‘The Butler and The Waiter’ – Interview with Rob Beaney

The programmable robots we create at Makeblock are built with the goal of inspiring people to become inventors and turn their ideas into reality. With this in mind, we’re always curious to see what our users are making — meet Rob, he’s an Educational Support Officer from NSW, Australia. We recently stumbled upon a project Rob shared in our Talk & Share Facebook group. Impressed by the results, we decided to catch up with Rob and find out more about The Butler and The Waiter.

Hey Rob, could you please start by introducing yourself and explain how you got interested in programmable robots?

Hi, my name is Rob and I am a retired electrician and I have been studying computers and IT support at Inverell TAFE for 5 years now after I was forced to retire early due to health issues. Living in the north west of New South Wales with not much going on unless you create it yourself, I got busy studying IT and while doing Certificate 4 in IT came across programmable robots and a fantastic array of toys for big and little kids. I had previously programmed PLC’s (Programmable Logic Controllers) in my working life and I also had a background of building crazy technical stuff for work and play.

How did this project arise, what was its purpose?

This whole project started this time last year when I got an email about Airblock drones. Makeblock soon appeared on my screen along with the Raspberry Pi in my efforts to learn Python and when I found out I could combine the two, The Butler was born. It all started as a simple Makeblock Ultimate 2.0 kit project and grew from there, and grew and grew and is still growing.

What is the function of the ‘The Butler’ and ‘The Waiter’?

A friend of mine, Adam started building The Waiter and we realized it would need modification to work with the Butler so we could make the film you can watch on Youtube. Function wise, what you see is what you get. Both projects were built to not only learn programming, but to demonstrate to newcomers to robotics the different functions and actions that can be created. As I write this, The Waiter is 500 kilometers away demonstrating to other country students what can be learned at TAFENSW and The Butler is undergoing more Modifications detailed later.

How did the Makeblock robots help to achieve the final results?

Makeblock provided a very high percentage of parts and sensors for both robots. A Raspberry Pi 3B on the Butler along with a couple of home made brackets make up the extras on the Butler. I used Makeblock parts from several different models including a metallic limit switch I found on the Giraffe 3D Printer. Reliability of parts has been quite good considering this is an evolving challenge and nearly always being used to demonstrate or reprogrammed. Further expansion will be done using a ME Arduino (Ranger) board to utilize this boards extra sensors and inputs.

What was the process like of programming robots?

The relatively easy programming and use of Bluetooth to control The Waiter was encouraging for us as new programmers with Makeblock.

The Butler is continuing to evolve and will do for the rest of this year until I achieve my Certificate 4 in Programming. I have written several programs, one of which you can watch on the Youtube link. I also have an obstacle avoidance program nearly complete and very different from the Mbot. A cruise control program also means The Butler can follow The Waiter maintaining  the approximate same speed and distance when following the Waiter. These three programs plus more are now being married together to form one program which should greatly improve the versatility of this robot. Now The Butler can can also be Bluetooth controlled. (A word for those going down the Bluetooth path is that the Bluetooth module must be removed if you put the Megapi board back into computer programmed mode. Your robot will not go back into Bluetooth mode otherwise.)

The robots seem like they have quite a few modifications, can you estimate how long was spent on this project?

The waiter probably only took a weekend or so to modify with geared lift and extended jib and learning to code it. The Butler, well I would hate to think of the hours I have played with this robot modifying, improving and coding it however I have learned so much in just one year.

If you decided to re-adjust the robots now, is there anything you would add or remove?

The Butler is being upgraded from an Orion Board to a ME Arduino Board from the Ranger Robot. This will allow me a lot more sensors and inputs so that an accurate measuring system can be employed. I have removed the Raspberry Pi 3B at this point and am endeavoring to link the ME Arduino to the Megapi board using one program to activate the sensor on the other board until such time as a hardware link can be found.  Honestly the sky is the limit for imagining what this robot could do and I can only offer encouragement to fellow coders to get out there and create.

Thanks for giving us insight into the work Rob, are there any other robotics projects you have planned for the future – are you able to share any of them with us?

My next project that I am starting on now is a humanoid robot named ERIC (Electronic Robot Interactively Controlled). ERIC will use several boards for different functions and will have voice and vision recognition hardware and software. Using Makeblock parts and boards and linking in with raspberry pi, ERIC will be an interesting project for the rest of the year. Thanks for reading and happy robotics.


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