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 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." ;-)