Swarm Robotics Week 1: Hats, Limes, and Wheelies

Hey! I’m back with my first Senior Experience project update! This past week I hit the ground running on the first steps of building my swarm robots.

The first order of business was the build the drones: the individual robots of my swarm, the “worker bees”. I began by looking for inspiration from existing swarm robots. Although I’m going to be an engineering major next year, at heart, I’m an artist. I’m always thinking about how the things I build make people feel and how design elements evoke emotion. Swarm Robotics is a complicated topic, but I hope to convey it to people more easily by incorporating visual language into the design of my swarm. The basis of swarm robots is that each individual robot is extremely simple, so I was inspired to design each of my robots as one of the simplest forms in existence: the cube.

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But before I could even get to prototyping the robot’s body, I had to gather my components. Since I only need my robot to be able to move in an XY-plane and communicate wirelessly, I only needed four electrical components:

  • WiFi Microcontroller

  • 2x Continuous rotation servo motors

  • Small rechargeable battery

The only other parts I needed were two wheels to let the robot drive itself around!

Once I got all my parts, I went on to designing the robot. I settled on a two-piece design for the drone: one body piece and one “hat”. The body houses all the components I just listed and uses magnets to slot into the hat. The hat is a merely a cover for the robot. Each drone in the swarm will need to be a different color (for reasons we will talk about later), so having the hats as an interchangeable part will make producing these drones easier.

The body of the drone

While this all may sound simple on paper, it actually took quite a while to design this. I used a program called Fusion 360 to make 3D schematics for the drone, and then used a 3D printer to turn the schematics into real parts. Even then though, the parts did not fit perfectly, and I had to iterate many versions of the design.

All 10 prototypes of the robot’s body

All 10 prototypes of the robot’s body

While I was waiting for my robot parts to be 3D printed, I began experimenting with the PixyCam. Most cameras, like the one on your phone, only sees individual pixels of color. The PixyCam on the other hand, can actually understand what it is seeing. This is a hard thing to describe with words, so here’s a video of me using the PixyCam to recognize limes:

Eventually, I am going to use the PixyCam as a sensor for every drone in the robot swarm. It will track the location of the robots so that the swarm knows where its moving.

While I write this, I am finishing up the final version of the drone. Next week, I am going to make the drone to move, get it connected to the Internet, and make it talk to the PixyCam.