“The hobbyist way is a really effective way to do
things. We’re utilizing tools that are available
to everyone. I’m wanting to do some things that
management of Eastern Market, the location of
the city’s largest farmer’s market and an area in
need of new occupants now that the butchers
had left town.
Andrew’s nickname for his factory robot is the Orange Twinkie. About three feet long
and a foot-and-a-half tall, the Orange Twinkie
consists of subsystems for vision, drive, safety,
and human interface, all tied together by a core
system running under the Microsoft .Net Micro
Framework, which is what Andrew programs.
I saw a demonstration of the Orange Twinkie,
moving autonomously around a test track
defined by orange tape. Its goal was to approach
a heavy item, pick it up, and relocate it. All the
while the robot was busy, it played a chiptune
from the Nintendo 64 game Mega Man, which
Bilal had added.
A well-built Lego Mindstorms robot could follow
tape using a sensor to detect contrast between
the floor and the tape; however, a factory environment is not a typical Lego playfield. The tape
can be removed easily to disrupt the robot, and
the robot needs to be able to know if there are
any obstacles in the way.
Andrew’s robot can follow the tape, but it
also knows what to do if it gets bumped off the
path. One of its upgrades is a vision system that
can tell if people are in its path. If pushed away
from the tape, the robot can reorient itself and
get back on track. Andrew explained: “We have
forward-looking vision and see ten feet out.
We can cross aisles without having to put tape
He’s learning about just how harsh the factory
environment is. The robot will get kicked and
even abused by workers who don’t like that a
robot may be doing a job previously done by
humans. One engineer who’s been in the field for
20 years told Andrew about examining a damaged robot that had numerous holes drilled in it,
making it look like Swiss cheese.
By mid-April, Jeff had found a place in Eastern Market and formed hackerspace Omni
Corp Detroit with a group of makers including
Bethany Shorb and Andrew Sliwinski. With a
grant from the Kresge Foundation, he’s developing an entrepreneurial community workshop to
build tools for urban farming, in association with
Earthworks, a leader in Detroit’s urban agriculture movement. And he’s teaching electronics
classes for kids.
“This is what I wanted to be doing,” Jeff said.
“This is why I came here.”
Detroit’s a wide-open frontier.
Dale Dougherty is the founder of MAKE magazine and
GM of the Maker Media division of O’Reilly Media.
36 Make: Volume