November 2005


Creating Hybrid Robots using LEGOs and ROBOTIX Motorized Construction Kits (Pt 1)

I've been thinking about how to combine my LEGO pieces with the ROBOTIX motorized construction kit I have in my basement lab. In LEGO construction, press fitting of plastic square & rectangular bricks and plates is accomplished with the  aid of round studs embedded on the surface of the building materials. The ROBOTIX's construction assembly consist of using interlocking male & female octagon plugs and sockets. Therefore, the challenge is solving how to put a round stud into an octagon hole! The clearance between these two mating surfaces is quite sloppy allowing the two construction elements to wiggle. The solution to this dilemma is to provide a filler or ring to fill the connecting surface area between the 2 construction parts. I mocked up a cardboard ring that wraps around the octagon head of a ROBOTIX part. The cardboard ring provided enough mating surface material so the LEGO brick can attach snuggly to the ROBOTIX part. Figure 1 shows the concept of the cardboard ring and the attachment of a 2x2 LEGO Brick to a ROBOTIX Double Plug. To test this electromechanical-actuator device I attached a LEGO Camera to the ROBOTIX Double Plug/electric motor assembly to check out the rigidity of the cardboard ring used in the final unit. The Proof Of Concept (POC) worked quite well! The electric motor can easily be attached to the Handy Cricket, LEGO RCX, or PICAXE microcontroller for software control. More to follow!!!!



Create data plots using Open Source Software "gnuplot"

I came across the open source software reading the Nov. 2005 issue of Test & Measurement World last week (11/23/05). On page 25 of the article, entitled "Create your own data plots" Martin Rowe (Senior Technical Editor) provided his review on gnuplot software. Now, when it comes to freeware (Open Source) software, I like to do a preliminary test to see if I can used it in my sci-tech development projects. Well folks, this software package definitely has benefit in such projects. In the magazine, there are two examples showing how to create plots via typing in a series of commands using the command line. The use of the command line remains me of MathWorks Matlab software package for creating visual numerical analysis reports and presentations.  After typing the basic 2 lines of instruction into the command line window, a plot was produced. I haven't jumped into the nuts and bolts of this software due to the Turkey Day break but I can see its potential in generating 2D as well as 3D plots of data obtained from my sci-tech experiments. I'll be exploring this new sci-tech analysis tool and will be provided some examples of its usage as the results are produced from various test and measurement experiments. If any tries out the software before my posting on the blog, please provide your comments and I will make them public to the rest of the sci-tech community.

Note: As always for all downloads from server use "public" for username and pwd via dialog box prompt!


Forward and Reverse Motor Control Handy Cricket Application

Have you wonder how to provide Bidirectional control of motor using the Handy Cricket? The "reverse" primitive Cricket Logo Code instruction didn't provide the output motor control response I was looking for. In using this instruction along with the " a, on" command the motor seem to sputter slowly in motion. Therefore, the "thisway" and "thatway" primitive instructions provided the necessary forward and reverse motor motion I wanted. To demonstrate this motor control behavior, I used the Handy Cricket Development Board along with the Robo Eyes Sensor control circuit discussed in the  11/06 blog for the mini experiment. A ROBOTIX motor was used to verify correct output motor control for the test. A mini video clip shows the results of the test using the following Cricket Logo Code. Instead of having the development board in the lab, I field tested the motor control application on my kitchen table ( the purpose of the development board concept). If any of you sci-tech enthusiast try this programming exercise, please feel free to provide your comments and results. I'll post them on this blog for others to learn from. Note: Use "public" for username and pwd via dialog box prompt!


Build a Low Cost Handy Cricket Development Board

The Handy Cricket is a cool embedded controller for rapidly building small autonomous robots and other robo-gadgets. The Cricket Logo programming language makes it idea for the beginning novice as well as a prototyping software tool for the advanced robo developer as well. To enhance the Handy Cricket's I/O capability, additional circuits can be added by using a development breadboarding environment. Radio Shack manufactures and sales an Electronic Learning Lab that provides all the pre-cut wires and electronic parts for Handy Cricket circuit extension. The lab also has two workbooks written by famed Citizen Scientist Forrest Mims. I've created such a development breadboarding system that can be viewed at the Sci-Tech Photo Gallery of this website. I'll be illustrating how this development breadboarding platform can be used to quickly build and test robo-gadget concepts in future blog postings.

Do It Yourself Projects Audio Clip

NPR's Science Friday is a weekly broadcast of events and discoveries happening in the world of science and technology. April 1 2005, Ira Flatow interview Phillip Torrone (Editor of Make Magazine) and Cy Tymony (Author of Sneaky Uses of Everday Things). The conversation discussed how the DIY scene is resurrecting via technology hacks and building very low cost science gadgets using everyday items in the home. The podcast is about 30 minutes long. Enjoy!!!



What's All This Personal Fabrication Stuff?

In several of my past blogs I've mentioned Neil Gershenfeld's new digital revolution which is in fabrication. He's been conducting research on how digital technology can aid in the computerization of fabrication tools like laser cutters and 3D printers. By adding microcontrollers and software to these fab tools, one can easily build his/her "fab lab". Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines have been around for several years and this microprocessor based machine tool have the intelligence to automate milling , cutting , and drilling processes via an embedded program. The cost of such a fab lab is around $20,000 which is out of the financial reach for the sci-tech/personal fabricator enthusiast. Therefore there is another approach to fab labs based on some basic tools that sci-tech/personal fabricator folks already have in their basement or garage workshop. In Neil's book entitled "FAB: The Coming Revolution On Your Desktop-From Personal Computers To Personal Fabrication" he explains through several chapters how individuals can build products for a market of one (the Maker) using these desktop computerized fab machines.

 The chapter on "Playing at Work" (p. 133) is quite educational because Neil briefly discusses the development of the LEGO Mindstorms programmable brick ( Fred G. Martin was on the MIT Hardware Design team) and how LOGO was used to provide a virtual interface between hardware and software. There's also a picture of the first generation Handy Cricket embedded controller shown on page 138 in the book. The following chapter on "Computation" Neil discusses the microcontroller and its role in embedded intelligence within the personal fabricated artifact created by the Maker. This chapter can easily be adapted to the Handy Cricket in terms of creating a unique "Hello World" program. The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) has catalog 193 examples using a myriad of computer language environments. I'll be exploring this simple introduction exercise used by computer science courses to find unique ways to introduce the Cricket LOGO programming language using the Handy Cricket. I'll be interested in seeing what the sci-tech community (including the Handy Cricket User Group) can create for the "Hello World" program using the Handy Cricket. All Comments and ideas are welcome!

Neil Gershenfeld gave a live presentation at the 2005 ETech Conference sponsored by O'Reilly Media Inc. In this discussion Neil explains the Fab Lab revolution via is instructional guidance, mentoring, and research at MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA). Let me know what your comments are on this unique spin of this Maker DIY following.


Don's Project Blog is Now a News Feed!

This Blog can now be added to your News Aggregator via the RSS-Valid button. This feature makes it easy for you sci-tech folks to obtain the latest project information from Enjoy!!!!

Toys Provide Great Handy Cricket Tools for Robo Projects

Last Friday I attended a Robotics workshop for a group of 6th graders from Canton Charter Academy visiting Lawrence Technology University here in Michigan. CJ Chung (Professor of Computer Science) conducted the 1-1/2 hr edutainment session. CJ presented an entertaining and educational  session on robotics using the LEGO MIndstorms and Sony's Aibo as the demonstration tools. With the help of two undergrad Computer Science Major students, the 4 Aibo robots were programmed to perform the Macarena. A LEGO Mindstorms robot was built and programmed to aid in selecting a raffle tickets for several prizes given to lucky ticket holders. CJ explained that both the LEGO Mindstorms and Sony Aibo, although toys, were used to conduct important research in the fields of Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Systems design.

The tech work I conduct on the side is to enrich people's lives technically through this blog and the resources here at the website. Which brings me to the subject of how toys provide great Handy Cricket Tools for Robo Projects. As mentioned in an earlier blog on Personal Fabrication, The Handy Cricket allows the sci-tech enthusiast to embed an electronic brain to a variety of dumb objects.

Toys that have been discarded because of broken parts can be resurrected quite easily using the Handy Cricket. In the Sci-Tech Photo Gallery and a sample chapter from the Handy Cricket Robo Project book I'm writing, I have shown how a Talking Dump Truck can be enhanced using a Handy Cricket and several electronic parts. By modifying old toys with new technology, a new level in knowledge has been bestowed upon the sci-tech maker. There is an interesting "podcast" on the Feral Robotics Project  coordinated by Natalie Jeremijenko, a Professor of New Media Artist at UCSD (University of California San Diego). The project discusses how electronic toy robotics can be enhanced using microcontrollers, sensors, and electronics to create unique autonomous machines. Also, the interaction between the creator and machine is a key item to the research as well. Last, there's an article that discusses the educational role and importance that toys play in our society.  Check it out and see what new and unique ways the Handy Cricket can be used to resurrect those old toys you or your kids may have awaiting the Dump Truck of Dump!


Robo Eyes Sensor

Recently, I've been doing some work on bumper sensors for the Handy Cricket. Traditional method for implementing a bumper sensor is to use a small micro switch wired to ground. Upon the micro switch internal contacts closing, the ground signal is routed to the microcontroller's input pin. The embedded software will then interpret this signal as a logic low or binary "0" thereby, providing the appropriate output response ( move robot backwards). The improvement I made to this basic design is to add LEDs to provide visual indication of the bumper sensors' contact closure state. The circuit schematic consists of two LED indicators w/micro switches connected to the mini-connectors of the Handy Cricket via jumper wires. The Cricket Logo Code for the Robo Eyes Sensor is quite simple and very effective.

Not only does the sensor provide basic motor operation capability for obstacle detection and control but allows a visual diagnostic function to be visible at all times. The video clip made from my Palm Zire 72 shows the basic operation of the robo eyes sensor. Sorry about the quality of the video but in some regards, it shows the Maker mentality of creating using the available resources on hand. A Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab was used to prototype the sensor and the supporting hardware. Also in the video, a 4 digit LED display is attached to the Handy Cricket. In addition to the basic LED optoelectronic component, I'll be exploring the 4 digit LED Display as visual indicator for sensor status as well. Stay tune for further developments!!

Tech Note: use public as the username and password when downloading files.


The Virtual Cricket Video Clip

The Handy Cricket is a great embedded controller for learning microcontroller applications. The Cricket Logo makes it easy for kids, inventors, robo gadget enthusiasts, and electronic hobbyists to learn microcontroller development with its user friendly programming syntax language. If a Handy Cricket is not available, not to fret because there's a virtual unit ready for experimentation. Fred Martin, the creator of the Handy Cricket, has created a java applet (small application) that allows for programming experimentation through virtual play. The I/O (Input/Output) jumper connectors allow the user to select between various input switching devices (Push, Toggle, and Light sensors) and dc motor & lamp outputs. The tutorial section demonstrates the basic Cricket Logo commands used on the real electronics controller. To program your own Handy Cricket applications the "Open Mode" feature is used. This tool allows for Cricket Logo codes to be investigated prior to the software being downloaded to the target electronics hardware controller. The video clip shows an example of the Handy Cricket providing a forward & reverse function for a small dc electric motor. The animation for the java applet is pretty good and provides a good representation of the motion and action of an electric motor and pushbutton. The LED changes between red and green colors showing direction of the motor. Excuse the jitter of the video clip, I had one hand holding my Palm Zire 2 handheld device while operating the mouse. Enjoy!!!!


The Next 5 Projects Target for Handy Cricket Robo Book

Here's a list of the next 5 projects planned for submission into the Handy Cricket Robo Book.
bulletThe PICAXE Micro Meets The Handy Cricket - Electronic circuit Interfacing techniques between the Handy Cricket & the PICAXE microcontroller
bulletThe RAD Robot Hack - Adding the Handy Cricket to control features of the RAD 5.0 Robot toy
bulletBeetle Bot Revisited - The Beetle Bot was discussed in my LEGO Mindstorms Mechatronics book using the yellow programmable brick (The RCX) as the brains for the walking bot. Now, I will use the Handy Cricket as replacement electronic brain for the walking bot.
bulletRobo Development with the "V" Cricket - Fred G. Martin ( the creator of the Handy Cricket) has developed a web based tool for simulating Cricket Logo code. This "V" (Virtual) Handy Cricket becomes a tool for rapid software development of robo gadgets. Projects will explore how to used the tool and connect it to the real hardware device.
bulletDistributed Computing Hacks - The PICAXE Micro Meets the Handy Cricket is a hardwire technique to share information with the Handy Cricket: a basic demo of Distributed Computing. The Handy Cricket Communication bus also provides a serial data transmission media to connect with an external device. This chapter will explore both hardwired and digital serial communication techniques for creating Distributed Computing.

The 5 projects outlined will complete the book for a manuscript completion date of Jan 2006. The editing phase of the book is scheduled for February 2006. Therefore, the book should be available for purchase April 2006 through "The Store" weblink. I'll try to post 2 more chapters on this website for downloading so you Handy Cricket enthusiast will have a few robo projects to play with prior to the book's publishing release date (great for a weekend family sci-tech project :)) Stay tuned for further developments!!!

DIY Project DASH Panel

I'm developing an "interconnective" method of managing DIY robo development tools within one interactive space. The Mind Map is a cognitive tool that allows ideas to grow in a web of associations. The DASH Panel in a car provides a central location for obtaining vehicle performance information using the Instrument Cluster Panel. Also, entertainment is available through the radio as well as controlling the temperature inside of the car with the Climate Control panel. This same central monitoring and control location concept can be applied to robo development tools management using a Mind Map (MM). The interconnective method will allow DIY robo development tools of choice to be selected within one window without the hassle of searching through your PC or desktop computer's hard-drive.

 The DASH Panel template will have 3 components: DMI (Digital Media Instruction) Player Tool, Simulator Tool, and a Software Programming Tool. The DMI Player is an Excel VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) applet I'm creating, whereby assembly instructions can be viewed via illustrations, pictures, and video clips on a user interface panel. The DMI Player will be viewed on an Excel Spreadsheet. The Simulator Tool is for pre-testing electronic circuits for Input & Output (I/O) interfacing using a software simulation package. The Software Programming Tool is used to write code for the target robo gadget device. The Mind Map (MM) tool was discussed in the Sun Up Alarm Clock project posted on this website. The basic template for this tool will provide a visual project management method of organizing and developing robo-devices and sci-tech gadgets easily. More discussions to follow in the future!


The Essay Channel

I've posted a technical essay on EE Career Mobility via the New Essays channel of this website. This section will provide my philosophies on designing, Business Models, EE education, inventing & innovation, and other topics of interest for sci-tech enthusiasts. Enjoy!!!


Quick Guide to Prototyping Robots Manuscript

I've posted the manuscript for an online article to be publish with the "Citizen Scientist" E-Bulletin on Quick Prototyping Robot Techniques. The Society for Amateur Scientist is the main organizational body of this online hands-on publication. Forrest Mims, famed Radio Shack Engineer's Notebook author is the Editor of the webzine publication.  The article discusses the basics in rapid prototyping techniques using freeware software from the web. You can find the manuscript under the Sci-Tech Projects of this website. The online publication date is 12/2/05. I'll keep you posted upon the online publication date. Enjoy!!

Comments Page Added!

I've added a Comments page to the website for you to post your feedback regarding this webpage. Enjoy!!!


The PICAXE Microcontroller Schematic

I've taken the hand drawn circuit diagram that comes with the solderless breadboard development package and created a "clean" document using the ExpressPCB schematic capture tool software. The plan is to create a low cost microcontroller application development system using the Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab. I like the PICAXE microcontroller because it allows for quick prototyping of smart devices to be built with ease. Also, the PICAXE microcontroller enhances other computational devices like the Basic Stamp, the LEGO RCX, and the Handy Cricket by adding additional I/O ports. I'll show how this can be done in a future blog.