In the last few weeks, Wolfram Research has made two announcements which have great significance for hobby robotics:
1. They’ve started to demo the new “Wolfram Language,” which is essentially the language used in Mathematica, but with a large library of built-in functions for everything from social networking to interfacing with hardware. It’s all symbolic and forms what Wolfram believes is a significantly new paradigm of “knowledge-based programming.”
This is big news. Really big news.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas have reported a new type of artificial muscle that’s both impressively powerful, and surprisingly simple. It’s basically just twisted and coiled polymer fibers — off-the-shelf fishing line or sewing thread will do. Upon application of heat, the coils shorten up to 49% of their original length, lifting many times their own weight. In fact the artificial muscles are over 100 times stronger than human muscle of the same length and weight.
We recently presented a list of commercially available robots that use your iPhone (or in some cases, Android) phone or iPod Touch as the robot brains. This makes a lot of sense, given all the sensors, networking, input/output, and raw computing power you probably already have in your pocket. But a good robot hobbyist is never satisfied with an off-the-shelf robot; how can you harness this power in your own projects?
The best way, if you can manage it, is one of the official interface cables from Redpark. These are official (Apple-approved) serial adapters for the older 30-pin connector, or the Lightning connector on newer devices. Among the 30-pin options are a TTL version, which gives you a 57.6 kbps logic-level serial connection you can easily interface with your other electronics.
Most of us carry a device in our pockets with a surprising amount of computing power and an amazing array of sensors, often including 6-axis IMUs, a GPS receiver, a compass, and a couple of high-resolution cameras. These are all things we need on our robots: sensors for perceiving the world, and brains enough to make sense of it. Consider the high-resolution touch screen, built-in rechargeable power supply, and networking capabilities, and using a mobile phone on a robot starts to make a lot of sense.
So with no further ado, here are some of the off-the-shelf iPhone- or Android-based robots on the market today. Read more…
A student at the Collège Rousseau of Geneva has demonstrated a great trick for combining robotics and art. Mariane Brodier used a Thymio II educational robot, a DSLR camera with a manual shutter, and some clever (but beginner-friendly) programming to make beautiful images like the ones below.