Chibots at the DuPage Engineers Week Expo at IIT, Wheaton IL

The DuPage Engineers Week Expo was held at the Illinois Institute of Technology Rice campus in Wheaton, IL this past February 26. This engineering expo invites associations to come and demonstrate different engineering principles. The expo is attended by a huge number of people, many of them school age children. They have lots of fun trying out different experiments. The associations are always happy to demonstrate something educational to the younger crowd.

This year Chibots was given three tables! Terry J. was the liaison between IIT and our group. As last year, we were located in the second floor North hall. This section seems to be the “official” robotics area. Near us was the group LEGO Robotics from the Downers Grove FRoG group. At our booth we had Dan T. President of the Central Illinois Robotics Club (CIRC), Alan S., Paul K., Terry J. and Noemi and Salvador G.

 Chibots Chibots booth at the Engineers Week Expo at IIT

Robots were not in short supply! Dan brought various types, including his Incredible Marble Maze. Alan delighted visitors with Woody and Tinker bot. Terry showcased his analog line follower and his processor based maze solver robot, a work in progress. Noemi and Salvador brought two small robots donated by Solarbotics. A more detailed description of these robots follows.

Dan T., CIRC President

Dan brought various robots, including the Incredible Marble Maze. The Marble Maze is an interactive device that allows the player to maneuver a wooden ball inside a wooden maze. The objective is to get the ball from the start position to the finish. Once this is done the gumball dispenser gives a gumball which is then picked up by the Marble Maze’s robot arm. Just watching the Marble Maze in action is a fantastic experience. But that is not all! The player’s controller is wireless and the player operates it by tilting it. As the controller is tilted the maze follows the movement matching the controller.

 
Also present were 2 small combat robots, some Boe Bots, a small line follower and a Pleo, the robotic baby dinosaur. One of the Boe Bot had an interesting feature. The bot was remotely controlled using a wireless controller. To operate the robot the person would tilt the controller. Depending on how the controller was tilted the robot would move forward or backward or turn left or right. This was a fascinating device to watch and Dan mentioned that this technology was a prototype for the Marble Maze.

 Another work in progress that Dan displayed was a robot base that used Mecanum Wheels. These are rubber wheels whose treads are at a 45 degrees angle. When the wheel spins it pushes the base at a 45 degree angle instead of pushing straight ahead. While this could be a problem, the wheels are arranged such that one wheel cancels the 45 thrust of the other wheel. When this happens the result is a forward push that moves the base straight forward. The advantage of these wheels is that the base can be maneuvered at right angles. The base is never turned; rather the force of each wheel is regulated in such a way that it propels the base straight forward, backward, left or right. It even allows the base to spin in place. Finger Tech Robotics, one of our sponsors, sells these wheels. Our sponsors’ page has a link to their Website. You really have to see these wheels!

 

Alan S.

Alan also brought a few of his robots. These are unique in that Alan not only makes the robots functional, but also artistic, creating true kinetic art. His flagship robot for this event was RoboWoody a tall (about 20 inches) wooden robot that when activated went through a routine that involved blinking eyes, a beating LED heart and moving legs. Five servos help RoboWoody move his legs, arms and head. The brain behind this unique robot is a Parallax Basic Stamp 2 programmed using pBasic. The kids were really fascinated by this robot.

 Another robot that performed flawlessly was Twinkle Bug. This highly artistic Steam Punk robot reminded me Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, but made of copper. Twinkle Bug is a line following robot and uses analog circuitry to detect and follow the line. A whimsical design, along with a few strategically placed LEDs mad this robot a hit at the show.


Other robots that Al displayed were SpiderBot and Albot 9. SpiderBot employs legs instead of wheels to get around. Al mentioned that he is working on this robot. Albot is another line follower robot. This is a more advanced robot than Twinkle Bug in that is uses a microcontroller to detect and stay on the line. Like RoboWoody, Albot 9 uses the Basic Stamp 2 from Parallax.

Terry J.

Terry brought 2 robots with him. The first was a line follower that is based on Sandwich, an analog line follower described in David Cook’s book Robot Building for Beginners. This robot uses a dual comparator along with a couple of transistors to make the bot work. This robot was rather speedy for a non processor based device. Terry uses two red LEDs to light the surface. The sensor picks up different light levels depending on whether the robot is on or off the line. In turn the sensors active the corresponding motor to get the robot back on track.

 

His second robot is a work in progress and will be a maze solver. This is a more advanced robot that uses an ATMEL AVR controller with a custom designed controller board (designed by Terry). It also uses an IC H bridge instead of discrete components. The line sensors are of the infrared type mounted on an IR module made and sold by Wright Hobbies Robotics, also a Chibots sponsor. An additional sensor is used to detect a perpendicular line left of the robot. Terry is planning on using BASCOM AVR to program the robot and hopes it will be ready for the October Chibotica at iHobby Expo.

Noemi and Salvador G.

Noemi and Salvador brought two simple robots made from kits and donated by Solarboics, one of Chibots’ sponsors. The first is Herbie the Mouse Bot. This small robot is a photothropic robot, meaning that it is attracted to light. As much as a line following robot follows a line, a photothropic robot follows light. Herbie uses an LM386 audio op-amp along with some IR detectors and transistors. Herbie is based on a very simple design by Randy Sargent. Noemi demonstrated the little robot a number of times, surprising the young audience with Herbie’s speed and ability to ram into the walls of its holding pen. She had a hard time making Herbie follow a light source since the little mouse-bot was preoccupied with crashing into walls at full speed.

 

The second robot was a Beetlebot, also donated by Solarbotics. This is advertised as the simplest robot that can be built. The kit requires no soldering and is an excellent introduction into the world of robotics. The robot itself consists of two bumper switches that control each motor. When the robot bumps into something it actives the corresponding motor to turn it around.

LEGO Robotics

I took a walk to go see what LEGO Robotics was up to. They had various robots, made of LEGO of course. Some were simple while other used the LEGO brick as a microcontroller. I saw that some of their laptops had RoboLab installed. I assume that this was the programming environment that they used.

 

One robot particularly got my attention. It was powered by two rear motors that drive two plastic wheels that were located towards the front. They used a rubber band to connect the motor to the wheel. I though it was quite unique and ingenious. This is what true robot building is about – to employ common items and electronic parts in ways that the original manufacturer of the component never imagined.

Unfortunately I did not get a chance to talk to any of LEGO Robotics representatives, but I did have a pleasant email conversation with them. They are part of the Friends of the Gifted and Talented (FRoG), a school in Downer’s Grove IL that helps gifted and talented youngsters fulfill their potential. They have been coming to the IIT event for 11 years. We hope to collaborate sometime in the future, inviting them to our competitive events.

I’d like to thank IIT for having us over, it was a blast! Also special thanks to Dan T., Alan S., Paul K. and Terry J. for coming to the event. Also thanks to Eric G. and Don K. who had the intention of being at the Engineers Week Expo, but were not able to make it.

Links:

Chibots’ sponsors page: http://www.chibots.org/?q=node/1228
David Cook’s book: http://www.robotroom.com/RBFB.html
FRoG:  http://www.dgfrog.org/
CIRC: http://circ.mtco.com/
Parallax: http://www.parallax.com/
Image gallery (lots of pics!): http://www.chibots.org/?q=image/tid/44