35th All Japan MicroMouse Robot Contest 2014 Announced

micromouse robot

Dates for the 35th Annual All Japan Micromouse Robot Contest were announced by the Japanese New Technology Foundation. The contest, which includes Micromouse Half-size, Micromouse Classic, and Robotrace categories, will be held November 21st-23rd, 2014 at the Atsugi Campus of Tokyo Polytechnic University.

Contest entries will be accepted from September 1st-30th. Admission to view the contest is open to the public with no admission charge.

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24th ROBO-ONE Competition Regulations Released

Www robo one com download2 roboone24regulation pdf

The latest revision to the ROBO-ONE humanoid robot competition regulations is online, and surprisingly there is lots of red ink. The ROBO-ONE organising committee always highlights any changes from the previous version in red to make it easier for competitors to find the differences, and to avoid any disputes or confusion at the events.

For the most part, most of the changes in the revision for the 24th ROBO-ONE competition are fairly minor, but a few may cause some heartburn or controversy. Nevertheless, it’s surprising to see so many changes in the regulations for a competition that’s been held every six months for the past 11+ years.

Some of the changes that immediately caught my eye are:

1) Robot weight is limited to a maximum of 3 Kg or lighter. There are some heavier robots that actively compete, and they usually have a strong advantage, so this change will probably make the matches more equal and interesting. At the same time, it’s really a shame that the larger robots over 3 Kg will be deprived the chance to compete.

2) The length of the 9 meter pre-qualifying sprint course may be changed depending on the venue. Does this imply that they are considering moving the event to another location? Perhaps.

3) There is more definition about the center of gravity and angle of attack during matches. The clarification is probably good, but will be hard to understand clearly and for the referee to administer. 

4) There’s an added section with regard to start/stop buttons on autonomous robots which seems to imply that they expect more autonomous competitors. In the past there has only been one or two autonomous entries that made it into the finals.

5) They seem to be very concerned about attacks from a squatting position, and also robots that deliberately throw themselves off balance to attack. They even characterize that strategy as a ‘desperation technique.'

Via: ROBO-ONE Regulations (PDF)

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RobotWorld 2013: Robotis Posed To Disrupt Robot Development

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At the RobotWorld exhibition in Seoul Korea this week, Robotis featured what may turn out to be a major revolution in popular robot experimentation and creation.

For quite a few years the company has had its eye on the worldwide maker movement, and has actively participated in maker fair of events in several different countries. While they were exhibiting their commercial line of robot kits, servos, and controllers at some of the events, they also had their ear to ground and actively engaged with all the visitors and makers.

Although people were extremely impressed by the capabilities and performance of their professional grade robot systems, they were also put off by the level of sophistication required, and the pricing. Robotis carefully studied their needs, and spent more than two years developing a totally new approach that the company believes will be welcomed with enthusiasm by the maker community.

At RobotWorld we were able to talk directly with both the company’s technical and marketing staff to get an inside view of the new products and what their impact might be on the market.

Robotis had a presence at many major robot conferences, exhibitions, and competitions, like RoboGames, over the years, and had succeeded in having their technology adopted by major universities, R&D centers, and high-end robot hobbyists involved in humanoid robotics. While they were quite successful, they also realized that in many respects they were “preaching to the choir” – meaning that most of their customers were already actively involved in robotics.

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The new ROBOTIS product lineup extends smoothly from entry level exploration kits targeted at pre-schoolers and lower elementary school age, up through the higher grades including high school, college, and professional use.

Around 2011 Jinwook Kim, who was responsible for Robotis marketing in the United States at that time, was exposed to the maker movement by some users and attended his first Maker Faire, primarily out of curiosity. It didn’t take long before he realized how massive both the Maker and the Open Hardware Movement were rapidly becoming. It took some hard work, but he was slowly able to convince the company management and product development of the tremendous potential represented by the adoption of open hardware in the hobby, education, and professional sectors.

The Robotis strategy is very simple, focused, and eloquent. They decided to create a direct progression of logically connected products, starting at the low end with an Arduino compatible low-cost controller and servo offering that extends to higher-end professional grade robot systems.

Their key OpenCM themes are “low-cost”, “open source”, “convenient”, and “expandable”.

The OpenCM product line starts with an extremely attractive Arduino like controller board specifically designed for robot use, the OpenCM–9.04.

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OpenCM-9.04 Controller Specifications:

72Mhz ARM Cortex-M3 core
5V-16V (Depends on DXLs)
26 GPIO
128k FLASH
20k SRAM
3 x USART
10 x 12 bit ADC Channels
12 x 16 bit Timer
1 x CAN (2.0B Active)
2 x I2C(SMBus/PMBus)
2 x SPI(18Mbit/s)
USB 2.0 Full-speed
7-Channel DMA
2 Watchdog timers
SysTick timer
JTAG (SWD Only)
User Switch
Ext. ADC Ref Selection (up to 5V)
4 x 3Pin DYNAMIXEL TTL Bus

The OpenCM-9.04 controller is completely open source. All of hardware and software is completely disclosed and available for users to modify and expand. The controller board schematic and layout will be available in Eagle format on github. The software is also available on github, including the Bootloader, Core–library, Processing–core, and Processing–head.

In a significant shift from previous designs, the board implements 100 mil header pitch compliant with US standards. It includes a three pin connector to control ROBOTIS Dynamixel servos using TTL communication. There is also a JTAG / SWD terminal that can be used run commercial development programs.

The ROBOTIS OpenCM software IDE enables users to create programs the same way that they are used to with Arduino boards and also program in C/C++. And, the software is supported across Windows, Mac, and Linux – something that’s expected in the maker community but has been all too rare in the robot world in the past. Sample libraries are provided supporting Dynamixel servo control.

The most surprising thing about this new controller is its price. The company expects it to sell worldwide for approximately USD$10.

Dynamixel XL-320 Servo

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A high-performance low-cost controller board is impressive enough by itself, but what really makes the Robotis OpenCM initiative exciting is the introduction of the new Dynamixel XL-320 servo. The new servo, featuring the quality and high performance that ROBOTIS has become known for, is expected to sell for less than USD$30 and will enable users to easily create cost-effective robot designs – anywhere from simple actuators up to completely functional humanoid robots at an affordable price. This has the potential to be truly groundbreaking – triggering a real revolution in low-cost robotics.

In the past, servo cost has always been that the determining factor in the cost of a total robot design. And, the situation has gotten worse as the number of servos for particular robot increases in number.

That’s why most of the commonly available humanoid robot kits on the market today cost close to $1000 or more. But, by using the new Robotis XL-320 servos a smaller, but just as capable, humanoid robot could be designed for as little as half the price.

Dynamixel XL-320 Servo Specifications:

Weight- 16.7g
Dimensions- 24.2mm x 36mm x 24mm
Min Angle- 0.29 degrees
Gear Ratio- 238:1
Stall Torque- Approximately 4 kgf.cm (at 7.4V)
No load speed- Approximately 114 RPM (at 7.4V)
Operating Voltage- 6-8.4V (7.4V recommended)
Link (Physical)- TTL Level Multi Drop
Baud rate- 7843bps - 1 Mbps
Feedback- Position, temperature, load, input voltage, etc.

Usually with low-cost servos manufacturers tend to sacrifice features and performance. Robotis has taken the opposite approach. They dramatically decreased the cost while preserving advanced features like the ability for the controller and program to read feedback information from the servo including position, temperature, load, input voltage, and other important factors. They’ve achieved truly surprising performance at this price point.

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Providing power for robot designs another important challenge facing makers. To address that challenge, and make things easier, Robotis is releasing a new lithium-ion 3.7 V rechargeable battery pack rated at 1300 mA. With an extremely small form factor, the battery pack has a built-in charging circuit and LED charge indicator while being compatible with the popular micro – be USB cable.

As you might expect, the company also has plans for additional shield boards that plug into the controller in the same fashion as Arduino shield boards. We are not at liberty to disclose any of the details at this time, but they are coming soon.

The new low cost XL-320 servo is also being used in a wide range of ROBOTIS products, as you can see in these photos:

 

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And even in the exciting new DARwin Mini humanoid robot:

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During the Robotis OpenCM briefing in Seoul Korea we were shown demonstrations of the new controller moving two servos based on input from a Gyro Sensor; servo velocity control; direction change using a touch sensor; and other tests simulating real world robot applications.

 

 

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RobotWorld Korea 2013: Getting Ready

robotworld

I always try to put together an interview/shot-list before any major event that I am assigned to cover. It helps to make sure that I don't overlook anything interesting or important to the client, especially in the heat of the moment. Robot events like RobotWorld Korea can be particularly challenging since they expect approximately 80,000 visitors including the general public.

The official exhibitor list, as of October 19th, shows 84 distinct companies, including 5 coming from France. I'm sure that some of the larger companies will have multiple exhibits since many of them have multiple divisions in the robotics sector.

The overall classifications organised by pavilion are shown in the table above, along with the market sector and number of confirmed companies exhibiting. I suspect that the distribution represents a fairly accurate view of priorities within Korean robot manufacturers.

The one sector that really stands out, at least in terms of the number of companies, is education. From the perspective of the Korean focus on the importance of education, and the parent's intense commitment to making sure that their children have the best education possible, it makes a lot of sense.

Keep in mind that these numbers only represent companies and do not include colleges, universities, technical high schools, non-profits, and some research and development facilities. Those organisations are expected to also have a presence at the event.

As a point of reference, South Korea's population is roughly 50 million, compared to a U.S. population of 314 million. If a country with only 16% of the U.S. population draws huge crowds to a robot event like this, and has an obvious commitment to STEM education, what does that tell us about competitiveness, and what can we expect in the future as students graduate into the workforce?

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World Maker Faire 2013: Humanoid Robot

One of Michael Overstreet's humanoid robots playing soccer at World Maker Faire 2013 in New York City. Michael puts in a tremendous amount of time and effort each year attending Maker Faires in NYC, Detroit, San Mateo, and Kansas City, along with RoboGames, because he gets real inspiration from introducing kids and adults to robotics.

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World Maker Faire 2013: Sugru

"If Superglue and PlayDough had a baby" is the tag line for Sugru, a surprisingly useful self curing rubber concoction that turns out to be extremely useful.

Want to quickly fabricate a simple stand? Need to patch some rough edges or a break? Don't like the sharp corners on your smartphone or tablet? Sugru is the answer, and it's a whole lot of fun to boot.

13092X World Maker Faire-10

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World Maker Faire 2013: FormLabs Form 1 3D Printer

The FormLabs Form 1 high resolution desktop printer has some limitations/drawbacks for the type of work that I typically do, but it is so incredibly awesome that I want one anyway.

The part resolution, surface finish, and ability to produce parts that would be difficult if not impossible with other additive 3D printers, is really striking. Take a close look at the print developing in the Form 1 photo above. How difficult would it be for you to produce the same print with a Makerbot Replicator 2?

In addition to the print quality and performance, I love the aesthetic design of the printer itself. If Johnny Ive designed 3D printers instead of iPhones, this is the type of printer he would create.

At the same time, there are some downsides/limitations. The Form 1 won't be available until January 2014 at the earliest, and not in all US states or countries overseas. Japan is one of the countries that's obviously missing from the list at this point, though I did hear from the FormLabs staff at Maker Faire that plans for Japan sales and support are in the works.

The initial cost is higher than other printers, which I can rationalize given the higher performance and print quality. What's harder to justify, for my unique needs, is the higher projected running cost given that the printer resin has to be purchased from FormLabs and it isn't readily available locally. That implies that users will have to stock resin or risk running out just when they need to produce parts for projects or clients. For overseas users, like me, where it can take a week or more even for expedited FedEx delivery (not to mention costing an arm and a leg), this is a serious concern.

There are also some limitations that might be troublesome, depending on your particular use case. For example, one of the FormLabs booth staff explained that the Form 1 resin parts take several days to cure to the point that they are solid enough to be used in functional parts that might be subjected to stress. This wouldn't be a problem for artistic or concept designers, but would definitely pose significant problems for the type of parts I design and use regularly.

All things considered, the Form 1 is in a class by itself and definitely worth serious consideration if it's characteristics match your typical use case.

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World Maker Faire 2013: Makerbot Digitizer – Part 2

Following on to my previous post on the new Makerbot Digitizer, the "gnome" character shown above is a perfect example of the type of parts where the digitizer will perform well, if not excel.

Just like Goldilocks experience with the three bears, the gnome is not too large and not too small - it's just right. It has no large cavities, no overhangs, is primarily smooth surfaces without drastic or abrupt surface changes, and it lacks the type of small details that would cause problems for the digitizer.

It's also a matte surface with no reflections that are difficult for the unit's lasers. Of course you can scan items with shiny surfaces, you just have to make them appear matte by applying some powder or other material to mask the reflection. This is a typical challenge with all digitizers of this type, not a design fault. It's just something you need to be aware of and plan for in order to get the best possible scans from your digitizer.

One other thing that was slightly annoying in the Makerbot Digitizer user manual and at their booth at Maker Faire was the over promotion of "Thingiverse". I'm a big supporter of Thingiverse, upload my designs to it often, and promote it to other 3D printer users when it's appropriate. It's a very useful resource and I'm very happy that the company supports it.

But with Makerbot, Thingiverse seems to have evolved into almost a religious mantra that pops up everytime one of the employees opens their mouth to speak. The same thing is true of the digitizer user manual. It keeps on telling you to upload your designs to Thingiverse, over and over again.

They do provide a check box in the software to set it up so that the designs you upload can be kept private. In my opinion, the setting to keep designs private should be the default, and you should always have the option not to upload. A lot of us work on design projects for customers, or have our own development projects that we do not want to share or even let the world know what we're working on until we're ready to disclose it. It seems all too easy with the Makerbot Digitizer setup and supporting software to overlook a checkbox and suddenly find that your project has been disclosed to the world, and possibly your competitors. Perhaps I'm overly concerned, especially since I'm basing my observations on what I was told by the Makerbot staff at the event and what I have interpreted from the user manual.

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