Friends Letter: Spring 2012


Hello, friends of the Robotics Club!

We have a lot to share with you. In the past year we've seen four new projects get off the ground, and we've seen our existing projects come up with amazing new ideas. We've installed new club computers, reorganized and cleaned, even added an electronic window to our basement space. Coming up soon is our annual Rube Goldberg ice cream competition, and on its heels Mobot and Open House. If you're nearby, make sure to come by!

It's always great to see new faces and ideas, so we're proud to announce three new projects: Bookbot, Tank Chair, and WCTU (Wireless Controlled Testing Unit). Roboclub's internal awards, and generosity from Bossa Nova Robotics, have been extremely helpful in giving these projects legs. The Undergraduate Research Office has continued to fund our other projects: Colony, Quadrotor, and both RobOrchestra's Modular Drums and GuitarBot.

We've also seen some hardware upgrades over the last year. We were given four new computers, outfitted with top-of-the-line graphics cards - and it really makes a difference for the more complex 3D models. We added a fourth axis to our mill with a new rotary table. We hoisted Jim 2 onto one of the walls of the shop (ok, that was last year). A few hobby projects are scattered around the club: WindowTron started last year, and will soon be showing live outdoor images on the wall of the club, RiceBot may soon add cooked rice to the Fridge options, and a 3D chocolate printer for a class project can often be seen on the club tables. The club is definitely still a busy place.

Don't forget to check out every now and then for more updates!

New Projects

1. Bookbot
Now robots can read! Digitizing printed information has already seen some attention at CMU, and quite a few companies are also interested in making books available online. We're working on a machine that automates the scanning of a book: a mechanical arm flips the pages, and an overhead camera snaps a picture of each page. The mechanical part is well underway and uses two arms: one to push the page inward, and a second to grab under the page and flip it.

2. Tank Chair
Who wouldn't want a chair mounted to a gigantic set of treads and controlled by a red Pacman joystick? TankChair deals with some tough mechanical challenges: driving around a grown human means every part of the treads and axles has to be tough. It's seen its share of bending and breaking parts already, but should be cruising down the hallways soon enough.

Wirelessly Controlled Testing Unit - a portable, wireless, all-in-one oscilloscope and power supply. Some of the best projects are born in response to a real need, and this is definitely one of those. WCTU aims to reduce the cost of the unit, and make the measuring as convenient as possible so that multiple units could monitor every part of a system, transmitting data over a shared wireless computer to a central database.

Returning Projects

1. Colony
Colony has thrown its weight behind its next generation of robots, the Scout platform. With four wheels, a rotating sonar, and a versatile expansion bay, the Scout is an upgrade from the well-used Colony 3 robots. Our group's goal is to use the collective power of the robots in factory automation. We're developing a forklift to pick up packages, attaching a line following sensor to read lines on the factory floor, and writing a simulator to help us test the behaviors - all at once! We can't wait to see it all come together soon.

2. Hylo
HyLo stands for Hybrid Locomotion, and the group has made some ambitious strides this semester, moving from a swinging monkeybar robot to a bipedal wheeled robot. Imagine a Segwey which can balance and drive, or separate its wheels and walk. It's a challenge for both the control and mechanical parts of the project.

3. Quadrotor
Last year, the Quadrotor project built a new aerial machine from scratch. This year, we've started with an excellent working design after the Robotics Institute gave us a high-end MikroKopter kit, and we've moved into the design of control and planning algorithms. We attached a PandaBoard for processing and an Xbox Kinect for vision, and we're working on following a moving object on the ground.

4. RobOrchestra
We've continued to upgrade Guitarbot and Vibraphone, and write new algorithms for software composition. Guitarbot now features a rotating pick and sliding fret, and plays smoothly! We're also in the process of adding a second string. Vibraphone has played last year, but it's still new, works well, and folds out to an impressive size.

5. Underwater Swarm
Underwater Swarm has existed in previous years, but it's seen a rebirth this year with an all-new team and purpose. Of course, building a waterproof robot is a huge challenge on its own, and the group has focused on building the robot's shell and propulsion system. The submarine is a few feet long and driven by newly-ordered propellers.


Our members are known for jumping in and getting things done. They're also usually on the lookout for summer internships and jobs! Interested in advertising your open position to our jobs mailing list? Just send an email with the description to, and we'll forward it to the list.

Connect With Us!

If you're in town in the next month, we have a few events and would be glad to see you. Check out our annual Rube Goldberg Ice Cream Competition at 9pm on April 6, or see the club's Open House after the Mobot competition. Mobot is at noon on April 20, so we expect to start the Open House at 3pm. It's the perfect time to visit and see what we've been up to!

Of course, there are plenty of places to connect with us online too. Our twitter is @roboclub, and our website is (but you knew that). Did you know that we also have a LinkedIn group? Search for "CMU Robotics Club" and you should find the group, which is targeted toward Robotics Club alumni.

Funding and Donations

Much of what we've accomplished this year was made possible only through generous donations: from computers and graphics cards to quadrotor helicopters and mobile robots, we have many people to thank. Yet there are so many more projects and dedicated students, and robots are expensive! Whether monetary donations, or parts and services, we can always benefit from what you have to give. If you'd like to donate, please email, or visit CMU's donation page. As always, we appreciate your support!