The chipKIT uC32 has an infinite range of applications, especially in the field of low-cost robotics. In this blog post, I will be detailing its utility in controlling a variety of robotic appendages that you can build at home without needing much electronics knowledge or background!
The following projects were inspired by, and currently function as part of an ongoing “DIY Prosthetic” series. However, the simple and cheap methods to building and controlling robotic appendages detailed in this guide can also be used for non-medical purposes. This might be useful if you are attempting to add a claw onto a mobile rover, control a robot arm, or create any sort of wearable costume or prop. [Editor’s note: It’s also useful for frightening your coworkers.]
So far, there are three separate “arms” one can build, each with its own function and specialty. These can either be individually controlled by the uC32 directly wired into the servos, or you can create a separate platform with all the electronics on board so that you can easily interchange which arm you want to control without rebuilding the electronics on each time.
I used zUNO clips to quickly and easily attach the separate appendages. I simply glued and taped one clip to the base platform and then cut out 3 inch by 3 inch squares of stiff cardboard. I attached the squares to each arm so that I can wedge them into the zUNO clips whenever I want to have a new arm.
The first in my current arsenal of appendages is a basic Animatronic Hand. This is designed to look and feel the most like a human hand, and was constructed using Popsicle sticks, coffee straws and string. My full Instructable can be found here.
After completing the hand I decided that I wanted something with a bit more gripping power, so I built the Mousetrap Claw. Both systems are only using only one servo, however this design utilizes the natural gripping power of a standard mousetrap to allow the user to pick up heavier objects. Instructable here.
The final finished appendage option is the DIY Tentacle. I took on this idea as more of a challenge, and out of sheer curiosity and to make up for a noticeable lack of or DIY tentacle guides on the internet. The result was a rather large and unsettling appendage that, delightfully enough, moves in a very similar way to your common cephalopod. The Instructable for this build can be found here.
As for the electronics, these projects primarily utilize a uC32 and a single servo. However there is potential for them to be hooked up to a wide variety of Pmods and sensors to add additional functionality and responsiveness. An example of this is the hooking up of the Pmod ALS to the palm of the Animatronic Hand in order to create a intuitively closing hand, that could ideally be used as a basic prosthetic.