Holiday Bots

With the advent of the holidays upon us, the time has drawn nigh to enact upon happenstance the bewildering and beguiling wonderment of robotic holiday magic.

For around this time of year comes the creation of rare, sometimes elusive, and often confounding parties and contests geared toward the amazement of party-goers at the spectacle that is "holiday sweaters."

The Tree.

Okay, maybe not "holiday."

This year, the plain red, green, and white sweater templates were purchased from Michael's, and a felt Christmas tree was added, with LEDs strewn across it in a uniform but half-hazard fashion. The LEDs were hooked up to a sequencer program on an Arduino Pro Mini.

The usual suspects

Three robots were built:

  1. (Baby robot) An Arduino Pro Mini, a Nokia LCD display, and a tiny amplifier with micro speaker attached.
  2. (Dad Robot) A Particle Photon, with an OLED attachment, and a GenSing (and micro speaker).
  3. (Mom Robot) An Intel Edison with the OLED expansion and a stand-alone bluetooth speaker/microphone.

The nativity scene, as it were

The sensory

Rare Earth magnets were hot-glued into place, and reed switched were installed nearby on both the sweater and on the robots. The robots (and sweater) were fixed with presents with magnets embedded in them.

The robots were wrapped in felt and decorated in robotic fashion using silver and gold pipe cleaners for limbs and antannae, and what appears to be Styrofoam discoballs. Add hot glue ad nauseum -- voila! -- robot family.

With a little work, I was able to get the baby to cry when the present was taken from it, or when it was being held (or, more specifically, not under the tree). The tones, annoyingly audible, persisted until the present came back and the baby was placed under the tree.

When the baby cried, the mom's facial expression went sour, and she would sigh and make hush noises as the microphone was able to pick up on tones at the frequency that the baby cried at using a Python script to sample the microphone and match tones on it. There was little else that could reach that pitch range, so it wasn't rocket science to accomplish.

The mother otherwise stood by minding her own business and would belt out holiday phrases at random times: "Merry Christmas," "Happy Holidays," or "Happy Kwanza" in as many languages as Festival could muster.

The father on the other hand, upon leaving the tree, would began singing "Silent Night," or any other enumerable songs that I happened to find on the Internet, to his own delight!

The faces

The faces were proactively calm, unless forced into panic. I found that a nice mix of blinking made them come to life. When they spoke, their mouths were open, and a blink parity would flip, making them opt for their eyes to be closed instead and occasionally opening them. This especially worked great for the song portions.

Happy Holidays!

With a little creativity, you too can annoy the heck out of people at a holiday party when you realize to your dismay that hot glue doesn't do very well for rare Earth magnets on a sweater when there's other rare Earth magnets involved. You might just realize that this is about to happen when your cheap sweater starts falling apart and then there's a baby robot squealing in high-pitched tones, another robot making a racket while trying to get it to stop and occasionally saying "feliz navidad!" and yet another robot still that thinks that it's the perfect time to break out in a robot rendition of "Joy to the World". At least there was nog.

Bobby Larson

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