A Rather Busy Week

Progress and Such

It’s been a rather hectic week, trying to get enough dry goods to last for awhile and get some work done on a few projects, has been quite challenging since it’s getting hot and going into any store requires a mask. Both even together are not bad, but combined with humidity, it does complicate things, quite a bit. Plus, doing the exchange of effort for monetary gain was a good thing, as well. Most can’t wait for things to go back to the good ol’ days, but I’m beginning to believe that they are gone for good and this is the new normal. By the way, feeling much better than last week, was out and about in the heat a bit too much, I guess.

Off to more fun topics, though. Mr. Robot has tracks and a chassis now, and the hydroponics mini lab is coming along fine.

Mr. Robot Has Bod!

Got another track set made and sealed the ends and the chassis modified and printed. I found the 6V-12V motors that will fit in the Tamiya Dual Gear Drive kit and the Line Follower kit came in, as well. So, just need to hook those to an Arduino and a Dual H-Bridge for the coding to begin.

Mr. Robot's grey tracks and orange chassis

Plenty of internal storage for things like battery banks, the line follower kit and the dual drive motor kit, and maybe a few small sensors. This coming week, I’d like to get the battery banks done, at the very least designed. I’ve gone with this particular layout, because it’s quite modular and when I change or add things, I don’t have to reprint an entire chassis and such. This is very much a rough draft.

Hydroponics Laboratory Update

Got the base done last weekend and let it dry completely outside for a few days, it came out rather well since I’m not a great carpenter, mediocre would be a better term for my carpentry skills(smile). I did mount the stand on it, hung the grow light and put the seedlings under it. I had tried a method of growing the seedling using a compact fluorescent light, but they really did not take to it, very well.

It may just be my lack of skill, or too much water or something else. It looks like the kale, cherry tomatoes and the marigolds made it, though. It was not a complete failure, I should water less and use a grow light for seedlings, especially for indoor hydroponics. I’d thought of putting it outside, but figured that the heat would have destroyed the seedlings’ chances altogether.

DIY grow tent out of mylar sheeting to reflect back the light from the grow light for the plants to absorb

The frame was mounted on the base, and the next experiment is in progress, which is the grow tent. I did tape the mylar sheeting to the outside of the frame, and it’s not entirely transparent, but let’s just say that my living room has a creepy purplish glow to it in the evening till the timer shuts off.

Some future goals are:

  • Wash the hydroton
  • Set up a way to measure the water/nutrient level of the reservoir
  • Print the venturi tube for the pump system
  • Upgrade the frame to thicker tubing

Mr. Robot Gets His Own Post

Strategy to Start With

Since vision, multiple motor control, internal state management and environment awareness are all resource intensive tasks and are all taking place in real time, and are somewhat interdependent on each other. This is why a fairly complex strategy is needed to with the main variables that the limited reality that the robot will experience. Since most resources are limited, mainly space, time and money, a plan that uses those wisely is best and not necessarily balanced. While, it would be cheaper and use less space inside the robot to just use one micro controller, but then a lot of time would be used to program some sort of multitasking system into the main program and that has it’s own inherent problems. Discussing all the different strategies would not be the best use of one particular resource which is time, it’s the one resource that we never have enough of, cannot store and are literally losing it second by second. Skipping to the best solution, in my opinion at least, is to divide the tasks up by area of the robot and have the appropriate sized or easiest procured micro controller take care of those tasks, report sensor readings and task status to the main controller. This frees up programming time and clock cycles for more complex problems such vision and human interaction. Once the base micro controllers are programmed well enough to do their tasks adequately or better, they can just do their tasks like a well coded sub routine. Just think of the various micro controllers as physical sub routines in a box that can do a set number of tasks when called by the main controller.

You could say that this is Physical Object Oriented Programming or POOP for short. Go ahead and put that on a resume’. *smiles*

Now the Plan!

Here is a plan in place for the bot, it has three layers, and while each layers has it’s own sensor and working payload, it is governed by the one above it in some way. The working plan for the layers are:

  • Bottom layer; battery storage, locomotion and base sensors
  • Mid layer; secondary micro controller storage, some advanced sensors
  • Top layer; main micro controller, manipulator and probable payload area

The bottom layer is the base, which will be really quite stuffed with batteries, a gearbox, tachometers, line following hardware, and charging contacts. Trying to put most of the weight in the bottom of the bot and lower than the axles of the gear box. This will help lower the center of gravity and hopefully the need of heat dissipation

That leaves, the secondary micro controller, power management micro controller, charging circuits and anti-collision sensors for the middle layer. The secondary micro controller captures all the sensor information and reports it the main controller, while getting heading and distance parameters from the main controller, as well.

The top layer has the main micro controller, some sort of vision sensor and possibly a manipulator. This layer cannot be really planned in depth till the lower layers are complete and working. I’m hoping by offloading most of the tasks to other micro controllers that such problems such as vision and human interaction can solved and implemented easier.

It’s generally easier to break things into basic blocks, solve the simpler problems first, integrate the parts back into the equation that the problem is represented by and that is left to do is solve the last few variables.

Implementation!

Will be discussed in future posts.

Best Progress So Far!

Since the pandemic started there have been lots of lessons that we all have had to either learn or relearn, mostly about patience and hygiene. We have gone from a society of practically instant gratification to having to be forced to be patient even when ordering things online. One lesson that I hope that does get maintained is the bodily hygiene habit, especially during conventions like A-Kon and the like. I keep reminding myself that having patience and self-care are good things to have and do. The biggest delay has been due to massive delays, cancelled orders and not being able to find the correct parts, but it has also given me time to research decisions and products that are better or less expensive options that I would not have explored, otherwise. I believe that before this is all over and done with that there will be a lot of changes and a new normal.

Hydroponics Go!

After spending a few hours with Tinker Cad, I had either an epiphany or my brain finally clicked on. I was modelling all sorts of clips to hold the Mylar sheets to the PVC frame, when the immediate solution hit me….dun dun dun!….Tape! I just need to tape the sheets to the PVC pipe and make a roll up blind to cover the aperture at the front. The blame for overthinking things sits squarely on my shoulders. I’ve devoted a good day or three to figure out how to attach Mylar sheets to PVC, when the actual solution i going to take about 5 minutes to implement(maybe half an hour in reality). Now, just need to build it, plant the seeds in the pods and add light and water at the correct times. I’d also had over thought about the seedling nursery and started stressing about the amount of filament that was going to be necessary and such, when it hit me that I have some Pyrex baking dishes that would work wonderfully.

Speaking of seedlings, I put the mint plant and the onion in the Sun light for the last few days, since it’s not been real hot, so they could get a boost of vitamins and get the chlorophyll really working.

This project is shaping up, nicely.

PCB Manufacturing Stalled; Yet Again

Well, an order of second set of smooth rods has been cancelled, not even delayed this time, so the good news is that there is less time devoted to waiting on finding more to order, just to wait around to do it again. Yes, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, but I do change the company, country of origin, etc., so it’s not truly insanity. So going to focus on some of the other aspects of the project and work on them, while I’m attempting to procure items for the main project. One such aspect is safety.

Safety, is paramount around machinery and even more so around CNC type machinery, because it will keep going and going until it runs out of code, breaks or loses power. The best option is to keep fingers and other body parts away from moving parts and tool ends, but accidents happen. I’ve lightly burned my fingers a few times on heated beds and hot ends at full temp, twas not fun at all. While 3D printers that are designed well are pretty safe for the most part, most DIY CNC machines don’t harm humans mostly due to the distance of the machine from nearby humans.

A few things to consider that may happen

  • Broken spindle mount
  • Tool end that shatters or breaks
  • Metal and work surface chips and dust
  • Work surface dislodging
  • Catastrophic failure

What prevents or minimizes the above from happening or causing harm

  • Full enclosure that electronically locks
  • Dust collection
  • Emergency stop button
  • Regular cleaning
  • Replacement of worn or broken parts
  • Routine inspections

An enclosure is only useful if it’s strong enough and used, but most things fall under user error, but it’s up to the user to minimize risks to themselves, others and the environment.

Since I don’t know how big this is going to be, I’m working on the dust collection system next.

Mr. Robot

Well, I didn’t get all the tracks assembled, because I started breaking them one after the other. I was mostly too forceful with them and the design could be improved. Like everything on this blog, it’s an ongoing experiment and I am learning a lot, actually. I am hoping to make a complete track by this weekend, though. I did finally get the battery clips in the mail, so can start working on the power management system. I will also be making a blog post about the preliminary plan for the robot soon, as well.

Have a Great Weekend!

I’m off to work on some tracks and finish up the blog post on the robot.

Updates

Got a few more things in the mail, today. The package contained mostly robot parts and the mycorrhizal fungi for the hydroponic system. Lots of research going on multiple subjects, I found that changing the subject that I’m researching helps me focus better and lets the information organize and take root in my brain better and faster. It also allows for time for more questions to form and answers to questions on other subjects to form.

Hydroponics or just more research

I’ve been researching indoor grow tents, and it seems that the main advantages for an indoor garden are:

  • Maximize Light Efficiency
  • Local Environment control such ambient temperature and humidity
  • Keeping pests out
  • Controlling smells
  • Containing allergens

The main factors that a grow tent needs to have is a reflective inner surface that is non-porous that is supported by a rigid frame. Yes, there are lots of commercially available choices to choose from, but this is not a commercial venture and is being done on a budget, rather severely limited at the moment at that.

My idea is to use PVC pipe for the frame and solar blankets for the covering. The PVC should be rigid enough to hold up the Mylar sheets and provide a stable enough frame to hold the LED lamp. The Mylar sheeting that the solar blankets are made out of is very light and highly reflective on one side as far as light and heat go, I have used them while camping in the Spring and Fall when night time temperatures can change dramatically and they don’t add much weight or bulk to a pack. Solar blankets are super cheap, so it fits within the budget constraints, as well. I did a bit of research on the price of the connectors for the PVC pipes and they would cost more than a roll of filament, even during this pandemic crisis. So oh deary me, what’s a geek to do?(This is blatant sarcasm) So, I will have to design and print out connectors for the grow tent, good thing I have a functional 3D printer.(Not so blatant sarcasm) It has been printing ‘bot parts and pieces for the Cyclone PCB factory of late, so a change in tasks would be a good thing.

Robotics for the win!

Speaking of ‘bots, I’ve been printing out and assembling treads, a lot of late. Yes, wheels are simpler and have the advantage of cost over treads, but treads are easier to control, compensate for and last way longer than wheels, plus are way cooler. I did find an early copy of my robot control library for the Arduino, so that is a boon in of itself. Treads also allow you to keep a lower center of gravity, thus making a very stable platform that increases the reach of a robot’s arm or other mechanical appendages. Platform stability is very important for most robots, it not only allows you to pack electronics, actuators and batteries into them, but you have less code dealing with how to get the robot back on it’s means of locomotion. Speaking of electronics, let’s move on to the PCB mini factory.

Cyclone PCB maker to the rescue!

Well, actually not yet and maybe not for awhile. It is coming along quite well, though. It’s at the point that I am going to start putting it together so that I can figure out what I am missing and also can get ideas of what I want to add to it or change. I really should go through the parts bins to see what I already have, because I know that I have lead screws, smooth rods, bearings and a RAMPS kit 1.4 in there that can be used for the PCB maker. It’s a good thing that I usually salvage dead projects and pick up useful items when I find them for a good price.

Some notes on creativity

I’d like to take some time and write a few things about being creative. It may seem a bit disjointed, but each part is a thought and therefore complete in of itself.

I really don’t like reinventing the wheel for every project, it becomes tedious and does suck the joy out of me to do that over and over, plus it’s truly a waste of time that could be used to create more advanced and quality code and better physical designs. This makes more time for other projects or time to do things such as improvements and decorative work.

Grander objects tend to impress others way easier and give a greater amount of accomplishment to the creator. By making something grander than it has to be, doesn’t have to be about scale, but can be a better design, higher quality materials or even just adding some flourishes to an object to make it more appealing to the eye.

Work on projects even if you don’t have all the parts. Parts can found or bought later, and you may find a better part than the one that you thought that project required. For the PCB factory, I was going to use a Dremel like a lot of people who have made such, but I found an actual spindle that was designed for use in a CNC machine for etching and carving a variety of materials. It will be way easier to control since it’s a DC brushed motor and is the correct tool necessary to do the job.

Choose your projects wisely, keep the number of what you are working small, but greater than one. Don’t hoard projects for some day, because the best day to work on things is today for tomorrow never comes.

There is a huge difference in buying parts and tools for future projects and buying such to just have them for the purpose of merely possessing them. The former is planning for the future, the latter is merely hoarding. If you know that you use certain things a lot and find them for a great price, if you have the means than purchase them at that time. Already having the parts makes shopping for what you need easier, makes projects come together faster and sometimes depending on your network of people you can trade for things that you need from your own stock of parts.