Hello Spoon Is An Assistive Robot Arm That Can Feed You

Image courtesy: Luis Garcia

Cute like a baby elephant, powered by an Android, and equipped with a robotic arm, HelloSpoon is the affordable alternative to assistive robots.

HelloSpoon, a simple and low-cost assistive robot designed to help people with upper limb disabilities, recently launched on Indiegogo to seek out $35,000 in funding. Developed by mechatronics engineer Luis Garcia, HelloSpoon is an affordable alternative to other expensive disability machines. See video below.

To keep cost low but functionality intact, Garcia has kept HelloSpoon simple. It uses Garcia's own software that can be run on a smartphone. Instead of a custom robot "brain" or microcontroller running the robot, HelloSpoon uses an Android device and a simple motor controller. The lack of facial recognition features and complex sensors also keeps the cost down. At the same time, this also appeals to those who don't want to burn a hole in their wallet when in need of an assistive robot.

So if there's no facial recognition, how does it work? The short answer is that this robot responds via voice and then the user has to do the rest. The smartphone provides the robot with the ability to sense sound and thus the robot reacts by either moving its arm or dancing. The robot feeds the user by listening for voice commands and then lifting food from the bowl up to the user's mouth. HelloSpoon's functionality, low-cost, and ease of use makes for a perfect assistive robot. If you'd like to support HelloSpoon, please visit their Indiegogo campaign.

Source: Indiegogo

Nixie Is A Wearable Camera Drone That Can Be Worn On Your Wrist

Wearables and drones have two things in common. They're both advancing pieces of technology and they're both booming buzz words. Why not combine the two?

Nixie, a project in Intel's Make It Wearable contest, is a hybrid breed of wearable technology and micro drones. The quadcopter drone has the ability to be worn as a flexible wrist accessory and then take off the moment you want it to. Nixie has an embedded camera on a y-axis gimbal. As seen in the video, the drone is capable of taking pictures and then saving them onto your smartphone. In addition to the concept drone's appealing design, I believe this quadcopter is definitely going to a be a hot gadget among tech and robot geeks alike. 

We plan on updating this story as we get more information.

The 8 Best Consumer-Ready Quadcopter Drones For Recording Aerial Footage

We couldn't just stop at providing lists of the best drones for beginners, so we decided to put together a list featuring the best drones for recording aerial footage. The following drones are in no particular order and they're based off of multiple user reviews, tech-specs, and other sources.

1. Parrot AR Drone 2.0 - The Parrot AR Drone 2.0 is an iPhone, Android, and tablet controlled drone. Its front-facing camera can record and even live-stream 720p video at 30 frames per second. The drone's battery life lasts around 12 minutes and it charges in less 2 hours. Other notable features include image capturing, auto-stabilization, and 165ft range. Overall, the AR Drone has received positive reviews from a majority of consumers. Click here if you're interested in purchasing the AR Drone 2.0.

2. Parrot AR Drone Power Edition - For those in need of extra flight time and longer battery life, then the Parrot AR Drone Power Edition will suit your needs. This drone is capable of flying for 18 minutes using one of its high density LiPo batteries. The drone includes 2 batteries for a total of 36 minutes of flying! Controls are easy and simple as this drone works with your iPhone, iPod, iPad, or even Android device. The drone is capable of recording video in 720p HD at 30 frames per second. Along with video recording, the drone can shoot JPEG still images and live stream to your device.

3. DJI Phantom 2.0 Vision+ - The DJI Phantoms are praised highly in the community of aerial photography. They're the pinnacle of quadcopter drones. The DJI Phantom 2 Vision + is capable of shooting video at 1080p. The drone features its own 14mp camera, 25 minute flight time, 3-axis gimbal, and smartphone compatibility. Below is some footage shot with the DJI Phantom 2.0 Vision+.

4. DJI Phantom 2 - There's a cheaper alternative for those who still want a DJI quadcopter but aren't looking to spend over a thousand dollars for it. DJI Phantom 2 is a sub-$1000 drone that can be fitted with a gimbal and a GoPro. Depending on the camera, it's possible to record stable, HD video with the DJI. Flights have a range of about 1000m and have a maximum flight time of 25 minutes. The controller operates at 2.4 Ghz radio frequency. View the video below to see what the DJI is capable of with a GoPro. Amazon has them on sale right now.

5. Hubsan X4 - The Hubsan X4 is one of our personal favorites. It packs a ton of features in a small budget. The $50 quadcopter can fit in the palm of your hand while retaining the capability of recording video. Though you shouldn't expect the footage to be HD, we decided to throw this drone is just because of its low price.

6. HEXO+ - The HEXO+ is one of the most advanced consumer drones we've seen. Its autonomous capabilities allow it to record video while automatically following the user. No pilot needed. The robot is equipped with a 2-axis gimbal (3-axis optional) and can be equipped with a GoPro camera. Its six, slightly angled rotors allow for 45 mph speeds and extreme stability. It also works with an iPhone! Visit hexoplus.com to purchase your own.

7. AirDog - Through a wearable bracelet dubbed the 'AirLeash,' AirDog is able to follow the wearer autonomously without any input from a human pilot. While in flight, AirDog can record stable, high-quality video using it's GoPro and gimbal. Even rain, freezing temps, waves, or dangerous environments won't stop AirDog. See video below.

Image source: 3D Robotics

8. 3D Robotics IRIS+ : The 3DR IRIS+ combines the autonomous capabilities of the HEXO affordability of the DJI Phantom. It's gimbal-equipped and supports GoPro cameras. This $750 drone is capable of fifteen minute flight times and has a plethora of intuitive features that work alongside mobile devices. For example, users can draw flight paths right from their tablets and let the IRIS+ drone do the rest. On the move? The IRIS+ is capable of following you autonomously. For $750, this is the most affordable and advanced drone we've seen.

Troubleshooting Guide For The Hexbug/Vex Strandbeast

Having any problems with your newly purchased Hexbug/Vex Strandbeast? Follow the step by step guide to troubleshoot your robot. You can read our full review here.

Strandbeast won't turn on
Strandbeast can't connect to controller
Controller LED won't flash
Motor won't spin
LED on brain is red

If your Strandbeast won't turn on then I recommend checking the batteries inside the robot's brain. Make sure they're inserted correctly.

Turn on the controller. Hold down the brain's power button until it flashes red to green. Turn off the brain. Switch the button on the controller to "M" and then turn the brain back on. The brain's LED should flash green. You can now control the Strandbeast manually.

Check to see if the 9V battery is working and is facing the right direction. If it is, you may need to replace the controller.

Check to see if see the wires are connected to the brain. If not, plug them in. Here's how they should look.

Replace the batteries in the brain if the LED is red.

The Soft Robotics Toolkit Can Help You Build Your Own Soft Robot

Image source: Soft Robotics Toolkit

Soft robotics is an expanding field that deals with bio-inspired design and flexible, squishy building materials. Unlike regular metal or plastic made robots, soft robots are constructed with soft rubber materials. The use of biologically-inspired design and flexible materials allow these robots to act in a more "natural" way.

With the rise of home 3D printers, soft robots have escaped out of the research lab and into the hands of the average robot enthusiast. Sites like Thingiverse have been hubs for makers to host and share their own soft robot creations. Photo below is from thingiverse.com.

To help make soft robots more accessible and easier to build, Harvard's Biodesign Lab has created the Soft Robotics Toolkit. The site has documented a plethora of helpful resources and guides in which makers can use to advance the field of soft robotics. The guide lists parts needed to build soft robots as well as case studies by multiple researchers. Essentially, the site is aiming at advancing soft robotics through collaboration. Not a bad idea!

Hands-On Review Of The New Hexbug/Vex Strandbeast Kit

Hexbug has taken another big leap in their micro robots product line. The company has revealed that they will offer a new type of "build-it-yourself" Hexbug kits. As we're huge fans of the Hexbugs robots, we decided to write a hands-on review featuring the new Hexbug/Vex Strandbeast kit. Special thanks to Hexbug for providing us with this amazing product!

The premise behind this project is that it lets kids tinker and build their own working robot. The kit includes parts such as snap-together pegs to the more advanced microcontroller.

After snapping a few pics of the parts and box for SimpleBotics' Twitter and Instagram, I began constructing the robot. The build requires the repetitive snapping of plastic pieces and following along the robot's instruction packet. It took me approximately three hours to build with breaks in between. I highly recommend taking breaks during the build. Not giving your hands a break could leave them looking a bit like this.

Image source: Spongebob, Nick

Though the build took some time, keep in mind that this Strandbeast kit is huge! Here's a size comparison of the robot next to an Xbox 360 controller.

Being a remotely controlled robot requires some sort of receiver. The kit comes with a Hexbug/Vex robotics microcontroller that acts as the "brain" of the robot. Wiring up the motors and sensors to the brain is simple. It consists of snapping little connectors to each other and can be done in less than five minutes.

In addition to manual control, the Strandbeast has an autonomous mode. This mode is dictated by the robot's sensors and can be programmed using the switchboard on the robot's brain. There are 64 different programs that the robot can follow.

The robot's motors and sensors plugged into the brain

Overall, Hexbug's Strandbeast kit delivers bang for your buck. For $90, this robot offers a fun building experience and an awesome, crawling beast in the end. You can also order it on Amazon.

MIT's Cheetah Robot Runs Around Untethered For The First Time

Image source: MIT

The cheetah is known as the fastest land animal on the planet. With the ability to accelerate up to speeds of 60 mph in a few seconds, cheetahs are masters at bounding. But so is their machine counterpart.

The MIT cheetah has been seen before. It's been tested on treadmills and has reached speeds of 13 mph. As an ongoing project, MIT has made some noticeable upgrades to their robotic cheetah. Without a tether and bound by only the limitations of battery life, MIT's robotic cheetah was able to run at speeds of 10 mph. The robot was also able to jump over a 33 cm object.

To accomplish this feat of engineering, MIT researchers designed what they call a "bounding algorithm." The algorithm allows for each of the robot's legs to exert a certain amount of force each time it hits the ground. More speed requires a greater amount of force to be applied to the ground. This bounding effect allows the robot to propel forward at faster speeds than traditional legged robots.

The robot contains custom-designed, bio-inspired legs and custom motors. The combination of the motors and the bio-inspired legs allow the robot to output certain amounts of force without the need of sensors.

MIT hopes to have their cheetah robot sprinting at speeds of 30 mph.

Source: MIT News

HEXO+ Is An Autonomous Drone That Can Carry A GoPro

Imagine shooting high quality aerial video without the need for a cameraman or pilot. The team behind the HEXO+ drone has made that a reality.

The HEXO+ is a hexacopter drone that is intelligent, autonomous, and has the ability to track moving objects (person riding a dirt bike) in real-time. The Palo Alto-based startup, Squadrone System, held a successful Kickstarter campaign back in July and raised over $1 million for HEXO+.

Here's the Kickstarter video.

So how exactly does this smart-drone work? The developers behind the HEXO+ have designed the drone to track the user via a smartphone app. From inside the app, users can set recording angles and flight settings for the drone. The app also behaves as a tracking device for the drone.

Selecting the angle in which the drone will record.

After the user has set a recording angle, the HEXO+ connects to the smartphone via MAVLINK, automatically takes off, and starts filming. The drone can predict the moving subject's trajectory and anticipate where the subject will move using it's special tracking algorithms. On the downside, the drone can't detect objects in its surrounded environment. This means that the pilot has to set the drone's flight path so it's clear of any obstacles.  The drone is also able to land automatically.

The drone's design is robust and perfect for filming action videos from above. It's six, 30 degree angled blades attribute to the drone's maximum speed of 45 mph and its ability to carry a GoPro. While these speeds would normally make the onboard camera wobble around, the drone's gimbal attachment allows for stable video recording. In addition to these features, the HEXO+ has a battery life of just 15 minutes (extra batteries are $25), a weight of approximately 2.2 lb, a range of nearly 2 kilometers.

Here's some specs from the Kickstarter page.

  • Easy to use: set the framing on your smartphone and lock your target, the drone does the rest; from auto take-off to auto landing.
  • Smart and autonomous: no remote control necessary; HEXO+ automatically follows your movements to maintain the framing you defined.
  • Designed for action: lightweight, foldable frame and legs, removable propellers and gimbal to fit in a backpack.
  • Extra fast flight: up to 70 km/h - 45 mph top speed to track even the fastest subject. Wind tunnel tested for improved aerodynamics.
  • Extra stable: hexacopter design and 2D brushless gimbal to ensure vibration-free, smooth filming. 
  • Safe: Fail-safe software features and six propellers mean a safe landing in case of a problem.
  • GoPro compatible mount: built for the best action camera out there.
  • Optional 360cam mount: aerial 360° photos and videos! About 360cam.
  • Includes The Director's Toolkit: HEXO+ comes with a Garageband-like app to create filming scenarios with drag and drop, combinable camera movements: crane, 360° around you, dolly, far-to-close/close-to-far. Unleash your creativity.

As the campaign is now over, the HEXO+ is now available for pre-order and the first shipments are to arrive in May 2015. Click here more for information and to pre-order your own autonomous drone!

Source: hexoplus.com