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    Designing an Ultra-Efficient Walking Robot

    Bipedal robots expend a lot of energy standing up and walking, but new humanoid architectures hope to be 20 to 30 times as efficient. We chat with robotics professor Aaron Ames about how his team at SRI International has designed a walking system that maximizes battery efficiency, allowing a robot to walk on a treadmill for hours while using less than 400 watts of power.

    Tested Meets RoboSimian, NASA JPL's Ape-Like Robot

    NASA JPL's RoboSimian stood out at the DARPA Robotics Challenge as one of the few non-humanoid robot designs. The use of four versatile limbs allows it to adapt to the test scenario in ways that would be difficult for a bipedal robot. We chat with Katie Byl of the UC Santa Barbara Robotics Lab, whose team programmed RoboSimian, to learn about the advantages of a quadruped design and how RoboSimian may be utilized in complex environments like being underground or even in space!

    DARPA Robotics Challenge: Team THOR

    THOR (Tactical Hazardous Operations Robot) was one of the humanoid robots we met at the DARPA Robotics Challenge, designed and built by students at UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania. We chat with Steve McGill of Team THOR to learn about the disaster relief scenario and how teams direct their robots in each part of the obstacle course.

    How To Get Into Hobby RC: Telemetry Systems

    One of the fundamental challenges of flying RC aircraft is that you are separated from the machine you are controlling. You must assess the health and status of your vehicle from a distance using only limited visual and aural cues – rarely an easy thing to do. Sometimes the first symptom of a failing system is a trail of smoke that inevitably leads to the ground.

    RC telemetry systems provide the means to accurately gauge certain parameters of your model during flight. Think of it as a remote dashboard. Do you want to know how hot your motor is running? How about an alarm that can warn you when your model reaches an altitude of 400 feet? Telemetry devices can provide those things and more.

    What Telemetry Requires

    There are several different ways to receive telemetry data. Some telemetry systems are standalone units with a transmitter/sensor package in the model and a receiver on the ground. For FPV flyers, On-Screen-Display devices take the data from onboard sensors and overlay it on the real-time video feed. The result is something like a heads-up display found in many modern full-scale aircraft. An increasingly popular form of telemetry system is the type integrated into the model's radio system. The pilot's handheld transmitter sends flight commands to the aircraft while also receiving downlinked data. The same onboard receiver that interprets commands also transmits telemetry data. In this way, both the transmitter and receiver are actually transceivers.

    Telemetry data can be viewed in the transmitter screen, but you'll want to use the tactile and aural feedback options when flying.

    The majority of radio manufacturers offer telemetry-capable systems in their lineups. The example that I've chosen to highlight in this guide comes from Futaba. As of this writing, there are three Futaba aircraft transmitters that are telemetry-capable (10J, 14SG, and 18MZ) as well as a handful of receivers. With these systems, their telemetry features are embedded in the S.Bus2 circuitry of the components. That nuance begs a brief explanation of S.Bus2.

    HARV: Telepresence Camera System with Head-Tracking

    Low-latency telepresence camera systems with head-tracking allows users to look around environments in near-real-time while wearing headsets like an Oculus development kit. We put on Telefactor Robotics' HARV remote vision system and chatted with CEO Martha Jane Chatten about the use of motorized gimbal systems for immersive telepresence.

    Meet the Inflatable Soft Robots of Pneubotics

    The inflatable robot of Big Hero 6 was based on real soft robotics research, like the ones being experimented with at startup Pneubotics. We chat with Pneubotics CEO Kevin Albert to learn how robots can be designed and built with lightweight and flexible skins that have impressive dexterity and structural strength.

    Meet the Modular Prosthetic Limb

    This realistic robot arm and hand was one of the coolest things we saw at the DARPA Robotics Challenge event--it's a technology that's already being field tested on patients. We chat with Michael McLoughlin, Chief Engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab to learn more about the challenges of building a modular prosthetic limb that has the same dexterity as a human hand, and its potential applications.

    DARPA Robotics Challenge: Team IHMC's Atlas Robot

    The DARPA Robotics Challenge challenged teams with designing and teaching robots to complete an obstacle course simulating a disaster relief scenario--a task more difficult than it sounds. We chat with Doug Steven of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition to learn how the IHMC team has programmed a Boston Dynamics Atlas robot to tackle the competition.

    Testing: Blade 200QX, A Multi-Purpose Multi-Rotor

    A good indicator of the success of any multi-rotor model is the number of different accessories and hop-ups that are offered for it. By that measure, the Blade 200QX is a big hit. Blade and several other companies offer an array of products for pilots who want to personalize their 200QX and/or change how it performs.

    I've been testing a 200QX for about two months. It is definitely a widely versatile multi-rotor, even without modification. Today, I'll share my opinions of the 200QX in stock form. I will also illustrate three add-ons that allowed me to try new things with this quad.

    Honey, I Shrunk the Skids

    The first thing that I noticed about the 200QX is that it looks a lot like my Blade 350 QX3 – only smaller (200mm diameter vs 350mm). Both feature a plastic shell as the main structural component and they share very similar styling. Although both quads are intended for Spektrum brand radios, the 200QX is only available as a Bind-N-Fly model. I linked the little quad to my DX8 transmitter.

    The 200QX presents a unique combination of size, weight, and power that makes it difficult to categorize. If a defining label is truly necessary, I think "Mini Sport Quad" would encompass the primary features of the 200QX. It is only slightly larger than several of my indoor quads, but its brushless motors and 2-cell LiPo battery make it much more powerful. Living room flights are probably taboo. Yet, I found an indoor basketball court to be a fun and comfortable flying spot.

    The 200QX offers styling similar to Blade's larger quad-rotors. Brushless motors and a 2-cell LiPo battery provide ample power.

    This quad has plenty of power and control authority for outdoor flights, but its small size will force you to keep it relatively close in. On the flip side, the bare 200QX weighs less than 7 ounces. Its light weight was a confidence builder for me. When flying over reasonably tall grass, I felt like I could push my comfort zone without much concern over breaking parts if I had a hiccup.

    Photo Gallery: Behind the Scenes at BattleBots

    The new season of BattleBots premiered this past weekend, and it looks like viewers really liked it! We saw some great bouts between bots old and new, with some upsets and surprise explosions. If you're watching the show, you should check out our behind-the-scenes interviews with all the builders. We'll have more videos from our visit to the BattleBots set coming in the next month, too. Until then, here are some photos I took from the builder's pit, combat arena, and backstage where teams tested and tuned their robots.

    Tested Meets the New BattleBots, Part 3

    In part three of our interviews with the new BattleBots contestants, we check out the final eight robots competing in this series premiere! Some of the designs and strategies are very nontraditional and beautiful. Plus, we step inside the newly built BattleBots arena to learn what hazards the robots will face when they're engaged in combat. The show premieres tonight at 9PM on ABC!

    Tested Meets the New Battlebots, Part 2

    The new BattleBots is premiering this weekend, and we have exclusive access to the builders pit to check out the new combat robots. The new robots are spectacular; teams have new technologies at their disposal and are getting creative with their designs. We interview eight of the teams and learn their strategies for success in the arena!

    How To Make a Handheld Camera Gimbal Mount

    There's no question that motorized gimbals do a fabulous job of hiding the bumps and bobbles when you're using an action camera. They're pretty much required equipment for multi-rotor flyers who want to capture decent footage from on high. Recent reviews of the DJI Inspire 1 Mount and the Feiyu-Tech G3 Ultra convinced me that I needed a gimbal for my ground-based video shoots as well.

    As I was browsing the selection of handheld gimbals, I ran across the Yuneec Steady Grip. Like the Inspire 1 Mount, the Steady Grip merely provides an alternate method to hold, power, and control a gimbal that would otherwise reside on a multi-rotor. The unique pistol-like form factor of the Steady Grip made me realize that I already had most of the parts that I needed to build my own handheld gimbal mount. So I abandoned the store-bought approach and went D-I-Y.

    The basic parts needed for this project are a complete gimbal assembly, a surplus pistol grip transmitter case and a servo driver.

    Gathering Parts

    My prime motivation for this project was the desire to easily swap one of my gimbals between its aerial mount and the handheld mount. Being able to utilize a gimbal I already owned presented a substantial cost savings. Adding a gimbal to the bill of materials for this project would likely make it more expensive than just buying a handheld gimbal system outright.

    I chose to use the GB200 2-axis gimbal from my Blade 350QX2 quad. The entire gimbal assembly can easily be removed from its mount on the quad by lifting a lock tab and sliding the base off of its rails. I had already upgraded the gimbal with the proper frame to hold a GoPro Hero 3 camera.

    To emulate the style of the Steady Grip, I plundered my stash of old RC systems. Among them are several pistol-grip transmitters that I haven't used in years. I located a well-used Futaba Magnum Sport that looked like it would do the trick. It didn't matter that the electronics of the radio were still in good shape. I really only needed the plastic shell. Finding a new use for one of my squirreled-away "treasures" has certainly done nothing to improve my hoarding tendencies!

    The GB200 gimbal used for this handheld mount is the same one that I use on my Blade 350QX2 multi-rotor. I can move the gimbal back and forth between the two mounts.

    I wanted to be able to control the pitch of the gimbal while it is in the hand mount. On the quad, this function is controlled by a channel of the radio. I used a servo driver (also called a "servo tester") to transfer this capability to the hand mount. I'll explain later just how that works.

    Different gimbals may require a wide variety of input voltages to operate. I wanted to be sure that I provided the correct voltage for the GB200, but I could not find any specs that defined what it should be. I measured the voltage output at the gimbal power pins on the Blade 350 at around 4.3 volts. With that value in hand, I felt comfortable buying a 5 volt voltage regulator for the hand mount.

    Tested Meets the New BattleBots!

    BattleBots is coming back, and we couldn't be more excited! We've been granted exclusive access to the BattleBots pit, where teams from all around the world have brought their new robots to be tested in the combat arena. In the first of a three-part series, we meet with eight of the teams to learn about their robots' fighting potential and how new technology has changed how BattleBots are built.

    DJI's Matrice 100 Quadcopter with Collision Avoidance

    We go hands-on with DJI's new M100 "Matrice" quadcopter! It's a developer-targeted platform designed for customization and carrying a variety of sensors. One of its new features is called Guidance: the use of multiple stereo and ultrasonic sensors for collision detection--this quad can theoretically detect obstacles and resist crashing into them. We also test two developer-made demos: camera control with an Oculus headset and flight with Leap Motion!

    Industrial Robot Demonstrates Accuracy with Katana

    To promote its new industrial manufacturing robots, Yaskawa Electric Corporation made this promo video showing how one of its robots could replicate the katana-wielding movements of Japanese swordsman Isao Machii, with motion-capture technology. It's a really well-produced piece, and a different take on demonstrating the precision of industrial robots (like Bot & Dolly's 'Box' film from last year). Still, there's no need to start worrying about robot uprisings. We just came back from the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, where we saw dozens of robots struggle to accomplish tasks like opening doors and walking over rubble. As we learned from roboticists, there's an enormous difference in the programming required to get a fixed robot to perform a repeated task and what it takes for an untethered one to interact with the variability of our world. Stay tuned for videos from that trip!

    Testing Hobby RC: Spektrum’s Active Vehicle Control System

    My previous discussions of artificial stabilization systems have focused on those used in airborne models. There are also systems available for RC cars and trucks. This time around, I'll share my experiments with one of those units: Spektrum's Active Vehicle Control (AVC) system.

    As with all of the other stabilization products I've reviewed, AVC relies on a set of sensors that detect unwanted movements in the model. It then sends commands to the controls (in this case: steering and throttle) to counteract those movements. The end result should be that your model feels less affected by outside elements and more in tune with your control inputs.

    The Equipment

    The components necessary for AVC are integrated into the transmitter and receiver of several different Spektrum pistol-grip radio systems. The simplest way to obtain AVC is to buy one of the AVC-equipped ready-to-run vehicles from Losi, Vaterra, or ECX. The other option is to install an AVC capable Spektrum radio system into just about any car or truck you choose. To test AVC, I chose the latter route and retrofitted my ECX Ruckus with a new radio system.

    The Ruckus was originally equipped with a 2-channel Spektrum DX2E radio – a simple, but reliable system. This radio was replaced by a 4-channel DX4C. Two of the channels operate throttle and steering control, while the remaining two channels are used to adjust the throttle and steering gains of AVC.

    The vehicles that include AVC still come equipped with the DX2E. It appears, however, that the radio has been upgraded and includes a different receiver to accommodate AVC. The primary difference I see is that the DX2E has a single gain adjustment that affects steering and throttle gains simultaneously. The DX4C (as well as the higher-end DX4R and DX4S) allows for individual gain control.

    By swapping the stock radio system with a Spektrum DX4C transmitter and SRS4210 receiver, I was able to add AVC to my well-used Ruckus monster truck.

    The DX4C is a computer transmitter and can store up to 20 different model profiles. So you can add AVC to multiple vehicles by using the same transmitter and equipping each model with an SRS4210 receiver.

    AVC places a high demand on a vehicle's steering servo because it is constantly making countless, imperceptible movements to keep the car on track. For that reason, Spektrum advises using a digital servo for steering chores. The Ruckus includes an analog servo, so I swapped it with a Spektrum S6100 unit. With steel gears, ball bearings, 5 times the torque of the stock servo (208 oz-in vs 41.7 oz-in), and nearly double the speed (.13 second transit time vs .23 second) the S6100 is overkill in this application. But it's nice to know that I won't have to worry about it.

    Maker Faire 2015: Justin Gray's Armored Robots

    In experimenting with converting farm equipment to electric vehicles, fabricator Justin Gray has created a fleet of remote controlled robots that are as beautiful as they are tough. Heavily armored and uniquely sculpted, these robots looked like they rolled off the of the Mad Max set. We chat with Justin about his robots and how they each have a personality of their own.