Friends Letter: Spring 2011


Hello Friends of the Robotics Club!

It's been a while since we've reached out to you, but we've got a lot to share! If you haven't been to in a while you should check it out right after you're finished reading this. It's shiny and new! Make sure to check out the photo gallery - there are plenty of funny pictures and things to reminisce about. Spring Carnival is next week, which means the Open House is just around the corner! We'll be having the open house at 1:00 on Friday, April 15- right after the Mobot Slalom Race and RobOrchestra performance. Follow some Roboclub members after either event and see all the other cool projects in the works.

As far as daily club happenings, there have been a bunch of new additions and a reanimation to our ongoing RoboClub projects. Notably are the new Quadrotor project, the addition of Vibratron, Guitar Bot and Harmonica Bot to RobOrchestra, an evolution of StairBot to HyLo, and the re-establishment of the Underwater Swarm Robot project. The Undergraduate Research Office is continuing its support of RoboClub's efforts awarding grants to the Colony, GuitarBot, and Quadrotor projects this past semester. It's amazing to see how just $1000 can be stretched into our incredible undergrad projects. In the past year, we've also gained increased support from the Robotics Institute, notably the Humanoids Lab and the Field Robotics Center. The club is thrilled to see the continued interest shown by all of these groups!

As we grow, it gets harder and harder to find a home for all of our projects. So, to aid in storing our expanding family of robots, the club has undergone a bit of remodelling. We're better utilizing our limited basement space with the addition of new shelving. We've also gained a second workbench for soldering and electronics work, and have completely revamped the shop to facilitate the construction of high quality robots. The place is looking good! Maybe sometime in the near future we'll even see a shiny laser cutter appear in the shop...


Our projects are aplenty! In no particular order:
  • Quadrotor
  • HyLo
  • Colony
  • Colony Scout
  • Underwater Swarm Robots
  • RobOrchestra

1. Quadrotor
CMUQuadrotor is an autonomous and tele-operated aerial vehicle designed for completing vision based objectives. The Quadrotor Helicopter, or quadrotor for short, is an especially stable and extensible platform. Using a suite of sensors, our quadrotor will be able to perform GPS guided position holding, pathing and navigation with the aid of visual feedback. An end goal is to use the platform to map unstructured terrain, such as that present in the wilderness. The project is currently receiving support from the Undergraduate Research Office and the Field Robotics Center within the Robotics Institute.

2. Hylo
HyLo, short for Hybrid Locomotion, is a branch off of the previous year's work with StairBot. After having experienced the controls headache provided by a 24 degree-of-freedom walking machine, we're tackling moving without wheels in a different way. The HyLo project has created a simplistic, three link planar robot to develop reactive gaits to swing effectively from monkey bars. Our goal is to take the knowledge gained from the planar robot and eventually apply it to a robot able to interact with a three dimensional environment, such as swinging from trees or cargo nets. With the help of the Humanoids Lab in the RI, we think our goals are within reach.

3. Colony
The Colony project demonstrates the capabilities of a colony of low-cost robots that are able to localize relative to each other. This past semester, the project won a Small Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) to explore cooperative traffic navigation. Our aspiration is to simulate a real city with a map of dark lines which represent streets and to have the robots cooperate to explore their environment while following the lines as cars do on roads. From autonomous group exploration to efficient path-planning in a known environment, to replanning when any robot discovers an obstacle to the swarm, our research has many real-world applications when scaled to a human environment.

4. Colony Scout
The Colony project is one of the Robotics Club's largest projects. However, as we expand to more and more ambitious tasks, we've found that the current generation 3 colony robots are not always up to the challenge. In addition, a few of the bots have fallen into various states of disrepair as time marches onwards and components fail. With this in mind, members of the Colony project have designed the next generation of the colony project: Colony Scout.

Scout solves many of the problems currently facing the Colony 3 bots: they are powered by Gumstix micro-computers, which run Linux on an ARM architecture and provide many times the processing power of Colony 3. They are equipped with sonar rangefinders (which are more reliable than the current IR sensors), as well as downward-facing "cliff sensors" to prevent accidental tumbles off a table. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, each robot is equipped with an expansion bay. This provides the one thing that Colony 3 lacks completely: the ability for specialization. This allows us to explore new areas in cooperative robotics that we previously could not.

Find out more at

5. Underwater Swarm Robots
The Underwater Swarm Robots project team is working on creating a group of robots that work together to complete a common task. Currently, we are in the beginning stages of the project. We are constructing the prototype for the robot and establishing underwater communications. Once these are finished, we will move on to create more robots and write the software that the robots will run to communicate and make decisions.

6. RobOrchestra
RobOrchestra has two main projects this year: a Vibratron and a GuitarBot. The design for the vibraphone robot is a bit off the beaten path. Each of the 30 keys will be actuated by cascading ball bearings, which then recirculate back into the system. Significant progress has been made in the fabrication of this robot, with the primary funding source being a $1,000 SURG. The guitar robot, funded through its own SURG and an initial RoboClub subsidy, is a modular, single string, fretted instrument. The fabrication of this robot is nearly complete and is getting ready to play its first note. Also, an automated harmonica is in the works, but the current holdup is the expense of 12 bistable solenoid valves. Vibratron is going to be making its debut performance in the main tent on Midway at Carnival at noon on Friday, April 15, and we hope to see you there!


Our talented and skilled RoboClub members are always looking for real-world opportunities to learn and to apply their skills. If there are any internship or full-time opportunities at your place of employment, we can send those out to the jobs mailing list. Just e-mail to reach the talent and enthusiasm your work needs.


The Robotics Club is continuing to take steps to permeate the community. As usual, we'll be holding the annual Open House on the Friday of Carnival after a performance from RobOrchestra and the running of the Mobots. Various groups have come to us looking for demonstrations of quality robotics. We showed off various RoboClub projects to groups of high school students during National Engineering Week, to a slew of FIRST Robotics teams, and to various other passersby. We're also reaching out to the Boy Scouts by working with them to help them earn the newly instated Robotics Merit Badge. We're also continuing our student run course: Fun With Robots, where CMU students can enroll in the class and leave with a working and capable mobile robot.

Funding and Donations

Robots need parts! Software needs hardware! Programmers need pizza! And where do these parts, and hardware come from? You! Our individual project grants only get us so far, and without a supply of nice things to play with, robots will cease to be born. RoboClubTM can always benefit from donations, whether they be monetary or parts/equipment (in working order or not). If you'd like to donate just contact As always, we greatly appreciate your continuous support of the robot uprising!