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John Hawley and His Dr. Who-Inspired Robot K-9 (Video) 23

Posted by Roblimo
from the my-dog-is-doggier-than-your-dog dept.
By day John Hawley is a mild-mannered open hardware evangelist for Intel. But after hours he is the master of K-9, a robot dog he works on a little at a time. Yes, this is a Whovian thing, which is why John's K-9 looks so much like the Doctor's. But K-9 is also a pretty good dog on his/her own. No vet bills, no constant hunger, no barking at feral cats in the middle of the night, obeys every command... so maybe Dr. Who and John Hawley have the right idea when it comes to canines. Except.... aww.... my dog, Terri the Terrorist Terrier, just licked my hand. What a sweetie! Terri may not take orders from a hand-held remote, but she has a lot of other fine characteristics, including affection. K-9 is very cute in a squared-off, mechanical way, though. Hard to resist, despite a lack of soft fur and no tongue for licking his/her master's hand. (Alternate Video Link)

Tim: So John, we’re here at Maker Faire. First of all, tell us what your job is. This is one of the coolest jobs.

John: So my job title is the open hardware technical evangelist—I work for Intel. I work under the open source technology group inside of Intel.

Tim: And you are actually one of the people who are here with a nice distinction that you’re not here to promote a Kickstarter?

John: No, I’m not doing anything with Kickstarter at this point, I’ve already made my thing and I’m done.

Tim: I’m going to pan over here and show everybody what it is that we are standing next to. This is your K9?

John: Yep, this is K9. He is a replica of the 1970s and 1980s Tom Baker era Doctor Who character. He is just about the right size with a couple of concessions just to get him into the crates to get him onto aircraft. But, yeah, he is here, he runs a MinnowBoard which is an open hardware platform that’s jointly done between Intel and CircuitCo. And yeah, so he is here, he’s doing stuff, he’s got some sensors, he’s got an accelerometer and GPS, he’s got a little remote control so I can actually drive him through the crowds. So, yeah, he’s just

Tim: It’s remote controlled using an Xbox?

John: It is an Xbox controller. The MinnowBoard is running Linux so it just seizes the joystick and so when I push forward it tells the motors to go forward. When I pull backwards, the motors go backwards.

Tim: How long did you take to build this?

John: It took about six months of my spare time, hobby time and whatnot. He’s gone through about 18 different iterations on various pieces at this point.

Tim: You mentioned shipping on crates and the concessions are necessary to try to get this into an airplane.

John: Yeah. So it takes three Pelican cases, which if you’re not familiar with, the Pelican cases are these big large very sturdy plastic cases that the military typically uses to ship all of their stuff around. It takes three of these cases to get him on to a plane. When he’s all crated up, he weighs about 130 lbs. The airlines love me and whenever they see me coming, they are going, “Okay, what the heck is in the box?”

Tim: Can you talk a little bit about what the hardware is, the electronic hardware? Talk about the actual transportation hardware, the wheels, the motor.

John: Oh yeah. He’s got 3” track tank treads on the bottom made by a company called Lynxmotion. He’s got about 4’ on each sides, so there’s about 2’ of tank tread actually touching the ground at any given time. So he can go over just about any terrain.

Tim: So what about battery and battery life?

John: So he’s got three batteries in him, one of which powers, there’s an LCD screen on one side and that’s the arm, it powers that and the speakers. And then there are two batteries in the bottom both are lithium LiPo pods. One is dedicated specifically to the motors and other is dedicated to just powering his brains the MinnowBoard.

Tim: I see that you can control himwith your remote control, can you also program his actions?

John: Yeah, I can program his actions. He runs Linux and the entire control program is just written in C, so if I wanted to have him do something different, it’ll be fairly trivial to just change that code, recompile it, throw it on the dog and he’ll be good to go.

Tim: So what kind of Linux do you run on it?

John: So it’s actually running a Yocto project derived Linux distribution called Angstrom Linux. It’s a basic embedded operating system and it works fine for my purposes.

Tim: And your purposes are you said before that what you did is a lark?

John: Yeah, I made K9 on a lark. I had a friend in Albuquerque, she owns her own Tardis, she’s fitted out her truck to look like what she calls the Tardis recovery vehicle. She drives this Tardis around to all these conventions. And I like Doctor Who, she loves Doctor Who, obviously, and I’m like “You know what, I’m going to build K9”, so I started building K9 in what was it, September of 2012 and this is where he’s at at this point.

Tim: Tell me about top speed.

John: Top speed about 3 miles an hour on a good day.

Tim: How much does he eat, electricity?

John: Electricity, he’s got – I’m going to think of the top of my head, about 20 amp hours of battery in him, so it takes about 6 hours of charging to get him up.

Tim: Have you published the plans?

John: Well, K9 himself – there are plans out there on the internet and I just followed most of those, the guts and everything to K9, I haven’t actually put them up yet, but I do intend to get that taken care of at some point.

Tim: Right, anything else you want to tell people?

John: No. Enjoy ‘em!

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John Hawley and His Dr. Who-Inspired Robot K-9 (Video)

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IF I HAD A MINE SHAFT, I don't think I would just abandon it. There's got to be a better way. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.