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Robotics Science

Hobbyist One-Ups Sandia Labs 76

An anonymous reader writes "A robotics hobbyist has created what he claims is the world's smallest autonomous robot. The robot is half the volume of the robots produced by Sandia National Labs in 2001, moves quite a bit faster, and was made using techniques and supplies accessible to anyone." While Sandia Labs has had some time to improve on their original designs, it's still pretty cool to see what one can do at home as well.
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Hobbyist One-Ups Sandia Labs

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  • Why not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chris_Stankowitz ( 612232 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @06:27PM (#18695815)
    Why not place it in a box? I understand he doesn't have the sensor working to stop it from going off the table, why would he not then place it in a box as it looks like the device recognizes an obstacle and changes courses.
    • Re:Why not (Score:5, Funny)

      by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @06:37PM (#18695917) Homepage
      I guess he's just an outside the box kinda guy.
    • by setirw ( 854029 )
      Possibly because it would have been somewhat more difficult to film, because lighting levels would have been greatly reduced? Or else he wanted to showcase the robot's speed, which would not have been as effective inside a small cardboard box. He could have built a shallow cardboard border around the table, though.

      Perhaps he wanted to demonstrate that it did not have any edge detection capabilities?
    • I guess that marks the difference between hobbyist and professional. Someone should remind him to show off his work's successes, not it's failures.
    • Re:Why not (Score:4, Funny)

      by The Great Pretender ( 975978 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @07:58PM (#18696735)
      Perhaps it's prime directive is to throw itself off a table at any opportunity. He should call it a Suicidebot. I personally bow to anyone who's a robotics hobbiest and drinks Pabst.
      • He should call it a Suicidebot.

        Sounds like a great way to get funding from the US government -- or at least free room and board with a bunk bed.
    • This was the first thing I thought of as well..... good job so far and all, but really. ~
  • but it's not cute enough. Must add some more cute. Once there is enough cute (and the cowbell) they just may take over the world.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      but it's not cute enough.
      Well, the robot can't be too cute, it's mature after all.

      What, you didn't see the can of Pabst Blue Robot [wikipedia.org] on the table?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Cuteness... is an extremely underrated feature of any robotics project. If they could just up the cuteness factor we could be seeing robots all over the place right now. Why be hatin' the cutie?
  • I for one would like to welcome our new minute robotic overlords!
  • by Channard ( 693317 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @06:42PM (#18695955) Journal
    .. but colour me impressed when someone comes up with one which can handle stairs. And if anyone's thinking of mentioning Asimo, I present Exhibit A [youtube.com]
  • Why do researchers keep wasting time on these stupid little robots? There's very little actually learnt from making an autonomous robot. So it's not for science. There's very few products that benefit from this research. So it's not for commercialization. It's basically a hobby and, as this hobbyist has shown, best left to the hobbyists. It always surprises me how little scientists actually work together. By now, all these autonomous robot researchers should have put together a simulation package to
    • I totally agree. Somebody call me when there's a working Linux Fembot With a Penchant for Evil [ubergeek.tv].


    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @07:13PM (#18696267)
      I teach electronics to a bunch of kids and use autonomous robotics as a vehicle for this.

      Kids really enjoy problem solving for things that move. This creates a great learning environment.

      Even plain old bump-and-turn robots have some very interesting control problems, like getting trapped. THis really helps people extend their problem solving skills.

      I also work in real-world robotics (big multi-ton mothers).Sure we use simulations for developing control ideas, but those are pretty limited. You can test out various theories, but simulation only takes you so far. You need the real thing to get the dynamcs correct. For some real fun you want to see a huge robot go out of control.

      Some of the most interesting research in robotics is being done at the hobbiest level. Lejos http://lejos.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] has some very interesting abstractions and models for defining and controlling behaviour. Then there's also http://www.seattlerobotics.org/ [seattlerobotics.org]

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by QuantumG ( 50515 )
        You're cool man.. what you're doing is great. The pointlessness is all these postgrads who do their Masters in autonomous robots. They just repeat the same work that has been done a hundred times.. get the exact same results.. and learn nothing new.. And there's the researchers at other labs that rarely publish papers (if at all) and when they do, the findings are the same as what others found 40 years ago.
      • Re:Out of control (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @08:40PM (#18697095)
        You learn from your mistakes, and there's no substitute for "the real thing." You can crash the robot in a sim over and over, and it's no big deal. Real destruction with sparks and fire teaches you life-lessons ... I had a summer job (many years ago) with a rather large gub'ment contractor. We were working on a robotic arm tasked with de-palletizing ammunition - ammunition of the 5-inch diameter variety. The second day at the site, the programming team had gotten the arm all twisted up after several hours of fussing with the control software. The design lead saw the "home" switch on the control panel, and decided that starting from a clean setup would streamline things.

        *** CRASH ! ***

        Nobody had programmed any obstructions within the cell, and some Genius had put the servo drive rack within the robots hemisphere of motion. The shortest path to the home location went directly through the servo drive rack. And when I say "directly through," I mean "ripped the rack in half." Literally. Big multi-ton mother, indeed.

        So there's a bunch of down time while equipment is replaced, and we're back on-site after about 3 weeks. To my surprise, the servo control rack is still within the robot's operating envelope, but the obstructions have been properly programmed. There's even a short demo where they try to move the arm into the obstruction, but the machine refuses (rather politely, I might add.) Several days of progress are made before the Brain Trust is at it again. One of the programmers decides it will be "cool" if the robot commits suicide - he'd been reading an Asmiov book if I recall correctly. So they program the BMTM arm to reach over and press the main power switch on the servo control rack. It refuses. So they place a piece of 3/4" black pipe in the end effector to create the necessary tool offset. Attempt number two goes [click] ...

        *** CRASH ! ***

        They had shut the main power breaker off, resulting in a rather ungraceful de-energizing event. Apparently the servo drives can "lurch" if power is abruptly removed. The arm stuffed the black pipe and the end effector halfway through the servo control rack ... which was thankfully de-energized.

        Not surprisingly, we were not invited back for a third attempt to program the arm.
    • It's basically a hobby and, as this hobbyist has shown, best left to the hobbyists.

      I hear that. I've been into RC for a long time, and although I never had one, I remember electric RC planes that were hand launched from 20 yrs ago. Whenever I see those recent Army commercials where the guy throws the recon plane into the air and acts like it's some high-tech shait, I just have to laugh. Bet the Army pays at least $10,000 for each of those, which you and me could build for $300.

  • by GrievousMistake ( 880829 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @06:50PM (#18696029)
    I just can't imagine what people that take that claim as a challenge will call the next four microbots. Well, at least it keeps a simple naming scheme.
    I'd like to see Emacs, the microbot, though... It makes toast, does taxes and raises your children, but unfortunately it has the size and weight of a phone book, draws a kilowatt of power and the wheels don't quite reach the ground.
    (Disclaimer :wq)
  • I would really like to see this tagged "indie". puuuuuhleeese
  • Wow ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @06:56PM (#18696109)
    I wish that thing was bigger so I could turn it into something useful like a vacuum cleaner.

    warning: The above content may test positive for sarcasm and/or could be a failed attempt at humor and so should be taken with a pound of salt.
  • Someone made a robot half the size of what Sandia made did six years ago. So this person had six years worth of COTS component improvements and six years to refine designs.

    I'm impressed. Truly. In high school I built a computer out of TTL chips. Wow, I sure one-upped Eniac.

    Sure the product is cool, but this is hardly a one-uppance.
    • Your poor analogy assumes that no one made a computer out of TTL chips (or anything smaller) between the time of Eniac and your high-school education.

      I don't doubt that Sandia could one-up pico with something new and 1/8th the size if they threw PhDs and hundreds of thousands of dollars at it. I hope they do - I'd like to see it.
      • Refinement isn't "one upping". Pico is an accomplishment, but it is hardly groundbreaking. The analogy is apt, because while designing a computer using TTL components is something of an accomplishment, it too is hardly groundbreaking.
        • Webster: [m-w.com]
          One entry found for one-upmanship.
          Main Entry: one-upmanship
          Variant(s): also one-upsmanship
          Function: noun
          : the art or practice of outdoing or keeping one jump ahead of a friend or competitor

          One-upmanship is, by definition, not groundbreaking. It is characterized by small hops.
          • One-upmanship is, by definition, not groundbreaking. It is characterized by small hops
            I thought that was called One-hopsmanship?

            warning: The above content may test positive for sarcasm and/or could be a failed attempt at humor and as such should be taken with a pound of salt.
    • This guy's project is far more interesting than your comment - from TFA:

      Given the pace of technology, it was only a matter of time before someone put the pieces together and one-upped Sandia National Labs.
  • too friggin cool (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2007 @07:09PM (#18696235)
    Think about it... a bright person allowed to:
    - concentrate on a project all day long
    - without PHB shaking deadlines in front of him
    - without being burned out on meetings all day
    - without the distraction of phone calls, personalities or politics

    imagine what *you* could get done. I'm drawing a parallel to the busy workplace - not in any way do I mean to detract from this guys accomplishment. By all means, he's done something remarkable.
    • by gangien ( 151940 )
      imagine what *you* could get done

      Play lots of video games?
    • ... SKUNKWORKS! :)

      Really, this is why these kinds of settings work.

      Paul B.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      As a person who works on his own research projects and ran home-based businesses alone, it's not as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of distractions, and even there is sheer boredom waiting for something to occur which in a typical environment is filled up with social interactions and those distractions you mention. During those times of boredom or waiting, you end up filling them with some other activity which in turn distracts you; this is not, say, unlike on /. reading an article then reading a post
  • Honey, (Score:2, Funny)

    by embsysdev ( 719482 )
    I shrunk the Roomba
  • by BCW2 ( 168187 )
    Look at the history: The Wright Bros. built their airplane in a bicycle shop. HP was started in a garage. What about Apple? Most inventions of merit have come from backyard hobby/hackers/dreamers. They all had talent whether mechanical or electrical and ran with thier ideas/dreams.
    • by Rick.C ( 626083 )
      Most inventions of merit have come from backyard hobby/hackers/dreamers.

      Yeah. Look at the transistor. Some guys foolin' around in a barnyard stuffed some horse manure in between two cow patties and hooked it up to the 'lecric fence. A little bit of development work at Bell Labs, and the rest is history.

  • I can't believe they still make Pabst!
  • My dear Frodo. Hobbyists really are amazing creatures
  • Cool, but.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Asmandeus ( 640419 )
    From the article:

    Some people have also pointed out a cool little nano-tech inch-worm from Dartmouth that moves along a mesh of wires. Do I even have to defend pico's place here? "...it reacts to electric changes in the grid of electrodes it moves on. This grid also supplies the microrobot with the power needed to make these movements." While I'm impressed with the (incredibly) micro-bot, it still can't carry around its own juice. I can't compete at a nano-level, so here's hoping they don't make a battery soon that can strap to its back.

    Here's to hoping that they DO make one that has it's own power source.

  • Cool project. It reminds me of another hobbyist that beat Epson (http://www.epson.co.jp/e/newsroom/news_2003_11_18 _2.htm ) to the smallest helicopter http://pixelito.reference.be/ [reference.be]
  • It's been a long time, so I doubt the project is still online, but in the '90s one of the MIT kids built a dozen or so robots that were a couple of cubic inches... like tiny bulldozers.

    He called them "ants"... all in all it turned out very well and he derived many interested behavior patterns out of only a few sensors and actuators.
  • Hardly Surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) * on Thursday April 12, 2007 @06:37AM (#18700209) Journal
    Why is the "smallest" consistently an issue when it comes to electronics and motorized equipment? They're being made smaller all the time. This will continue to be non-news headlines for some time to come.

    I'm not impressed at all. They're all using microcontrolers and ROMS and such. A researcher at Los Alamos developed stepper-motor driven insect-like robots using 12, 14, or 20 transistors that'd "learn" to walk, some with different speeds/strides, with no preprogramming and within a few attempts steps. They even developed what amount to social behavior when operated in groups. The more agile ones that could run would run over the smaller, slower ones. In groups, the latter gathered together and backed themselves into a circle, which prevented the larger, faster ones from running over them. The "beheavior" emerged from some very simple conditions, and stretches the definition of "behavior", much like the light-sensing toy cars exhibited in an old SciAm article. In both cases there's no real learning because there's no collecting of information to be used other than immediate feedback through hardwired circuits. But when you saw a table full of these "bugs" circle the wagons to protect themselves against the attacking "lobsters", it was hard to not think of it in those terms.

    "You want to see real artifical intelligence? Make it warm and soft and fuzzy and cuddly." -- Karl Pribram, who understood the fault lies with us, Dear Brutish peoploids, not with our toy cars; it's what we "think" they're "doing".

  • the beginning of a real terminator....
  • of the bump-and-turn cars I played with as a kid.

    What makes this a robot instead of a child's toy?
  • I redesigned the board and had it made on a 0.5mm laminate
    I'm sorry but that board is not a 0.5mm square. It's a 5mm square. Granted it's still extremely impressive especially for a hobbyist, but 0.5mm is half a millimeter, 0.0196850394 inch, a bit more than 1/64 inch.

  • At least the hobbyist has good taste in beer! Mmmmmmm Peeber!

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.