This is MAKE’s third issue featuring robots, after Volume 06 in 2006 and Volume 27 in 2011. So, what’s changed in robots in that span of time from a maker’s perspective?
Those issues focused on the playful side of DIY robotics: robots as toys or pets, robots that entertain. But bot builders are also getting serious. Like many makers, they’re evolving from hobbyist to professional. As hardware becomes ever more sophisticated and less expensive, as maker communities grow (both online and off) and offer better advice and collaboration, and as crowdfunding boosts good ideas from prototype to product, all forms of maker innovation are benefiting.
In the robotic realm, there’s no better example than our cover story. In this first-person account by David Lang we meet Eric Stackpole, who, joined by David and hundreds of collaborators, created an open source underwater exploration vehicle, the OpenROV. Typically ROVs are incredibly expensive, but this humble project is a game changer. The creators had no prior experience building underwater robots, but were able to leverage online expertise, local makerspace tools, and off-the-shelf parts. After an impressive Kickstarter campaign, they now even offer a kit. Their inspiring story caught the attention of Google and NASA. The venerable National Geographic Society has even approached them to talk about using similar rovers in their Explorers Program.
Humanoid robots are normally prohibitively expensive, too. Even the DARwIn-OP, an open source robot created as an affordable mini humanoid, costs upwards of $12,000. By 3D-printing his own parts and sourcing cheaper components, robot builder Michael Overstreet built a DARwIn-OP clone for half that price. His 1.5-foot-tall robot is a state-of-the-art humanoid that’s as capable as commercial robots costing three times more.
There’s never been a better time to delve into robotics, whether you’re a tinkerer or a more serious explorer. With the powerful tools and expertise now available, the next great leap in robot evolution is just as likely to come from your garage as a research lab. Beginners will love our Arduino-based CoffeeBot. We even show you how to make a mini linear actuator out of a lip balm tube. So what are you waiting for? The robots aren’t going to build themselves. Yet. The ingenuity in this issue doesn’t stop with robots. You’ll find a clever door-top “safe” for stashing valuables, a surprisingly good-sounding cigar box speaker built with the lowly LM386 audio amp chip, and a hand-cranked Geiger counter. Très steam-punk! And do you think the output of your hobby-grade 3D printer is the best you can do? Think again. Matt Griffin, who helped us mastermind our popular MAKE Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing, shows you finishing techniques to take your 3D prints to a whole new level.
You’d be forgiven for wondering: Who the heck comes up with this stuff? Makers — clever, creative people exploring the limits of their imaginations and skill sets, and just having fun making and sharing things. I don’t know about you, but in some small, weird way, that lip-balm actuator gives me hope for the future.
MAKE Volume 34: Join the robot uprising! As MAKE's Volume 34 makes clear, there’s never been a better time to delve into robotics, whether you’re a tinkerer or a more serious explorer. With the powerful tools and expertise now available, the next great leap in robot evolution is just as likely to come from your garage as a research lab. The current issue of MAKE will get you started. Explore robot prototyping systems, ride along with the inventors of the OpenROV submersible, and learn how you can 3D-print your own cutting-edge humanoid robot for half the price. Plus, build a coffee-can Arduino robot, a lip balm linear actuator, a smartphone servo controller, and much more