RoboHeart Part 1

I like making Christmas presents (or any presents, really). You can make them personalized and be certain that the recipient doesn’t already have one. And thanks to the personal fabrication revolution being fueled by the MakerBot, laser cutters, and the Arduino, I have the tools to make presents better than I ever could before.

Back in June, I used the CRASH Space MakerBot Cupcake CNC to make a chihuahua cameo for the missus. She was thrilled. That was just the beginning.

Chihuahua Cameo

A few months ago, the missus told me her robot sculpture was broken and asked if I could fix it. I knew right away that’s what my Christmas present to her was going to be.

The robot sculpture is a piece of art that she got years ago as a Christmas present from dear friends. It’s made mostly of junk metal parts, with some custom cast aluminum pieces, and a red plastic heart which is illuminated from the inside. It’s a humanoid robot that is holding a small dog on a chain, which she treasures even more now because the dog looks like our dogs.

The sculpture is by Jim Bauer, who started making these junk sculptures years ago. You used to be able to buy them at the great Storyopolis bookstore in Los Angeles.

I figured that the bulb was burned out inside the sculpture, as it had never been changed and was maybe 10 years old. Sure, I could have replaced the bulb and been a hero. But, I thought… I could make it better!

You see, the robot’s heart was red and flickered a bit. OK, that’s pretty cool. But what if I could make it turn any color I wanted by remote, over the internet? Yeah, that would be really cool. And really geeky.

My inspiration was Todbot who brought a Twitter monitor into CRASH Space, built from a Async Labs Yellowjacket Wi-Fi Arduino and a BlinkM programmable LED (that Todbot makes). He had it looking at the Twitter stream and any time a tweet mentioned “BlinkM” and a color name, it would turn that color. That meeting was not terribly productive, but quite a bit of fun.

You can see a version of this in action on the Colbert Report during Mark Frauenfelder’s interview.

So, the plan was: get a Wi-Fi enabled Arduino, get a BlinkM MaxM (the biggest, baddest version of the BlinkM), replace the robot’s red plastic heart with a translucent MakerBot-printed version, and replace the burned-out light-bulb with the BlinkM. I would have to sneak it away from its spot in the living room to do the work, and hope the missus would not notice (fortunately, she did not).

Easy, right?

Well, not really. There were some challenges.

But it turned out pretty well anyway.

RoboHeart Green

Continued in part 2.

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