It's Alive!

Hello_World by Ryan Luke Johns
Hello_World, a photo by Ryan Luke Johns on Flickr.
After an incredible amount of pulled-hair and late-night troubleshooting, we finally have movement. "Abe" took his first awkward steps in his new home on November 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm. It wasn't soon after that a test-run code was generated and the above image was produced. The robot's path was programmed in its native RAPID language with the assistance of Rhino 3D and Python. The image is simply a long exposure+flash (no Photoshop!) of the robot moving along this path with an LED taped to it.

To summarize what it took to get where we are, here's a little slideshow (click the pop-out button to view it in a new window):

This is the end of the beginning. Let the work begin!

Finding Power

Heap by nhfoley
Heap, a photo by nhfoley on Flickr.
This is what a heap of three-phase motors looks like.

Like any proper golem, getting power to the robot required searching ruins for the necessary components. Months of stalking Craigslist and Ebay led us to southern New Jersey; to an industrial food-processing scrapyard dense with stainless-steel mechanica large enough to humble any project.

Heap by nhfoley
Field, a photo by nhfoley on Flickr.

Turning American outlet electricity into "industrial robot" electricity means a rotary phase converter and a transformer - shifting a single phase of AC to three, and boosting 240 volts to 480. We were looking for the transformer plus the motor that would become the heart of our rotary phase converter, and if finding them was a challenge, leaving with them at a price we could afford was almost impossible. Nonetheless, honestly telling someone you have no more money in your bank account is an effective bargaining tactic, and after much awkward standing around, our components were being loaded on to the Jeep. 

Heap by nhfoley
Placement, a photo by nhfoley on Flickr.

Heap by nhfoley
Status, a photo by nhfoley on Flickr.

By the end of the day, we had what we needed, in a space rapidly crowding with equipment. A package, en route from California, contains the phase converter panel... the final piece required.

Hurry Up and Wait

Dormant 6400 by Ryan Luke Johns
Dormant 6400, a photo by Ryan Luke Johns on Flickr.

After all of the suspense of getting two and a half tons of robot successfully delivered, things are starting to feel a bit like Christmas without batteries: we've got the toys, but we can't turn them on.
The robot controller requires 3-phase, 480-volt power, and the few AA batteries we've got lying around just don't cut it. Hopefully a field trip to southern NJ tomorrow will bring two-thirds of the equation: a monster transformer and a 3-phase motor. Then it's just waiting for the mailman to arrive with the CNC-grade phase-conversion panel before we can see this thing move.
In the meanwhile, we can only marvel at this dormant giant as we ready its surroundings (new lights!) and dig through thousands of pages of manuals...occasionally stopping work to giddily make childish whirring-robot sounds as we imagine the potentials of this beautiful machine.


Finally in place! by nhfoley
Finally in place!, a photo by nhfoley on Flickr.

After years of dreams, months of research and weeks of implementation, we can finally say it: there is a massive robot in the garage.

This is the point where the story begins, but to arrive here we’ve had to live many others: stories of masons, inspectors, truckers, heroic forklift operators, robot dealers...and their mothers. Of late nights spent organizing, building and levelling, and early mornings of hectic train rides, supply runs, snow storms, and inundant concrete. The parts have become whole: the behemoth awaits [the arrival of a transformer and phase converter].

In the suburbs of central new jersey, something is building.