UNDERSTANDING, DESIGNING & CONSTRUCTING ROBOTS & ROBOTIC SYSTEMS
■ BY VERN GRANER
THE PONGINATOR: What’s 20 feet
tall, blasts smoke, flashes lights,
roars air raid sirens, and shoots
ping pong balls?
WHEN WE THINK OF PERSONAL ROBOTICS, we
usually think of personal as referring to size, i.e., a
personal digital assistant or a personal computer.
Things that usually are small enough to fit in a shoe
box or at least fit on your workbench. This month, I
want to talk about how “personal” can also mean
interpersonal. Finding other people to help with
your projects and possibly to assist with theirs.
As a member of The Robot Group,
Inc., here in Austin, TX, I have
been lucky enough to find my evil
minion friends right here in town. This
is not to say that mailing lists and
online forums aren’t useful and/or fun,
but if it weren’t for these local folks
and their complimentary and overlapping skills, I would NEVER have been
able to complete the number and
type of projects I’ve tackled. A recent
example is The Ponginator we created
for the MAKER Faire in October.
MAIN SCREEN TURN ON!
The Ponginator was a project that
grew from a small need (a place to
hang a video projector screen) into the
centerpiece of The
Robot Group’s display
at the Faire. We
originally thought we
would use a PVC pipe
frame to hold up a
bed sheet to act as a
screen for our video
projector. About a
month before the
Faire, some roboteers
and I were sitting
■ FIGURE 1.
around my kitchen table sketching up
designs for a PVC pipe frame. We
decided the screen should be high
enough to be visible from far across
the arena. An eight foot tall design
soon became 16 feet tall, so there
would be room beneath the screen to
hold the PA system and power amps.
By the time the sketching and
brainstorming was done, our original
PVC frame bed sheet holder had
morphed into a 20’ tall, 1950’s
inspired, smoke belching, video
screen sporting, microcontroller
operated, articulated turret pneumatic
cannon ping pong ball shooting robot
with LED antennas, servo controlled
eyes, and police strobe lights (Figure
1). It’s a lot of fun to be around
creative people! Now all we had to do
was build it. How hard could it be?