May 2006


Google Videos: Educational Robotics

In looking at the February 2006 archives of Makezine's Blog, I came across Marshall Brain's How Stuff Works  on TVs Google Video. By going to Google's website I discovered that they have built an online library of videos submitted by the web community. The library has video clips and movies on various genres like Business, Horror, Sci-Fi, and Education to name a few. The majority of the videos are free with the exception of Music Videos, Motion Picture and TV shows where as small download fee is charged ( as low as $1.99). I was curious to see if the Google library had videos on "educational robotics" and by searching on these two words I found a variety of clips on the subject. Videos range from topics on Swarm robots to the FIRST Competition. In addition to viewing the videos online, they can be watched offline as well by downloading Google's Video Player. I found out by numerous trials downloading the video player software using AOL web browser doesn't allow all of the software components to come through. Therefore, IE (Internet Explore) or any other Internet Browser should download the software completely. As a side note, the robots shown on these videos could easily be implemented with a Handy Cricket. Happy Viewing!!!


ROBOTIX cartoon intro video

I was looking for an educational video developed by NASA on the use of the ROBTIX construction kit to explain robots in space when I came upon the intro video of the old ROBOTIX cartoon. ROBOTIX construction kit is a terrific tool for building robotics based devices and machines using the octagon snap design on all of its components. The cartoon, if memory is correct, came out in 1985. The premise of the cartoon is based on Good vs. Evil and how a small ban of humans would ride inside the humongous robots and operate them to do battle. There were several construction sets to choose from where one character robot could be built with the kit. I believe I started with Argus set because of the 100 piece set that allow you to build several robots. Hasbro was the original manufacturer of the ROBOTIX kit at that time. Now its being built by Imaginarium and Robotics And Things is a main distributor of the product.



Build a LEGO Electronic Thermometer

In the world of inventing, Inventors must find low cost ways of prototyping their sci-tech gadgets while providing a working model that has proper functionality. Don Debelak who writes for Entrepreneur Magazine wrote a book in 1992 titled, "How to Bring a Product to Market for Less Than $5,000." A interesting method of prototyping he discusses in the book was "Cannibalizing Products." Don states:

         "You can take apart already existing products and use their parts to make a new product. Donna K. created a new stationary product that helps people budget their income. She bought two products at Kmart and two at a stationary store, and she ordered another from a catalog company. She then combined parts of each product to make her product."

LEGO's are a great way to build low cost products for sci-tech gadgets and exploring concept ideas for a new product. Cannibalizing Products is definitely a cost effective way of prototyping and with the aid of the Handy Cricket, electronic features implementation is a breeze. The Electronic Thermometer Reference Design is a basic example of prototyping using LEGOs and the Handy Cricket to create a quick turnkey  concept for investigation. Also, notice the construction of the electrical wiring interface for the temperature sensor using a LEGO parts and spring clips from an old Radio Shack Electronics Lab Kit in the reference design. Let your imagination soar. Enjoy!!!


Handy Cricket Reference Designs

In the world of New Product Development, engineers must be able to capture the ideas of Marketing using a prototype. The prototype will demonstrate the basic features and functions outlined in the Feasibility written by Marketing. To assist the engineer in creating a quick prototype, Semiconductor Manufacturers have created reference design. A reference design is basically an evaluation board of the target semiconductor component highlighting the device's I/O(Input/Output) and electrical/electronics interfacing capabilities. The reference design usually has a breadboarding area thus making prototyping quick and easy for testing and experimenting. The Handy Cricket is an awesome embedded controller and based on the projects I've been developing for the Robo Hacks book, I thought it would be cool to capture some interesting circuits for sci-tech gadget and robotics development projects. Therefore, I'll be providing Handy Cricket Reference Designs based on circuits I've built using analog, and digital components and ICs. The first reference design is a Light Activated Switch using a photocell as the sensing device for output control. Both Logo Blocks and Cricket Logo code are provided with the reference design. Enjoy!!


Adapting My Kids' School for Robotics Demonstrations

Last Friday (May 12th) I had the opportunity of conducting a Robotics Demonstration to a group of 2nd graders at Collierville Elementary School (Collierville, TN). My two boys (D'Mar and D'Vonn) attend this school which is walking distance from our house. D'Vonn is in the second grade and likes robots, dinosaurs, computer and video games. D'Mar has the same interests as his big brother as well, therefore a visit to their school to talk about robots was perfect timing to test RAD 4.0 Robo Hack project. D'Vonn's class and teacher (Mrs. Finney) really enjoyed the discussion on inventing gadgets, problem solving, and having patience in conducting science experiments. The kids really enjoyed the launching of 2 foam missiles from RAD. Here's Mrs. Finney's email response regarding the visit.


-----Original Message-----

From: Lori Finney

Sent: Friday, May 12, 2006 3:52pm

To: Wilcher, Don

Subject: Thank You!

Dear Mr. Wilcher,

Thank you so much for taking the time to come present your program on Robotics! Your message was an important one - I've been stressing Critical Thinking skills and perseverance all year. Patience is also always a good quality to point out!

The kids were thrilled that they got to see RAD fire his missiles!  I apologize for leaving you so abruptly. The parents had popsicles waiting that couldn't be left much longer or they'd have been Kool-Aid!

Again, I appreciate the time and interest you shared with our two classrooms!


Lori F.


I've always been involved in educational outreach programs via the companies I work for or my own. I'll be doing this demo on Friday (May 19th) for D'Mar's 1st class as well. I know the kids are going to think RAD is really "RAD" when they see him. The joys of technology exchange!!!!



I'm Back To The Original Plan for the RAD Robo Hack Project!

Last night I discovered the problem with the inoperable Transmitter. Solder joints are everything in electronics and if a wire is on the verge of separating from its solder pad, intermittent behavior will be the outcome. As mentioned in my 5/05/06 Blog, the basic concept to this robo modding project is to control RAD 4.0 using the Handy Cricket, but here's the catch-without hacking into the robot itself. The technique described in the 5/05 Blog was discussed in my LEGO Mindstorms Interfacing book for controlling E-Beetle Bot.



A Slight Problem with the RAD Robo Hack Project

Last night I ran into a design -implementation roadblock with the RAD Robo Hack Project. The design objective was simple, use the Handy Cricket along with a basic transistor relay driver circuit to control the one of multiple Remote Transmitter functions of the RAD Robot. Therefore, I built the transistor relay driver circuit on a solderless breadboard check it out and proceeded to wire the relay contacts to 2 switch contact points on the transmitter's pcb. Turned on the transmitter, energized the control relay using the transistor and nothing. I measured the transmitter's pcb positive and negative points (B+, B-) to see if the 9 Volts from the battery was present. Voltage present on pcb checked out!. Recharged the NiCad Battery that powers RAD and it powered up upon flipping the power slide switch. I even checked out the transmitter's pcb were a glob of glue around a resistor and crystal is visible. Everything  checks out OK so I'll try one last attempt to getting the transmitter to work. If I'm not able to get the device up and running, then I'll have to use plan B which is to open up RAD and find another electrical interfacing hook via a Poor Man's Wireless Controller. This is Hardware Hacking at its finest folks!


Google's "SketchUp" Tool

Google's Research Lab has done it again! The company that brought the Internet a great search engine, Google Maps, and Google Earth has created "SketchUp." SketchUp is a freeware tool that will introduce you to the world of computer graphics 3D modeling. The tool is very easy to use and allows the user to create sketches of houses, space ships, cars, and other graphics for presentations, invention proposals or to use with Google Earth. In the Sci-Tech Photo Gallery there's an example of mobile robot sketch using the LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Invention System. Google also has a website where SketchUp models can be posted and share with other users of the freeware package. Enjoy!!!