Linkbot + SmartThings = Awesomeness!

We recently got the SmartThings Maker Kit and have had a great time playing with the functionality when paired with the Linkbot. Robots bridge the gulf between the digital world and physical world, and now, with the SmartThings Hub, you can control the Linkbot with your smart phone from anywhere in the world!

Our goal was this: Solve a problem that most people have utilizing only one Linkbot and the SmartThings Hub. First we were thinking goldfish feeder, or maybe auto-adjusting window blinds, but we settled on the Linkbot Gardener. Whenever I go on long trips my plants suffer, but no longer!

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*Garden hat sold separately… :-)

The Linkbot has a $1 conductivity sensor in the soil to measure moisture, and a $1 conductivity sensor in the cap to measure if the bottle is out of water. You can set the Linkbot to water automatically or use your SmartThings App to water it remotely!


We’ve used the ThingShield to control the Linkbot so far, but we have Zigbee built into each module and we’re working on a wireless control straight from the SmartThings Hub. If you have any thirsty plants, check out our Kickstarter:



“Pop the Trunk, I’m Running Across the Freeway to Maker Faire!”

Thank you so much to all our early backers for making the launch of Linkbot on Kickstarter such a success! The last few days have been a whirlwind, so I’m dedicating the next hour to writing our first update, sorry if it’s rough, but I’ve got to share some stories from the days leading up to the launch and the awesome people we’ve met so far.

It was our “plan” to launch the Linkbot Kickstarter last Friday (day before Maker Faire), but after weeks of building robots and shooting video we were running a little late! I finished uploading the video and content to Kickstarter and pushed submit around 4:30am, slept an hour, and my wife and I jumped in the car, picked up a few team members and headed to San Mateo Saturday morning! We read that 120k+ people were expected this year at Maker Faire, and it showed on the freeway! After traveling 100 feet in half an hour I wasn’t sure if we’d make it by the time the gates opened… At some point we saw a section of freeway fence leaning over, so we jumped out of the car, grabbed some robots out of the trunk, ran across the freeway, hopped the fence, and serendipitously flagged down a taxi driving by. We went from gridlock to through the Main Gate of Maker Faire in under 15 minutes! (Thank you Natalie for spending another 2 hours in traffic… xoxo) Still riding the sleep deprived high of what we’d just done, we met up with the rest of our team and put robots in the hands of hundreds of kids and Makers as they visited our booth.


But there was a problem, a few hours into the event our Kickstarter was still “pending”. I’d read somewhere that there was a several day approval process, but hadn’t put two and two together that this was AFTER the Amazon approval process. What a bummer and oversight on my part. It was tough to work so hard for so long and not have it go live… and that’s when we met John from Kickstarter! “Cool robot, you’re doing a Kickstart?” Yep. “Is it live yet?” Nope. “Well, let’s take you out of your misery!” Well, long story short, John reviewed and approved our Kickstarter in our booth at Maker Faire borrowing our neighbor’s internet so the campaign could go live Saturday! I always thought of Kickstarter as this nameless mechanism, but after meeting John and talking to him about the community and their mission it was obvious that they really care and spend a lot of time thinking about the projects on their site!


The staff at the Maker Faire really went above and beyond to make things go smoothly for us. For being an event with major sponsors like AutoDesk and Intel, they worked really for us, the little guy. For example, we were at a press event last Thursday where Dale Dougherty announced a new partnership with Radio Shack and I went up to introduce myself to him, a little star struck. He was super busy and after waiting a few minutes I decided to take off. Well, after packing up our robots we were half way out the door when Dale Dougherty ran across the room to stop us. He’d seen us waiting to talk and apologized for being too busy, and called us the “robot guys”, which was a complete geek-out moment for me. Totally cool guy and his whole organization, from top to bottom, gave off this friendly, professional vibe. I really think that’s the magic of the Maker community, everyone coming together to help make something great happen.

So, after two days of thousands of people coming to our booth to create with robots, Maker Faire was over. Some modules took some serious falls to concrete, but they held up great no broken modules. Also, the batteries lasted 4 hours on average, which was awesome!


Thank you again to everyone who pledged already! If you’re excited about these robots please help us spread the word about the Linkbot. We’re trying to do something new that will let anyone create with robots, and we need your help. Please “Like” our Facebook page and post ideas on our wall for what you’re going to use the Linkbot to do. We might pick one of your ideas and run with it for our next video post. :-)

Ok, back to work!


Education in The 21st Century

“…I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy… We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math.”
President Barack Obama, February 12, 2013

Just recently (April 10, 2013), President Obama announced the budget plan for the fiscal year of 2014. In this budget, the president has included a $3.1 billion investment in STEM education, an increase of 6.7% in funding from 2012. While the budget is still up for debate in congress, at the very minimum, it shows the administration’s strong determination to improve STEM education.

President Obama’s decision reflects the growing focus on providing students the resources they need to qualify for jobs in the STEM field (i.e Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). While we expect to see 1 million new job openings in fields of STEM today, there will only be 200,000 graduating students that qualify for these positions.

Barobo created the Mobot educational robot for this very reason; we believed that STEM subjects should be fun and easy to understand.

Last year Barobo sponsored STEM Day, where students were tasked to direct their Mobots in such a way that they navigated around obstacles through a course to capture an object. Not only did the mission challenge their problem solving and team-building skills, but it also tested the students’ ability to code in C++ and exercised their skills in geometry.

In the end, this event not only served to enhance the quality of STEM education, but also created opportunities for students to master skills in creativity, collaboration and communication. Skills that are also essential to succeed in an increasingly competitive and complex world. A place that Eric Schmidt describes as “fueled by globalization, automation and demographics.” Yet, as experts such as Sir Ken Robinson have pointed out, creative talent has been neglected by our educational system for several decades.

When paired with strong curriculum, the Mobot can meet the rapidly rising demand for a quality STEM learning environment to improve the creativity and technical skills of young people.



Incubator allows local business to take root

An entrepreneur may have all the qualities required to run a successful business, but it could all be for naught if he or she lacks a fleshed-out business model, convincing sales pitch or a network of experts to call upon.

But with Davis Roots in town, such things should daunt those with incentive no longer.

Davis Roots is a local start-up business accelerator created by Anthony Costello and Andy Hargadon, who launched the program last May. So far, two businesses and local leaders have nothing but good things to say about their presence.

“The community response — from locals, the city and the university — has been great. People really get it,” Costello said. “If we take small companies coming out of the university and keep them here — there’s all sorts of tangent, trickle-down benefits for Davis.”


A journey of a thousand miles…

By Alexander FundThe design of the foot began with the desire to improve upon the walking motion that a 3
Mobot configuration with a 4×4 snap connector could do. In this new configuration, the feet snap connectors would shift the center of mass from side to side instead of using a third Mobot.

To determine an approximate angle for the feet, the center of mass for each Mobot was first assumed to be in the center of each Mobot and the mass influence of the snap connector was ignored. In the 2 Mobot configuration, the center of mass would then be located midway up the Mobots and directly in between them. With this point known, the angle at which the configuration could be tilted to transfer the center of mass directly over the inner edge of the Mobot was determined to be approximately 11.25 degrees. When visually tested with a Mobot configuration, the angle felt too large and was reduced based on inspection. The configuration was propped up at varying angles until it balanced which resulted in elevating the inner foot approximately 0.2 inches or tilting the configuration at an angle of approximately 7.59 degrees.

To test this foot angle, simple feet were prototyped. Upon testing, the Mobot configuration
could balance on each foot, and a walking program was developed. However, the simple feet did not convey a smooth walking motion as the feet ended with sharp edges.

To generate a smooth walking motion, a curved “toe” was added to the front of the foot. The foot curve was designed to match the simple foot walking motion such that the Mobot configuration would rock forward instead of going through a programmed motion. Fillets and a spline curve cut were then added to make the foot look more like a foot.

Experimental ribbing


Reinventing the Wheel

A tale of adventure and self-discovery at Barobo Inc.

By Brian Broderick

“Brian, I need you to design a new wheel for the Mobot.” Graham, founder and head engineer of Barobo, went on to explain that the new wheel model would have to interface well with both carpeted and smooth surfaces, in addition to being robust enough to survive the frequent drops and bumps that occur in the classroom environment. These were my first real design problems of my first real project at my first real job and the intensity of the moment was palpable. I knew nothing about wheels, even less about designing them, but I also knew great engineering begins with fearless grit. So, with nothing but an internet full of resources and a freshly installed copy of SolidWorks, I quelled my inhibitions and embarked on the journey of a lifetime.

Engineers and laymen alike know the intimidation of beginning a new project. Not knowing where to begin and in a slight panic, I racked my memory for any experience I Lego tirehad with wheels. Inspiration came, surprisingly enough, from my childhood: the LEGO tire, a regular component of my juvenile creations. Both functional and simple, the lego tire has tread sections alternating on either side providing good traction while maintaining a constant radius for smooth rolling. It was as good a start as any, so the question became: how could I redesign the features of this timeless classic to work with the mobot? The most prudent modification seemed to be a rounded rolling surface to maintain good contact even when the Mobot wasn’t fully extended and, after some rough sketches and a design check with Graham, I began to CAD model my first part.

Based on Lego tireThe geometry of the wheel was fairly simple, little more than a flat disk with a few cuts and extrusions. But, as I progressed in the modeling process, I began to feel something primal stir within me. Seeing the growingly complex features appear beneath my mouse cursor, the sensation that Michelangelo must have had while carving David became very clear to me. This was the manifestation of thought in reality, a chasmic leap from the neurons of my mind to the pixels of my computer screen. Unlike Michelangelo though, I was unbound by the the limits of stone and chizzle. All I could conceive was possible and as I delved deeper into the design, the boundary between imagination and reality became as nebulous as a thin fog. In short, I was Ellen Page in Inception, though much less attractive.

Once I had tasted the sweet nectar of design, I knew I could never return to the tranquil docility of my earlier life and design became the fixation of my every waking minute. Fortunately, though, Barobo was an oasis of design possibilities and the open ended wheel project gave me the opportunity to satiate my creative cravings. I began to create models of growing complexity and absurdity, monstrosities better suited to science fiction films that children’s robots. As I felt the fingers of insanity clawing at my mind, Graham descended to my rescue with a revelation that wrenched me from my mania and refocused me on the mission like a starving cheetah on a limping gazelle. The original design derived from the Lego tire was adequate, he thought, but now what was needed was to convert it to a two-half, shell design that could snap together for simple and rapid assembly and save on material costs by allowing dead space in the interior. He went on to informed me, in a tone the betrayed nothing of the immense gravity of his words, that the part I was designing might ultimately be plastic injection molded.

I spent the next few days frantically researching snap connection joints. With our circular geometry, an annular snap joint like those found on over-the-counter tylenol bottles seemed ideal. It would allow for quick, secure, and irreversible assembly and would integrate well into the interior space of the model. Snap connectors, however, generally require overhang. This complicated the project somewhat because plastic molds that can form overhang are typically very expensive. My only chance at avoiding this added expense would be to design my part so that it could be molded using what’s called a “bump-off”. This is where the freshly molded plastic stretches around overhanging features of the mold when being ejected from the mold, allowing an overhang on the part to be formed without expensive extra techniques. After designing a prototype of the part and submitting it to our plastic injection service I found that while one half of the design would, indeed, be compatible with the bump-off process, the other half that required overhang on the exterior rim would be impossible without using the expensive methods.

After explaining the situation to graham and showing him some alternative snap connector options we decided that a two-sided design might be more of a complication than simplification and discussion began on possible single part designs. After modeling a few potentials, we became enamored of a treaded wheel with a central rib to allow for an even rolling surface. The design was very mold-friendly, requiring no overhang and having space for generous draft angles for easy removal from the mold. Initially, I was eager to include a series of exotic-looking reinforcement ribs to brace the tread of the tire. However, after I submitted the model for evaluation by the molding service I found that forming the ribs in a mold would add a great deal of expense and, because they were more cosmetic than functionally necessary, we decided to have them removed to reduce expense. Even after the ribs were removed, the treaded wheel was still very expensive to mold, so in a further attempt, I reduced the width of the wheel. While the width reduction did reduce the cost somewhat, it still wasn’t enough to drop it blow our price goal.

After discussing the economics of the situation, Graham and I decided that that a plastic injection wheel like the one I had designed probably wouldn’t be viable for production until later in the company’s development when higher sales could offset the steep entry expense of creating the mold. My part wasn’t shelved completely, though, as there was still the potential for it to be produced and sold on a limited scale through plastic printing. The model in its current state, while very good for plastic injection molding, wasn’t well suited to plastic printing as it would require a large amount of support material to build the center rolling ring as the wheel was printed layer by layer laying on its side. So, the next task became altering the model so that it could be efficiently plastic printed. The modifications involved reducing the wall thickness and removing the unneeded surface drafts to save on material as well as shifting the rolling ring to the interior side of the wheel to reduce the support material requirements during printing. The new wheel looked significantly different from the original, plastic-injection model and ultimately, when Graham was deciding which to print for testing he decided that he liked the original with the center rolling ring better than the one modified for plastic printing despite the original’s additional printing cost.

It felt fantastic to hold my own part, especially given the long road that had led to it’s creation. The biggest lesson I learned was to be flexible in my thinking. At several stages of the design I ultimately was inefficient in my time use because I was focused too much on a particular kind of solution to the given problem rather than thinking outside of the box for a better suited solution. I probably should have identified more quickly the inescapable expense of an annular snap connector joint and found an alternative rather than spending excess time trying to figure out how to tweak the geometry to make it affordable. Additionally, I learned the importance of keeping the limits of the manufacturing process in mild while designing. I could have saved a lot of time in my attempts at price saving modifications on the injection molded model if I had remembered that deep thin features and small radius corners add a lot of expense to molds. All these lessons will be invaluable moving forward, though, and in the end I’m confident the speed and efficiency they’ll facilitate in my later work will be well worth the mistakes required to learn them.

How to Make a Robot – 3 Key Ingredients

Robot kits come in all different shapes and sizes; some are remote controlled, others are controlled by a computer program. But what really goes into making a robot?

NASCAR pit crews use pneumatic robotics to quickly change tires

In every robot, you’ll notice three consistent things. The first is the ability to move. This movement is generated most commonly by electric motors, but it could also be hydraulics (like a tractor backhoe), pneumatic (like the air gun Nascar pit crew use to pull the wheel off a car) or even muscle wires where you apply an electrical charge and the wires get shorter.

The second thing you need is sensing. This could be as simple as a switch that gets bumped to tell the robot to turn or as complex as a 3D laser scanner! More and more things in our world are becoming “robotic” in this way. For example, some cars have sensors in on the rear bumper that will stop the car if there’s something in the way, even if the driver doesn’t see it. The car is becoming more and more aware the the world around it.

Students use C++ to program robots

And finally, the last part is intelligence. Doesn’t matter how many ways the robot can move or how many ways it can sense the world if it doesn’t know how to interpret that information. Usually a computer program is created to interpret the data and respond accordingly. Remote control of robots is kind of similar to this, but instead of a computer being the brain, you are! You’re eyes are the sensors and you control the way the robot moves using the remote control.