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Robot Finally Working

November 26th, 2017

CNC Lathe Next

My friend Amanda has a son who has some cognitive issues. Oddly, in some cases, people with his problem turn out to be unusually well suited to the trade of CNC machining. Mental characteristics that cause problems in many areas of life can be assets in machining. There’s a dude in California who runs a school that trains such people.

I learned about this from a TV show called Titans of CNC. A man named Titan Gilroy was convicted of a violent crime, and when he got out of prison, he learned CNC and started a big, successful shop. Now he teaches inmates at San Quentin. He has a son with Asperger’s, and he discovered that his son was very good at CNC. Now he works with the guy who runs the school.

I mentioned this to Amanda a few weeks back, and I said I had some interest in CNC and robotics. We showed her son some Youtubes, and he seemed interested. That’s good, but it’s also a problem. I have only one CNC tool, and it’s a home-built adaptation which I haven’t perfected. Not counting my vacuum cleaner, I have only one robot, and when I bought it and assembled it, I was not able to make it work.

Since showing her son the videos, I have retrieved my CNC lathe from Miami, and I am ready to see if I can make it work. Last night, I took the robot out of the box I had tossed it in, and after an hour or so of reprogramming and researching, I figured out what was wrong with it. Now it’s working.

The robot is a B-robot, from a company called JJ Robots. It’s a two-wheeled balancing robot a little bigger than a box of Pop Tarts. It’s based on an Arduino Leonardo board.

Here’s how it works. It has a tiny board containing circuitry that measures the robot’s vertical orientation. This shouldn’t amaze anyone. Cell phones have circuits that tell them whether they’re level or not. The robot checks the board’s output, and then it accelerates in the direction of the tilt, bringing it back to vertical again. In other words, when the robot starts to fall in a certain direction, it takes off in that direction, bringing itself back under its top. It can do this so often it appears nearly stable.

I found I had installed the orientation board sideways, so the robot was sensing angular deviation along the wrong axis. The robot can’t fall from side to side, so the board’s input was useless. I reinstalled it according to the directions.

The robot still refused to stand. I took a look at what it was doing. It was accelerating away from the direction of fall, making the fall worse. I then turned the board 180 degrees, and everything worked.

Now I have a self-balancing robot.

I had some other problems with it, and they’re even more boring, so I don’t want to get into them too much. I found I could not upload programming to the Arduino. Somewhere on the web, someone said I had to press the board’s reset button immediately before uploading. Not exciting, unless you’re a nerd.

The robot has wi-fi. When you turn it on, you connect your phone to the robot’s network, and then you use an app to steer the robot. Obviously, it needs an onboard camera, like a drone, so you can see what the robot sees as it moves. Maybe I can figure that out some day.

Anyway, next time Amanda brings her son around, I can show him the robot and see if he has any interest. Maybe in a week or two, I can get the lathe working better.

It’s a little strange that I decided to buy and assemble a robot, but the whole exercise has turned out to have a purpose I could not have anticipated. That’s God for you.

Robotics and CNC are not the same thing, but it’s basically the same skill set, applied in different ways. Programming, boards, and servos or steppers. My guess is that a person who has CNC aptitude also has robotics aptitude. The question is which one he will like well enough to stick with.

Her other two sons are interested in music, but the instruction opportunities are limited. I suggested Adventus Piano software for one and Justinguitar.com for the other. Justinguitar.com is a teaching site run by, as you might guess, a guitarist named Justin. It has lots of exercises and videos. It’s not a teacher, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing.

The hard thing will be to get them to learn to sight-read. This is much more important than learning to play. Any idiot can learn to play songs by memorizing them. Ask me how I know. A real musician can read music, and he must also understand theory. A singer who can sight-sing and who understands theory is a better musician than an untrained pianist who plays extremely well.

Math, languages, and music. You have to learn while you’re young. After you’re seven or eight years old, your aptitude drops off, and as far as I know, you can’t get it back.

It’s hard to tell when you’ve scored a point with her kids. Other kids get excited. Hers just sit and think, and sometimes they want to know how soon you’ll be finished so they can do something else. She says it’s working, though.

Sooner or later, if they want to get anywhere with music, they’ll have to find people they can play with.

The robot is interesting to me because the concept doesn’t have to be limited to a tiny machine. The stuff that tells it what to do could be installed on a robot the size of a building. I could yank the guts out of it, find a way to make it run bigger steppers, and make a robot big enough to run around the yard. Jam a lithium battery in there, and it could run for an hour. Not sure what accessories I could add to it to make it useful. Anyway, it doesn’t have to be a small toy. Could it ever be useful for anything? That’s a hard question. I would have to come up with a function for it.

I wish I could make it paint the fence or kill squirrels.

Now that the major crises of moving are abating, I feel like I’m getting my life back. I had time to work on the robot. I’m anxious to get my machine tools up here. Next year, life should be less hectic, and I should be able to get more done. Maybe I’ll be able to make some knives. Right now I can’t run my big grinder without a gas generator and an adaptor (which I don’t have), so knife-making is not possible.

I’m giving up on tree removal. The trees that cause problems will be moved. The rest will be ignored until it’s convenient to do something. It’s just too much work. Surrendering will give me more free time.

Guess I’ll go check out robot accessories. If I can find one a kid could use to drive his brothers nuts, I think it will be a hit.

One Response to “Robot Finally Working”

  1. Chip Anderson Says:

    It is nice to see you blogging over the years. Keep up the good work.

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