Category Archives: Robots

An Excellent Robot Kit: Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1

Tenergy is a company that you know well even if you don’t know them. They make a lot of the replacement batteries for everything, external power supplies, other electronic items. But recently they’ve added a few items to their line of products that reach out in an entirely different direction.

Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is a robot kit that can be configured as a tricycle with two large wheels, or as a two-wheeled “bicycle” which operates like a Segway. Which is pretty amazing.

So far Tomo is my favorite out of the box Robot Build, and I highly recommend it. It is also very reasonably priced (see note on that below).

Tomo the robot has the usual sensors that come with such a device, including a line tracker and a distance sensor that resembles a pair of eyes. The yellow color of the framework and the overall configuration give Tomo a sort of Wall-E look, which is cute.

Assembly: Instructions are clear. Assembly involves the use of several different size bolts and nuts to piece together the various framework parts into the appropriate configuration, which differs depending on if you want the trike or bike. The parts are high quality ad perfectly machined. If you find yourself wondering why something does not make sense, that’s you, not the robot. Check to make sure you used the right size bolts and re-read the instructions. The number of steps required to put the machine together is, in my experience with several similar devices, on the low side, so assembly will be quicker than you might expect. The kit comes with two tools which are of high quality, not the cheap knockoff screwdriver that you can’t really use. (The screwdriver is actually very nice.) Note that the bolts use two different screwdriver bits, and the shaft of the screwdriver is reversible. When we did the initial assembly, Huxley, 7, did most of the work with me guiding and holding some parts while he used the bolts.

Tomo under construction
Hint: There are two steps to get the big wheels to stay on. Consider super-tightening the first step or they’ll eventually (like, in a few minutes) fall off. I’m considering scoring the motor shaft with my Dremel to help the screw bite better. This is not a problem with Tomo, this is a problem with all wheels on all shafts on all robots.

Hint: The line tracing sensor has an adjustable height. This is an excellent feature. Go ahead and play with it to get it just right, which is probably lower than you are initially comfortable with. I find that this line tracing sensor on this machine works far better than others I’ve tested, but I’m not sure if that is the adjust-ability, the sensor itself, or the software. All are likely important factors.

Operation: Operation is right out of the box excellent, using an app that runs on Android or Apple. I did not test the apple version. The app that controls the robot is easily deployed and well designed.

Programming: This may be the best feature of Tomo. The programming app is designed for Android or Apple devices and works great. The programability is flexible and powerful, and the Scratch-like programming interface is top quality. Every now and then the unexpected happens, but I think that has to do with Bluetooth connectivity issues. Hint: When programming keep the Android/Apple device and the robot right near each other. This may be just Huxley, but the programmable sounds and lights are of greater interest than the movement of the robot, ad least for the first hour or so!

Guts: The processor board is based on Audrino architecture. I’ve not hacked it but it should be totally hackable. The processor is hooked to the other bits with Rj11 male-to-male cables. Our cat ate one of them and we were able to easily find replacements.

NOTE ON PRICE: At this time, the Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is about $30 cheaper than any similar robot, but also comes with a number of other deals including 10% off a second robot, and discounts on various other products (see the link, click on the “buy one get a discount…” link.

Learn Scratch Programming (For Kids And Adults)

Scratch Programming Playground: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games is a brand new offering from No Starch Press.

scratchprogrammingplayground_coverNever mind all the other programming books for kids, this is the best so far.

It helps that the Scratch Programming environment is so easy to use and allows such creative development, and it also helps that Scratch is likely to be a programming environment for basic robotics in the future (as I discuss briefly here). But the book itself is excellent, and works at several levels. A young kid working with an adult, a medium level kid working on their own, or an adult playing on the computer after the kids have gone to bed.

Scratch is in the Logo family of object oriented programming. Indeed, Scratch itself, as a language, is a very short distance from the original object oriented programming, much closer to the source than many professional object oriented language.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-8-55-57-pmIt works like this. See the graphic to the right. This is code that controls a “sprite” which in this case is a picture of a ball.

The light brown C-shaped things are control constructs. An outer one called “forever” contains code that will be run from the time the program is started until it is stopped externally. Inside that is an “if” loop that checks to see if the object “paddle” (specified in the blue object) touches the sprite (ball). If that event happens, then the code inside the “if” thingie is executed. In this case, the variable “score” goes up by one, a funny little blerp sound is made, and the ball turns in the opposite direction.

Meanwhile, the paddle has a wadge of code that goes with it as well, which responds to key presses or mouse movements, so that the paddle can be used as part of the bouncing the ball game. And so on.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-8-55-24-pmIn the code block on the left, contact between a pirate (a sprite) and a leaf causes the leaf to disappear and the pirate to get a score for making the leaf disappear.

You can imagine the possibilities.

So, imagine the following game. A complex maze is on the screen. The player uses arrow keys, etc., to move a tiny cat around in the maze, working the cat from the beginning to the end. At the end, there is a hole that the cat goes through, and now the cat is in another maze. And so on for several mazes.

Are there objects in the maze the cat must avoid? Or obtain? Will you time how long it takes to get through each level? Will you keep a high score? Will you have two cats, with two people controlling them, each moving in opposite directions through the maze?

The code examples I give above are not from Scratch Programming Playground, but the maze example is. It is one of several projects that the book works you though, as you learn all the various programming concepts in Scratch 2.0. The programs you learn to code produce complicated results and are really spiffy, but the programming itself is easy and the code is not extensive, because Scratch 2.0 is so powerful yet easy to use.

Each example, such as the maze, is fully developed, and then, new versions (like having the second player ability, etc.) added, and by the time you are done with that example, if not sooner, you are already adding things of your own design, from your own imagination.

Scratch 2.0 can be run as a stand along program in windows and on a Mac, but works better on the web, in a browser, on all platforms. Working in that environment, on the browser, has the important advantage of immediate access to a large amount of work done by others, that you can freely borrow from. And, of course, you can show off your own work.

Scratch Programming Playground tells you how to obtain or set up an account on Scratch at MIT, holding your hand effectively but respectfuly through the entire process. The book is also associated with, as per usual for a No Starch book, a web site with the code and other items used in the book. However, I recommend actually hand building most of this code on your own, so you actually learn what you are doing.

This is the overview table of contents for the book:

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And this is the Maze Runner project contents expanded, to give you an idea of how the learning and making process is parsed out:

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Note the multiple versions of the project that are developed after the main project is up and running.

It is possible to figure out how to make a hand held game controller work with Scratch programs, but that will depend on the controller you have and the platform. A USB controller and a bit of software from the web that lets you set up the buttons should work.

I would not be surprised if future Internet of Things programming, robotic programming, and other coding you might want to get involved in either uses Scratch or follows this model. The mBot robots can be controlled with a version of Scratch, which produces Arduino code for that robot, and there is now a compiler that allows the general use of scratch for Arduino. Arduino is a basic prototyping machine that can run things, as in “Internet of Things” and that is similar to controllers in general, like the ones in your computer, VCR, thermostat, DVD, car, Mars Rover, etc. (Wait, did I just say “VCR” … whatever.)

A bit of the book giving instruction on a code block to control a tennis ball sprite.
A bit of the book giving instruction on a code block to control a tennis ball sprite.
Anyway, Scratch 2.0 on the web, as per Scratch Programming Playground, gives you, er, your kids, great training in all the programming concepts, and with it you basically controls sprites (objects) on a screen. But the same language is already adapted to control a common form of robot (mBot) and has been adapted to program a widely used controller. So, with Scratch Programming Playground, a little practice and nine dollars worth of hardware, you can take over the world! Or, at least, a good portion of the Tri State Area.

When I do my “Science oriented holiday gift guide” (SOHGG) in a few weeks, this book is going to be on it. Al Sweigart, author, has really nailed a kids oriented programming book better than I’ve seen done before, and I’ve seen them all.

Impossible Voyage becomes Ever More Possible

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This camera pill is not larger than a candy. It can be swallowed by the patient. The doctor steers it through esophagus and stomach ….
So, you swallow this “pill” and miniaturized scientists riding inside get to travel around inside your body like in that movie, doing battle with your immune system while searching for a deadly clot, and running dangerously low on fuel.Well, not exactly. This IS a camera that you swallow. That is not so unusual. Doctors have had patients swallow cameras for some time now, to give them a look at the inside of your alimentary tract. This camera is different because the doctors do get to drive it , though not by using miniaturized pilots. Continue reading Impossible Voyage becomes Ever More Possible

Cooperating Robofish Set To Take Over Oceans, Lakes

In the world of underwater robots, this is a team of pioneers. While most ocean robots require periodic communication with scientist or satellite intermediaries to share information, these can work cooperatively communicating only with each other.Over the past five years Kristi Morgansen, a UW assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, has built three Robofish that communicate with one another underwater. Recently at the International Federation of Automatic Control’s Workshop on Navigation, Guidance and Control of Underwater Vehicles, she presented results showing that the robots had successfully completed their first major test. The robots were programmed to either all swim in one direction or all swim in different directions, basic tasks that can provide the building blocks for coordinated group movement. This success in indoor test tanks will eventually provide the basis for ocean-going systems to better explore remote ocean environments.”Underwater robots don’t need oxygen. The only reason they come up to the surface right now is for communication,” Morgansen said.Her robots would not need to come to the surface until their task was complete. They could cooperatively track moving targets underwater, such as groups of whales or spreading plumes of pollution, or explore caves, go underneath ice-covered waters, or into) dangerous environments where surfacing might not be possible. Schools of robots would be able to work together to do things that one could not do alone, such as tracking large herds of animals or mapping expanses of pollution that can grow and change shape.

Continue reading Cooperating Robofish Set To Take Over Oceans, Lakes

Microsoft Attempts to Patent the Very Essence of Humanity

What? Consider this Abstract from the patent:

A software design process includes three elements–an object/component driven element, a situation/scenario driven element, and an arbitrator/communicator element that is logically interposed and serves as an intermediary between the object/component driven and the situation/scenario driven elements. Through an iterative communication process overseen by the arbitrator/communicator, software design can take place and be measured against a metric. The communication process overseen and implemented by the arbitrator/communicator can allow ideas and developments provided by one element to be translated into a format that the other element understands. Once the metric has been achieved, the design process can be terminated.

Continue reading Microsoft Attempts to Patent the Very Essence of Humanity

Cornell robot sets a record for distance walking

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We’re not sure what brand of batteries it was using, but the Cornell Ranger robot just kept going and going April 3 when it set an unofficial world record by walking nonstop for 45 laps — a little over 9 kilometers or 5.6 miles — around the Barton Hall running track.Developed by a team of students working with Andy Ruina, Cornell professor of theoretical and applied mechanics, the robot walked (and walked) until it finally stopped and fell backward, perhaps because its battery ran down. “We need to do some careful analysis to find out for sure,” said Greg Stiesberg, a graduate student on the team.An earlier version of the same robot had already set a record by free-walking a bit over 1 kilometer, about .62 miles. (Another robot has walked 2.5 kilometers [1.55 miles] on a treadmill, Ruina noted. A six-legged robot has walked a bit more than 2 kilometers, and there’s some debate over whether or not that counts.)…Read the rest here.