Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas

Ho! Ho! Ho! Here's hoping that we all find some fun robot stuff under our trees this year.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

I am looking for few fun projects this year and may try to rack up on a few after Christmas sales too!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Robotics Club at Louisiana Tech

Under the leadership of Louisiana Tech professor, Dr. Ben Choi, student leader, Okoye Chuka and with the help of Dr. David Hall; Louisiana Tech is getting its Robotics Club up and running again. The attached image is a flyer for the upcoming meeting. They are including others, like me, who are outside the university, but interested in robotics. I really hope this becomes an ongoing group. It will be great to have some others locally to learn from and talk to.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Propeller Professional Development Board

My Dad used to always say, "When you have some spare money to play with - you don't have any time and when you have some time to play - you don't have any money." That's kind of where I am right now.

I have been really busy with work lately doing some extra work at my children's school, so I have some money, but no time to play. But, I just ordered a new toy. I hope I can find some time to play when it comes in. It is the Propeller Professional Development Board (PPDB) from Parallax and their website describes it as "a high-quality, fully-integrated development platform for the Propeller microcontroller. A wide variety of typical I/O (LEDs, Buttons, etc.) devices and circuitry are built into the PPDB, providing the developer with an ideal platform for rapid Propeller project development." They had a special on some slightly blemished models and are selling them at a discount. Take a look here. They were about 25% off.

This will be lots of fun! It will give me a great way to prototype ideas and check them out (other wise known as playing). Can't wait till it gets here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Too Busy!

Just a quick post to say that work is seriously impinging on my play time. I only get a bit of time here and there, but I am making a plan...

I am also working with a few folks on getting a robotics club going in the area. That could be very fun!

More news as it developes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Improved RCA Audio/Video Connection

Just wanted to show some pics of a homemade RCA Audio/Video Connection I made to use with my PEKit. I used info from OBC's Propeller Cookbook and the pdf for the RCA to Breadboard Adapter. The RCA board was one I scavengeed from an old VCR and I made a set of pins to stand in up in the far left ground bus. Video is tied (through resistors) to the standard pins - 12, 13 and 14. Audio is tied (through capicitors and resistors) to pins 10 and 11.

I attached them to a broken DVD player (as mentioned previously). I have a 12 volt power supply and the display and speakers work great. So all the parts and display are junk I had in my junk box.

I have tested the Graphic_ Demo, TV_Text_Demo, the SingingDemo and the SingingDemoSeven from the library in the Propeller Tool. They work great!

Now that it is working and tested, I may consider tight-wiring it, so it takes up less space. I'm really enjoying playing with Labs and learning my way around the Prop.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Monitor Test for Propeller Education Kit

I have assembled the Propeller Education Kit Platform. I went through the Set-up Lab and tested all the wiring and function. I have been playing with some Spin coding and hardware set-ups. I built a simple RCA video and audio output and tested both (Thanks to The Propeller Cookbook and pdf and sample code for the RCA to breadboard adaptor).

The video below shows the Graphics Demo Program on the Propeller Tool (which is used to send program code to the Propeller). The program itself is the code seen on the computer monitor. Next you see the Propeller Education Kit wired with the RCA Video adapter and and running the graphics demo program. The TV signal is sent from the Propeller Chip through its I/O pins. For my monitor, I hooked up one of my children's broken DVD players. The DVD player is broken, but the monitor works great and has a 3-1/2" X 6" screen. I have a power adapter for it and the screen angle is adjustable. In the video, you can see the Graphics Demo Program running on the monitor. All of the display hook-up and LCD display are junk that I salvaged.

Cool, eh? The Propeller is really fun to play with and incredibly powerful. I have just barely scratched the surface.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Moving to the Parallax Propeller

Well, I finally made the leap up to the Parallax Propeller. The Propeller chip is fantastic step forward in microcontrollers. Its eight processors (cogs) can operate simultaneously, either independently or cooperatively, sharing common resources through a central hub. The eight 32-bit processors (COGs) allow real simultaneous multi-processing! The chip is the result of eight years of work and was designed at the transistor level. The Propeller chip is programmed in both a high-level language, called Spin™, and low-level (assembly) language. With the set of pre-built Parallax “objects” for video, mice, keyboards, RF, LCDs, stepper motors and sensors, a Propeller application is a matter of high-level integration. The Propeller Chip represents the first custom all-silicon product designed by Parallax.

To learn about the Propeller, I chose to buy the Propeller Education Kit - 40 pin DIP Version. This is a complete kit with everything you need to get started with the Propeller microcontroller. Parallax's website has educational labs that you can download the free. The Propeller Education Lessons and Labs utilize the parts in the kit, and new Labs will be released periodically. This kit features breadboard-friendly versions of the Propeller chip, EEPROM and other core components making it easy and inexpensive to learn about the Propeller. If you mess something up it doesn't cost much to replacce parts as needed.

I also bought the Propeller Manual. The Propeller Manual contains detailed Propeller chip architecture information, along with complete syntax and reference guides for both Spin and Propeller Assembly languages.

For spending more that $100, Parallax was offering a free gift of the Propeller Proto Board (Serial Version), so I recieved it too. There are some really fun and educational resources for the Proto Board avaliable on the Parallax Forums produced by user "Oldbitcollector." These resources include the Intro to the Propeller Proto Board and The Propeller Cookbook.

Learning all that the Propeller can do will be a slow process, but there is a lot of help avaliable on the Parallax Forums and at the Propeller Object Exchange. This exchange includes other users solutions to common programming problems which are shared freely on the web. I've already had several folks offer to help me learn or share their code with me. That's one of the reasons I enjoy this so much!

Note: Photos and much of the info above is courtesy of Parallax's excellent website.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Robotics Logo by Chuck McManis

I found this logo on Chuck's Robotics Notebook. It is an online journal by Chuch McManis, who is the president of the Home Brew Robotics Club of Silicon Valley. He explains how he designed it on the introduction page. It really captures what I enjoy about robotics. Robotics is a combination of electronics, programming, and mechanics - creativity will real world constraints.

McManis says, "Because I'm a slow learner, it has taken me about 8 years to put together a robotics logo that I'm happy with. Well suffice it to say, this is it! The one true robotics Logo! Capturing in a single design what it is to be a robotics experimenter, hobbyist, scientist, and entrepreneur. Programming, Mechanics, and Electronics all combined around a great idea to form a complete whole. Yup, that's what it says : Robots." He adds, "Roger Gilbertson and I were tossing around ideas for logos at an HBRC meeting a long time ago. We wanted something that combined the essence of robots which is really a triple discipline activity. This even has a name of sorts, "mechatronics" but that fails to capture the programming aspect of it. Anyway, I wanted to represent each of the disciplines used in robots in such a way that you could make it into a patch, further the patch could be worn in such a way that your "best" discipline would be on the top, or if you were good in two disciplines you could wear it with two sharing the top spot. That way during the "random access" time of the meeting you if you were looking for help with programming just look for folks with the programming section on top. Neat huh?"

Well, I know I think it is neat.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

My New Desktop Buddy

Well, I broke down and bought a small Wall-E action figure for my workspace desk. It is very detailed. I will probably get a robotic Wall-E at some point or maybe even try to build one like my friend 4mem8 over at Robocommunity.com. Take a look at his thread on the construction of his Wall-E with tons of detail here. Can't wait for the movie, although it comes out while I am away at camp!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Solarbotics Compact L298 Motor Driver

Solarbotics Compact L298 Motor Driver allows control of 6 to 24 volt motors, with up to 4 amps of drive current. It comes in kit form. I assembled the unit and have attached photos of the test set-up and a video so you can see it in operation (the photo of the driver by itself is from the Solarbotic's site). Four LEDs indicate motor direction. The driver uses eight Shottkey diodes to shunt back EMF generated by the motors.
With a Basic Stamp, you can control motors of higher voltage with 5 volt signals and simple programming. The code I used was a test sample available on the Solarbotic's web site. The code runs both motors forward, runs both in reverse, stops each motor separately and then runs one forward and the other in reverse and vice versa. It is both simple, yet amazing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

CBA Robot Kit

The CBA (ChiBot Alpha) robot kit is a club robot for the Chicago Area Robotics Group (ChiBots). It is sold through BudgetBot.com. It was designed to be a suitable beginner robot. I wanted to get so that I could get the experience of putting the components together myself (especially soldering the components on the PCB). It features a Parallax Basic Stamp 2e OEM, so it is compatable with all my other Parallax goodies.

I had one glitch assembling it. I mounted the crystal about a 1/16" above the board. I did this because it is heat sensitive and I used a heat sink to protect it. As it turns out, this kept the Basic Stamp from being identified by its software. Luckily, the technical support for the ChiBot is excellent and with the help of Mike, it is working fine (he said he had never seen this problem before!).

I finished the rest of the assembly today and have had it running around on the floor. The kit has some accesories like a line following module and wheel encoder module also available from BudgetBot (these can be viewed at the web site).

I have attached a photo of the overall bot and a detailed photo of the assembled PC Board. My son has dubbed it the 2W Bot - (of 2 Wheel Bot).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lab Remodeling

I picked up a used computer from a friend (for free) and added it to my lab space. It is very handy to have a computer right in the lab (the keyboard and mouse slide right under the flat panel monitor for even more work space). Please note the cool Wall-E wallpaper on the monitor too. I also added a wire shelf above my desk to give me more desktop space. I holds tools mostly. The shelves at the side have gotten taller. They contain books, files, some parts and completed projects. To see a picture of how the lab used to look, check my original post on this subject here. I have lots more in the space and more desktop too!

Of course to remodel the space, I also had a lot of cleaning to do. This took the most time. I consolidated boxes and stored parts where I hope they will be easier to find. Take a look at how clean and neat it is. It really makes it easier (at least for me) to start a project if everything is clean. I am trying to decide now what to start on to get it dirty.

I also enjoyed the Habitat for Hobbies - Part I article by Vern Graner in the June 2008 Nuts and Volts. Can't wait for Part II.

Friday, May 23, 2008

555 Flashing Circuit

This is actually more of an experiment to see about uploading video. I built this 555 Flashing Circuit a while back. It was a little project to play with bread-boarding. The frequency of the flashing LED is controlled by a potentiometer. In the video, I say I designed it, but I actually just built it. The circuit came from Electronics for Dummies and a schematic is shown to the right.

My daughter got a new digital camera that can shoot short video clips as well. So, now I can upload video to my blog. Pretty cool! Check it out below. By the way, my daughter is helping with the demo.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Success (in Robotics)

I heard this quote by Sir Winston Churchill at a commencement ceremony. "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."

Seems to apply...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Louisiana Tech Robot Championship

On May 9, 2008, I attended the Louisiana Tech Robot Championship. It was hosted by the Computer Science Department in the College of Engineering at Tech. The focus was on programming, but the hardware was well done too. Most were hacks of toys or pre-built robots. One of the simplest and best was a hacked toy truck, which used simple logic chips instead of programming.

There was a maze competition and a couple of demonstrations. Dr. Ben Choi said the competition began when he had a student who wanted to do an independent study in robotics.

Photos – Dr. Ben Choi, photo by Michael Dunlap at the New Star, www.thenewsstar.com and a photo I took of the hacked truck which was one of the winners.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Freshman Design Expo

Yesterday was Louisiana Tech's Freshman Design Expo. Thirty-two teams presented some very interesting projects. Some were wacky, some things that are already being done,and some were very original and very impressive. I was asked to be a guest judge by Dr. David Hall and it was a great pleasure to help.

They have a program at Tech called "Living with the Lab." Each freshman has a Parallax BOE-Bot of their own. It is a engineering lab that they live with. Check out the impressive video below. The Design Expo allowed them to creatively use what they had learned over the course of the year and was part of their ENGR 122 course.

Each project had at its heart (or brain) the Basic stamp and a BOE. A host of other Parallax products including Servos, Pings))), Hall effect sensors, Flexi-force sensors, PIR sensors, Accelerometers, IR's, RFID readers and tags, EMIC text to speech SIP module and LCD displays were also used.

Parallax provided prizes (thanks to Ken Gracey) that were awarded to the first, second and third place teams. Certificates were also given for Can Do (difficult to accomplish design), Rolex (best crafted), da Vinci (most creative), Shoot the Moon (technically difficult, might not have fully achieved), Patient Pending (original patient worthy idea).

It was fun to be a judge, I got to meet some great people and got to see a lot of interesting work. Thanks for inviting me David!

Here's the video!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Birthday Bots and Gizmos?

Today is my birthday! The big 5 - 0. I am hoping to be a successful late bloomer in the world of amateur robotics or a least have fun trying.

I will probably not have my official party until this weekend, but everything on my list was a robot part, gizmo, book or electronics' tool. I will post a complete list later (I hope...). In the mean time, enjoy this cool card.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Great Internet

My son's designs and posts were coming so quickly that we decided to make him his own blog. He named it The Great Internet, Notes of a boy and his Dad who both love the Internet. You can visit it here.

It should be fun to read and contain lots of Lego designs, robot sketches and interesting insights on many, many things.

Stay tuned, I'm sure a blog is coming from my daughter too! (Editor's Note - looks like this blog may be delayed - It is too difficult to think of a really cool name!)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Parallax Digiencabulator

According to this thread on the Parallax Forums the new Parallax Digiencabulator is almost completed. No pictures were posted, but there was this exciting picture of the mounting bracket. Looks pretty interesting!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I got this Hummer H2 with Mattracks on sale after Christmas. It was only $60. I wanted the Mattracks, which I have now found out that I can order by themselves from Radio Shack (two sets are about $60). I now have three pair.

Lots of folks are using these for
tracks on their robots and they are what my friend StampNut2 is using on his WALL-E robot which you can read about here. It takes a little work to hack them to fit, but they work really well once you do. You can see good picture of them mounted on a BOE-Bot here.

Here is a litte video too that shows the Mattracks in action. This was made by another person who attached them to their BOE-Bot.

Mini Lego WALL-E

I had to post this mini Lego Wall-E that I found while I was surfing the web. I don't know if we have all the parts to make it, but my son would obviously love it. See it here on flickr.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Robot Designs

Now my son is designing robots like crazy with his Lego parts. Here are his two latest. The first is the Four-legged Walker (the name is self-explanatory).

The second is the Security Sweeper. I like this one the best. The body is a barrel chair from the Krusty Krab Restaurant set. The top (a security camera with dish transmitter) is from one of the Mars Mission sets. Best of all the locomotion (at bottom) is the broom used to sweep up the Krusty Krab. Obviously another pair of ingenious designs.

My son has also taken to commenting on posts here. Look for some of his comments!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Additions to My Library

I picked up a couple of new books this weekend while on a trip. They're intended to be funny, but educational. Daniel H. Wilson, Ph.D. wrote How to Survive a Robot Uprising while working on his doctorate, and How to Build a Robot Army after earning his Ph.D. from at the Robitic's Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. Wilson says on his website, "I wear a tie and glasses to look very smart and intimidate people who visit my website."

Both books are illustrated in a campy graphic novel style by Richard Horne. The website for Robot Uprising (linked here) will give you an idea of the book's style, content and how they mix current robotic reasearch with the sci-fi fears about the rapid developing technology. Be sure to check out the e-cards. The books are a lot of fun and filled with great information about the current state of robotics. You can find them here at Amazon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Playing Around

I was playing around the other night with a custom header for this blog. I made this, but I couldn't get all the kinks worked out. Still - it was cool enough to post. I made it from a picture of Parallax's 2x16 Serial LCD. I erased the original text and added the new text in Microsoft PhotoDraw.


It is ironic that I did not start my robotics hobby until I moved to rural Northeast Louisiana. For the previous decade and a half, I lived in the San Francisco Bay area. That is right, minutes from San Francisco, or a short drive to silicon valley, and a few blocks from U.C. Berkeley. Now, my connection to all this things is via the internet. When I see something like this, it is particularly difficult.

RoboGames is the world's largest open robot competition (even the Guinness Book of World Records says so!) The best minds from around the world to compete in over 70 different events. It will be held this year at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Combat robots, walking humanoids, soccer bots, sumo bots, and even androids that do kung-fu. Some robots are autonomous, some are remote controlled - they're all cool! Check it out here.

Then again, if I lived in the Bay Area - all my money would be spent on gas and housing. Wonder if my wife would be interested in a "romantic" San Francisco vacation?

Note: The RoboGames description comes from the site linked above.

Friday, February 29, 2008

My New Wallpaper - WALL-E

I just added this image as the new wallpaper on my computer. This is from Walt Disney's upcoming movie titled WALL-E. It is a Pixar film. The Internet Movie Database has this information about WALL-E which is scheduled to be out in June 27, 2008. This movie should be fun for me, my wife and kids (especially me)! See the trailer here.

I also found this, which is a Pixar creation. It is an ad for a WALL-E robot, made by Buy-N-Large (This is a link to their "website" - very funny). Enjoy...

This got me thinking that it would be fun to make my own WALL-E - then I found this just a hour or two later on the Parallax Forums. My friend and fellow robot builder StampNut2 (his site is Robotic Madness) posted his WALL-E here. Check out his beautiful craftsmanship shown in the pictures and read the discussion. It would still be fun to make one!

Edit- My son made this drawing of WALL-E's arch enemy, TALL-E. As you can see in the sketch, TALL-E has legs and according to my son, laser eyes. Yikes! WALL-E be warned.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Robot Design - TRSBot

Not to be out done, my daughter had to design her own robot in response to my son's design posted here. Notice the tank tread locomotion and the two grippers on the body. Another excellent design.

You may check out the sound this bot makes by clicking Gabcast! - TRSBot Sound

Monday, February 4, 2008

My Robot Portrait

I was surfing some robotics' sites the other day and found a great link to Robot Portraits. Ben Rollman is an artist in Austin, Texas who does some very interesting work. Ben takes photos of people and transforms them into robots (see his U.S. presidents) . I had to have one of these for my blog! Check out some more of Ben's work here on flickr.com. After an e-mail or two with some attached photos - Ben went to work and made the drawing above - complete with the Episcopal Church's shield.

Ben also makes a video of each piece of art being created along with music of Ben's choosing. The You-Tube link is below also. The music attached to my file is Soul Man by the Blues Brothers. Incidently, in Dan Ackroyd's T.V. series, Soul Man - Ackroyd was an Episcopal priest.

The 5"X 7" original art is mailed to you, the digital artwork and video are posted on Ben's blog for the world to enjoy. The price for all of this is only $15.00. Amazing!

Thanks for your great work Ben!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


It is always hard to have balance. On January 14, I was supposed to begin classes again at Louisiana Technical College. I was going to take Comprehensive AC Circuits (ETRN 1150). The best part would have been learning to use an oscilloscope. Between the children, church and all the demands of full-time ministry, I decided I could not commit to a regular schedule of class each day. It was difficult making the regular schedule day in and day out during my last semester. I also really like to do well (if I going to take a course). It is all part of the balancing that everyone has to do between what you must do, your work and your play. It was a good decision. I did go to the school and formally withdraw and I went and talked to my teacher to explain. I am welcome back any time.

I have committed myself to study on my own at least an hour or two everyday. I am going to try to work on some new projects to learn some specific things - like the Understanding Signals Course from Parallax (which involves learning to use their USB Oscilloscope).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Leonardo's Lost Robots

I'm reading a very interesting book called Leonardo's Lost Robots by Mark Elling Rosheim.

Here is a portion of the description from the book's rear cover - "Leonardo´s Lost Robots reinterprets Leonardo da Vinci's mechanical design work, revealing a new level of sophistication not recognized by art historians or engineers. By identifying his major technological projects, the book revisits Leonardo's legacy of notebooks, showing that apparently unconnected fragments from dispersed manuscripts actually comprise cohesive designs for functioning automata. Using the rough sketches scattered throughout almost all of Leonardo's papers, Rosheim has reconstructed Leonardo's programmable cart, which was the platform for other automata: a Robot Lion, a Robot Knight, and a hydraulically powered automaton for striking a bell. Through a readable, lively narrative, Mark Rosheim recounts his adventures rediscovering and reconstructing da Vinci's designs.

Rosheim attended the University of Minnesota, studying mechanical engineering. He has developed robotic technologies for NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, and is the founder and president of Ross-Hime Designs, Inc., a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based mechanical design company. He holds over 20 patents in robot technology, and has published and lectured extensively around the world on the topic of robot technology and history.

In the preface, he describes how in 1965, he received a Lost in Space Remco Toy Robot. When its arms didn't move by themselves, he declared to his Dad, "But it's a Robot. They're supposed to move on their own." His quest to build such a robot and to understand the mechanical principles of human motion and dexterity led him to investigate the anatomical and mechanical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Utilizing a new approach, he began to reconnect the tell-tale fragments into a cohesive whole. Rosheim's website http://www.anthrobot.com/ is worth a look too.

Rosheim has another book, called Robot Evolution: The Development of Anthrobotics, which I have on order. It is supposed to be very good too!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Herbie the Mousebot

I assembled another one of my Christmas presents today. It's the Solarbotics, Herbie the Mousebot. Originally invented by Randy Sargent, Herbie was built from spare parts as an entry for a robot competition. Herbie is such an elegant, clever design using very few parts, it's been featured in as a construction project in "Junkbot, Bugbots, and Bots on Wheels", "Absolute Beginner's Guide to Robots" and "MAKE" Magazine. When I connected the battery after assembly, nothing happened. I began to look the little bot over and disovered that I forgot to solder the tabs to the 9-volt battery hook-up. Oops! Two quick solder connections and everything worked perfectly.
Solarbotics has enhanced Herbie a bit with functional whisker and tail sensors, so it doesn't get stuck in corners while it chases around. Herbie the Mousebot is a 9-volt battery-powered robot that loves to chase flash light beams. If there are several Herbies in the same area, they can be configured to chase each other! (I did not install this feature yet, as it uses additional power and can shorten the battery life a bit. It basically involves installing and infra-red LED on the back of Herbie as a tail-light, which another Herbie can chase). Solarbotics says, "These little robots are so quick, you have to run to keep up to them!" They are not kidding!

Herbie documentation can be found here.
Note - much of the above is taken from the Solarbotics site at the link above.


My son loves to put things in his mouth, especially remote controls. This is obviously not good for electronic devices. His T.V. remote has been broken for a while. Today, I took it apart and did a little testing and troubleshooting. Current was getting to the Infra-red LED. Upon a closer look, the leads were rusty and one was rusted into.
A broken remote, lots of electronic tools, a lazy New Year's Day, and just enough knowledge to be dangerous - What did I have to loose? I first tried to replace the LED with one from another old remote. The LED looked different and didn't work. So, I took it back out. Next, I added some leads from the printed circuit board of the remote and connected the original LED to the new leads. After re-assembling the remote, it worked perfectly. All were amazed (including me, I have to admit)!

As I told my wife, "Now, this hobby is finally paying off." ;-)