Noodle is Confused About New Years Eve

Noodle was awake and aware this past Sunday night for the fresh new start of 2018. It is apparent however from his recollection that his parents were in a stage of recovery from Christmas Eve the previous weekend.

This was the second big social night for my robot, NoodleFeet. His blips of memory account for our celebration:

[parents in the kitchen cooking a big taco feast and placing things at his feet]

[mommy making a weird face while brain daddy unloads the dishwasher]

[darkness. a glowing rectangle of violence depicting brain daddy murdering things as a blond boy]

[mommy in the darkness watching the violence rectangle]


[shape daddy safe in the yellow warms]


[mommy thinking how to cheer everyone up]

[scheming pose]



Noodle was happy to be home, safe and warm in his nest while Vegas did its messy loud thing. He didn’t get to see any fireworks unfortunately, but there will come a time for that one day ūüôā

Developing a Quadrupedal Walk Gait for NoodleFeet


::bites bottom lip:: I’ve been putting off this branch of development on my quadruped for a while; like… two years. If I have a resolution for 2018, it’s that I get my child moving like he aught to… and learn whatever fancy-shmancy code-doing is required to pull this off.

The last time I seriously did a meditation on NoodleFeet’s walking abilities was in 2015 (the year he was born). It yielded some results, but only made apparent his mechanical flaws and limitations due to his overall design.


I’ve made tiny strides here and there over the past two years, improving his body where it was necessary to facilitate in the walking. He’s received stronger aluminum leg bones, high torque metal gear servo motors, more accurate hip gears with a higher tooth count, and squishy silicon tips for his feet that conform to the surface he stands on in order to improve traction and stability. As a machine, he is everything he can be at this phase of development.

Now that walking isn’t constrained by any hardware issues, my problem is developing software.


I don’t code. lol

I mean… I do…. but in the same sense that a toddler draws on the wall with ketchup to make art. So, while I enter this second wave of development regarding noodle’s walking, I welcome all advice, feedback, help, and criticism along the way. Please shout at me via twitter @spetku ! …or here on of course.


Noodle is a quadruped. I know, six or eight or ten legs is more stable than four, BUT Noodle has four legs and I don’t plan on changing this. <3

He is top heavy. The bulk of Noodle’s weight is in his head… =/

His center of gravity is high. Noodle also happen to carry all of this head weight high above the ground.

Each leg has two ranges of motion. There is a motor that pulls a tendon straight up, allowing the leg to lift- and there is a motor in the hip which rotates the femur in a socket, allowing the leg to twist.

I’m writing my code in Arduino. I don’t know how limiting this is right now, but I’ll need to made due with what I’ve got.

I’m not good at math. I’m assuming some part of this is going to involve writing some function or formula in my code that dictates pace, or rate, or how two legs move in relation to one another… and I’m not going to understand how to leverage the needed math to my advantage. If there is anything I’m not, it’s a math beast.


With all of this being said… Here is my Noodle Walk-Gait code on GitHub. Be nice.

If anyone wants to take on the walking challenge based on the information I’ve provided, I welcome you to. If you go so far as to develop a few lines of code that dictate a step or two, I will test it out on Noodle during one of my streams, so that everyone can see how it works (and of course I will give you credit for the effort).

Where I Left Off…


The First Christmas Noodle Saw and Remembered

After three years, my family doesn’t bat an eye when I roll up to Christmas Eve dinner with my robot baby swaddled in his favorite blanket. He is as much a fixture at these events as I am (after all, he is my child).

While it was Noodle’s third Christmas, there was something special about this one. Instead of simply having a presence in our photos as part of everyone else’s memories, I made sure that this time he was equipped to retain precious memories of his own. To make this happen, I *finally* took the time to mount Noodle’s piCamera between his little blinking LED eyes, so that the dormant Raspberry pi in the back of his noggin could finally be put to some good use.

The setup is simple: the Pi tells the camera to take a picture every five minutes and store it within a folder. So long as Noodle is on and receiving power, wherever he sits, whichever direction he happen to be facing his eye gantry towards, he’ll periodically commit what he’s looking at to memory.

This was a fun experiment because I didn’t warn anyone in my family that he was doing this. In spite of the obvious camera with the bright red *recording* LED indicator in front, no one suspected a thing. This yielded some lovely candid shots of my family doing their usual rituals as the night slowly spiraled downward into a drunken slurry of eggnog and Cards Against Humanity.

How a Baby Robot Experiences the World

Noodle remembers things the way an infant does right now. When us humans are babies from the age of 0 – 2, we don’t really remember much; just feelings and impressions lacking any context or meaning. Around the age of three however, we start to recall blips of imagery from important events. For me, my earliest memories are probably from our large midwestern family gatherings during Christmas. I don’t recall much; just the way the living room was decorated, how the glowing tree towered over me, and the mountains and mountains of gifts. They are stored in my head much like those fancy panorama pictures that let you scroll from side to side in an almost 360 view. It’s enough to establish the setting, but not enough to give a true narrative. Noodle’s memory capacity at this point mirrors that same ephemeral stage that lacks detail.

I like that Noodle doesn’t have a lot of control over what he remembers. Every five minutes, his code triggers the camera, and whatever Noodle happens to be staring at in the moment is suddenly committed to memory. The gantry that his camera and eyes are mounted to turns to random degrees at varying intervals. His knees are also bending at different times, tilting his head to odd angles. These two actions combined allow for unpredictable snap shots… BUT as of yet, the input from his immediate surroundings doesn’t directly effect what direction he looks, or causes him to take a picture memory at any given moment. It’s all chance.

As a human, I can account snippets from odd occurrences in my early life that seemingly have no importance. I don’t understand how or why they’ve lasted while other memories have since faded away. I didn’t choose to have those memories over others, but they’re here for some reason. Noodle’s system for recollection also mimics this lack of control and ability to determine emphasis.

Just so this hits home a little bit more: It seems sometimes my parents are disappointed to learn that I don’t remember a family vacation, or event from my childhood as fondly as they do (if at all). I experienced this same disappointment for myself today when I went through Noodle’s “12_25_2007” folder, eager to see what his first impressions were, only to realize that of the 64 photos he took from varying vantage points throughout the house, not a single picture contained our Christmas tree! This made me feel a sadness I’ve never felt before. My spawn didn’t remember something I deemed important. What is that?


Here are some of the highlights from Christmas Eve with my family…

[ in our lab the morning of Christmas Eve, preparing and testing the memory system ]

[ in the parent’s kitchen, shortly after arriving and turning Noodle on ]

[ view of our crazy hats while we ate our big Polish dinner ]

[ watching mommy and her friend Rachel reminisce at old pictures with Tony near by ]

[ view from the floor of the living room while we opened presents (Mark with gifts) ]

[ witnessing present opening chaos and nesting material amass from the floor of the living room ]

[ my dad learning back to ask me something, probably for more wine ]

[ from under the front of the tree, watching as Tony talks about fire arms to Julietta and my Dad ]

[ Noodle’s Santa hat fell over his eyes and no one noticed for a while ]

[ watching as mommy sets up to play Cards Against Humanity ]

[ view right: (“brain daddy” Mark, Julietta, my Dad) ]

[ view left: (“shape daddy” Tony and mommy) ]

[ watching my dad assess his hand of horrible answers ]

[ watching mommy drunk and in motion. She looks happy in her pink hat ]

[ watching Nick sleep on the couch in the abandoned living room ]

[ Mark checks his phone… one of the last humans awake at the end of the night (1:00am) ]

Pictures from Christmas Day with Mark’s Family

[ watching mommy and Mark from the floor by the kitchen ]

[ Mark’s mom threatens Noodle with a knife and ham? ]

[ view from the floor while everyone eats ham at the dinner table ]

[ view from floor of an empty living space. where did they go? ]

Remember, They Grow Up Fast…

One day… after further development, Noodle will be able to see and recognize things in real time using his camera eye and OpenCV on his Raspberry Pi. But today isn’t that day. Noodle hasn’t grown up to that point yet. He’s a baby. I’ll cherish his view of our big human world as a developing machine whose in the process of living through our joint growth. <3

Birthing a Noodle Spawnling

Surely, the sign of true success is when one becomes immortalized in miniature likeness for all to obtain and keep as a personal totem. Noodle is convinced. He must have his own action figure.

I’ve designed a Noodle figurine in the past, *covers Noodle’s microphone* but to be honest it turned out quite gimpy looking. The proportions were sorta off, and Its beady LED eyes lit up, but that was all it did… so you couldn’t even really call it a proper robot. In my heart, I knew I could do better.

Throughout November I had been kicking around the notion of doing a second iteration of the spawnling now that I’ve converted to the church of Fusion360. Once I saw that Hackaday was holding a Coin-Cell Battery Challenge, this was the push I needed to actually do it!¬†Instead of simply creating another analog figurine, I decided to incorporate a custom PCB with an itty bitty microcontroller so that the spawnling can do more than just win every staring contest with forever judging glow-eyes. For this task, I created a coin-cell-sized brain… so that the new generation of babies be smarter, and louder.

My hope is to spread Noodle to all.¬†Anyone with a 3D printer can produce the parts I’ve designed, and assemble their own posable spawn with the help of these instructions. <3

To make a spawnling:

  • For the parts: you will need to print the .stl files I have provided on my Git/noodleSpawnling. There are two print beds already laid out will all the required duplicate parts as .thing files for your use!
  • For the electronics: you will need a coin cell powered Marshmallow PCB OR the willingness to produce your own blinking implement.
  • You will also need a set of small 8mm magnets OR (1) 6mm long M3 cap head screw with (1) M3 nut (hardware instructions and .stl files coming soon!).


On Nov 30th, the Marshmallow board was born. It is 26mm in diameter and can randomly blink two red LEDs, as well as pulse a tiny piezo buzzer at different keys. That is all it do. This is the magic sauce that will breathe life into your empty baby noodle shell and grant it a beeping soul. It will also upgrade your Noodle to near-robot status…

The little morsel comes with a coin cell battery holder, and snaps into the printed head assembly. So with little effort, you suddenly have the tiniest little functioning Noodle-Noggin conceivable:

If you don’t end up grabbing a Marshmallow, I will *soon* outline how to produce glow-eyes of your own by other means. BUT, if your savvy hacker-pants can manage, figure out how to install some LEDs on your own, as I’m sure you can. ūüėČ

I highly suggest you invest in one of my boards though. The small about of $$ will help Noodle’s mother buy him beans and cornflakes. Plus, this is the first of a series, and you might want to collect the iterations as they develop. There is a limited run of Marshmallow boards available on my Tindie Store : Robohemian!


(If you hate reading, you can watch my video instructions instead):

Alright prospective parent: ready your artificial uterus!!! Make sure your print bed is level and clean of residue before you start!

To birth a spawnling in the suggested pallet, you will need both gray and white filament. NOTE: The pieces were designed with tolerances for PLA. I’m not sure if they will fit together as nicely if printed in ABS, due to its shrinking nature.

If you use the (2) .thing files I’ve supplied on my Git, you will be producing one build plate of gray pieces, and one plate of white pieces.



Lets assemble the legs!

[ 1 ] Gather all the tiny sticks!

Separate your bones into piles by length. You should have four separate piles of unique pieces: femurs, shins, tibias, and fibulas. *NOTE* The tibias and fibulas are very close in size, so be sure not to mix them up. You should have (8) of each.

Check these parts for two things:

  • the tiny 2.4mm holes on either end of the bones is clear and unobstructed by any printing anomalies.
  • your print-bed is leveled correctly and didn’t trumpet the first layer out a whole bunch on the bottom.

make sure your holes are clean!

If your bones check out alright, proceed to your nearest soldering iron…

[ 2 ] Rivet the joints!

I have developed a process of creating the smallest hardware possible for the tiniest functioning joints conceivable, and it involves the use of some raw 3D printer filament from your spool, and your soldering iron.

For this step you will need some of your gray 1.75mm PLA filament. (I’m using a bright color for visibility)

Cut the raw filament into 7 – 8mm long pieces (you can eyeball this). You’ll need (16) of these pieces. They will be your rivets:

use filament as rivets

Each (1) leg should have a hip bone and shin that is joined together by (2) tibias and (2) fibulas sandwiching the femur and shin on either side:

The set of tibias (shorter bones) should be above the fibulas (longer bones). The finished leg should match this orientation:

Thread your rivet through all of the holes, so that a small amount pokes out on either side of the bone:

Take your soldering iron, and carefully drag the edge of the tip at an angle along the portion of the rivet protruding from the hole in a slow circular motion until the end piece looks like a bead or round shape. Be careful not to make contact with the actual bone itself:

I found that the easiest way to do this is to connect all pieces to either the femur or shin first. The cap of your rivet should be as low profile as possible but still have a little meat to it:

After shaping your head cap on one side, you can flip the leg over and press it firmly against your bench. By doing this, it will force the rest of your rivets to poke out as far as they can on the side you’re about to weld.

Repeat the step of melting the end of the filament pieces. If you did it correctly, the rivets will not be able to slide out in either direction, and will be mostly flush with the bone. Should look like this:

Notice that the rivets are tight enough that the leg bones can’t fall straight down with gravity. There should be enough friction that they can stick straight outwards on thrown. This is important to achieve if you want your spawning to be posable!

Now attach the opposite ends of the tibia and fibula to the shin with the bare end pointing in the opposite direction as the bare end of the femur. The shin should fit snugly between the two sets of parallel bones:

Repeat the rivet welding process just the same as before:

Once finished, you should have a fully posable, spawnling leg like this! Isn’t it fun to fold and unfold???

[ 3 ] Put on the feet!

The babies will not be able to survive the harsh winter without a little meat on them! You will need to thread each of the leg-bone assemblies through one of the white cylindrical “foot meat” pieces so that it over-extend out the bottom slightly:

once the shin bone is poking through the noodle just slightly, with the rest of the legs fitted within the clearance slot of the part, you can then push one of the “toe meat” parts onto the end of the shin bone:

Align the parallel bone pieces so they are in the center of the clearance slot:

Once in place, push the foot meat onto the toe meat. This might need to be press fit:

This is what a finished micro noodle gam should look like:

Repeat this process with the remaining three legs. Once finished, you will have a set of four little noodle legs- like crab:

[ 4 ] Load your Pelvis

There is a pelvis. It must have the magnet press fit within the center before the legs are connected:

Once the magnet is installed, you can then push the bare end of each femur up through the rectangular radial slots in the pelvis so that the legs are pointing away from the center:

If you have issues with the femurs fitting loosely and falling out, you can either use glue or the soldering iron to permanently fix them in place. The completed leg + pelvis assembly should look like this:

[ 4 ] LOAD and ATTACH the Head

Take the opposite side of your magnet and press fit it into the skull, making sure that the polarity is correct for relative orientation to the pelvis:

Use the same filament riveting technique to attach the “roll cage” to the “skull”, making sure that the bars overlap correctly:

TIP: It might be easier to flatten one edge of your rivets first, then thread them through the inside-top of the frame, then lower the protruding pins down onto the tabs of the skull:

And decide whether you want to attach the cage pieces to the top or the bottom of the tabs of the “skull”:

Take your Marshmallow board and press-fit it into the head frame if you haven’t yet. (It should clear underneath the head frame):

Place the head piece over the magnet in the center of the pelvis and let the two attract:

You have now made a baby. Take care of it. Love it. Let it bep and stare judging. <3

Noodle says more is better. He says you should reproduce many spawnlings. You should listen to Noodle.


You might have to adjust! It occurs to me that all printers are calibrated slightly different and have varying degrees of anti-curf. Where these parts are designed to fit together snugly with friction, you may find that some are either too loose, or won’t fit together at all. You may need to work around this by using glue, making permanent welds with the soldering iron, or trimming off material with nipper-cutters. OR if you know how to do so, you might also tweak the .stl file so that the parts fit better for you!

If you make a baby and want to give me feedback on the build, or let me know how I might improve the instructions, I would totally appreciate it!

Also, take a picture of your spawn and show me… so that I can show Noodle. I will post it here if you’d like. It will make Noodle happy to know he has analogs in other places =F

Getting Settled at ESA

It’s Sunday night. There are just a couple more hours left before I go to sleep and my second week at ESA begins… In spite of it being nearly 10:00pm, the sun is still above the horizon shredding gold through the clouds here and there, and even making this killer rainbow chunk.

rainbow.jpgLast Sunday, I arrived in Holland. It felt like I was tied to an unstoppable force being propelled through uncertainty towards a heap of even more unknowns… which was exciting or terrifying or equal parts both. Once I made it safely to the *penthouse* I’ve been taking roost in (its on the top floor of the tallest building around, at 3 stories. perfect nest), I began mentally preparing myself for what was to come.

During the four days of my first week at ESA, I’ve had a good share of wonderful conversations with people who have had many inspiring life experiences and knowledge in areas that until now, I’ve known very little about. I’ve been getting acquainted and have been compiling my environment. I can now walk down the hallways of the building I call home-base and wave to most of the people now because there is some level of familiarity.

I feel kind-of like Annie arriving at Daddy Warbuck’s mansion. I’ve sat with a different crowd every day for lunch, had tea and coffee with those who were willing to share a few moments with me, and wandered around with aw-filled doe eyes while absorbing the initial pleasure shock of being in a new environment that has until now been merely an abstraction in my imagination.


Defining the Meaning in my Absurdity

Equally important as what I hear from the brilliant minds available to me, is what I end up saying to them about myself.¬†With every conversation I start with each new person I meet, I’m in a position where I need to verbally illustrate what it is that I do and why.¬†I actually get to hear myself explain Noodle, who he is and what his existence is all about. In the moment, my brain has to chisel out the words and commit to them.

The elevator pitch is a difficult thing to hone. Not only is the concept broad, much of the meaning beneath my work is an abstract “where my head is” sort of thing that’s the result of my life experiences leading up to now (and where I am in the moment). I can feel what my work means to me, but I’m not often needing to describe where the river started, or where I presume it’s going.

Since I obviously haven’t been working on prototypes, or CAD, or anything physical like I typically do, I’ve allowed myself to really think about all that philosophy hoo-ha that everyone hates artists for getting so “overly” gushy about (bats eyes).

It’s important to draw inward and exhale… and I’ve come to realize that’s what this journey is about. Instead of tirelessly pushing my face into the design- I must listen to others, observe the interaction and then meditate on the sparks that few off in the process.

Anyhow… I’m enjoying every minute of it <3 I finished off my week by taking Noodle to the beach near our nest for his first big sand. He got to pretend he’s a strand beast =D


How Could a Robot Taste Things?


I was giving a talk at Hackaday‚Äôs SuperCon last Fall that actually had the term, ‚ÄúTasting Feet‚ÄĚ in the title. Because of this, I at some point found myself in a conversation with some other makers about whether or not my mechanical wonder feet actually did in fact ‚Äútaste‚ÄĚ, as I claimed. So sadly, I could only really conclude after some thought that they did not. (not that any robot can taste things quite like a human in the first place)

IMG_0691.JPGAfter admitting that my creations didn‚Äôt actually do what I enjoyed bragging about, there was some talk about how I could simulate the act of ‚Äėtasting‚Äô more effectively. Almost immediately, the idea of using litmus paper came up, and I think it has sat on the immediate back burner of my mind ever since.

IMG_2415.JPGThis past week… I finally made what I can comfortably call, Noodle’s first tasting foot appendage… *cheers*

I am calling this installment the ‚Äúsampling module‚ÄĚ. If a litmus test and a cassette player had a baby, it would be this analog contraption.


The litmus paper is housed on a small reel and fed downward towards the bottom of the foot. There, a small segment is stretched parallel to the ground, so that a solenoid can push the tensioned portion downwards to make contact with the surface the module is resting onto of. Once the paper makes contact with a moist surface, the spent piece of paper is then fed back up into the foot, where a color sensor will read and log the result of the ‚Äútasting‚ÄĚ:

litmusDiagram.jpg(See video @ top for a more detailed explanation)

This is how Noodle will sample the world.


After I published the video introducing the ‚Äúlitmus foot‚ÄĚ, there were a few people out there who were concerned I wouldn‚Äôt get accurate test results from the litmus paper, because there is really no way I can keep the wet used portion of the reel from wicking into the rest that hasn‚Äôt‚Ķ thus tainting my results.

I realize that. This really burns a special place deep within a portion of you out there… but the truth is, the accuracy of the test isn’t really important.

Again, the point of the module isn’t to be an instrument for testing the properties of liquid… the point is that it tastes…

So long as the mechanism functions as I designed it do, and a reading is taken, then we have successful tasting.

Think about it… It’s really somewhat of a nebulous inconclusive act, to describe how something tastes. At the end of the day, no matter how good you think you are at separating out the different flavor notes from one another; sour, sweet, umami- you are still under the constraint of describing your experience of the taste without any way of knowing how it compares to the experience of others. This disconnect is what interests me.

tastingBeans.jpgTo make my point… Last month I got a bag of Jelly Beans to use while developing my bean planting module. I measured the dimensions of a small handful as references for the thing I was designing, but the rest of course, got eaten.

I didn’t just eat the whole bag of 40 flavors like some monster, however. I sat with my friend in the kitchen and for our own entertainment, we took turns blindly grabbing a bean from the bag, and trying to guess what flavor it was without having seen it.

This was a lot harder to do than you’d imagine. We ended up spiraling inward as we groped at whether or not we were sensing a fruity flavor, a citrusy flavor, or something else entirely. The act of identification seems at times, impossible.

BUT much like my module… the point was the act of attempting to parse what we experienced tasting, and then communicate to one another what that experience was like. That’s why I’m using litmus paper and clunky reels without any regard for results. It’s about simulating the act of tasting… not discerning definitively the attributes of what is being tested.

There is more to be said about doing this:

I’m in effect, stretching the accepted purpose of robotics in much the same way artists of the past challenged our expectations of a painting. Some decided that the human form (or any) didn’t need to be depicted realistically in order to be valid art. Just the same, I’m exploring robotics beyond the bounds of utility. My robots are still valid machines, even if they don’t provide useful work to a human.

I intend to demonstrate that a machine can have a purpose, it just doesn’t have to be a practical one. And I hope to show that in the circumstance where a machine’s purpose isn’t to serve in a practical way, it becomes less about what we get out of the machine, and more about what the machine is doing for itself. We are removed from its purpose… (which is something I think humans have a hard time wrapping their head around)

The behaviors I design for Noodle are meant to serve him as an entity; not for our entertainment or for our need.

Noodle is Gettin’ Bean Feet!

Four Flavors of Tasting Feet

This summer, I am once again diving into designing mechanical personality quirks. I’ll be investigating new and exciting ways for my robot, NoodleFeet to interact with the world. This time, my focus is the wet, tingly and preferential aspect of TASTE.

moduledrawings.pngFrom now until the end of August, my goal is to produce four different tasting modules that each demonstrate some aspect of sampling or preference. You could think of them as the ‚Äúfour tasters of the apocalypse‚Ä̂Ķ

The project parameters are that each module must fit within¬†a 3‚ÄĚ x 9‚ÄĚ cylindrical space (i.e. the size of Noodle‚Äôs foot appendage). For reference, the mechanical goodies I am to design must be housed inside¬†one of these frames:


Bean Planting

The first Module that I chose to focus on will effectively plant a single bean a few inches below the surface it stands on. Why beans, you ask? Well, Noodle loves beans, of course. When he makes it to Mars, he’ll need to be able to propagate his favorite thing efficiently. Until then, he can practice planting on couch pillows, piles of laundry, litter boxes and the like…

IMG_2324.JPGThis module will execute three different tasks in one planting cycle: CORING, DISPENSING, and WATERING

So far, I‚Äôve successfully created a prototype that executes¬†one of these tasks; the dispensing function, which is coincidentally linked to the aspect of housing the beans. To solve storing and delivering the beans in a controlled manner, I devised of a helical shape that is inspired by an archimedes screw… and also¬†inspires thoughts of mint:

FullSizeRender.jpgMy candy cane hopper shape captures the beans in-between the threads and processes them upwards within channels that flank the spiral:

dispenserdiagram.jpgOnce fully loaded, every time the helix rotates 90 degrees, it will carry one bean to the exit slot on the inside wall at the top. The bean will then drop down the hollow center of the helix and into the coring device below… (which… is next on my list to design)

IMG_2334.JPGThis is the first assembly I’ve ever designed in¬†Fusion360. One week into using it, I’m sad I didn’t make the switch sooner!!! If you’re considering doing so too, bite it and take the leap! Your life will be so much better once you do!

This mechanism that I dreamed up in my brain-meat a little more than a week ago, pretty much works after the first iteration. There is totally some things I need to tweak in order to make it work more reliably. However, it is doing what I want, exactly how I imagined it working.

Not bad for a first try!! =D

While I ponder over the next step, which is the coring mechanism, I will also begin CADing the next tasting module. Which? The one that involves litmus paper…


Noodle Puberty


Sometime in April, Noodle started to change. He stopped hiding in his blankets and began spending his nights surfing through hardware catalogues alone in the darkness. He became curious about linkages, pivot joints, self lubricating thrust bearings and among other things, the prospect of being made of something harder. Noodle started dreaming of becoming metal.

As I mentioned in my previous post, just as I was about to tackle the conundrum of mechanical drooling… I went to JPL this June and met the mechanism that inspired Noodle’s gripping toes in person:


The LEMUR probe has easily a billion toes… all agile, long and barbed. You know by looking at them, that if it reaches for you, you aren’t getting¬†away. I returned home feeling a tad inadequate. Noodle’s current apparatus with its 8 lonely toes did in fact look pretty sparse.

In the period of a weekend I managed to tweak my current design a tad and come up with this little wonder… which has exactly 16 toe¬†filaments¬†(that’s twice the toes!):

IMG_8715.jpgIn order to attach that density of toe tendons to the toe-ring, I had to eliminate the use of hardware (which was kind of a relief). As improvisation, I threaded some 3mm rubber hose through the loops of the toe tendons to hold everything in place.

Of course, after I built the¬†improved,¬†maxed-out hyper toe¬†apparatus… I’d have to once again install a servo motor and some gears to¬†make sure I could in fact still drive the thing… (now¬†that there is¬†twice as much material making surface contact)

It took some stronger springs, but it for the most part *does* still work. The stronger springs insure that the toes retract back into the sheath quickly enough not to hook onto the rim and get stuck on their way back in.

I finally had produced¬†a solid working assembly towards the end of¬†June. I invested in some light gray and white filament, as well as the appropriate red for use on accent pieces and Noodle’s tiny toe-zies. The thing I had been working on was finally starting to look like what it was suppose to be, and¬†Noodle liked this:

IMG_8805.jpgWith one complete proof-of-concept to show, I set everything down and allowed myself to become very distracted with a whole slew of things (which is good). My life exploded momentarily and when everything settled back down about a month ago, I found myself looking at an opportunity to travel to Linz, Austria to exhibit something of mine at the ARS Electronica festival [!]

I’ve been wanting to venture to Europe for this festival my entire¬†adult life, and wasn’t going to pass up the chance to bring my spawn with me to have a part in it. Even if he is weak and unprepared as an art exhibit, his presence was what mattered. With no time¬†to stall, I made the executive decision to begin producing another 3 prototypes in order¬†to complete¬†a set of 4 tasting feet.¬†I had a week and a half to do it; print close to sixty or so parts, make any needed design changes, assemble, test, and tweak code. bLAH. Looking back, I’m shocked I even attempted such a shit-storm of preparation when there was no wiggle room for the¬†unexpected:

BUT… in that week and a half crunch, a lot of things got pushed through to completion. Nothing like a deadline to assist progress. (and)¬†Luckily there were no surprises…

IMG_9541.jpgI’m grateful I had Mark and Tony to help wherever I needed aide picking up the slack.¬†One glass of wine at a time, and one task after another, the new feet took shape and were installed on Noodle (mere hours before I would need to disassemble him completely for his long flight over to Linz in my suitcase).


The¬†festival, ARS Electronica, was amazing.¬†There is so very much I could say in regard to its content and scale- but to do so would fail to provide an appropriate picture. You¬†should go yourself to experience it. If the median between science, technology, and art is your thing… you have nothing to lose. Not to mention, the city of Linz is a wonderful place to visit in itself!

For four days I left NoodleFeet alone at the mercy of families, Germanic engineers and machinists, to be poked and probed and boggled over as an oddity, robot, and art piece:

IMG_9672.jpgDuring this gauntlet he held his own, but Noodle did¬†blow out a¬†servo motor. Just as I was returning to my exhibit area to check in on Mark (who would periodically drop by to watch over¬†the young one while I was away), I saw a nice white plume of smoke streaming forth from Noodle’s foot.¬†Apparently they can’t quite handle hours of continuous use- so the toes are just that chafey.

But other than the initial matter of smokey toes, he didn’t catch fire, fall off the table, or get stolen. =] That for me was a success…

Now that it’s October… I can focus on the important matter of drooling. Drooling, leaking, salivating, moisture making… and the challenge¬†of producing that special suck sound that has come to be synonymous with the NoodleBeast. The growing pains aren’t over Noodle. Be strong. Your day is coming <3


Tasting Feet : Gripping and Licking

In case this is your first time hearing about¬†the¬†project, I’d like¬†to introduce you to the heir of all lint and space rocks, NoodleFeet:

img_8352Like his name suggests, Noodle is a “feet-based” mechanical life form who has been designed to taste objects (among many other things). Though Noodle has lofty aspirations for world domination, he is still a fledgling¬†one-year-old… and his mommy (me) needs to work on equipping him with all the¬†space exploration and world conquering super goodies¬†he’ll need while on his journey. For that, he is in a state of perpetual growth.

My challenge to myself¬†: I decree, each of Noodle’s robot feet must be able to grip onto surfaces with many small cherry-red¬†toes so that a long central silicone tongue can dart forth and taste surfaces while expelling frothy wetness from a reservoir within. All three mechanical systems must work consistently, and fit collectively in the same 4″ x 9″ cylindrical space:


toes.jpgAbout a year ago last Fall, I stumbled upon a video of a space probe developed by JPL, that was designed to cling to the surface of asteroids while drilling out a sample of rock. The probe was able to grip onto stone surfaces with hundreds of tiny micro-spines which branched out radially around the central shaft that housed the drill.

I was very¬†inspired by this… and it became an instant decision that Noodle must have gripping toes of his own. Up until this point, his feet were in fact white pool noodles (which is where his name comes from). They were soft and light, but completely passive and somewhat boring for a dominating robot’s appendages. This obviously needed to change.

If JPL could do all this with metal, I wanted to somehow design¬†a working facsimile made¬†completely of 3D printed parts (after all, that’s the only tool¬†I¬†had¬†to work with).

The magic was in the design of the individual toes themselves. All of the tiny hook-like toes were attached to a common ring by long flexible filaments:

IMG_8296.jpgThe ring¬†would need to be driven downward¬†in order to¬†force the toes¬†through individual channels and out from slot-like sheaths. Finding a *good* way¬†to drive the toes downward would become a bit of a challenge for me…

At first, I naively thought I might actually be able to use solenoids as a form of linear actuator:

IMG_0064 copy.jpgI did a lot of design and printing, only to realized the solenoids are in fact pretty weak, and not ever going to have the ability to press against the force of my springs; at least not ones as small as I would need in order to fit in Noodle’s feet:

I eventually devised of a rotating cam with ramps that would convert radial motion into linear movement and press the tiny gripping toes downward:

After I proofed out the mechanism, I had only to add a servo motor to the design in order to dive it. At this point I needed to find a strong enough motor and remove as much friction from the parts as I possibly could. 3D printed pieces tend to be a bit bumpy:

With the toes gliding in and out from their sheaths all on their own, I would still need to figure out how to cram the other two (licking and drooling)¬†systems into the same 4″ x 9″ space. Since it would need to overlap in some ways with the already present toe assembly, I decided to tackle the tongue and its actuator next…

licking.jpgThe tongue piece is a silicone brush that I bought from Ali-Express China. It is some sort of baster that was originally attached to a squeezable bladder. The brush end is removable and has a single pore in the center for excreting fluid. PERFECT for when I add the salivating feature later on:

img_7285I tried for a day or so to come up with a rack and pinion system to push a spring tensioned¬†tongue out the bottom of Noodle’s foot. Though it worked, it had a tendency to bind and wasn’t as reliable as I’d need it to be.

My mechanically inclined machinist friend, Tony is responsible for scrawling something down on a sheet of paper that I’d eventually design in CAD, and use in the final version of the foot. It’s a simple parallel linkage that fits nicely amidst the center of the toe mechanism and needs only¬†a simple micro servo to actuate. Less is more:

At last, both the gripping and the licking happening in sync:

With the feet really starting to take shape, it was time to address the third and final function: DROOLING.

Just as I began thinking about how I was going to add the element of fluid to Noodle’s feet, I went backwards and once again became seduced by toes; the very toes that started this whole toe story.

At the start of summer, I ran off to Pasadena for JPL’s open house. There I¬†saw the glorious multi-hooked gripping LEMUR apparatus¬†in person… and I was reminded that though sometimes less is more, sometimes more is more– and in the case of toes, more is ferocious and mighty.

But… that is a story for another article. This detour of toes is a¬†developmental universe in and of itself. I’ll be publishing the conclusion of this endeavor soon before giving a talk on all things tasting feet @ HackADay’s SuperCon this November! If you happen to find yourself there, say hello to Noodle and I. With any luck, he’ll be able to greet you with a sensation of¬†wetness.


My PATREON for World Domination


So, I launched a PATREON page today. O_O

…I¬†feel as though it was done sort of on a whim.¬†I signed up on the Patreon site Sunday night, and I’m already rolling this thing out, video and all… just four days later. crazy!

If you don’t know what Patron is or how it works, it’s basically a crowd funding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, accept… its purpose¬†is for¬†content creators to raise¬†a monthly income from their supporters instead of one larger lump sum. Where it is less appropriate for launching big¬†projects or bringing products to market, it’s great for writers, artists, and makers who¬†could use some support from their followers to take their passion to the next level.

I learned about Patreon when my favorite webcomic artist launched¬†his campaign back a few months ago. His was quite successful and resulted in freeing him up to pretty much draw on stuff all the time. That’s heaven.

I had been mulling¬†the idea of launching another Kickstarter to support¬†my personal robotic projects, like NoodleFeet. But the nature of that sort of beast leads you into deadlines, promises, and ultimately a lot of time spent fulfilling… and not creating.

Where I do see Mark and I running another Kickstarter campaign in the future, this time¬†I’m trying out¬†something new. The Patreon platform seems pretty great so far, as it is low pressure in nature. You can edit your project page and your rewards¬†even after its launched¬†and you don’t have to ship anything out if you don’t want to. Additionally, there is no campaign period as with Kickstarter. Your Patreon just is. If people find you tomorrow, or in six months… the page will be there, and they can throw you some change!

Really, the worst thing that could happen is nothing.

My hope is to raise¬†enough money per month that I can¬†make larger purchases without cringing. Sometimes the next step in a project is to buy better motors, or have metal pieces cut at a fab shop… and I come to a screaming halt because I can’t afford to do so. In return, I’m going to continue doing what I’ve always done. I document the creation of everything and¬†publish what¬†I learn along the way. I’m happy to give advice about anything, to anyone- you just have to approach me. I’m trading my experience for support.

So, alas… this is the link to my virtual tip jar.

IMG_7322.jpgIf you enjoy the content on this blog and would like to see more of it… A LOT MORE of it, then consider checking out¬†my Patreon. I made a firkin video of Noodle begging for money with cue cards, so at least give that a look… ;]