Monday, June 6, 2022

The Robot Menagerie

It's a great time to be building robots.  Today, there are many robot variants that mimic the biology we see in nature. Here is a collection of a few.  I think this is amazing. At the same time it is fantastic that there are a lot of interesting robots yet to be built, both familiar and alien.  There are no limitations to that which we can imagine. 

Robotic Animals - Bio-inspired Robot Menagerie

The dog

Everyone knows Spot the Boston Dynamics Dog.  There are many many quadruped robots - it is really more of a robotic-question of how to implement the legs. I won't go into any more details here since Quadrupeds are becoming so common to us. Dogs, Cats, Mules, Chetas, etc!  

Original Mojo - Robot Dog design

The interesting thought is how can the envelope of capabilities be expanded, speed, stability, terrain, heights, etc.  Just thinking of what robot videos you have seen, how many have quadrupeds climbing steep rough terrain?

robotic fish

Fish are an interesting twist. There are a few notables.. including this 'spy robot':

Robot - Spy Fish:  Charlie the CIA spy fish.  

The Eel - Eelume Undersea robot for undersea inspection use cases.

Another fish:  BlueSwarm  (IEEE spectrum article)

Robotic Snakes

The Slitherbot:  posted on Hack-a-day Slitherbot

Slitherbot -

TESLA Snake:  This was really a automated Charging Connector prototype. It is best viewed in YouTube at x2 normal speed!

Bionic Menagerie

And then there is Festo!!  Festo is a German company that specialized in automation.  The have a lab that produces bionic innovations which cover a full spectrum of animals.  Anyone (or all of them) of which would be an internet sensation. [makes me wonder why we don't see them more in the wild. ?]

Bionic Swift

Bionic fin Wave - this one is great for swimming in pipes.  Also very similar concept to the motion available for my Millipede project.


bionic Ants (Festo) - a natural for swarms too.

Centipede Robot - for getting into hard to reach places

And animal robots are a clear cut winner for pets - more companion animals:

Companion Cats

Animatronics - let's make humans! at least human parts... 

The Eye

this is about the creepiest eye camera there is to date!  It is wonderful! :D

The Claw!

Mark Sen...

and on Tested:

Summary - there are many instances of biomimicry. It is in our very nature to anthropomorphize robots so why not start to build directly in the medium?

There are so many instances of this in our world. this may have to be the first installment. I have waited some time to make this post. It will just need to be an ongoing series.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Autonomous Boat: Mayflower

IBM / ProMare - Mayflower 400 ASV

[UPDATE 28.04.2022 - The Mayflower 400 ASV appears to have started a journey across the Atlantic]

IBM and ProMare have teamed up with to create an autonomous boat that is capable of ocean crossing. This, of course, has been already accomplished. This is the next iteration in the development of this technology, and a great way to see how IBM solves this problem

in 2021 the boat attempted to cross from Plymouth, UK to Plymouth, USA. Unfortunately, this attempt had to be aborted due to a mechanical issue (the output exhaust connector failed, which lead to exhaust inside the cabin, eventually affecting the generators efficiency.  stuff happens!).

The boat will attempt the crossing again in the Spring 2022. It is even possible now to connect to the boat to observe the sea-trials. A dashboard has the telemetry from the boat as well as a video feed.


Live view from Mayflower

Video can be found on the Dashboard as well as on IBM's streaming site

ProMare is a not for profit that is "Promoting Marine Research and Exploration". They also have interesting projects such as Ultradeep UAVs and ROVs

[update:  You can find the Mayflower400 ASV at any time using]

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Trans-ocean-robots: Autonomous Surface Vehicles

ASV - Autonomous Surface Vehicles  OR 
USV - Uncrewed Surface Vehicles (link goes to Wikipedia)

no matter what you call it... they are the Robots of the Sea! 

It is an excited aspect of robots. Here is some recent news in the realm of marine robotics...

Make Magazine has a nice write up on a group of Makers the had an interest in building a sailing robot to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Their hopes and dreams lead to projects, hometown support, and eventually - a robotics business. 

Scout - Transatlantic (Make Magazine)

From the article, you see that they have formed a robotics startup in San Diego named Seasats.  seasats (

seasats - X3 robot

good luck to them!  I can add them to my list of other startups in the same space. In fact, It has been about 18 months since my original post on offshore robotics companies.  How are they all doing now?

Ladon Robotics - formerly the Ladon Project, might be getting off the shore again. They recently received a Innovation grant from the NSF for autonomous cargo delivery.  Keep an eye out for updates.

SailDrone - Well, they are a BIG thing now.  have a read of their current mapping HQ.

Ok, this is officially an industry!  These guys SailDrone didn't exist a few years ago. now they have huge contracts with NOAA and the State of Florida.  Their drones are about $500k apeace! 

well that takes us to...

Liquid Robotics (a Boeing Company). They too are growing, and performed a large survey for Japan.

Offshore Sensing - seem to still be making business. Their website has great information, but does not have much upto date on missions.  They do seem to have many international sales offices.  As an example, while in spain, this site came up on their website: Grafinita.

Teledyne Marine - The makers of the most impressive underwater low energy vechiles the Slocum Glider. Now has a page for Teledyne Autonomous Surface Vehicles. It looks like this side of their business is not quite as fully developed (as the slocum) but at least in the Market. Interesting, maybe they are just a little too large for this specific innovation. 

smaller companies like:

Seafloor Systems - Specializing in Hydrographic Survey Solutions

Rest of the World:

so, where are their European counterparts?  who is selling to the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, etc.... (!)  Are the Japanese doing this? what about the south China sea?

Ocean Alpha - Hong Kong

YSI - Hycat

ecomarinepower - has an ASV. They are a Japanese based company.


Maritime Robotics - has a number of solutions.  The Mariner (offshore), The Otter (sheltered waters)

In the totally not evil (military) categories...

Utek - from Spain, mostly USV.  And mostly having a big machine gun mounted on a zodiac. Totally, Not Evil...

L3Harris - with the their C-Worker 5 ASV, it is one of a fleet of ASV. Also with great navigation software.

Market:  according to a market analysis report the market players for USV from 2020:  note, most of these are fro Military applications. (Totally Not Evil...)

  • Kongsberg
  • Teledyne Technologies (Teledyne Marine)
  • ECA Group
  • Elbit Systems Ltd.
  • Textron Systems
  • ASV Global - acquired by L3Harris
  • Atlas Elektronik
  • Rafael Advanced Defense Systems
  • Liquid Robotics

of course this is missing the ones mentioned above, such as Sail Drone and Seasats.

And where did Dan McMillon, from my original post the guy that built the robot that naviated from California to Hawaii, and on to New Zealand, endup?  looks like his own (happy) startup. ;) Blue Trail Engineering. Engineering advice and products for Marine Robotics. Way to go Dan!

And for submersibles, this is still super awesome Hydromea.  Ah, swiss innovation... truly robotics leaders in their own rights.  I just wish I had the backing of an institution like ETH Zurich!

That is all for now, stay posted for more updates in the USV / ASV robotics world!

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Design Iterations - Animatronic Eyes


Design Process

Probably the most exciting part of design work is the incremental improvements in each iteration of the design. the enjoyment comes from trying something, testing it, and then finding a new improvement that can be made. (then of course "realizing" this thing you just thought of)

The design iterations of my Animatronic Eyes is a prime example. Currently I am in the middle of this design process where we "Design, Test, Improve, Repeat". I am moving between OpenSCAD, the printer, the assembly and testing, improvements ideas, and Repeat.

Anamatroic Eyes - Early Prototyping (Back)

Animatronic Eyes - Early Prototyping (Front)

The Early prototype supports most of the ideas of the bigger vision.  The eyes will independently move horizontally (left and right) and vertically (up and down). This will require two servos. In this design the eyes will be held in place by a frame that can (eventually) be tilted vertically. The frame will allow the eyes to be fixed, but a moving armature will provide the horizontal movement. This is consistent with many designs on the internet.

This very early prototype is functional, but quickly pointed out that my hole sizes for screws were all too small as well as the frame size. Note: It also clearly shows my minimalist view toward prototypes and products. It does not work correctly, but it works enough to improve the mistake and to start thinking of the next features (the vertical hinge, Eyes, and eyelids)

Back to OpenSCAD

Animatronic Eyes - Prototyping - backside - OpenSCAD

Animatronic Eyes - Prototyping - frontside - OpenSCAD

The next iteration adds primary frame to support the vertical hinge needed to tilt the eyes up and down. This hinge is located centrally and will support the Eye Frame that provides the primary eye support and horizontal servo control. the Frame also Supports for the eyelids. 

This iteration will add the first version of the eyelids. I am starting with the top and a simple hinge method. In some sense all iterations may be 'mixed' between new features like the eyelids and improvements such as full servo mount on the eye support armature.

Printing it out

Design Progression of the Horizontal Armature (version 1, 2, 3)

In this picture you can see the progression of the iterations effect on the design.  The first version on the left is just a simple mock up to see if it size of the armature would be good, and the thickness of the frame. Next support for the horizontal servo was added, and the end holes enlarged. Finally the servo support is strengthened, the end holes are strengthened, and support for the vertical hinge is added. Each iteration helps the next, with the first being pathfinders for the future design.

Current Prototype version - Animatronic Eyes

Finally, here is the current printed version of the prototype. Already it is obvious that the lid will need strengthening. I suspected the frame will need to be divided into parts, as it is difficult to manage the hinge pins in both the vertical hinge and the eyelids.

Animatronic Eyes - early prototyping

Onward and Upward!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Mojo4 - a little design cleanup (#5)

 Mojo4 has regressed in its ability to shuffle across the floor, unfortunately.  This regression could be due to various causes. I have some concerns over the battery current and the condition of the battery given the temperatures and current. It is also obvious to me that the 'Franken-Prototype' nature is having an impact on the testing of the robot.  It seems that the franken-prototype has taken the design as far as it can go, and an upgrade is necessary to continue forward.  on to --

Mojo4 - Robot is a mess, it needs a better frame or chassis


the majority of the robot is currently built with reused pieces. The is due to the focus being on testing how viable the legs will be for walking.  Having (somewhat) proved this, the next steps need to have a more reliable robot platform.  First on the list is to secure the 4 leg units with a better frame or chassis.  I would like to do this in a way that any new parts, will be used in the future robot (as much as possible).

I will create some Frame Sections that will separate the leg modules, a provide a more stable chassis.  Notice how the right side leg modules are actually not aligned with the rest of the robot - this will certainly have impact to the ability to have a precision walk. 

Backward compatible - should not exist as a design constraint of a NEW robot in the prototype stage! But the question comes to mind.  In order to only build the parts I need, I would need to ensure that the new replacement part fit the same configuration of the existing parts. This mean that the new part is 'backward compatible' with the older part.  This, however, wold be a design sin at this stage. It would limit the innovation of the future robot, tying it needlessly to an obsolete part.  

One note, since my parts tend to have regular 10mm spaced holes for M3 bolts, it does provide a lot of reuse potential.  Unfortunately, i found that my previous designs, I was less concerned with 'standard' parts; therefore many of my old parts do not have regular dimensions (around the rounded cm values). This has limited my ability to reuse.  Going forward I will be more careful to make sure parts I design fit into somewhat regular dimensions.

Frame Section:

I have designed a frame part that will help construct the prototype, while also being a useful part for the future build.  This Frame Section is a box of 10cm x 6cm x 4cm dimensions. It will have M3 holes on the outside and a basic 'floor' for holding components (battery box, or Micro controller).

Frame Section - useful and reusable building component

If I print out 3-4 of these, then I can replace most of the frankenstein-prototype parts used to hold the leg modules in place.  This should provide a more robot platform for testing the basic gait and servo strength.