Jim Hawkridge

Technogames Robot

io Picture

io is our entry into the BBC's Techno Games 2002 robotics competition. Designed by James, Maureen, Mike and Sara we entered her into the competition after seeing the 2001 Techno Games on TV in March 2001.

We decided to enter the Gymnastics event because we thought that it offered the best opportunity to build something new and interesting. Our team consists of people with backgrounds in Electronic and Mechanical Engineering and well as in Arts and Architecture. In fact Noel Sharkey, one of the presenters on the show, said that our robot was "The perfect blend of art and technology".

We built the robot at home on our kitchen table (it's warmer than out in the garage) and for the mechanical contruction used mainly Mechano plus anything else we could find lying around. We also paid a trip to the local hardware store which is where we found the pipe bending spring which forms the spine of the robot. We also used papier maché for the head, dress boneing for the spiral and arcrylic sheet for the arms. For the decoration and "clothing" we used spray paint, silver coloured cloth, beads, cardboard, broken christmas decorations, an old bowl and more.

Dad and Jim making io
Another picture of io
We decided to conceal all the "workings" underneath the base and control the arms and spine by using motors to pull on strings. Somewhat like a puppet or an automata. The spine was made of a pipe bendings spring which could be made to bend forward and backwards. The arms were made in sections out of acrylic sheet and would curve up and down when the strings were pulled and released.

To move the robot we use 4 motors. The two for powering the wheels were bought specially, the one for the arms was removed from an old toy car and the one that bends the spine backwards and forwards we had already. The motors are controlled by a PIC16F877, a cheap but relatively powerful microcontroller (a microcrontroller is like a small (in this case about 5cm long) computer specifically designed for controlling electronic circuits). Potentiometers were rigged to provide information about the position of the spine and arms to the PIC. Potentiometers are like the volume control on a hi-fi, the PIC knows how far it has been turned and therefore how far the arms or spine have moved. We built 4 motor driver circuits to allow the PIC to control the motors. There is also a control panel to allow us to start and stop the robot and test it. The robot has a serial port to allow programs to be transferred to it from a PC.

Base of io with parts labeled.
Click on the picture to see a larger version.
io transportation box
We had to build a special box to transport the robot because she wouldn't fit in the car standing up.

After we'd been building the robot for a while we started looking for some music for her to perform to. We wanted something etherial or spacey and chose a tune called Morning Star by Planet Heaven. No, we hadn't heard of it either until we bought the CD. We loaded the song into a PC and edited it down to 2 minutes long (it was 10 minutes before editing). We then wrote down the times at which all the important moments in the song occured. The PIC program was then timed to run so that the robot would stop and start in the right places. We added beeps to the start of the song so that we knew exactly when to press the start button on the control panel. The whole process of choreographing the dance took about a day.

io in the ThinkTank in Birmingham

io performs in qualifying at the ThinkTank in Birmingham

March 2002

© James Hawkridge 1999-2018