Skill Builder: Build a Wobbler

In the latest issue of MAKE, Volume 27, the always-awesome Howtoons project column shows you how to build a wobbly little walker using two servomotors and some plastic coat hanger hooks for eccentric wheegs. While this is not really a robot, it’s a fun project for teaching kids some bot basics, like the important robot-building technique of hacking servos for continuous rotation and using Tupperware as a bot body (very handy). Here’s a free PDF download of the two-page spread from the magazine.

Robot Skill Builder series
Robotics section of Make: Projects

From the Pages of MAKE

MAKE 27MAKE Volume 27, Robots!
The robots have returned! MAKE Volume 27 features a special package with robotics projects for every age and skill level. They play music; they outwit your pets; they learn from their mistakes! In addition, we’ll show you how to build a special aquarium to keep jellyfish, create pre-Edison incandescent lighting, spy via the internet, and make a go-anywhere digital message board! All this and much, much more, in MAKE Volume 27.

On newsstands July 26! Buy or Subscribe


Meet the Makers from MAKE Volume 27: Roboticist DJ Sures

Photo of DJ Sures for MAKE by Colin Way

DJ Sures Is a roboticist living in Calgary, Alberta. He is the designer of the EZ-B Robot Controller, which converts toys into interactive robots. In MAKE Volume 27, DJ wrote an introduction to the EZ-B Robot Controller and explained how to use it to make a Ball Chasing Digger Robot.

Are you a DJ or is that just your first name?
My name is DJ Sures. I was named after my grandparents, which resulted in the initials DJ, which I’ve been called since birth. I’ve always liked having the initials, but you can imagine it causes confusion amongst musical DJs. So, one of my biggest griefs online has been getting confused as a musician rather than a uber geek. Google still has a hard time determining the difference!

What’s your line of work? Does it relate to your interest in robotics?
I’m a software developer who works on contract with tight deadlines or projects that need to be re-railed. I’ve worked in almost every industry and have always found robotics to be the place I find most comfortable. During my work in network security, I did projects in artificial intelligence for a protection strategy called “Live Firewalls.” I eventually found myself doing robot control for the oil and gas industry, as well as custom PLC design. During this time I was building robots as a hobby to exercise techniques I learned through contracts.

What are your other interests?
Outside of being geek, I’m active in many high-adrenaline sports, such as snowboarding, downhill mountain biking, auto racing, and I’m even an ex-bobsleigh brakeman. To stay creative, my mother taught me piano at a young age which resulted in a small electronic home studio that adds to the musical DJ confusion. I’m originally from Thunder Bay, Ontario, where my very supportive and proud family lives. I’ve lived in many cities and found Calgary Alberta to be a place I now call home.

Above: This is the a robot built by DJ Sures using the EZ-B Robot Controller and the EZ-Builder Robot Control Software. Visit for more information on how to build your own Wall-E.

How did you become interested in robotics?
It’s probably best that my mother answers this question, she would tell you some funny stories of her “talented son turning anything into a robot” at a young age. I’ll try my best to replicate what she would say… One of the most famous stories my mother tells is of me turning one of my younger brother’s diaper boxes into a remote control robot out of 2 R/C cars at the age of 10 or 11. I always wanted the high-tech toys (which were the most expensive) and she knew they would be taken apart right away! Like the rest of us makers, I would fall asleep at night dreaming of having my own K.I.T., Johnny 5, or now, Wall-E. My insomnia is fueled by an active imagination that causes me to jump out of bed at awful hours to start coding an idea before I forget it. Eventually, my passion for robotics lead to the my current path, a path that I’m grateful to experience.

You’ve been designing robots for a long time. What is their appeal?
I get very excited when asked about what I love about making robots and helping others do the same. My family was very involved in electronics and computers, which is why I learned to solder before I could read. I was programming in basic on an Apple ][e before first grade. Because of my family's involvement with technology, I was surrounded by the controversial Apple vs. Microsoft vs. IBM vs. Hobbyists. I watched Apple take an idea of desktop computing and approach large companies with their dream. These companies laughed and said "computers belong in basements of large business, not desks for home users!" Well, Apple released the computer to the hobbyist, the makers of that era. These hobbyists were no different than you or I, who spend our days in touch with the troubles of getting things done for their employers. The hobbyist goes home, turns on the computer, and begins writing a program to solve the problems they recognize throughout their day. It was the hobbyist that put the computer on the desk. The hobbyist wrote the software that boosted computers into the dependency role they enjoy today. I see a similarity with robotics now. Building robots was satisfying for my own inner child. Since I created the EZ-Robot project, it has been fueled by a vision of makers building robots in the same fashion that amateur programmers did in the 80s. Every robot I build exercises a new technique and concept that I add to my software and release to the public; knowing it is benefiting others puts a huge smile on my face. My robots are not as mechanically refined as some of the other upcoming projects we will see from the EZ-Robot Community, but they are an influence to kick start a revolution of bringing robots into our homes and daily life. In short, I build robots to inspire others to do the same so we can experience the sci-fi future we've read about in books, watched in movies and dreamt at night.

Tell us about Ball Chasing Digger Robot you created for the current issue of MAKE.
The Ball Chasing Digger Robot that I made for MAKE was, like all of my robots, an interesting surprise; even to me! I never plan what I'm going to make, it just happens. I was having a lengthy brainstorm conversation with [MAKE executive editor] Paul Spinrad one day, and we shot some ideas around about a Thomas The Train Engine. I usually procrastinate until I feel a creative urge! One day too close to the deadline, I woke up and visited a few second hand stores, Toys-R-Us and finally, Walmart. Recycling old toys into new techno-bots has been my passion because I am still a child at heart, and these toys are still new to me. After a small amount of frustration in not finding an inspiring toy, I at last stumbled upon a $10 pull-toy named Digger from Walmart. Like the Hollywood view from a robot’s perspective, my mind overlaid a camera and modified servos onto the robot and I instantly purchased Digger and rushed home.

Once I examined Digger, the Dremel was soon cutting away to make room for its upgrades. It’s funny that his stickered-on eyes look up with a pouty expression that asked “What are you doing to me?” Within a few hours and few tweaks to the EZ-Builder software, he was already chasing the red ball. I grabbed my camera and put together a quick video to proudly send to Paul. That night, we spoke and I excitedly told him about Digger. He watched the video the next day and we were both relieved with the outcome. EZ-Builder’s Color Tracking Control was refined and created with Digger’s influence. To the readers now, you’ll find many new camera tracking methods in the Camera Control, including Facial Tracking and Motion Tracking. For being a small dog, Digger played a large part to the EZ-Robot Community!

What’s your idea of a dream robot?
People ask “Can you build me a robot that washes dishes?,” and I get a big kick out of pointing the dishwasher. We dream of a robot to help us through the simple struggles in life. I leave the home assistance robots to the community to develop. I would personally love to see robots used to help people with disabilities and ill-health. For my passion, I consider my robots a comforting friend or pet for mental health. I do enjoy my friends, but I dream of building a bot that greets me at the door and asks about my day. One that makes me laugh with its odd personality, and most importantly, doesn’t get stuck when I’m not home. Most of my time is spent on environmental mapping and camera tracking for my robots. It’s nerve-racking to leave my house with a robot autonomously navigating alone and wondering what kind of mess he’ll make before I get home. This must be what parents feel like when they leave their child home alone for the first time!

From the Pages of MAKE

MAKE 27MAKE Volume 27, Robots!
The robots have returned! MAKE Volume 27 features a special package with robotics projects for every age and skill level. They play music; they outwit your pets; they learn from their mistakes! In addition, we’ll show you how to build a special aquarium to keep jellyfish, create pre-Edison incandescent lighting, spy via the internet, and make a go-anywhere digital message board! All this and much, much more, in MAKE Volume 27.

On newsstands July 26! Buy or Subscribe


Make: Projects – Water Bath Thermostat

This project was inspired by Cooking for Geeks author Jeff Potter’s quick DIY sous-vide hack. My plan, initially, was to just hack the controller into an enclosure with an A/C outlet, the idea being that you could just plug any heater you wanted into the outlet.

Looking around for cheap temperature controllers, however, I happened across the STC-1000 on eBay for $25. It’s not PID, but it has proven to be accurate enough for almost any practical purpose. And since the STC-1000 has both heating and cooling functions built-in, the logical next step seemed to be to split a single A/C outlet so that you could plug a heater or a cooler (or both) into it and use it for all kinds of stuff.

The STC-1000 will regulate at any temperature between the freezing and boiling points of water, which opens up all kinds of potential applications in chemistry, aquaculture, zymurgy, hydroponics, cooking, etc., etc. And unlike most other water temperature controllers I’ve seen around, this one can operate in heat only, cool only, and heat-or-cool-as-necessary modes.



Toolbox: Design Your Own Fonts With Fontstruct


One of the first ways amateur type designers learn to create a font is by piecing together shapes in a vector design program like Adobe Illustrator. When the glyphs look the way you want, you can drop the vectors into a program like Fontlab that manages kerning, point sizes, and so on, then outputting an OTF or TTF file that your computer recognizes as a font.

Well, with Fontstruct, not only don’t you need a vector art program, you don’t even need a font utility. An interactive app on the website does it all.

Let’s take a look at how it works. You begin with a grid, with a library of shapes (called “bricks”) that you can use to form each letter. Simply click on the brick you want, then click on the square you want that particular brick. Handy tool windows float over your work area, though in truth you don’t need much beyond the bricks to make a font. Speaking of bricks, you have a lot to choose from — over a hundred. However, any time you include a brick in your font, it appears in the My Bricks pane so there’s less chance of wasting time looking for the right one.

OK, let’s say you create your font, a rather challenging task if you consider there are 52 letters as well as numerals, punctuation, accents, and so on — but if you do it, more power to ya! But what’s next?

Fonstruct lets you output your creation as a True Type font (.ttf) which most computers can handle. The only caveat is that the license is limited to Community Commons (CC-BY-SA) so you can’t sell it — but the utility is free, so that seems fair. Along the same lines, other people’s creations may be downloaded as TTFs or cloned, which means that you can create a copy to save to your “My Fonstruct” area for future tweaking. Users have even used the tool to create fontified pixel art.

Finally, one of the tools I found the most intriguing was the ability to embed the font in a web page. This means that the visitor’s browser downloads the font data so that the glyphs render as they’re supposed to without the requirement that the visitor have the TTF loaded onto his or her computer.

FontStruct: It’s cool, it’s easy, it’s powerful, and it’s free. Check it out!


Papercraft Nyan Cat Automata

Rachel @ CRAFT points to this print-at-home papercraft Nyan Cat automata. This project combines so many meme types, I think I just blew a circuit.


The Batman Equation

Reportedly, the equation above plots as the figure below, which is…familiar from somewhere. Can’t quite put my finger on it. [via Boing Boing]



In the Maker Shed: Ultimate Microcontroller Pack

Ultimate Microcontroller Pack
The Ultimate Microcontroller Pack from the Maker Shed includes everything you need to dive right into the world of microcontollers. The 100+ components allow you to complete nearly any online tutorial without having to source individual parts. Everyone from beginners to advanced users will appreciate all that the Ultimate Microcontroller Pack has to offer. Available in four different flavors; with Arduino, with Netduino, with Netduino Plus and without a microcontroller for those that just need the parts. This really is the ultimate parts assortment!


Steampunk Lego Clock Model

I like so many details in this beautiful clock model by Lego builder Matt “monsterbrick” Armstrong. First, he used a very clever series of hinges to form the rounded face of the clock. Second, the camels/llamas/whatever on the sides make great golden decorations! Finally, the frosted transparent panels at the base add an elegant touch. Also check out monsterbrick’s steampunk Lego phone!


Cable Tie Cacti

Artist Brian Jewett made these modern-materials versions of traditional coil baskets using garden hose, cable ties, and spigot handles. He has posted some after-the-fact photos and a written how-to over on Instructables, in response to last week’s Zip Tie Challenge.

Massive Zip Tie Sculpture


Swarming Quadrotor Landing Pad

What does every Quadrotor enthusiast look for in a landing platform? If you guessed swarming robots, pat yourself on the back. Yes, as if taking off and landing weren’t hard enough, now you’ve got to wait for your landing surface to assemble itself. Luckily the folks at Georgia Robots and Intelligent Systems Lab are hard at work perfecting the process. [via GeekyGadgets]


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