EDDIE and Me

After several months of programming, building, and testing, I finished my project for Microsoft’s Robotics@Home competition. Built on top of Parallax’s EDDIE robot and Microsoft’s Robotics Developer Studio, the application is a robotic video tripod, which I call the “SmartTripod”. Overall, it turned out pretty well and I learned a tremendous amount in building it. I can’t wait to apply my new education to the TinyParades project–lots of opportunity for building intelligence into the floats/puppets!

Microsoft and Parallax are evaluating all the contest entries, so I have no idea what the outcome will be–the other participants created some very clever devices. Here’s my submission video:

A robotic detour…with EDDIE

Recently, I’ve been spending more time with¬†Microsoft’s Robotics Development Studio¬†(MRDS) which I think will provide an excellent platform on which to develop the synchronization and control system to develop a true Tiny Parade. I blogged a bit about the platform a couple years ago, but was then diverted by the construction of TP1, Maker Faire, life, etc.

But I’ve recently found myself turning back to it and diving further into learning what turns out to be a powerful, clever, and challenging platform. The more time I spend with it, the more I like it. But the barrier to entry is high–most software developers don’t approach software engineering the way MRDS does.

So as a way to force myself to finally invest the time and energy needed to become competent with MRDS, I entered a robotics contest sponsored by Microsoft called “Robotics@Home”. A description of the contest can be found here, but in essence, applicants are encouraged to develop a robot using MRDS and a hardware “reference platform” prescribed by Microsoft which demonstrates how robotics could be useful in the home.

Initial submissions for the contest were due at the end of 2011 and finalists were announced in January. I was lucky enough to be selected as a finalist, which means I now must come up with a viable, live version of my proposed robot application by the April 30 deadline.

Microsoft and contest co-sponsor Parallax have loaned all finalists an EDDIE robot, a real-life manifestation of the Reference Platform robot designed by Microsoft. I received the robot kit a week ago and assembled it in about five hours (I was pretty pleased!). It’s now patiently awaiting my instructions. I’m chronicling my adventures with EDDIE and the contest on Google+, here. We’ll see how it goes…wish me luck!

New eyeball animation mechanism

The original design I used for the animatronic eyeballs on the steam engine worked well–it was simple and effective. I posted a YouTube video of it here:

While I liked the simplicity, I wanted the ability to add animated eyelids and eyebrows. Because the initial design required a cylindrical support to wrap the eyeball, there was no room for an eyelid–the support mechanism would interfere.

So I’ve taken a new approach, using a universal joint as a mount for the eye. This allows the globe to “float”, providing what will hopefully be ample room for an eyelid mechanism. Here’s the u-joint I used. It’s from Traxxas, and is intended for the drive train of remote controlled cars:


I “borrowed” this design from another animatronics developer, Gary Willet, who has an excellent blog site here: http://www.willettfx.com/. He’s also created a number of helpful YouTube videos describing the development of a sophisticated animatronic head he’s created, including the hardware he’s used to create the eye mechanisms.

So now, I should theoretically be able to create eyelids without interference. The goal is to be able to show additional emotion from the robot, by having him blink, frown, squint, etc. I’d also like to add eyebrows which should further enhance the emotional range. Here’s a video of the new mechanism…the eyelids are still to come:

Flying the new colors

TP1 was a hit with the youngins’ again at this year’s Maker Faire in San Mateo. I didn’t get any photographs at the event itself, but here he is with the new paint scheme after returning home Sunday afternoon.

Brighter colors this year!

And here he is admiring his driver…

Anna has an admirer

I wasn’t able to add all the visual detail I would have liked this year, but I did install a sound system, so he whistled as he rolled around greeting folks. He had his usual complement of children following him around, creating a genuine tiny parade!

Time to Get Serious…Maker Faire Two Months Away

It’s not like I haven’t done anything this winter; in fact I spent a fair amount of time building a new workshop in our garage, complete with a new band saw, drill press, and–my greatest achievement–a custom-built work bench.

The Tiny Parades Workshop

And, as you can see above, I’ve painted a large cylinder white (more on that in a future post).

But, now it’s time to get back to business. I submitted my application for the 2011 Bay Area Maker Faire just moments ago, and promised all sorts of magic with the next iteration of The Tiny Parade. So now I’ve got to get busy and deliver.

In my last post (some five months ago), I showed a new paint scheme for TP-1. So, at a minimum, I’ve got to get that applied to the robot. But there are a number of ambitious new enhancements that I’m also hoping to unveil, including more expressive eyes, a sound system, and additional animation. Of course, it’s early March and the Maker Faire isn’t until late May, so my eyes are likely much bigger than my stomach at the moment. We’ll see how I feel in another eight weeks…

New paint scheme plans

I’ve long planned to update the paint scheme and design of TP1. The current version is pretty crude and, as it turns out, evokes a familiarity with Thomas the Tank Engine–not my intent.

So here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I created this in Adobe Illustrator:

TP1 New Paint Scheme

But I also wanted to see what this might look like in the real world. So I created a truly “tiny” model. This one was made out of a tissue box, a paper towel tube, and cardboard. I actually think the colors work well together.

TP1 Paint Scheme Model

Now all I have to do is build it to scale. Easier said than done.

Neighborhood Romp

After a busy summer, I’m finally thinking about further work on the TP project. I’m going to start by doing some reconfiguring and repainting of TP1, so I figured I’d better capture some video of the existing version before I start work. This way I’ll have something to refer to if I decide my “upgrades” need to be rolled back to the current state.

One of the projects for the winter will be to see if I can enhance the eyes by adding animated eyebrows and eyelids, which will help add to the robot’s expressive range. I also intend to add sound as well as some additional decorative detail.