Minutes of the PARTS meeting on August 2nd, 2003

President Pete Skeggs opened the meeting by asking how many PARTS members had attended any of the sessions at the recent O’Reilly open source developers’ conference. Pete attended a session about the new Intel robotics controller, presented by Myron Hattig of Intel. Pete said that Intel has decided that their first-generation controller was too expensive (board production was done out-of-house, and contributed to the increased cost). Intel engineers are currently doing a second-generation design.

Pete reminded everyone of several benefits of PARTS membership. We receive a 20% discount on O’Reilly books purchased on the O’Reilly website. We also receive a 25% discount on Parallax products. (This discount applies only to products designed and manufactured by Parallax, not to everything that Parallax sells.) Secretary Doug Arnold will get an updated membership list to Daryl Sandberg, who negotiated this club discount originally. Pete passed around the room an email that PARTS received from Evolution Robotics offering club members $100 off the purchase of an ER1 robotic platform, and $25 off the purchase price of ER1 accessories. If you were not at the meeting and are interested in details, send Pete an email at: president@portlandrobotics.org.

Pete announced that PARTS members have been invited to speak about robots at the August 13th meeting of the Portland PC Users Group. Pete and Larry Geib will address this group, and anyone else who wants to show and describe his/her robot may attend.

Pete showed the intro to Shawn Marshall’s DVD about PDXBOT.03, and promised that the entire program would be shown at the end of the regular meeting.

Pete announced that a list of monthly education topics for future PARTS meetings would be posted on the PARTS newsgroup. The education topic for this month was how to download code to robotic microcontrollers. Monty Goodson showed how to program the Atmel AVR8 (the processor used in his MEGAbitty board.) The Atmel processors are programmable with an ISP (in-system programming) interface, and don’t have to be removed from their circuit boards to be programmed. Monty used the Atmel development board that features an on-board programmer, and Atmel software to download his compiled program output in a .hex format. He uses an RS232-to-TTL voltage level converter between the computer where he edits and compiles his code to the development board.

Pete then did a PowerPoint demonstration of programming various manufacturers’ processors. His first demo was programming the Mark III mini sumo controller board using Hyperterminal (a configuration that is often problematic.) Pete showed that the key to a successful download is to specify a line delay of 100 msec in the Hyperterminal setup. The Mark III board uses Rick Farmer’s PICLoader in the processor. You must wait for the PIC memory to be cleared before you send the new .hex file. Pete also showed his “BotLoader”, which is easier to use than Hyperterminal. BotLoader automates some of the commands that have to be manually entered when using Hyperterminal.

Pete then showed how to program the Microchip flash PIC F87x series processors. He used a Warp-13 programmer board. This processor series does not require a bootloader; the memory that would normally be used for a bootloader is available for other uses (like controlling your robot!)

Pete then showed the steps required to program the Dallas Semiconductor TINI board. Pete’s TINI processor was plugged into a carrier board with serial and IrDA ports. Because this is a Java-based product, Pete said it can be kind of a pain to get it debugged and working properly. The initial program is loaded into the TINI processor via the serial port. Pete then downloaded a program named “Slush” that allows the TINI to be programmed via an Ethernet connection. This provides a Linux-like operating system. Once Slush is loaded, TINIServer can be started, allowing the processor to be accessed from the internet. Pete’s demonstration showed the circuit board temperature in a browser page.

Pete’s next example was the Kronos Robotics DIOS board. DIOS is an integrated development environment, similar to the Acroname BrainStem. You can edit your program, compile and download your code to the controller all within the DIOS development environment. Karl Boe mentioned that Kronos Robotics is now offering a DIOS Ultra board designed to mount on the Mk III mini sumo robot.

Next up was the Acroname BrainStem, a controller based on the Microchip 18F252 processor. This controller features ports for Sharp IR distance sensors and standard hobby servos, and is used in the new Acroname Garcia robot. You can edit your code in any text editor. Because this is an alternative to Java-based products, there are plenty of tea references. You launch a console program to “steep” (compile) your code into a “cup” (compiled source code). You then load the “cup” into the processor.

Pete’s final demo showed how to download to the OOPIC-1. Newer OOPIC chips have serial download capabilities. Your compiled program actually is loaded into a serial EEPROM, not the PIC chip itself. You normally edit, compile, download and verify from within your development environment.

The Show and Tell portion of the meeting started with Pete Skeggs passing around a report from the Robotics Engineering Task Force. This group was started by Intel, and seeks to establish common languages and protocols for robotics products.

Daryl Sandberg reported that MR2 appeared at OMSI last month. Daryl added a large capacitor close to his BS2 controller in an attempt to keep it from resetting. MR2 is still in Canada for filming of the Will Smith movie “I, Robot”. Daryl has started building Rudy Kouhoupt’s “Radial Five” engine that was featured in the May-June 2003 issue of Home Shop Machinist magazine.

Larry Geib showed his copy of a new book (and CD), “The Ultimate Palm Robot” that shows how to create a Palm-controlled robot. All robot functions are controlled serially. Larry said that most Palm PDAs have a more powerful processor than is typically used in hobbyist robotics. The latest Palm models use the ARM processor. Programs can be developed on a pc, and then downloaded to the Palm. Larry said that Palm offers a free Palm emulator that is pretty slick

Justin Tutor reported that he is headed off to college at Wooster Polytechnic Institute in only three weeks.

Monty Goodson gave a report on his trip to the 2003 RSA Robot Games in San Francisco. He said that the San Francisco show appears to have better media coverage and more attendance from major robotics manufacturer, but is far less organized than PDXBOT. Monty and Pete and Scott Davis showed the first micro sumo robots to compete in San Francisco. Sadly, Mousetrap suffered a broken wire on its line sensor, and backed out of the ring. Monty Goodson’s “Sprite” and Pete Skeggs’ “Lil PICcy” took first and second places, respectively, in the micro sumo competitions.

Sue McDonald, Vern Vertrees and Ralph Cellarius are haunted house enthusiasts who are interested in making the switch from pneumatic to electronic controls for their props. They’re interested in doing big (compared to our sumo robots) motion projects, and motor control is a real challenge. They have been using a “brick” that controls up to 8 units on 24-volt systems. They, and other haunted house enthusiasts, are always looking for better and better illusions; they suggested that anyone interested in an excellent prop check out the “Grim Organist”. They’re working on a haunted house to be located at the Willamette Marketplace in West Linn. Warren suggested they look into the MC5 theatrical controller if they wanted something that would run right out of the box without the necessity of learning a programming language.

Mark Medonis showed the new chin he made for Maxwell; it is lighter in weight and less floppy than his earlier design. Mark is using a new speech synthesizer from ReadPlease. He reports that AT&T has the best speech synthesizer on the market; the software and a library of phonemes is delivered on 2 CDs. AT&T sampled actual speech, and their product uses the same interface as the older Microsoft product that Mark has been using. Several languages are available in both male and female voices.

Karl Boe reported that he hasn’t finished Blockhead; he has been working on a model steam engine for his father, and that his kept him busy lately. Karl hopes to have Blockhead done in the fall. Karl has been corresponding with Michael Simpson at Kronos Robotics on a regular basis, and plans to build the new Kronos MkIII DIOS Ultra controller.

Paul Burkey reported that Henry Tillman, Jr, has been buying robotics companies in the Northwest.

Once the Show and Tell session was officially ended, Monty Goodson showed some photos and short videos he had taken at the RSA Robot Games. Subjects included shots of an Atmel Butterfly board showing the 100-degree-plus temperature inside the non-air-conditioned van, videos of the Fujitsu HOAP robot, an octopod scorpion, a segmented “snake” with servos at each joint, a micro-sumo-sized hexapod made of PCB material, and a video of Tim Weaver’s “Solo” versus “Land Shark”.

Following Monty’s slide show, everyone got to see Shawn Marshall’s DVD documenting the competition and exhibits at PDXBOT.03.

The next PARTS meeting will be Saturday, September 6th at 10:30 am in PCAT 28.