Thursday, April 12, 2018

My little robotic pals

Years ago I decided to build an indoor robot with multiple kinects for navigation and a robotic arm for manipulation. It was an interesting time working out how to do this and what is needed to get a mobile base to map and navigate a static and dynamic indoor space. Any young players reading this might think that ROS can just magically make this all happen. There are some interesting issues to discover building your own base and some, um, "issues" shall we say that you will need to address that are not in the books or docs. I won't spoil it here for the new players other than to say be prepared to be persistent. 

There are two active wheels at the front and a single drag wheel at the back about 12 inches behind the front wheels. I wrote the code to control the arm myself as custom ROS nodes. A great trick here is you can inject sinusoidal movement by injecting a shim ROS node to take one target and smoothly move towards it.

Now I have a new friend for outdoor activity, the "hound bot". The little furry friend is still sans hair but has gps, imu, rc control override, and a ps4 eye camera mounted for depth perception and mapping. Taking a leaf out of one of the big car makers book and only using cameras for navigation. But for me it is about cost since a good lidar is still much to expensive for the hound.

The hound is a sort of monocoque where the copper looking square part at the front is part of a 1/4 inch aircraft grade alloy solid welded chassis that extends the lenght of the robot. The hound can do about 20km/h and is around 20kg in heft. The electronics bay in the middle is protected by a reinforced carbon fibre layup that I did. Mixing material for fun and slight weight loss.

One great part about doing this "because I want to" is that I am unbounded. Academic institutions might say that building robust alloy shells is not a worthwhile task and only the abstract algorithms matter. I get to pick and choose what matters based purely on what is interesting, what is hard to do (yay!), and what will help me get the robot to perform a task that I want.

The hound will get gripper(s) so it can autonomously "fetch" things for me such as the mail or go find and pick up objects on the lawn.

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