Rabbit Draft

Ever since I saw the Little Bot project from Matt Chilbert at BirdBrain Technologies, I’ve day dreamed about using his ideas to make a plushy rabbit toy.

Little Bot – BirdBrain Technologies

But, have you ever tried to mount a motor into toy stuffing? Making a squishy toy that has motors inside isn’t easy. Below is the story of how I tried – and am still trying. I didn’t have directions to follow. I just knew that I wanted a plushy bunny that would “look around” like a real rabbit.

For each idea in this process, I tried lots of other ideas before I moved on to the next idea. Also, sometimes I got on an airplane in between ideas because I travel a lot for work. (Those photos are below, also.)

My goal is to create a simple robot plushy that mimics life-like behavior.  If you have shareable resources on this topic, please email them to me katie@katiedays.com. I’d love to see them (and share them in the next blog post.)

Rabbit Draft

 

This 14 second video has music.

Key Ideas I’ll Try Next Time

  1. Insert electronics from the tail of the bunny, not the head.
  2. Try attaching the head separately and last. This might make for a more emotionally appealing face because you can get the details right before attaching it.
  3. Use fabric that doesn’t shred easily. Felt or wool might be a better option than what you see in my photos. (I used micro felt because it was extra soft. I thought it would move nicely with the micro servos, but it ended up just fraying easily at the edges.)
  4. Try micro servos with plastic gears instead of metal gears to save a few dollars.

Materials You’ll See Below

2 micro servos (plastic gears)

2 micro servos (metal gears)

micro:bit

ring:bit

MicroBlocks

Felt, embroidery floss, needle (any will do)

Eva Foam 10mm thick (You can get Eva Foam at JoAnn fabrics)

Eva Foam 2 mm thick

Stuffed Rabbit Directions

Rabbit Template

(Choose from lots of interesting and free patterns here) 

Cutting knife/cutting mat

Sharpie marker

Here we go

First, I started with a simple cardboard version.  (Hey, it looked like a rabbit to me.) I programmed it in MicroBlocks.

Well, that was easy enough. I put a picture of the MicroBlocks bunny Rosa on the front and called it a day. That was all I had time for before I went to FETC in Miami, Florida for work.

This is a picture of Rosa, the MicroBlocks logo.

 

I love the Banyon trees in Florida. This one grows outside of the Miami Convention Center.

Once I returned from FETC, I had to go to the BETT show in London right away. So, my bunny project waited a few more days.

I met up with Lindsay and Eric from Strawbees at the Bett show. Have you see the new micro:bit powered Strawbees kit? It’s incredible.

 

Once I got back from BETT, I had a new idea to try. I chopped up a memory foam pillow, and made a servo shelf with 2 pieces of 10 mm Eva Foam. The Eva Foam securely held my servos, but the servos weren’t strong enough to move the 2mm black foam (AKA: future bunny face) the way I liked. So, I ordered micro servos with metal gears, thinking they’d be stronger. (This may not have been necessary because the most recent design I’ve used is fairly small and light weight.)

Also, memory foam is difficult to cut without special tools. Of the tools I had available, a bread knife was the best solution.

 

Memory foam cut into a rough bunny shape. Plastic micro servos mounted into a shelf of Eva Foam.

 

Folded foam sheet simulating future bunny face

 

After I tried that idea, I had to pack my suitcases again to go to TCEA in Austin, Texas. TCEA was a strangely green trip.

 

The world is my classroom. At TCEA my classroom number was 437.

 

My Uber driver came in this lime green Dodge Charger.

 

I ordered this breakfast smoothie. After I realized how green it was, I couldn’t NOT take this picture. (Trust me, you would have done it, too.)

Okay, Now We’re Getting Somewhere

Once I got home from TCEA, I spent a lot of time preparing for the class John Maloney and I were teaching at Infosys Winter Pathfinders. We had video meetings most mornings.

John is a great teacher. Here we are playing with MicroBlocks using a micro:bit and a servo.

 

After one of our morning meetings, I started working on the code for my future rabbit. I knew I wanted to use the radio feature of the micro:bit to wirelessly send messages from one micro:bit to another micro:bit, in order to control the servos. Below is the program I wrote.

The top code is the “receiver script.” In this photo the x-axis tilt will control one servo while the y-axis tilt will control the other servo. That means when I tilt the the “sender” micro:bit forward and backward, the rabbit will look down and up. When I tilt the “sender” micro:bit right and left, the rabbit will look right and left.

During the class we taught, I managed to find a few minutes to try making another type of bunny head.

This bunny head was mounted on two servos and moving in interesting ways. I took the servos apart though to give one to a student. I don’t have a video to show you.

Once I got back from Infosys Winter Pathfinders with John, I was ready to dive into my project because I had 8 full days before traveling again.

First

First, I decided that I had a good concept for stabilizing the servos with Eva Foam from the memory foam rabbit.

This is a soft and durable way to stabilize the servo motors, so I decided to keep it. 

Next, I decided it was time to get a real pattern. I knew I wanted a plushy rabbit, so I searched free rabbit patterns.  I chose the pattern below because I thought the servos would fit well in the neck. (I noticed that the distance between the base of the rabbit and it’s neck was similar to the height of my servos stacked on top of each other.) So, I traced the pattern and cut out the shapes from my fabric.

Template here: http://www.creativityinpieces.com/2013/03/07/easter-bunny-template/

 

My printer isn’t working. So, I laid a piece of copy paper on my computer screen and traced the shapes with a pencil.

 

After cutting out the paper shapes, I used the same pencil to trace the shapes onto my fabric. You don’t need anything fancy to trace onto fabric. Unless your fabric is fancy.

 

I made a mirror image of the rabbit because I wanted the “same side” of the rabbit to face outward. One side of this fabric is a bit fuzzier than the other.

 

This is a fairly simple pattern, but I’d like to see if I can make an even simpler one for the next project.

Second

Even though the directions showed me how to stitch these pieces together, I still had to figure out how I was going to insert my motors. I also needed to figure out how I would attach the motors to the rabbit itself.

I used a blanket stitch to connect my pieces. Read how to assemble a non-robot rabbit here: http://www.creativityinpieces.com/2013/03/07/easter-bunny-template/

 

It could be a dinosaur, or a turtle, or a green jello mold.

Third    

Next time I will NOT insert the motor in the front (as I tried here). Next time I will stitch up the front of the rabbit and leave the back open. There are several seams on the front of the rabbit, and trying to stitch them together while holding the motors in place was very tricky. This trickiness combined with the fraying fabric makes the front of my first-draft rabbit pretty raggedy.

The square shelf holding the servo motors was too wide, so I cut it in half.
This is kind of lumpy, but I needed a prototype to see if the height of the motor would move the rabbit’s head and neck.

Here’s what happened. (The black thing sticking out of the side when the head turns is a piece of 2mm foam. You’ll see more about that piece below.)

 

Fourth/ Some Things I Did Next

I stitched up the rest of the rabbit and left the front open for the motors. (As I’ve said, this was a terrible idea. Next time leave the back open for the motors. Also, try fabric that doesn’t fray, like felt or wool.)
I used the 2mm Eva Foam to create a soft form to go inside the rabbit. As you can see this is too big. To create a form that fits inside of the rabbit, I reduced my original rabbit template from 200% to 150% and made the form you see below.

 

I mirrored the front-half of the rabbit body pattern and put the “head top” in the middle. (These are pieces from this template http://www.creativityinpieces.com/2013/03/07/easter-bunny-template/)

 

I slid the form into the rabbit body and saw that it was still too big, so I trimmed it down.
I had to trim this black form down.
This is the final form. Since I was adding material into the body of the rabbit, I needed to reduce the height of my servo base, too.
20 mm high works perfectly for the rabbit neck and head, and the base is still strong enough to keep the motors in place. I chose to keep it long so that it reached into the belly of the rabbit and didn’t somehow flip itself over.

 

See how well it works?

So this is what went inside of the rabbit’s body.

Yes, it’s a bit floppy outside of the rabbit, but once it goes inside, it seems to work okay. There is definitely room for improvement in this form. 

Stitching the rabbit together at this point was difficult. Next time, insert electronics in the back.
A bit raggedy, but still pretty cute
A rabbit with attitude

Programming My Rabbit

Once I sealed my servo motors inside of the rabbit, I didn’t know how exactly they would move. Using MicroBlocks was a good choice for me because I could quickly make changes to my program. I needed to find out how far my rabbit’s head could move without looking crazy, or worse, falling apart.  By using MicroBlocks, I could test in real-time (no waiting for something to download) the range of my servos inside of the rabbit.

Pressing A on the micro:bit causes the rabbit to rest. Pressing B on the micro:bit creates a random rabbit movement. My next step is to make these radio controlled features so that I can remove the wires (as you saw in my example code above.)

Note: I do not have a micro:bit connected to MicroBlocks in this photo. That’s why there isn’t a green circle behind the USB cord icon.

Rabbit Draft

This 14 second video has sound. 

Need More Resources

If you have shareable resources on the topic of simple squishy robots, would you please email them to me, Katie@katiedays.com? I’d like to learn from them and include them in my next blog post.

 

A Low Cost Robotics Kit – Great for Girls

Inspire Creativity and Confident Risk-Taking with this Low Cost Robotics Kit

WHO

  • Library
  • STEAM/Maker Space
  • Computer Science Education
  • Interdisciplinary
Infosys WinterPathfinders 2020. Class “Art with the BBC micro:bit”  John Maloney, creator of MicroBlocks, and I facilitate workshops like this one with teachers using the tools below.

WHY – Read Colour Tower

Getting Started

micro:bit in front of Microblocks.fun website
MicroBlocks Activity Cards – Free

Why use micro:bit?

The micro:bit is a tiny programmable computer that makes STEM, computer science, and coding easy and fun.  With this one device, students can start taking creative risks in nearly any subject. Check out www.microbit.org for free lesson plans and student project ideas.

Why use MicroBlocks?

MicroBlocks is a small, fast, human friendly programming language specifically designed for tools like the micro:bit.  MicroBlocks is perfect for libraries, maker spaces, and anywhere with lots of people and resources coming and going.

Just plug your micro:bit into your computer,  open MicroBlocks, and click the gear icon to “update firmware”. That’s it.  Double-check to make sure the USB icon has a green circle behind it to show the connection is good. (See it in action below.)

Note: This 16 second video has sound.  

A Little More

You can do a lot with the buttons, sensors, and display built right into the micro:bit, but you can also do more by adding accessories.  The basic:bit is one way to easily add accessories.

Attach your micro:bit to the front of the basic:bit with 5 screws that come with the basic:bit. (See photos below.) Use the same battery pack that came with your micro:bit to power it all. MicroBlocks makes it easy to start programming your basic:bit instantly.

(Note: If it is difficult for your school to order basic:bits from that website above, try this one: https://chicagodist.com/products/elecfreaks-basic-bit-for-micro-bit-three-way-i-o-expansion-mini-version. The price goes up a bit, but the transaction should be smoother.)

micro:bit (top) and basic:bit (bottom)
Attach the micro:bit to the top of the basic:bit using the five screws that come with the basic:bit. Use the battery pack that came with your micro:bit to power it all.
The backside of the micro:bit attached to the basic:bit.

Rainbow Ready

(Note:  If it is difficult for your school to order from that website, try this one https://chicagodist.com/products/neopixel-rainbow-led-strip-and-gvs-conector-10-leds. The price goes up a bit, but the transaction should be smoother.)

micro:bit powered NeoPixel strip, programmed in MicroBlocks

Attach your NeoPixel strip to the basic:bit. The MicroBlocks NeoPixel activity card makes it easy to learn.  Because the basic:bit comes with a piezo speaker built in, try using the sound and NeoPixels together. The MicroBlocks sound  activity card will help you.

Note: This 4 second video has sound.

Puppets

This project was made using the winch and crank build videos at the BirdBrain Technologies Build page. This puppet uses two position servos: one in the eyes and one in the mouth. The MicroBlocks servos activity card makes it easy to get started with servos. Also, this puppet is being powered by the ring:bit instead of the basic:bit.  You can make a puppet with a basic:bit, but the extra battery in the ring:bit will help your puppet last longer.  However, the ring:bit doesn’t have a piezo speaker built in like the basic:bit does.

Note: This 5 second video has sound. 

Everything You Need

Getting Started

A Little More

Rainbow Ready

Puppets

A teacher builds a model bridge with a micro:bit powered servo driving a car back and forth. The project is programmed using MicroBlocks.

 

 

Contact me Katie@katiedays.com with questions.

What is a Maker Space? “I dwell here.”

<1 minute read

 

I realize important things when I am not focused on finding a solution.

 

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, Pittsburgh, 2018

“Showering, swimming, scrubbing, shaving, steering a car…all of these are regular, repetitive activities that may tip us over from our logic brain into our more creative artist brain.”1

 

What is the value of repetition?

 

“I visited this old man, a simple monk, in his hermitage and I asked him: “What do you do, Fr. Timothy?” to which he replied: “I dwell here.2

 

I visited a school, and asked a child, in her Maker Space, “What do you do?” to which she replied,

 

“I dwell here.”

 

  1. p. 22 Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron, 2016 []
  2. Prohegumenos Vasileios of Stavronikita and Iveron who retired to Iveron Skete. Ecology and Monasticism p. 13-14 []