Your Robot Can Do What?

I have always been interested in robots since I was a kid. “Lost In Space” was one of my favorite TV shows in the 60’s, and the show had a very cool robot.

(Photo attribution)

I must admit I do not spend a lot of time hacking robots, although the Maker space is ripe with opportunities. The Raspberry Pi and Arduino universe is over-run with cool robotic gadgets.

When I was touring the University of Idaho robotics lab with Dr. John Shovic last month, he introduced me to one of the labs’ robots named “Baxter.” (John likes to keep things simple.)

Baxter

When I asked John what Baxter could do, he said, “He makes a great cup of coffee.”  No wait – what? Now I know there are lots of robots that do some cool stuff. There is one that cleans your floors. There are a bunch of Maker robots that can follow a line, back away from walls, and move through obstacle courses. But make coffee? Now this is cool! Exactly the kind of thing a robot should do!

Here is video of Baxter performing his mastery.

Ol’ Sopwith has great faith in the young generation of robotics students if they continue to teach robots how to do things like this!

Sopwith

 

 

About to Enter the 3D Printer World

I know you smoke breathers may find this hard to believe, but Ol’ Sopwith is finally going to enter the universe of 3D printing. I have dragged my feet on this technology for a couple of reasons.

  • I did not want to spend the money. $300 USD 3D printers are cheap and temperamental, and $2500 USD printers are way above what I am willing to pay.
  • I was afraid it would not be useful. (I do not want to waste time printing toy objects.)
  • I did not have the time to invest in learning a whole new technology from the ground up.
  • I did not have space for it.
  • I did now want a noisy, smelly device in my office or workshop.

Time have changed. I have a couple of projects I am working on that could really use the capabilities of a 3D printer. Plus the cost of really good printers has come down and the capabilities have gone up dramatically.

After extensive research, I decided the best printer on the market for price/performance is the Prusa i3 MKS3. The are built in Czechoslovakia by a company founded by Josef Prusa, one of the innovators in the 3D early days.

I ordered the kit version and am expecting it will take about 4 hours to assemble. It should arrive in a couple of days. I will post blog entries about my assembling, testing, and printing experiences so you can follow along.

Stay tuned.

Sopwith

A Visit with Dr. SwitchDoc Labs – John Shovic

I had the great fortune to spend a long Memorial Day weekend in Coeur d’Alene, ID. Anytime I am on the move, I like to check out whom of my acquaintances live in the area so I can buy them a cup of coffee.

On this trip, I struck pay dirt! Dr. John Shovic, the founder of SwitchDoc Labs lives there. I first “met” John virtually, way back in the early Pi days when he wrote for the brand new PiMag.

He wrote a series of articles about his adventures building a Pi based weather station and mounting it on a Ham radio tower in the remote Caribbean island of Curacao. I was fascinated with his story and followed it closely. Only John would be crazy enough to come with this idea – and then act on it.

For those who are interested in reading his articles, I have included the download links to the magazines below:

John was kind enough to meet me at the beautiful Coeur d’Alene Innovation Den and show me around. John has his robotics lab here and he spends most of his time with his students from the University of Idaho where he teaches. Many of you know John by following his endless projects and innovations at SwitchDoc Labs and his many KickStarter projects.

What a privilege it was for me to be able to spend time with this brilliant, fun, and laid-back man. As I was flying back home thinking about my great holiday, I kept trying to figure out how I was going to keep up with John and all of his cool Maker projects.

I will have more to say about John in future blog posts.

Sopwith

Airplane Fun Revisited


A very long time ago I wrote a blog about tracking airplanes. I was living in London at the time very near London City airport. That project was a lot of fun, so I hacked together another Pi setup to track airplanes here in the Los Angeles area.

I decided to install PiAware and provide my tracker feed to FlightAware. Why? Because if you do, you are given an Enterprise level account (value – $89 USD/month). I fly a lot and use the FlightAware app on my Android phone all the time. It is so easy to track my inbound airplane when I am waiting for a flight.

FlightAware has detailed instructions on how to build a PiAware setup.

The below image from FlightAware’s web site  shows how many other Makers have blazed this trail before me. That is a lot of Raspberry Pi’s folks.

For my setup I used the below components:

  1. Raspberry Pi3 B+
  2. Pi case with cooling fan
  3. RTL-SDR UBS dongle (This is what receives the radio signals from the antenna)
  4. An extended range WiFi adapter (USB)
  5. A FlightAware optimized antenna

Putting it all together was a snap. To install the software, follow the detailed instructions on the FlightAware web site.

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Home Automation Hacking Part-II

In Part-1 of this hacking series, I set the stage for an adventure in home automation hacking. My goal is to start small, grow a system over time, and share the experience.

To follow along on my openHAB adventure, instead of creating an enormous blog entry, I decided to document it in a PDF ‘How-To’ document. I have found these types of documents are highly valuable to those folks that are new to the Raspberry Pi and Linux, and/or those who have little programming experience. Download the PDF and configuration files below:

 

Here in Part-II, we explore my adventures with openHAB.

To learn more about openHAB, read Part-I of this series or head over to their web site. I started knowing nothing about openHAB, so I spent a lot if time in the documentation. Next, I burned an image of openHABian and fired it up on a Raspberry Pi 3.

In a couple of weeks of study and hacking, I have a working home automation system that is quite cool. Below is a view of my openHAB system as seen in a browser.

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Home Automation Hacking Part-I

Hello smoke-breathing brethren. Ole’ Sopwith is about to embark on another hacking adventure. This time it is all about home automation. Yes, it seems I am a little late to the party – but hey – at least I showed up!

There are two goals to this project. 1) To learn something new, and 2) To have fun. Wait a minute! Those are the goals of every Sopwith project!  Yes – but this project should be really interesting. In this multi-part blog series, I am going to compare the two leading open-source home automation platforms:  OpenHab and Home Assistant.

OpenHab is a Germany based open source project founded in 2010. It is written in Java and is based on the Eclipse SmartHome platform. It has a very active community with a very large pool of developers. It provides the ability to integrate hundreds of home automation devices, regardless of manufacturer or whether is it open or closed hardware. The cool thing about OpenHab is that it provides a mechanism to build a complete home automation environment and keep it private.

Home Assistant is another very active open-source home automation platform written in Python3. It also has a vibrant and active community. Founded in 2013 by Paulus Schoutsen, it began as a simple Python script to turn on some lights when the sun set.

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NatureBytes Camera Kit Part-IV

In my previous posts in this series (I-III), I added night vision capabilities to the very cool NatureBytes wildlife camera kit. As in all maker projects – improvements had to be made.

Once I placed the night-vision capable camera in the field for testing, I discovered the LISIPAROI IR light board cannot be used in the wild. The device is just not powerful enough. If is fine for close-up work, but outside? Forget it.

It was time to turn disappointment into action. Plus, if it worked out of the box – what fun is that? Time to get serious. As I searched the web, I discovered weatherproof 12V IR lamps are cheap. These are designed to be used with CCTV cameras, most of which are 12 or 24 VDC powered. I purchased a pair for around $16 USD. The one I chose is made by a company called Phenas.

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The AM2315 Sensor – Revisited

Hello fellow smoke-breathers. Sorry about the very long absence from my blogging duties.  I intend to be more active now that I no longer travel so much.

Over the last several months I have received some Emails telling me the AM2315 temperature sensor code I wrote long ago no longer works. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, the Google code repository has been taken down and folks are having trouble finding the quick2wire code libraries. They are now posted here.

Second, there were some hardware changes made to the Pi-3 and Pi Zero that broke the sensor detection code in my AM2315.py script. Finally, the use of the quickwire code is difficult due to its size and complexity. There are better i2c code libraries available now.

Since the AM2315 is still a popular hacking sensor, I will plug in an alternative i2c library, test the code on the latest Pi’s, and update the ‘How-To’ document.

Standby for the update – ‘ol Sopwith is working on it.

Sopwith

It’s Time to Find a New Printer Vendor (Shame on you HP!)

I came across this interesting article over at the Wired web site this week. Seems like HP does not like customers who buy their printers to use non-HP ink cartridges. HP has modified the firmware in their OfficeJet, OfficeJet Pro, and OfficeJet Pro X printers to reject any ink cartridge that is not theirs. Essentially they have DRM’d these printers.

It is one thing to know this going in when you bought the printer; but to lock down the device after you purchase it, is evil. For example, if I walked in, say a BestBuy, and was interested in buying a new printer, and the sales guy says, “Remember, if you buy this HP printer, you can only use genuine HP printer cartridges.” Knowing this in advance, I can make an informed decision if I am OK with this “limitation.” If not, I buy something else.

This is not what happened here.

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When it Doesn’t Work – Sometimes it’s Painful

As you well know, the theme of this blog is: “It is works out of the box – what fun is that?” Ol’ Sopwith loves it when things don’t work! That means you have to fix it. Fun!

Today was one of those days when “fixing it” was not fun.

I run a backup server that takes care of all my backup chores. Had it running for years. On all my computers, I run an rsync backup script that backs up everything to this server. The server has a pair of hot-swap SATA drives that get rotated to a fire safe on a regular basis. This setup has served me well.

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