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Robogames just around the corner....

Just a bit over two weeks until the Robogames commence in San Francisco (California)- did you know that there is a 'Robosapien Hacker' category under the BEAM section? I'm curious if any community members will be attending, or even if any have entered!

Here's an excerpt of the rules for this category:

Take an COTS (common off the shelf) Robosapien robot and hack it to do something cool.

  1. The Robot
    You have to use a commercially available Robosapien, the kind you would buy from a common retailer (see our recommended list below). No factory one-off specials. No "bondout" versions. No special frames laced with adamantium. The RS needs to remain the core part of the final hacked machine. There is no metric that can be stated relating to how much is required; if in doubt, you've gone too far. For example, using a single RS arm or leg in the final hack is insufficient.
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Not for the sqeamish...

Poor Pleo wandered into the ComBot arena at the recent Maker Faire, and had an unfortunate encounter with Vicious Verdict who appears to be armed with a lawn mower blade. Many attendees with children were shocked and appalled. Next year, maybe Mio should take on Vicious Verdict! Or perhaps equipping Pleo with flame-thrower breath would even the match. What's your suggestion for Pleo?

More from Robo-One 13

This video shows some of the competitions that Leghorn, an unusual 'bot, took part in this year. He came in 3rd in the Lightweight division. This is one tough rooster!

Robo-One 13 qualifying video

As part of this years qualifications to compete in the Robo-One contest, robot entrants were required to walk across a small 'speed bump' succesfully. Some entrants had no problem crossing the bump, while others took it a bit too seriously! Unfortunately, Metallic Fighter (one of the top perfomers in past Robo-Ones) walked off the edge of the test platform just before reaching the finish line.

Robo-One 13 wraps up in Tokyo

A lot of photos and some nice videos have come out of this year's Robo-One 13 competition in Tokyo. The Robo-One competition is based on humanoid robots that typically are built with servos attached to metal, plastic or wood frames. The movement capabilities of the Robo-One class 'bots are amazing, just watch this video of OmniZero performing in the Demonstration section:

This year, for the first time, Tomy Takara (makers of i-Sobot) have become official sponsors of Robo-One. Also announced were plans for the addition of i-Sobot competitions for next year. For more details, visit Robot Dreams.

Here are a couple of tidbits for fan bot builders:

Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Nocturnal, who turned up this 'Build your own Cylon contest ' courtesy of Make and dvice.com. All you have to do is submit photos or videos of your very own Cylon creation- and

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Under the ice...

Just a few weeks ago, an orange egg was lowered through fourteen inches of ice covering Lake Mendota, here in frozen Wisconsin.

The egg is an autonomous underwater rover, named Endurance (for Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic ANtarctiC Explorer). Endurance is designed to independently rove, map, and sample the Antarctic Lake Bonney, which is permanantly locked under ice in the McMurdo Dry Valley system. Future missions may take Endurance or a descendant further out in our solar system, to investigate under the ice of the Jovian moon, Europa.

Lake Bonney


Endurance is equipped with a CCD camera, sensors to measure conductivity, oxygen, light, salinity and temperature, and a Raman spectroscopy probe that can be used to sample the lake bottom sediments from several feet above the lake bottom. The goal is to create a complete 3d volume map of an ~1000 m square region of Lake Bonney, from the lake bed to the underside of the capping ice. The proposed resolution is to record values for every 10 m x 10 m x 1 m voxel. The entire data set will be georeferenced to the GPS-recorded location of the borehole, and the underwater terrain will be entirely captured in digital photos.

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First look at Bladestar

You can imagine how exciting it was to find that box on the front step. Inside, courtesy of WowWee and Capable Networks, a production version of the eagerly awaited Flytech Bladestar! This post will give you a quick tour of the package and contents, and some first impressions in flight. Coming soon, we promise videos and more in-depth reviews!

The Package


The Bladestar is packaged in a sturdy, reusable plastic case, tastefully dressed in a 4-color printed cardboard sleeve. Rejoice in the complete lack of twisty wires and yards of packing tape!

Package back

On the back, an overview of the controller and features.

A glimpse of some upcoming Flytech goodies!

Inside the box, the good stuff: Two sets of blades, the remote controller, the dogfight accessory, and spare props. Oh yes, and the main body of the Bladestar! Insertion of the blades was very simple, and removing them for storage requires only pressing down a single locking tab. The case also has a battery storage compartment for the required 6x AA cells.

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Sunrise in Wisconsin

Well, this isn't about robots, but following a mixed rain/ice/snowstorm over the weekend, the sky was clear this morning and the sun was shining on the icy trees. Cold but beautiful, the sun hints of spring but does not bring much warmth right now!

Benchtop Rapid Prototyping for the rest of us?

Rapid prototyping is an offshoot of CAD/CAM that promises many benefits for the amateur roboticist, and even for the professionals! Think of it as 3d printing- you start with a computer model of the shape you want to build, feed the data to the prototyper, and a solid (or hollow) 3d object is built for you. Sounds cool, right? Unfortunately, the cost of these machines has been prohibitively high for the average citizen, even with the promise of the yet-to-be released Desktop Factory at $5000.

But what if you could build your own prototyper, using components designed specifically so the prototyper can create them itself: you now have the potential for a self-replicating machine! The folks at RepRap.org have exactly that aim- to design and build a self-REPlicating RApid Prototyper:

A universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself and - in addition - make other industrial products. Such a machine would have a number of interesting characteristics, such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost.

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Have Robot - Will Compete

The universe of robots continues to expand this year, with more competitions and events than you can shake a manipulator at. (An exhaustive list for 2008 can be found on Robots.net, and more at the NASA robotics site) What's a poor moravec to do? First, look at your travel budget. Hotspots of events are in North America and Japan, in particular, although a determined search can find worthy opponents in nearly any quadrant of the globe. Second, your operational age- many if not most events are geared towards the adolescent group (roughly 8-18 years), but there are 'open' competitive classes for the old codgers. Third, consider whether you operate best in autonomous mode, or have a preference for swarm interaction. Might be interesting to put together a virtual international 'RoboCommunity Team', don't you think?

Here is a small selection of links to help you get started in your quest for glory!

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News from a Parallax Universe

An interview with our very own RobosapienV2-4mem8 is featured in today's Parallaxian Newsletter. Parallax is perhaps best known for the hugely popular BASIC Stamp, a low cost microcontroller with embedded Basic interpreter. Parallax is also the maker of the BOE-bot which is a handy off-the-shelf platform for robotic education and experimentation.

Coming out Really Soon (March 2008) is the QuadRover robot platform, powered by a 4-stroke gasoline (petrol) engine and hydraulic drives. The QuadRover is controlled by the Propellor microcontroller, which is an 8x CPU 32 bit core microcontroller. Each core or 'cog' runs at 20 MIPS, allowing superfast parallel processing in a small, hobbyist-friendly package.

I have used the Prop Proto Board to do experiments with a Robosapien V2 camera. While the V2 camera looks at test patterns on my computer screen (secondary LCD display), the Prop reads the memory of the camera controller chip, and simultaneously displays the data as hex code on an NTSC video monitor and transmits the data via USB to my laptop. I'd be happy to share more info on this set of experiments if anyone is interested, but to put it simply, there is no evidence that any detailed image data is being stored in the V2 camera controller. The image data from the CMOS camera sensor appears to be analysed and 'parsed' as it is being read, such that the camera controller is only aware of a 3 x 3 array of color blocks. It is able to track objects by noting which of the blocks change color value, but does not percieve any detail of shapes or shading.

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Spirit and Opportunity: 4 years on Mars and still going!

What better way to kick off the new year than by celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Mars Exploration Rovers successful landing (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004)! Spirit and Opportunity have been roving the surface of Mars for over 1440 Sols (Earth days), an incredible achievement considering that the original mission plan was for a 90 Sol lifespan. The official Fact Sheet contains an excellent summary of the mission so far.

The Rovers are approximately 5.2 feet (1.6 m) long and have a mass of 384 pounds (174 kg). They are designed to drive autonomously, following a desired path but making decisions on their own to avoid obstacles. Communications with Earth are irregular and the Rover's onboard radios are not extremely high powered, so the Rovers communicate via the orbiting Mars Odyssey satellite. Odyssey's 16 minute orbit allows about 10 minutes of communication with each Rover per orbit; Odyssey then transmits collected data and images to Earth, and relays instructions from Earth to the Rovers.

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A short intro...

Whoops, did change that avatar! Hi everyone- just a quick word about my background- I've been involved in amateur electronics and do-it-yourself robotics since the early '90s, especially inspired by the RugWarrior 'bots of 'Mobile Robots' by Anita Flynn and Joe Jones. Both worked in the lab of Rodney Brooks at MIT, who championed behavior-based robotics and biologically-inspired robotic architectures. I'll be posting links and talking up lots of great robotics stuff, so don't touch that dial!

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