Carl the Parasitic Hoverboard Driving Robot

Before the year wraps up, I decided to give a final shot at getting at least one of my robot children mobile. truly mobile. In a meaningful way. I’ve spent the majority of this year working on developing NoodleFeet’s new body, so it felt fair to show Carl a little attention and love.

As a recap- “Carl” is one of my characters, a ball-balancing robot made from the body of a plastic lawn ornament. I set out to actually build him in-real-life four years ago, but the endeavor was just hard enough that it required I rely on Mark to do the majority of the coding. In the end, it was also too difficult for even Mark, the wizard of programming, to muscle through. ::sad sigh::

Someone in a conversation I had recently blurted out the concept of “exploiting” technology that has already solved the annoying part of the problem at hand. I liked this idea. I’m an artist and a hacker (and a hack)! Faking it and forcing things to do what they weren’t intended to is in my nature. For the problem of Carl and his effective *self balancing*, the hoverboard immediately came to mind.

The Hoverboard. Pop culture Americana loves this thing. Especially around the Holiday season when the ritual of gift-giving senseless technology is enthusiastically celebrated. For my first trick, I embarked to Target on Cyber Monday to get myself a present. wait. I meant, to get Carl a present.

I picked out a solid looking model and dragged it home only to realize very quickly that the way this particular model of hoverboard operates is quite different than what was described on the internet… in the like, five minutes of research I did.

The internet at large sites the hoverboard device as having two pressure-sensitive foot pads, each equipped with a front and back switch that determines the direction of rotation for each motor. The “Jetson Strike” model which I picked up on Monday does not work that way. Rather, it seems to have only one pressure sensitive switch in each foot-pad that determines acceleration. Whether the motor rotates forward or back seems to be controlled by (TWO) separate accelerometers… one in each foot.

Aha. This makes sense. The body of almost all of the hoverboard genus is split in the center so that the housing of each footpad can twist against the other. I surmised this was to allow the device to move with the motion of the user’s body more organically, but apparently for at least this particular hoverboard, it’s a feature that helps to dictate the motor’s direction as well.

My original plan of action was to created a fixed device that mounts over the footpads and either engages “pokes” one switch or the other to toggle the direction. It would be a motor driven linkage that rocks back and forth.

There seems to be only one pressure sensitive switch in each foot pad, rather than two. Instead of determining the direction of the motor’s rotation, the switch controls the motor’s speed. Due to this, I will still need to make a “punching” mechanism to tell the motor how fast to go. And as for the steering part:

My new plan of action is similar to what it was before, accept instead of pressing the foot pad, the end points of my actuators will affix to the casing itself… this way, the motors can push and pull each housing against one another to manually manipulate the body that contains the accelerometer.

What I was hoping this would be: I had been musing over the prospect of creating a mechanism that steered the hoverboard with a system of counterweights. Imagine mechanical “wings” on the sides of carl that twist and flap to help coax his center of gravity in the direction he needs to travel. Cool robot concept, right?!

Sadly for me… a counterweight-throwing mechanism isn’t in the cards. At least, not in the short run. I could come up with some even fancier mechanism that transferred weight/motion from Carl’s bird body above, to manipulate the tilt of the swivel below… but this is above and beyond anything I’d like to engineer at this point. Manually manipulating the tilt of the enclosures with boring motors will do just fine.

::another mildly-aggressive sigh::

Oh Sarah, go scoot and doot. You’ve got some serious work to do.

If you want to follow my progress more closerly- you can find the Carl thread on Robotic Arts, or Carl’s personal project page.

-Love you guys

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