Archive for the ‘Draco’ Category

Day 1

This past weekend I made the trip out to San Mateo for the annual Robogames.  It was a very good experience for me.  Right before leaving I decided to change my gun system on Draco, to the automatic fire “Defender” style gun.  This was great for firing but caused a lot of problems for me at the event that I could have avoided with better testing of all my systems.  That was my biggest fault and piece of valuable information.

TEST! TEST! and TEST some more!

So we got in Thursday night and had a little meet up with the Trossen Community at the hotel bar.  They are a great bunch of guys to hang out with, and it was awesome finally getting to meet everyone and put faces to the robots I had been following on the forums.

Friday was the start of the competition.  So checked in nice and early Friday morning and started assembling Draco.  No problems getting her together.  Mech Warfare was also setting up at this time.  That consisted of getting the scoring system up and running, the wireless routers placed, and the buildings in the arena.  These things were amazing.  Andrew, from Trossen Robotics, had gone down to San Fran a few weeks early to meet up with Fon Davis and create these building facades that had such amazing detail in them and really gave Mech Warfare a realistic look for this robots going down a city street.  Fon Davis is the creator of MORAV and worked with Industrial Light and Magic, which is a visual effects division of Lucasfilm.  So, if you’ve seen any Star Wars movies, I think he has worked on them…

Back to the progress, all mechs need to pass a qualifying round in order to compete in Mech Warfare.  Draco worked fine, walking, shooting, scoring, video.  Passed with flying colors.  But there was a small problem actually, my video was dropping out some times when I fired my gun.  This had my checking my voltage levels when firing guns to make sure I didn’t drop to far for my video wifi encoder to reset.  Stupid me though, shorted it out by touching the leads together, and this in return fried my arbotix board in some place.  I didn’t know that at the time though, and spent the rest of the day, frantically tested what happened, trying to fix this, that and the other thing.  It was a frustrating time then.  At the end of the night, I was finally running again with the help of a friend donating me a new board to use.

The rest of the first day, was spent between testing my bot for problems and helping Mech Warfare run qualifying rounds, plus getting to walk around Robogames and checking out some of the other events and booths.

These are pictures (1-9) of the arena and buildings in the arena.  They are some really impressive pieces of work.  The next bunch (10-18) are pictures of other mechs, robots, and stuff around the venue.  The last few (19-20) are pictures of Draco and myself at the competition.


Day 3

Sunday was finally here, time for Mech Warfare competition.  The tournament was set, and ready to begin even if participants weren’t.  We had about 2-3 hours to put on all the finishing touches and get batteries charged for the upcoming matches.  Teams scrambled to get their mechs ready, and this is where I learned the most about mine.

Draco may have taken around a year, with tons of planning and trial and error, but nothing lets you know more about the robot then testing in competition situations.  This is why going down to West Virginia a few weeks before Robogames was so beneficial to me.  I tested my mech in the arena with Giger, and learned how terrible the Airsoft Tankguns really are.

  1. They are incredibly slow!  I was getting one shot off for every 15-20 that Giger was hitting me with.
  2. Accuracy is terrible!  It would take 5-8 shots on a non-moving target in order to zero in.  I don’t think robots will stand still for me to shoot them.
  3. They are so finicky.  Every other time they would jam up and nothing would come out.
  4. The motors did not like me at all!  The turret shot nicely for awhile and then just stopped sometime on Sunday.  I totally pulled off one of the two tank guns because of its inability to ever shoot a BB!

This helped me easily decide to go with a fully automatic airsoft gun.  The same kind of guns found on a lot of other mechs attending Robogames.  I guess thats the experience of veteran Mech Warfare competitors had over me.

Through the testing, it became visible that my mech was a little heavy.  Something that can be very troublesome if its very overweight, but Draco isn’t bad.  He was able to go about 11 minutes of full operation and then 2 of his leg servos would collapse from over heating trying to carry the weight.  That’s 11 out of the 12 minutes needed for a full Mech Warfare match.  A little leg position tweaking and hopefully I can make the whole 12 minutes then.

The matches themselves went okay at ShepRobo Fest.  Many of the competitors were still having problems with their mechs.  My first match, the opponent had some trouble walking, and he collapsed.  Second match was against a fully functional mech, and was going well, but then he lost his video feed and couldn’t continue.  My last match was against Giger, and just couldn’t contend with his firepower.  I was able to get around back of him a few times, but again, the airsoft tank guns are so terrible I only scored one or two hits.  In the end, I finished in 2nd place and came home with a cool trophy form ShepRobo Fest.  The knowledge I learned about my mech was the most useful though, and can help me to have better matches while at Robogames.

There are some nice write ups about ShepRobo Fest online from some local newspapers.

Here is a video put together of some of the matches down at ShepRobo Fest.  You can see Draco running around and getting shot at a lot.

Day 2

Morning came up shortly after a long first night in West Virginia.  Saturday was the start of the competitions at ShepRobo Fest.  And it started quick.  Upon walking in the venue, the organizer of the event and head of the Robotics club at Shepherd, Dr. Kim, asked us to put on a demo of Mech Warfare for the spectators.  Andrew and I had the only mobile mechs at the time, so we put them in the arena and started shooting around.  People loved seeing Giger and Draco running around.  I even put my turret in the arena for show.  It was really cool to see everyone run over and cheering for the robots which I had built.  You could easily see all the attention that Mech Warfare got.

There were some other really cool things at the competition. FIRST Lego league was something that I really enjoyed seeing.  Teams at the elementary level put together robots using Lego NXT kits and had to follow some rules that I didn’t understand at the time to be able to complete a myriad of obstacles and tasks with a pre-programmed robot.  I would have definitely wanted to participate in a class like that back in elementary school if we had it.  That looks like a great way for young kids to get into the field of robotics.

There was also the fire fighting competition at the event.  This was also neat, because it was fully autonomous.  This group ranged from high school up to university level which built robots that had to sense walls, travel into a bunch of maze like rooms, find a single candle and be able to put it out.  Some teams used fans, some used wet sponges and smacked the candle, but it was still really neat to see this.

Through the day there were a couple more demos of Mech Warfare which always brought in the crowd right to the arena.  Again, so cool to see the attention of everybody drawn to these robots which shoot each other in a scaled down city-scape.

The night also ended again around 3 or 4, with all teams trying to put together their mechs for the competition on Sunday.  And once again, energy drinks, coffee, soda, pizza, and snacks were the main course.  Everyone set out to help everyone else, it was really a big community effort to try and have everyone working for tomorrow.  Teams were in various states of completion, some walking, some connecting guns, some putting on finishing touches, some not so much.

Over this past weekend I attended my first Robotics challenge down in West Virginia, at the Shepherd University ShepRobo Fest. This was a really cool experience for me.  A member of the Trossen Robotics forum, Seth (sthmck) put out the invitation to any mech robot builders to come join in the festivities and compete in the first East coast Mech Warfare competition.  A few of us made the trip.  And I think it was a well worth it trip.


First off, I found out that packing Draco for travel is really a PITA!  I am going to try to make improvements on how I will pack him, but I think going to Robogames will be easier since I decided not to bring my turret along, I’ll explain shortly.  I took a train down on Friday early so I could meet up with the guys and get things set up with my robot.  We arrived and met with Seth.  He took us on the grand tour of the competition venue, which they got the theater department at Shepherd to make a full Mech Warfare arena.  It was really nicely done, with all removable panels and such.

Then we went over to the lab, where we met the rest of the competitors, who were all going crazy trying to put together their mechs.  Looked like a madhouse.  I think there were about 20 or so Robotics club members of 5 teams.  Each team was scheduled to make one mech and one fire fighting robot for their class.  There were tons of electronics, metal, plastic, screws, tools, computers, BBs, and then some strewn about the lab.  Seth pushed everyones stuff off a table and let Andrew, the creator of Mech Warfare, start assembling Giger, the massive 24 DOF humanoid mech robot.  You can find tons of pictures on the trossen forums, but seeing this thing up close is really impressive.  He gave some nice demos of the robot and everyone was in awe.  I also put together Draco to have it ready for the weekend.  Draco got some good attention since every other competitor there was also working on a quad robot as well.  I still needed to work on the gun/firing and tune in some walking gaits.  Oh and, forgot, before I left for WV, Draco somehow reassigned a leg servo ID number by accident, and all of my legs were non-functional.  But with a few clicks of troubleshooting, Andrew got it back up and running, and I was able to show off my mech to everyone.  I also put together my turret which was easy enough, but like I said I don’t plan on bringing it to Robogames.  It takes up too much room in my pelican case, and I had to disassemble Draco in order to fit the turret  This way, I can keep Draco assembled and not have to worry about that when I arrive in San Fran next month.

The rest of the night was spent trouble shooting small problems, optimizing gaits, and just helping the team members out.  This was done with tons of coffee, energy drinks, and snacks all around.  The night ended around 3, when people started getting too silly to work on advanced robotics machines.

I will try to catch readers up with my work in robotics in this post.  Like I said, I started a year ago in March of 2010.  Happened to be looking through some magazines about robots, just thought they looked cool.  I came across some articles about Mech Warfare and was hooked.  But that was all of my robotics experience – ever.  That goes the same with electronics, programming, anything that has to do with robotics, I had zero experience in.  Maybe when I was very young I took apart a few Sega controllers and re wired them when my dog chewed part of it up, but that was just connecting wire A to tab A, easy.

The Robotis Bioloid Comprehensive Kit is an all inclusive robotics platform made for versatility as well as power, that’s where I started.   It was able to help a total beginner like myself get going in robotics.  Put together all the configurations, played around with the programming software, made some of my own creations, and was ready to get going on my mech.

Mech refers to the robots found in video games much like Mech Warrior, Chrome Hounds, Front Mission, etc.  They are piloted robots made for military purposes.  If you visit the Mech Warfare site you can read the rules and vision of the competition is.  I can give you a short rundown of it.

  • The robots must walk (there is another division for treaded vehicles)
  • The driver can only view the arena through a First Person POV camera mounted on the robot sending the video back wirelessly to a laptop or viewing device.
  • The driver scores points by shooting BB’s and hitting the opponents target panels a certain number of times.

That is pretty much the idea of the competition.  The robots are small-scale, ranging from 8-24 inches tall.  But that does not mean they are easy to make, or make well.

The robots come in 2 types, Biped and Quadruped.  The bipeds look very cool and resemble the mechs from the video games more closely.  The quads are able to move quicker and keep their balance having more feet touching the floor.  This is why I decided to create a quad for my first mech robot.

I was introduced to Autodesk Inventor, a 3D design program that I use frequently now to plan out my robot and design builds.  Was able to put each little piece 3 dimensionally on-screen to make sure everything fits and works.  This has been a huge help.

Now I was able to create my custom robot for the competition.  Plans changed multiple times in order different parts to fit or work correctly, but the design was done and I started getting more parts in for the mech.

Pretty much the project on this mech is in the final stages of completion.  In the videos you can see the mech has the ability to walk and look around so far.  The programming is all done for that, with help from the creator of Vanadium Labs and the Arbotix Robocontroller who created a Python based application to take measurements of the leg segments and body and spat out Arduino based code.  The only things left to do are:

  • Wire the motors on the guns for firing.
  • Program the guns for firing.
  • Program some usual movement sequences.
  • And practice…

I am hoping to have those last few things completed within the next week.  I would like to be able practice piloting the mech through the first person POV camera around the house.  I will get more practice for Robogames because of a new event which has opened up.  It is called the ShepRobo Fest.  It is at Sheperd University in West Virginia in a couple of weeks.

That is where I am today with my Robotics.  I have some future plans which I will talk about in the next few posts, but for now I think I have written enough.

Photos will be posted shortly…