25 February 2007


Well Ive been net surfing looking for the dirt on the future of the robocup in Australia , with educational experience no longer selling Lego products.
And the latest news shows a major shuffle in the
Firstly NSW company Modern Teaching Aids has taken on the role of suppling LEGO to Australian schools and as of today still seem to have a distinct lack of Lego content on thier site, unlike edex ( the old supplier who has seen the light and gone to microbric) who displayed lots of infomation for the event and also ran mail lists for schools to keep in touch.
With the release of the new NXT from Lego it will be of interest to see if it is included in the robocup events.
The robocup soccer event here in Australia has seen some other micro controllers used but in the rest of the events , they seem to be stuck on uing the RCX, while this may level the playing field in some respects, I think that for the futre of our kids we need to look at more program orientated robots with more control and function, Ok lego has a large range of extra peograms on offer from third partys including great text based editors , but its still only useful for the lego range of products.
The code cant be used later in real micro processor projects made from scratch, so something like the viper from microbric which uses widely avaliable parts and chips is ideal , as the code written in BASIC can later be used directly or indirectly to program real robots and system control units in factories ,toys and heaps more.
I would have like to have seen the robocup board go for broke and allow all types of small robot kits like LEGO, Microbric viper and Ai2 as well as some of the smaller sumo platforms around from overseas , lynxmotion or solarbotics are great places to start.
So it looks like the robot revolution is being fought on the Australian front for the time being and the jury is out on whos going to hold the fort when the smoke clears from the exploding diodes...
score so far... LEVEL PEGGING from where im standing, but ask me again in a few weeks..
things have a habit of changing

24 February 2007

Microbric Ai2 Review

Well I.ve managed to secure a Ai2 from the microbric range of robots and am impressed with what ive found so far.
To but this little critter into perspective ill relate it to the i-bot that first came out before the viper hit the shelves.
The i-bot, while cute and fun to play with lacked a few things to realy bring it up to speed for the school or hobby enviroment. First thing it lacked was a cable to program it. While you could program your own stuff using the GUI it required you to hold the bot up to the screen to read the flashing like a sort of barcode scanner, With the new LCD screenson computers , the IR receiver is having trouble seeing the difference enough.
The ai2 also uses the screen flash technique as well, but an optional cable is avaliable to program the robot, but at the moment the advanced firmware is bieng finalised to allow reprogramming via the usb to serial cable which is actually a aftermarket nokia type adaptor. (this means no serial port on the board reducing footprint, weight and cost.) so we have to wait for the cable to work...
The other main differnce you will see when you play with the bot is the addition of the LCD screen to the top of the robot, sometimes the screen may fade a little, this is due to it lifting slightly when you knock or handle it too much , and a little push around the edges to make sure its tight resaults in a readable screen again.
The screen is backlit for night time use and is a dot matrix screen so there is no constraints to drawing to it later on with the new software.
It would be good to see some open source projects to allow reprogramming of the robot with a text type editor rather then the icon based GUI but that dosnt look likely at the moment.
The robot comes preprogramed with some routines so some of the onboard memory is already used for that, so any user programs will have limited acsess to memory.
The advanced version might address this but then you loose the inbuilt programs if they do.
The other major changes to the modules include (apart from the obvious red color!) new allen key head (hex bolt) screws for the bric attachments instead of star screws, this makes tightening and inserting them really easy. New planetry gear boxs resaulting in a rim driven wheel assembly that also features a new motor control circuit which will work with new programing on the viper.(not the same as the viper motors)
The other change is the new sound module which is a flat square package meaning it will fit into project cases etc easier.
The power is via 3 aaa cells and the robot travels around about 1 in 5 secs ( ill check this later with a clock :P ).
The onboard programs let it function as an stay in line robot, bump robot, remote control robot and sumo robot ...oh and throw in a line tracker as well.
So even with out the newer software, the guys at microbric made sure it was still a barrell of fun from the first time you boot it up...pity they still insist on adding the south aussie fotty team tunes to it..How about the eagles or the dockers next time ..LOL,
So if your after a cute little robot keep your eyes peeled as soon microbric should have them out at educational experience and most likley at thier site.
If your after something a little more matured, try the viper with a text based BASIC programing enviroment it makes short work of preparing a micro processor based prototype or one off platform.
The microbric robot ranks have grown , and this little android has gone along way to competing with the bigger kits, like LEGO NXT or VEX.
so after my first few hours i would have to rate it about 4 out of 5 with the biggest problem being the wait for the new firmware, I cant wait to get into it and write some code.
An improvement over the I-bot for sure.

23 February 2007

Walking with the T-Rex

Ok so the photo isnt a T-rex but it is three raptors eating some poor dinosaur. Anyway back to the T-Rex, this video at youtube was filmed at the perth shows so you still get to see what i saw, even with my camera breakdown.
So sit back and excuse the audio distortion, it really is loud during the show.

Heres another from one of the earlier shows in the eastern states.

VOODO RIG- walk the dinosaur

Originally uploaded by sprocket2cog.
Ths is the control rig nicknamed the (voodoo rig) for the main control of all the neck body movement and tail movement for the dinosaurs. This one was for the larger Brachiosaurus and requires two hands to use. The black handle you see is for the tail movement and the signals from the control are processed and use a system based on can bus and wifi systems to send the signal to the robots.
, this unit had over 10 DOF to control the robot, and that didnt included the walking routines which are controlled onboard.
theres more photos at flickr, just click the image and check out my photostream.
Unfortunately my camera went flat ( bad batch of batteries - i had 5 sets from the same pack and all only took 3 or phots and went flat. doh !)
but I will be getting some more images from the adelaide show soon.
The show is loud, very loud so leave the babies ( under preschool ) at home or you may end up with a crying child. If you get the chance to get a ticket , try to get one for any show bar the last night, as earlier shows sometimes feature back stage tours after the show.
I went to the last show but unfortunatly due to time constraints with the next show, the tear down had begun so patrons were barred from staying to have a look.
I have heard rumors that a second batch of dinosaur's will be built to facilitate more world wide shows. who knows with this much work going on they may need to create them in a new workshop to get the room.
So stay tuned over the next few months as I track the show around Australia and try to get someone backstage in melbourne for more infomation and insider photos.
The dinosaurs are back and look set to just keep growing.

20 February 2007

Live Robot Hacking -(raptor)

So after ten days in downtown Drouin taking in the sunshine I was just starting to think I had gone the whole holiday without one robot hack to be seen..When low and behold on a quick trip to Marks mates brothers place (we will call him Brad for agument sake).
So anyway the story so far is one unhacked rasptor with the novelty worn off. (editor note-Raptors look really ugly with the novelty worn off them, trust me.) and one robophobic wife who runs when "brad" boots the raptor up. and one sprocket2cog with a few hours to kill before the plane takes off.
end result? Well we started at the bbeginning, a quick trip down the leg had the screws out and the leg inside exsposed so the kids and "Brad" could see what was inside. Next out with the ears and mouth screws and a few minutes later we were well into the mouth hack for the raptor.
(and all still with the batteries in.)
So as time was running out we sat down for a brain session on the ins and outs of the potential for hacking and jacking and screwed her back together.. I left happy knowing one more raptor can bite little kids better and brad was happy for the fact that
happy hacking "brad", now you just have to name it.


Ok this may not be what you expect from me. but hey its two of the best things a man could want....A really pretty woman and a humanoid biped robot...so when I stumbled upon this image over at www.willmurai.com.
I couldnt help but link you over to his gallery to see more of his art.
Great illustrator worth a look.

18 February 2007

New Overlay System 4 Google Earth

After some flying around the "gearth" and downloading some of the overlays from google hacks and the community forums , I noticed a distincted lack of any extra finishing touches to the overlays bieng used. So heres my first attempt at a console style web cam viewer projected on the perth river.
Details include the main image, weather details and some other little bits you need to download to see.
so head over to the forum HERE to get the latest release addons for your gearth experiance .

17 February 2007

New Google Earth Layer

Well ive been introduced to the world of google earth and as always in a attempt to give something back ive uploaded a layer set for current cloud and lightning strike data for australia as can be seen in the image.
The weather updates daily and the lightning strikes are weekly totals for the region.
Google earth hacks will be hosting it soon once it pass's approval.


Realtime Page Avatar system

So you wish you could see whos on that site your visting realtime ? not just as a log on a site survey? Well download this little plugin and program that adds realtime user avatars that are visting your site, now this dosnt show everyone on the net as a person, it only shoes other zweitgeist users on that page.
Chat ballons and avatar actions like waving and dancing allow interaction on a somewhat basic level. Meet new friends or see when friends or family are at your site or viewing the net as a tour in a virtual group.
goto http://portal.zweitgeist.com/
dowload the program and firefox extension and go avatar hunting. there isnt many out there yet. so get more avatars out on the web people..
and lets try for more avatars like robots and cars etc.
cant wait to see the hacks this app gets chopped up with ..more functions would be good as well.

15 February 2007

BRIC WARS Lego and Microbric in schools

Microbric the South Australian based company has released notices on it's web site stating that their products will be sold though Australian supplier to the educational sector, Educational Experience. This led me over to Edex to see what products may be on offer. But low and behold There wasnt any microbrics to be found...But what was even stranger was that the Lego range of RCX and other such goodies was no longer there..the plot thickens.
So it seems that there may a coup coming up in the robocup world soon.
Edex (educational experience) is the main supplier to schools of robot components to schools for the robocup challenge that is run state wide.
Teams used to build lego robots, but now it seems a transition is inevitable towards a full micro proccessor centered enviroment with a curriculim to suit.
Legos attack force consist's of the NXT bluetooth equipped controller with its sound and color sensors standard ( none yet for microbric) so for building 3d models of walkers and such The choice of lego bricks leads the way.
But if you want to build a teat bed for a control system for real world deployment. go the viper every time.
After all 8 bit operating systems still run in large numbers of system critical applications from health and saftey or car and factory control systems, hese single chip computrs are running the smaller real world systems we take for granted, this is the embedded tech robotics will be based around for the near future, tried and tested in the real world , not the school yard.

12 February 2007

Dust ferrerts and bunnies

Dust ferrert
Originally uploaded by sprocket2cog.
Dont let your laptop's heatpipe cooling get like this or 10 minutes of hard gaming or graphics rendering just overheats the cpu.
The laptop gets a service while on holiday.

miniRobot on Flickr

Originally uploaded by andybone.
And you thought i hacked up robots, some guy has taken half this robets skin off. poor bot. forced to stand half naked in front of us carbon life forms...

11 February 2007

just above the clouds

just above the clouds
Originally uploaded by sprocket2cog.
I flew into melbourne yesterday so here is a photo from the flight.

08 February 2007


Originally uploaded by sprocket2cog.
One of my mums puppies, bouncer take's riding lessons.
Yes she is only a puppie, about 8-9 mths here.
Old english sheepdogs arent small animals.
there is more of the family at flicka, including her brother and dad, tiga and duke.

05 February 2007


Ive just knocked up a relay prototype for the RC car ive got and its working fine, now just to wire the connectors to the car for it and it should allow some basic control over the speed of the robot once its finished. THe relay is buffered from the viper with a 1kohm resister feeding a pn2222 transistor which in turn feeds power (5v) to the relay coil. three pins on the front edge of the board are the common and open closed terminals, only two will be utilised in this project


The guys over at slashdot posted a link to this video, It's not the best editing in my humble opinion but you get the idea, WE had better not let the rest of our bots see this one or they may start harbouring some contempt for us petty human's.
Thanks to robot2407 for posting this ad from GM.
played during the superbowl this year so it cost them way to much money to show...
anyway enjoy.

VIPER 2 RC CAR update

WEll Ive been busy today building a 9v voltage regulator for the 12 volt car and adding it and the viper to the car.
Ive also added the harness to the controller ready to build an interface board.
This will use standard pn2222 transistors to interface the viper to the control lines on the transmitter.
Ill have to add a relay board to interrupt the motor power to create PWM control as at the moment it has two speeds, off and oh my god its coming to get me..
Anyway hopefully by the weekend ill have the beast running on viper control ready to start programming and adding sensors.
Im removing the door opening motor as it takes up heaps of room and weight and would only tie up one more viper output.
DSE has the regulator kits for $5 at the moment so grap one and convert your viper to 12 volts.

04 February 2007


If you live in Australia and can get into the Dick smith stores you can grab a viper pack and one each of the add on packs (yep all three) for the price of just the viper kit.
Thats nearly $380 worth of product for just $199 !
Thats right get in on the action now and start building your viper sumo or 4wd robot today. (well tommorow as the stores are shut here today.) Head over to DSE to check it out but this is an in store option only, sorry guys no overseas orders :(
goto DES and type in k1800b in the search box to locate the page.
Dse requires you to log into the site to view items now as too many people were linking to the images on site.


Heres the inside of the 1:6 scale RC car im hacking, As you can see the wiring is a bit of a mess so first on the agenda is a rewire of all the remote systems with a new harness and breakout board that can be unpluged in a few seconds to facilitate new system installs, The control board will be rehoused in a weather proof box and ports for the controller and lights etc added. Basicly the whole thing needs a rebuild from the ground up starting with reinforcing the chassis and closing up the wheel arches better. Right though to new digital proportional steering and pwm power for speed control.
The viper I have will take over control of most functions, Ill hack it straight to the controller so It can control the car from a distance if need be.I have removed all the extra parts from the shell including the cockpit and door trims leaving more room inside for systems.
more coming later.

02 February 2007


Well we all know that red goes faster, and it looks like the boys in the lab at MICROBRIC have caught on to the idea. They have released the new addition to the family with the Ai2 kit form robot being sold as parts with South Australian Newspapers.
We may see it filter down to the online shop or even e-bay in the future so keep your eyes peeled if your looking for one.
So what can we expect from the little critter?
Well with out getting my hands on it I can only go on the pics and info around the net.
But so far indicators are good that you can have some fun with it.
It shouldn't be too hard for example to get the Ai2 talking to the viper so some hunter prey scenerio's look set for the arena.
On board LCD screen allows easy reprogramming of IR commands for a remote control robot and even this alone makes it a great alternative to a remote control car.
The motors and wheels look interesting and the new software with the ability to upload to the robot via a USB cable looks like the way to go.
Now we need a GUI like this for the viper system and a USB interface for that as well.
An on board LCD on the Viper Mk2 would be nice as well.
But back to the Ai2, The parts are all red and should be compatible with the viper and I-bot.
The new color will make it easy to indicate different LED's by denoting the color of the part. Red or Blue.
So keep watching the post's ill keep you updated on this one too.


Today I decided to go and buy a cheap remote control car to hack and as it happened i found a realy good deal I couldnt pass up.
This 1:6 scale ferrari styled car cost me $39.00 aud deduced from $109 over the past few months.
(read right place, right time) so now I have a large scale RC car to hack.
I've already peeked inside and am a little bit dissapointed it dosent use a standard servo setup so it will be a little harder to hack into.
Im going to play with it first then do some much needed weigth reduction.
It features a MP3 interface for music on the go and a 12volt power source.
The doors can also be open by remote which may come in handy for something else lateron. like a weopons system release or camera shutter control.
A ufll motor and steering servo upgrade is on the cards for a later project but ill hack the sensors and viper to it first.
might just make a new chassis to take the shell too with aluminium sheet and bigger batteries and motors... hmm so much potential.

SNEAK PEEK Walking with dinosaurs

Originally uploaded by Andrew Scott.
While browsing around Flikr today I came across this photo stream. not a great deal of iages but a few of the WWD show in brisbane.
Thanks Andrew for uploading these images for us to see.

01 February 2007

WALKING WITH DINOSAURS latest perth dates

As of today all the vip seating up until the last show on the 22nd of feb are sold out.
Theres normal seating left before then if you want to sit further back.
I managed to secure a vip seat on the last night so the show should be a good one.
I will be hanging around as long as possible after the show to see if I can get into the Dino's holding pens for a quick look. But if not not just being there is going to be a buzz.

The latest dates in perth have been extended and now run from the 14th to the 22nd of fed with the 19th of feb being a day off (no show) The shows are all on at 8pm at the burswood dome on great eastern highway.
prices range from around $40 concession to $100 for VIP.

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