July 13, 2015

Building a robotic spider army

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Odecee runs regular ‘brownbags’ back at our home base, which give our team an opportunity to develop their skills and learn more about other projects, people and plans for the business. We’ll be providing regular updates on relevant content from these brownbags throughout the year. In our first installment, we learned all about Steve…

Meet Steve, the robotic spider:


… and the prototype for what will become a legion of Spiderbot Warlords that will take over the planet!

Fears for the future aside, Adam’s Purdie’s brownbag discussing his very cool – albeit intimidating – remote (via android smartphone) spider robot was an incredible example of the evolutionary coupling of hardware and software development.

First, we got a little background on Adam, and Steve. Adam has been interested in electronics since he was quite young; he soon discovered there was a difference between electronics and being an electrician, and decided crawling through ceilings and underneath dwellings wasn’t his kettle of fish.

Having made this important distinction, he took up electronics studies. At the same time, he began computer programming as a hobby; here, he had his next epiphany – he realised programming could circumvent a lot of the repetitive tasks involved in electronics. It was then ‘hasta luego’ to his diploma and down the path of software engineering – the path towards Steve the spiderbot.

The skills to create what would become Steve were already there, but ultimately it was a bit of ‘friendly’ goading that provided the real motivation. A cocky former colleague – with whom Adam had discussed his ideas for global domination by spiderbot – claimed Adam was NEVER going to deliver his beloved Steve into the world. Adam was defiant. He set about building his first test case – Frankenbuggy.

Adam describes Frankenbuggy as a “bluetooth-enabled, loud, fast, inaccurate, turns-on-a-rusty-dime, disheveled, one-in-a-million buggy’. A robot only a father could love.


Adam actually brought Frankenbuggy to his first interview at Odecee… but he left the phone remote at home. His non-functioning, unprepossessing buggy was to be his big selling point for employment. Let’s just say he needed revert to more standard interview techniques to get him across the line.

Adam started to realise very quickly he was not the only one interested in robotics, so he kicked off ‘Robots and Sandwiches’ – his street gang (except they stay mainly indoors). Together, the crew work on electronics, 3D printing, robot-building, hot chocolates and, of course, sandwich-eating.

This is where Steve started to take shape. Using arduino-programming kit and written in C, Steve was the teacher of patience, and Adam the student – who had to learn quickly.

The beauty of living in 2015 is the low cost of hardware and 3D printing, affording any would-be robot developer the opportunity to begin assembling their army – in this case, a spider army, with literally hundreds of custom build 3D parts. If you’ve ever witnessed the mesmerising, painstakingly slow process of 3D printing you’ll understand the biggest cost here was time.

But Adam was persistent.

There was a ‘kinda agile’ development process, some unnecessary bloodletting from getting the plastic off the 3D printer, lots and lots of iterations, heaps of fun and not much sleep…

Now, ladies and gentlemen, let Adam present to you – Steve (and yes, he remembered his remote this time):

Where to for the spiderbot army now? Adam says Steve was always just a prototype to prove that it could be done (and get his former coworker to pipe down). But, according to Adam, Steve “isn’t the smartest robot in the world”.

That’s why Yorick is coming – the all-powerful Yorick.

Adam is now building Yorick, using a raspberry Pi and Python for decision making and GoLang for the mathematical computation – with plans for using a Microsoft Kinect for vision.

Yorick will be able to walk up and down stairs and he’ll know where he’s going – if he falls, he’ll be able to get back up. He’s pretty much Skynet, in spider form.

If you’re interested in what inspired Adam’s work, please see links to the Boston Dynamics – robot dogs and wildcats copping kicks and trudging over any terrain – very very cool stuff.

We’re excited to meet Yorick, Adam, but Steve will always have a place in our hearts. To quote the animated classic ‘Over the Hedge’… I’m a lot less scared of Steve.

Categorised in: Innovation, Technology

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