Altera in the early ’90s. I have been building up an arsenal of the programming adapters for this system. Certain models are very hard to find. Due to the rarity of this Altera programming system, I am currently working on designing my own custom adapter interface that will essentially allow me to connect any compatible Altera component to the system… without the need of the unique adapter. A custom made adapter essentially.  Not too complicated at all really, it’s just a lot of fun to build and then have the glory of trying out other components.

I love to design, build, and program FPGA projects using the VHDL hardware description language and also interface to external memory and sensors. I have a devoted website and YouTube channel where I post various hardware repair videos or instructional videos for many of my electronics projects. Each project has a devoted webpage where I post the instructional videos along with written procedures and other information relating to the project. Videos from “Robotic Arm Repair” to a “DIY SEGA Game Gear Flash Cartridge” project. I even have VHDL software tutorials.

The last project I shared on my website was a project to help students dive into a VHDL based VGA Pong game using the Altera DE1 development board.