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DroidBuilders Blog

This is where I will post announcements about projects, new products I'm working on, and other things which may be of interest to our customers...

DroidBuilder Store kit availability

posted May 15, 2017, 12:40 AM by Galen Raben

May 15, 2017
It has been almost a year since the last time I posted anything to this blog. So what's been up?

Unfortunately I need to start out with some sad news. I am starting to remove some of the kits in the DroidBuilder Store due to parts availability issues - Early last year the SpeakJet chip disappeared from my parts vendors and is no longer appears to be available anywhere at any price and more recently the RoboVoice chip is also becoming problematic. I still have some RoboVoice chips in stock for now, but at some point my stock of parts will run out. I am particularly sad about the RoboVoice as it was a single chip solution which worked well with any micro-controller that had an available serial connection. I also had a good rapport with the developer of the RoboVoice and was hoping to see him add sound effects and perhaps female voices to the chip library at some point. But apparently economic reality set in and he no longer offers the parts. When I run out of the stock I have of RoboVoice chips, I will need to remove the kits from my DroidBuilder store. I will still offer PC Boards and instructions for building the kits for anyone fortunate enough to have the parts, but without the parts I cannot offer a complete kit. :-(

Kits have always been problematic for me, as you have to keep an inventory of parts on hand so you can ship quickly, and have somewhere to store them until you can ship them and then actually shipping them to customers sometimes can be a problem all by itself. I never made enough money off these kits to warrant hiring someone else to handle the logistics of kitting and have always packed and shipped these kits myself.

So it appears that it is time to re-think the direction DroidBuilder.com has been going and perhaps concentrate more on posting projects and perhaps just offering boards to help build those projects? I have more recently been spending much more time flying and repairing drones - perhaps I will be moving to having more reviews of drones and perhaps setting up a vlog on my DroidBuilderTV YouTube account... Stay tuned, we will see what direction I go... -DB-

Whats New (2016 #2)?

posted Jul 4, 2016, 4:29 PM by Galen Raben   [ updated Jul 4, 2016, 5:27 PM ]

July 4, 2016
Much new stuff to chat about since my last post. Several new announcements out of the Raspberry Pi Foundation that have been of great interest to me and I am sure to many who visit my (often ignored for months at a time) blog. FIRST - they have added a Pi Camera interface connector to the Pi Zero. This was one of the BIG things I thought was missing in the original Pi Zero when it was released last Christmas and they remedied that, at no additional cost to the Pi Zero! This little board is quite amazing at $5 US and with the camera interface it opens up the possibility of live streaming video from a very diminutive bot! Read more about the updated Pi Zero at https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/zero-grows-camera-connector/

Which leads into the SECOND interesting announcement from from the Pi Foundation. They have upgraded their original 5mp camera board to a new 8 mp chip, again at the same price as the original board! Read more at https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/new-8-megapixel-camera-board-sale-25/ So now not only can you stream video from your Pi Zero but you can do so at a higher resolution than the original board!

The THIRD big announcement from the Raspberry Pi Foundation was they released a new more powerful version of the Raspberry Pi computer board called the Raspberry Pi 3. This board not only sports a 1.2 ghz 64-bit quad core ARM Cortex A53 CPU, but they have also added Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (both standard and LE). This is 5 or 6x improvement over the old 32-bit ARM Cortex A7's in the Pi 2 and a 10x improvement over my original Pi 1 model B that I've been using for a couple years now. This is pretty big news as you no longer need a Wi-Fi dongle for your Pi and you also get 4 usable USB ports on the Pi 3. I recently purchased a Pi 3 for Droidbuilder and it was a pleasure to set it up and get it running and very quickly displaced my old Pi 1 to the project bin for use in a future robotics project. With the new Raspian software the foundation has recently released, this little computer could easily serve as a primary computer in a typical household or as student computers in secondary or high schools that currently do not have computers available for their students. The Raspian Jessie distribution comes with a very capable version of Libre Office which will will open and create most common types of documents anyone would probably need to open. If only someone were to provide proper packaging with a touchscreen display and keyboard into a laptop style case cheaply enough the old dream of a laptop for every child looks like it might be possible...

Some rather interesting robotics projects I have run across as of late...
"Ava" and "Anna" from LetsMakeRobots user mtriplett, a pair of very interactive robots using some serious AI and both seem to be very actively moving forward (see "Annabelle" which is a revised version of Anna performing stand-up robotic comedy!)

And then there is this amazing project Raspberry Echo which explains how to build Amazon's Alexa voice service onto a Raspberry Pi... which is based on this earlier project http://sammachin.com/the-10-echo/ The Raspberry Pi version may also run around $10 depending on whether you can find an inexpensive USB Mic or Headset that can be used on the Raspberry Pi?

Sparkfun's AVC! Another quick note is SparkFun's AVC competition which I have written about in past blog posts here. This year they have moved the date from its usual Father's day weekend date to into the fall (September 17th). I hope to be there this year as I have missed the last two years in which both my brother and nephews have competed in. Once again, I won't have an entry ready in time for this years event, but I still enjoy watching the successes and failures others see in this competition. As seems to be usual in robotics, one learns far more from the failures than from the successes, so I expect to learn much again this year by watching others...

Ch ch ch changes

posted Feb 17, 2016, 10:40 PM by Galen Raben   [ updated Feb 17, 2016, 11:07 PM ]

Feb 17,2016
Remember the old Bowie song? Seems to be a recurring theme here this past year at DroidBuilder.com! We still have not relocated our offices from our temporary site. Currently all of our shipping materials are stored in a storage unit a few minutes away from what is serving as our temporary office. Which is proving rather inconvenient when the weather  is bad.

Another big change - Some of you may have also noticed we are no longer shipping our popular SpeakJet Shield kits at this time. We have been unable to find another source for a crucial component of the kit, so for the time being, we have suspended sales of this kit.

Much has changed in the MicroController and Robotics worlds since the last time I touched this blog. The next few posts I'll try to touch on a few I have noticed or seen on the Internet...

Some BIG news from our friends over the pond at the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The Raspberry Pi Zero released right about Christmastime, and availability of them has been rather sporadic though a few have been seen in the wild. Pi Zero's are occasionally available here in the U.S. Our friends at AdaFruit.com have on and off had them in stock! I got one of these a couple weeks ago and have played with it enough to know that it certainly will feature in some of our projects! Perhaps one day we will have some kits using a Pi Zero. The most impressive thing about the Pi Zero is its diminutive footprint. It is not any larger than a stick of gum, with the computing power of a full Linux desktop.

Very impressive computational power in such a tiny package and at a very low price ($5 U.S.) The Raspberry Pi Foundation has also released Raspian Jessie and Jesse Lite which can be downloaded from their Raspian downloads site. Raspian Lite is minimal version of raspian that fits easily on a 4Gb SD card. Although the Pi Zero gives up the CSI (Pi camera) interface, and and the versatility of having the full size USB connectors that are on its its older, larger siblings, I expect the Pi Zero's small size and low cost should find lots of use amongst robotics hobbyists and electronics manufacturers wanting to embed Raspberry Pi's into their projects and products.
 

Whats New at Droidbuilder?

posted Sep 15, 2015, 12:01 AM by Galen Raben

Sept 15, 2015
I haven't updated the blog in a WAY TOO LONG OF A LENGTH OF TIME! My last post/update was in February, since then Droidbuilder.com has suffered through several problems for our operations. First was a move of our corporate headquarters, we are still in the Salt Lake valley, but our current quarters are at best temporary and we do not have space for our robotics research and warehousing. So we are looking for a new location, and expect another move shortly once we have found something in our budget that is suitable.

The bigger (also unfortunately, bad) news is we can no longer get a critical component for our most popular kit. The  text-to-code translator IC we use in our SpeakJet Shield kit is no longer available from our usual vendors. This is a serious blow to our kit business as we have had to discontinue selling our popular SpeakJet Shield kit, at least until we find another reliable source for the  text-to-code translator chip. We have for now disabled the store links and will continue to sell the PC boards and perhaps will re-stock the "Basic" kit without the text-to-code translator IC for those willing to write code directly for the SpeakJet chips. Our apologies to those that ordered kits we could not ship, we have issued refunds to all of those affected. More on this part saga later should we see any changes in the current situation...

Much has been happening in the world of Raspberry Pi IoT since we last blogged. Windows 10 has been released and is now in the hands of Raspberry Pi developers, And speaking of IoT (Internet of Things) we have run across several interesting development libraries for the Raspberry Pi/Arduino platforms which we will go into more detail in a later blog article.
The Raspberry Pi foundation wrote a short article in May on how to gett started in the Internet of Things
development. There have been a couple projects that have come out of crowdfunding sites that are also quite interesting, Blynk is one library I have begun developing with (another blog article is in the works) and its larger cousin Wyliodrin, and also Ubidots which appears to be a quite mature library. There is much more available in these three libraries than I have time to write about here. Click on the links and check out what they each have to offer.

What's up at Droidbuilder.com?

posted Feb 21, 2015, 12:45 AM by Galen Raben   [ updated Feb 21, 2015, 1:38 AM ]

Feb 21, 2015
The past few months have been a rather bumpy ride for those of us at here Droidbuilder. Apologies to our customers for a lack of responsiveness and long delays waiting for your shipment to arrive. Much of this has been due to the changes in my real-life workschedule and the effects of the Christmas rush and the general lack of time to spend on Droidbuilder business with the work schedule I was stuck with. 

But part of the bumpiness is also a re-thinking about what direction do we want to take Droidbuilder. We started out as a website dedicated to building robots and providing sources for hard-to-find parts. For the past few years we have been specializing in speech products for the robotics hobbyist. I like to think we offer a couple of the best kits out there providing a complete text-to-speech solution for the Arduino compatible market. But rather than spending time and resources containing the costs of creating kits, I would rather be spending the time creating, designing and building complete robotic systems. Some of what is driving my thoughts here are recent changes in the microcontroller market. The Raspberry Pi being one of a number of new micros providing desktop PC capabilities and power in a very small package. This in turn has greatly increased the capabilities and usefulness of any robot projects built around it. Now that the much more powerful Pi 2 is out, and with Windows 10 coming to the Pi soon, things are just really beginning to get interesting!

So the short story is, I would like to get back to what inspired me to create Droidbuilder.com in the first place. Therefore I will be spending more time creating robots and a little less time dealing with the ups and downs of business. This doesn't mean I will be dropping the products we already have available. One of the things that is wrong about my current line of speech products is how "quiet" they are. It can be difficult to hear them over the whine of motors and servos, especially while a robot is moving about and doing tasks. We are looking at ways to make them louder and more practical for real-world usage. Look for some changes in our products to address this soon. 

Our emphasis on this website will become more project-oriented and a little less kit-oriented. As long as people are buying them, we will still offer the kits we have, and we may offer PC boards for some of the projects I will blog about here, perhaps even whole kits if there seems to be a demand for it. Let us know when like something and what you would like to see!

-Galen-

Robotic Inspiration

posted Feb 18, 2014, 8:58 PM by Galen Raben   [ updated Feb 21, 2015, 1:17 AM ]

Feb 18, 2014
My recent posting of a page of my old robotics projects reminded me that most of my own projects are inspired by seeing projects built by others. In the Internet age, we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes people ask me where I got the ideas for one of my robots from. I tell them the Internet itself is the best possible resource for ideas and inspiration! There are thousands of websites with creative ideas just waiting to be discovered. Google is our best friend! Need some inspiration for a project? Just ask Google the right questions and you will find a plethora (a whole universe perhaps?) of answers...

Beatty Robotics replica of Spirit

Following is a VERY SMALL sampling of web sites and people I find very inspiring and have provided me with lots of ideas for my own projects (and for projects yet to come) I regard these the best of the best I have found so far:

http://letsmakerobots.com/ - a treasure trove of good beginning projects, how to's and inspiration...
http://makezine.com/blog/ - just search for the keywords "robots", "Arduino", or "Raspberry Pi" and you should find plenty of ideas...
http://www.instructables.com/ - again search for the keywords "robots", "Arduino", or "Raspberry Pi" and you should find plenty of ideas...
http://davidbuckley.net/DB/index.htm - A good number of vintage robot projects can be seen here.
This set of sites from DJ Sures is certain to inspire - he has often re-purposed toys into amazing little robots. I've been following DJ's projects for years and they just keep getting better. He is now selling his EZ-Robot line of kits...
Another amazing site is this one, some truly cool Space program style replicas (see the mini Mars Rover photo above...
An amazing, inspirational robot with emotions!
A very complete tutorial on building an Arduino based Robot.

I'll add more to this post as I find time to muddle through my very large and rapidly-growing list of robotics links....

-Galen

AVC 2014 Announced, Adafruits' Trinket

posted Jan 8, 2014, 10:11 PM by Galen Raben   [ updated Jan 8, 2014, 11:37 PM ]

January 8, 2014:
Happy New Year! It has been several months since I last posted anything. Don't know how I missed seeing it before but just noticed this announcement that the date has been chosen for Sparkfuns' 2014 AVC (Autonomous Vehicle Competition) - June 21st, 2014! Looking forward to perhaps being there again this year - perhaps even with my own entry into the competition! Will post more as it gets closer to actually running...

Also I've been waiting to post their recap video which was also in their announcement. I've added it to my AVC 2013 blog post. Here it is again if you haven't seen it...

AVC 2013 recap video


The last few months I've been playing with a few new toys which I will blog about as I get time. The most significant of these is Adafruits' new Trinket - which is a tiny Arduino compatible board. Since DroidBuilder was started I've carried my own board designs (which have been based on the SpeakJet and RoboVoice speech synthesis chips) but have always wanted to carry other items which would be of use to the hobbyist robot builder. The Trinket appears to meet all of my requirements - low cost, small, easy to build, easy to program, and of course, useful to the robotics hobbyist.

Adafruit Trinket

I was excited to see my Trinkets when they arrived, they were even smaller than they looked in the Adafruit website. But quickly my enthusiasm waned when I plugged them in and was not able to program them. 

Trinket Arduino Fail screen

After double checking that I done everything mentioned in their Trinket Guided Tour, and finding I had done everything right, I stumbled across this article in the Adafruit Customer Support Forums... Voila!! The avrdudetrinket11513.zip file was the answer - got my Trinket uploading as I expected. My first project is in the following photo - a quick hack for testing my trinket.. a Trinket blinky!

I'll post video shortly..

TrinketBlinky



This is running the following sketch. I adapted the code from the Arduino Blink sketch given in the Arduino example sketches.

TrinketBlinky.ino

/*TrinketBlink
Turns on an LED on for one half second, then turns on the next LED in chain.
When all four LEDs have been lit then it turns them off in the same fashion

This example code is in the public domain.

To upload to your Gemma or Trinket:
1) Select the proper board from the Tools->Board Menu
2) Select USBtinyISP from the Tools->Programmer
3) Plug in the Gemma/Trinket, make sure you see the green LED lit
4) For windows, install the USBtiny drivers
5) Press the button on the Gemma/Trinket - verify you see
the red LED pulse. This means it is ready to receive data
6) Click the upload button above within 10 seconds
*/

int led0 = 0;
int led1 = 1; // blink 'digital' pin 1 - AKA the built in red LED
int led2 = 2;
int led3 = 3; 
int led4 = 4;

// the setup routine runs once when you press reset:
void setup() {
  // initialize the digital pin as an output.
  pinMode(led0, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led1, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led2, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(led3, OUTPUT);
   pinMode(led4, OUTPUT);
}

// the loop routine runs over and over again forever:
void loop() {
  // turn 'em on
  digitalWrite(led0, HIGH);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led1, HIGH);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led2, HIGH);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led3, HIGH);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led4, HIGH);
  delay(500);
  
  // turn 'em off
  digitalWrite(led0, LOW);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led1, LOW);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led2, LOW);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led3, LOW);
  delay(500);
  digitalWrite(led4, LOW);
  delay(500);
}

As you can see it is a  very straightforward hack. No special tricks or shortcuts here!

Expect to see more projects here using the Trinket from time to time... :-)
Till next time...
-Galen

We are Moving Again!

posted Aug 13, 2013, 8:45 AM by Galen Raben

August 12th, 2013:
A year ago we were moving our headquarters from Wyoming to Idaho. This year another job change means we get move again! This time to Utah. The DroidBuilder Store will be closed from August 12th to August 19th - We will still be accepting orders, but any responses/shipments will not occur until after Monday the 19th! This week will be a very busy week for me as I relocate my household and business. Please be patient with us as I have to divert my attention to the business of moving!

SparkFun's 2013 AVC

posted Jun 15, 2013, 7:23 PM by Galen Raben   [ updated Jan 8, 2014, 8:49 PM ]

June 15, 2013
On a more fun subject... We had so much fun at the SparkFun's AVC  (short for Autonomous Vehicle Competition) last year, we decided to attend the event again this year! This year the AVC was held June 8th at Boulder Reservoir, which was a change from their past events being held at the SparkFun Campus. This allowed them to bring back the popular aerial vehicles and also gave them much more room for competions and spectators. The aerial competition was held on the side by the lake (Boulder Reservoir), with competitors completing much of the course over the water. The ground competitions were held nearby in a large open area and parking lot.

AVC 2013 Sumarry Video


Upon entering the gates these signs greeted visitors and added some sense of fun to the event...


The ground competition seemed much more competitive this year, last year seemingly most competitors couldn't get off the starting line (though there were a few stunning runs. This year much of the action was fast and furious with many of the competitors getting well through the course or completing. 

A couple of photos of the ground competition starting line...



A view of the first corner on the ground course showing a bit more of the course and some of the obstacles competitors had to steer around.


A photo of one of the competitors clearing a barrel obstacle in the course.


One of my favorite competitors. It was big and fast. And gas powered! (Obviously an adrenaline junkie, note the Go-Pro camera just below his chin)...


The final challenge obstacle in the aerial competition. If you look closely just under the orange cable to right, a quadcopter is hovering below the cable. Unfortunately for this one, the quadcopter decided it was time to go vertical here, and crashed promptly into the cable just after I took this photo...


A photo of a bit more of the aerial course, Just above the boat on the left, you see a portion of the peninsula the where the aerial competitors were to fly out to, drop a bomb on a target, and come back from there...


Some of the free "Swag" I picked up at the competition. (note, there was also a neat little balsa bi-plane, but my son has it and wasn't available when I snapped this photo)...


All in all we had a great time at this year's SparkFun AVC and hope to go again next year - only this time as a competitor? I've got lots of ideas to play with for the ground competition. Many of them involving an Arduino and the Raspberry Pi I picked up last winter...
-Galen

New Rates Added on Shipping...

posted Jun 15, 2013, 4:58 PM by Galen Raben

June 15, 2013
I don't like being the bearer of bad news - The rates I am being charged for shipping are changing, and it has gotten to the point where we can no longer absorb the costs. Rather than increasing my prices dramatically across the board, I have decided to start charging separately for shipping. As of today, we are now charging separately for shipping! Here in the U.S. rates have not changed hugely, but for my overseas customers the rates I am being charged have more than tripled over the past few months. I run a pretty lean profit margin in DroidBuilder as is, so these increases have been hitting our operating costs hard. I wish I could continue to offer free shipping everywhere, but the bottom line is, it is no longer practical to do so. US customers will largely be unaffected with domestic shipping seeing only an additional $5 shipping added to their order, but outside of US, customers will now see a $12 shipping charge added to their order.
Thanks to all of you for your continued support!
$$

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