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Hobbyist One-Ups Sandia Labs

CowboyNeal posted about 7 years ago | from the do-it-yourself dept.

Robotics 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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Why not (4, Insightful)

Chris_Stankowitz (612232) | about 7 years ago | (#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 (4, Funny)

Joebert (946227) | about 7 years ago | (#18695917)

I guess he's just an outside the box kinda guy.

Re:Why not (4, Insightful)

26199 (577806) | about 7 years ago | (#18696059)

Indeed. And it seems somewhat cruel to create something only to immediately cage it!

Much better to let it run free, and make its own mistakes.

Re:Why not (2, Funny)

buswolley (591500) | about 7 years ago | (#18697513)

In other news, amateur build computer faster than the professionally designed ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer.

Yeah, time is a bitch..

Re:Why not (1)

setirw (854029) | about 7 years ago | (#18696325)

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?

Re:Why not (1)

solevita (967690) | about 7 years ago | (#18696493)

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 (3, Funny)

The Great Pretender (975978) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Why not (1)

zacronos (937891) | about 7 years ago | (#18701137)

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.

Re:Why not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18697991)

Not only that, the man drinks Pabst. Pabst!

Re:Why not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18698163)

You know, this thing is small enough to fit inside a colon. Although it has wheels. Could it be trained to, like detect the prostate gland?

Not that I have any plans to use it in any bizarre way.

Re:Why not (1)

Architect_sasyr (938685) | about 7 years ago | (#18698571)

Crazy sex jokes aside, I personally wouldn't want a robot jammed up my arse... I have an issue with probes that are attached to anchored piping... let alone something that can autonomously move... what happens when the doctor lets go... OH WAIT HE ALREADY HAS! All I see here is potential for bad things much like the infamous scissor-after-surgery stories...

Re:Why not (1)

Proofof. Chaos (1067060) | about 7 years ago | (#18700071)

Luckily enough for those of us ten or more years away from a prostate exam, I read that they're working on a blood test for prostate cancer that should be ready within ten years. And no, the doc shouldn't have both his hands on your shoulders during a prostate exam.

Ummm,,,, LEGO Fence, Perhaps? (1)

Slugster (635830) | about 7 years ago | (#18698833)

This was the first thing I thought of as well..... good job so far and all, but really. ~

It's cool (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 7 years ago | (#18695819)

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.

It's nerdy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18695905)

The GeekBot.

Re:It's cool (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18696387)

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:It's cool (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18696711)

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?

Re:It's cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18697027)

It's small, it has a blinkenlight, it looks a little lost and helpless. How much more cute do you want it to be?

Thats "cute" (0, Flamebait)

session_start (1086203) | about 7 years ago | (#18695945)

But functionally useless...

Re:Thats "cute" (3, Funny)

aicrules (819392) | about 7 years ago | (#18696043)

It could be an alternative to pliers for the removal of that stick you got stuck up there...

Re:Thats "cute" (3, Funny)

26199 (577806) | about 7 years ago | (#18696087)


  1. Give to small child
  2. Wait until they grow up and become Dr of Robotics
  3. Profit! (When they take over the world).

Re:Thats "cute" (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18696179)

1.5 Remove from small child's mouth, applying Heimlich maneuver as necessary.

Re:Thats "cute" (3, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | about 7 years ago | (#18697299)

You never had a small child, specificall a boy.

1.5 remove the robot from the child nose or ear, say no sternly.
1.6 remove the robot from the child's ear or nose (whichever was the opposite of the first and say no again)
1.7 Now remove it from their mouth.

Boys like to shove crap up their nose and in their ears for some reason.

Re:Thats "cute" (1)

Joebert (946227) | about 7 years ago | (#18696371)

The powerpuff girls called, they said your plan will never work because small children tend to put everything in their mouth & somthing the size of a dime would choke them sooner or later.

It'll replace gerbils in the college dorms first (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18696627)

Then it'll be used to clean the sewage drains

Yeah, robots are cool and all.... (3, Interesting)

Channard (693317) | about 7 years ago | (#18695955)

.. 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]

Re:Yeah, robots are cool and all.... (2, Insightful)

cyphercell (843398) | about 7 years ago | (#18696045)

Great video, I love how that guy comes out with the card board box, Honda has "men in blue" vs "men in black".
Though, in Asimo's defense let me present Ehibit B [google.com]

Re:Yeah, robots are cool and all.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18697617)

To be honest I don't think it was a failure of the robot per se (at least not in the way you are thinking). It looks like a actuator/joint in its leg failed (broken gear? I don't know what mechanics it uses). You can see when it goes to put weight on that leg to lift itself up it snaps and collapses.

I was expecting a software type glitch or something but this looked like a plain old mechanical failure. Otherwise it seemed to be working fine.

Re:Yeah, robots are cool and all.... (1)

Proofof. Chaos (1067060) | about 7 years ago | (#18700127)

but colour me impressed when someone comes up with one which can handle stairs
They've had those for decades. Ever heard of a Slinky.

Just as pointless as most autonomous research.. (2, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 7 years ago | (#18696013)

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 do their research in. The mechanical engineers, who just can't help getting their hands dirty, can take the designs that have been tested in simulation and ensure they work in hardware.. thus giving the simulation as much credence as hardware, and yet allowing the reproducability necessary for doing actual science.

No more pointless than most things (4, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 7 years ago | (#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:No more pointless than most things (1, Troll)

QuantumG (50515) | about 7 years ago | (#18696337)

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 (4, Interesting)

Migraineman (632203) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Just as pointless as most autonomous research.. (1)

Proofof. Chaos (1067060) | about 7 years ago | (#18700193)

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.

Pico... How creative. (5, Funny)

GrievousMistake (880829) | about 7 years ago | (#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)

-5 Super-Flamebait (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18696085)

Yeah, but Macs are better!

Wow ... (3, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Smaller than 2001 machines... (1, Informative)

Excelcia (906188) | about 7 years ago | (#18696113)

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.

Re:Smaller than 2001 machines... (1)

poor-robot (1087285) | about 7 years ago | (#18696269)

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.

Re:Smaller than 2001 machines... (1)

Excelcia (906188) | about 7 years ago | (#18696511)

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.

Re:Smaller than 2001 machines... (1)

poor-robot (1087285) | about 7 years ago | (#18696789)

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.

Re:Smaller than 2001 machines... (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | about 7 years ago | (#18697705)

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.

Re:Smaller than 2001 machines... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 7 years ago | (#18696349)

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 (4, Insightful)

bl8n8r (649187) | about 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:too friggin cool (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18701311)

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 and finding you burned half an hour in total because you decided to respond to some post correcting someone.

Also, this is rather commonplace too. If you look at home-based books or business magazines, a lot of them address the focus issue; it's quite hard to not get distractive or keep on task. (In turn, being distracted is more a sign that your business isn't dong well too; you're not filling orders, etc.) The human mind tends to focus for about 10 minutes at a time then falls out of focus. Even if you can stay focused for extended periods of time, it increases your stress level to stay that way, which in turn leads to extended bouts of getting nothing done; again, those distractions you mention in the jobplace are actually more like downtimes which refocus you back on task. Working alone, you don't have them.

Strange as it sounds, I end up watching a LOT of TV (news, like CNN or CNBC) and reading magazines when I'm doing research; I often do laundry during the afternoon because I'm bored out of my skull awaiting email or waiting for a gel to run. (For the more inciteful, this all is not unlike the stay out home spouse who ends up vacuuming a lot or watching daytime dramas/soaps.) I've got to do something else or I end up going a little off the edge.

And in case someone mentions it, I'm not inattentive or can't focus (I won't go into why, but I consider myself well above average compared to what I've read or observed with prior business partners or associates in the field).

Finally, doing something alone also sometimes means you do more; being in a national lab setting, they have a lot of techs and resources/manpower to handle mundane stuff like washing labware, ordering supplies, receiving supplies, etc. In an individual environment, all of that you have to do.

Normal (1)

BCW2 (168187) | about 7 years ago | (#18696843)

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.

Re:Normal (1)

Rick.C (626083) | about 7 years ago | (#18700659)

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.

Cool, but.. (2, Interesting)

Asmandeus (640419) | about 7 years ago | (#18697069)

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.

Tubgi87 (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18697345)

Theo de Raadt, on3 THINKING ABOUT IT.

MIT's Ants (1)

bhima (46039) | about 7 years ago | (#18698757)

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 (2, Insightful)

DynaSoar (714234) | about 7 years ago | (#18700209)

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".

What board size again? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 7 years ago | (#18703521)

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.

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