Robbie the Robot – Simple Arduino Powered Robot

I decided that I wanted to build a robot, and build one with my daughter who is about to turn 9. I have plans in my head for the most amazing robot ever, but I figured we should start with something a little simpler and smaller.

First up, what to build? After a bit of research, I decided that a 2 wheel drive and a caster for a third wheel was the way to go for our first robot. Next, I needed a frame. I read a bit about building my own with metal, or wood, or cardboard, or coroplast, but I thought that I wanted to go with a purchased frame. I figured that a plastic frame would be sturdy enough, more durable than cardboard, and would not scare off my daughter. They can really be pricey. What I settled on, due to price was the ‘old’ frame that Sparkfun used to base their basic robot off of. I found it at the Robot Shop.

This kit came with a two tier frame, two motors, two wheels, the caster, and a battery holder for $15. My kinda deal. This is what the kit looks like, putting the motors on the bottom.

The motors sit under the lower deck.

The motors sit under the lower deck.

This chassis is a two tier design. Their design places the battery pack in the middle. Note: for this phase of the project, with the robot connected via USB cable, the battery pack is not needed. But, if we didn’t put it in now, it would be really hard later.

The battery pack sits on the top of the lower deck.

The battery pack sits on the top of the lower deck.

The whole thing goes together pretty easily. There are screws and standoffs included with some ok but not great instructions. Still, Lily managed to put most of it together with some guidance.

Assembling the upper deck

Next up was the brains. I didn’t want to buy an entire kit. For example the RedBot Basic Kit that SparkFun sells is $84. Two issues for me. First was that the kit relies on a single purpose built board for everything. I wanted more flexibility. I didn’t want a micro-controller and the motor controller, and the sensors all contained in the same silicon. I wanted more reuse. Second, I wanted more input into this. I didn’t just want a step by step kit. I wanted to still keep things simple, but with some stuff that I purchased separately. This also allows us to build it in separate stages. After the chassis was built, I said to Lily, “now what?” We decided that it needed a brain. She thought that one just like we were already using (an Arduino Red Board) would be a good idea. Instead of using the one we had, I placed an order for another of these $20 boards.

Arduino Red Board Blinking (default sketch)

It took us awhile to figure out a good way to mount it to the top. We couldn’t find a pattern of holes that fit exactly. We did have some extra short standoffs from the chassis kit, and were able to use these. We managed to attach the screws to the Red Board and the chassis at 3 points of contact. The one at the top near the headers is just connected to the board.

I also ordered a motor controller shield. I thought quite awhile on what to get here. In the end, I decided that a shield would make this much simpler and have less wires going all over. I purchased a Ludus Prototype Shield from SparkFun. At a whopping $25 this was the most expensive part. It does have an interesting trick. This version of the board supports plugging in an XBee. I think that taking this robot wireless eventually will be a big draw for my daughter in the near future.

Ludus Motor Controller shield plugged into the top of the Red Board

It then took some deft maneuvering of the motor wires from the bottom of the chassis to the top so they could get plugged into the Ludus controller. (You can see a servo in this image. I had one lying around and plugged it into the controller as well, but it is not necessary)

Wiring up the motors

In this next image, you can see that I pushed the wires up from the bottom, and plugged them in. Actually we plugged them in wrong. If you look closely you can see that the + and – signs aren’t lined up with the black and red wires properly. We got our first chance to debug our hardware once the software had been loaded. ūüėČ But that’s it. Just a few wires to connect the motors, and we have the first iteration of our robot. Now for some brains.

Connecting the wires to the controller

To start with, to get it running quickly so Lily could see some progress, we used a sketch that SparkFun wrote. They have a whole tutorial on the Ludus Controller.¬†This is one reason that I purchase from companies like SparkFun and Adafruit in the United States. There are often cheaper places to source some of these parts, but I like to support the companies that are creating tutorials, and supporting their customers on their forums /rant. Anyway….

Using the Arduino IDE, I copied the sketch from SparkFun (I grabbed the entire thing from GitHub) and pasted it into a new sketch. After setting the correct board type (Arduino Uno) and a baud rate of 9600, I uploaded the sketch with no problems. This particular sketch uses the serial monitor built into the IDE to send command to the robot over the USB cable.

Arduino Sketch and Serial Monitor

Arduino Sketch and Serial Monitor

What’s cool is that we can just type in a few letters into the console and send these commands to the robot over a USB cable, and the robot moves. That was pretty exciting. Here is Lily entering some commands to move the robot on the table.

Lily sending commands

Phase one complete. Chassis built, check. A micro-controller with a motor shield, check. A program to move the robot across the table, check. 8 year old excited to be a maker, check.

Lily doesn’t like the USB cable. She wants it to move on the floor. I think that might be the next step.

Boundary Waters Pano

Boundary Waters Pano

This is an image I took this last fall when I was in the Boundary waters. I was on a canoe trip with some friends, lugging my camera gear along the way. I even had a tripod with me, and took a few panoramas, but I had not processed any of them until now. As I put this one together, I thought I would give the Color Effects Pro 4 plugin from Nik a try. I had used V3 before, but not that regularly. I had a license key for V4 that I bought a few months ago on a sale, but had never installed it. I decided to download it and give it a whirl. Fantastic is all I can say. It’s great to be able to stack effects from right within the program. If I remember correctly, I did tonal contrast, brilliance/warmth, and polarizer. I am pretty pleased with the result. The sky looks more dramatic, the light on the trees came out, and the near shore was pulled out of the darkness. The only magic it couldn’t pull off was the top right corner. Lightroom says it’s not blown out, but if I tried to darken it, it would block up pretty bad. I decided to leave it alone. I think I might print this one.

Wedding Album Review on an iPad

I had created a wedding album, and the parents of the bride had purchased their copy. The parents of the groom had some changes they wanted to make. There were a few pages, like the one above that they wanted as is, there were a couple of pages that they didn’t want, and several pages that they were hoping to swap a few images. They did live close by, so I headed over to their house with just my iPad. Yup, just my iPad. I wanted to be able to sit side by side with them and draw right on the pages of the electronic book. Best case would be to be able to drag the images around, but that wasn’t going to happen. I would settle to being able to pen in new numbers and draw arrows for moving images around. To accomplish this, I used two apps.

The first was Penultimate. I used this app with a digital pen to draw on.

I created a notebook for this project with the amazing title of Album Notes. I then, page by page inserted a page spread from my album (exported previously) into the notebook. I now had images that I could draw on.

I also used the Zenfolio app. I used it to move copies of all the wedding images I had online to my iPad. One thing that doing this did was keep the image numbers in sync with what the mother of the groom saw on the website, and meant that I didn’t need a wifi signal. One wish I had was that images that she had picked as favorites could have been synced to the app. She had selected and favorited the images she likely wanted to put in the album on the zenfolio website. If those could have been synced it would have made the process easier as well.

This was the process we went through. First I went through and marked with a big red X all the pages that we were going to get rid of, and ‘want’ on the pages we were keeping without changes. When we found a page that had images that we wanted to swap, we would put an X over the image, and come back to it later.

After this we had a count of the total pages we would have, and a count of the number of images we needed. Then, we would go over to the Zenfolio app, pick some appropriate pictures, come back to Penultimate, and pen them in. As pages were finished, I would mark them as done, so we could identify what pages we needed to work on still.

One of the things that worked well was having a special wacom bamboo pen to write the numbers with. Much better than writing with your finger. One thing that was frustrating was that you can’t swipe back and forth on Penultimate. I needed to go back to the TOC, and then pick the page I wanted. You can press the page number in the lower right, but that just goes in one direction, and I constantly needed to go back. Penultimate also doesn’t like to be sideways like this. I would sometimes get my images upside down, and have to turn and twist the iPad until the image was the right way.

It was also slow. I was doing this on the 1st generation iPad, and it quickly pushed my decision to buying a newer version. When I tried this with an iPad 3, it was like night and day. It went from frustratingly slow to just as responsive as you would expect.

I suppose that I could use a tool that exports my album as a PDF, then use a PDF tool that can annotate a PDF. My pages were exported as individual JPEG’s, so that wasn’t a great options when I was short on time, but might be something I try on a different occasion.


Photographs from Old Delhi

I started posting some images from Nepal the other day, and I will get back to more of those, but I felt like getting some of my image from India up first. They are all from Old Delhi.

The person above is a chai tea brewer. He has a stall in a little market at the edge of a city dump in Chandni Chowk. As is typical of theses guys, he was outgoing, and gracious enough to let me take his picture. He was very excited that I would buy a chai from him. One of the best I have had, but I had to not pay attention to the cleanliness of the glass.

I found this gentleman next to the Chai stand. He was eying me very suspiciously. I hung out at the Chai stand for a while, before coming back and asking if I could take his picture. I smiled, and nodded to my camera, and he did the same. Suspicion mitigated.

Images from Nepal


This picture was taken in October 2010, and yet I am just finally getting to posting these images to the web. Not only this, but this is the first image I have processed in Lightroom 4 and posted to the internet. Woo hoo. Anyway, it has been a long time since I have been in Nepal, and I can’t believe I haven’t managed to get to processing my images. Never mind that this image, and the next several that I will post I already processed while I was in Nepal.

I was in Kathmandu, walking around the Boudhanath Stupa. I looked up and saw this monk. He was sitting at mid level of the Boudha Stupa overlooking the people below. I pulled out my 200mm lens, and took a few pictures before he noticed me. I felt I got a fairly stern look. I then whet up and showed him the back of my camera. He gave me the biggest smile.

My Doctor Prescribed a Sabbatical from Photography

Yep, it’s true. I am still trying to sort out what it means. Actually, I know what it means. I just don’t want to admit it. I have been having some medical issues for several months now, and I have been attributing them to getting older. I tried changing my diet, but it wasn’t helping. I finally went in to have some tests done as it got worse. After talking to the Doc, he said he would still do the due diligence and do all the tests to be sure, but he didn’t think he would find a medical condition or have a pill that would help. That is what I was afraid of. Stress and lack of sleep. That’s it. I need more sleep and less stress. After listening to what was going on in my life he suggested I take a sabbatical from one of my two jobs. Programming (I own my own company), or Photography (I own my own company). Since I can’t even cover the ridiculous monthly payment of the cost of health care for my family (yes that’s commentary) with my photography income, that would be what I should take a sabbatical from.

By the way, I am not sure how the photo is supposed to connect to the post. It’s a yoga pose. Yoga is for relaxation? Something I am not doing?

I’ve been trying very hard to balance a full time job, time with my wife, raising two kids, and everything else that everyone deals with along with trying to get my photography business going. To do so, I have been trying to squeeze in the time at night and on weekends at the expense of my health. It sucks. I am confused, frustrated, and unsure what to do next. The doctor was talking about my business, and not eliminating photography all together. I am still crushed. I was trying to work toward a change of careers. Even if I take a few months off, then what? Back to the same schedule? That’s not going to work.

I know that what’s in the back of the minds of most people reading this, is that this is the opportunity to make the switch. If I need to give up one job, and the one I want to do is photography, then the one to give up is clear. Wish it was so easy.

I am going to spend the next few weeks trying to finish the work that I owe to clients from this fall. Then take a break from actively perusing clients for a couple months and try to figure out what this is going to look like in the new year.











New Mobile Photo Blog


I have another blog. Because I don’t have enough places to post material already. Well, that’s not quite true. I now have a tumblr blog, but it’s about trying to get focus. I want one place to put my mobile shots. They were getting spread out. Hipstamatic, Instamatic, BestCam, twitter, google+, or stuck on my phone. They will now go here.

Part two of the reasoning is the inspiration from Sabrina Henry and her new mini-me photo blog. I am going to make another renewed effort to look for and take photographs daily. We get so busy, it’s easy to forget to shoot. More importantly, for me anyway, I forget to look. Training yourself to look, and see things that others pass by is part of the challenge and the fun of photography. I need to keep at it. The new tumblr blog is part of that effort.

Buy, upload, read CraftAndVision on iOS

Ever been out with an iPhone or iPad and Craft&Vision has released a new ebook that just have to read right now, but you are not at a computer? Well, there is a way to download directly to your device. It is possible that the concept if not the exact method would work on an android. I don’t know the software on that platform.


The first thing you need to do is purchase an ebook. The site as it is currently is quite navigable by a mobile device. It isn’t optimized for mobile, but with a little pinching and moving around it is possible to follow the checkout process through e-junkie and PayPal and buy an ebook. This part of our exercise you could do from another computer somewhere if you have access. Just erase cookies when you are done if it’s a public machine.

Email from Craft and Vision

Once you have made your purchase, you will get an email from Craft and Vision. Check for it on your mobile device email client. Click the e-junkie link.

This takes you to a page on fat free cart’s site. This is where the PDF is stored, and the link on this page contains the unique code that allows you to download the PDF. Now don’t worry. You get s very generous 9 attempts, so you can re-download at home if you want.


Press and hold for a second the “Click Here” link. This will bring up an option to copy the link. Press that button. Safari won’t let you save the PDF if you were to just open it. We need another program.

My favorite PDF tool is GoodReader. Navigate back to the main screen shown here if you had a doc open. There is an option for “Web Downloads”. Press that.

In the next screen press the “Enter URL” link.



In the screen that pops up, tap and hold a second to get the iOS popup that let’s you paste in the URL you copied.

GoodReader will download it to your device and you can read it right away! Enjoy your PDF’s on your iOS device without your computer.

PS. This post’s images were taken on an iPhone4. Parts blurred using filterstorm, and uploaded and the post started using the wordpress app. I finished it by moving the images into place in the regular wordpress interface.

This Online Thing is Getting Ridiculous

This is getting ridiculous. I have way to many places I am trying to update online. They all seem like a good idea at the time. A place to share this, a place to share that… Better get on here before your name is taken, etc. It is getting to be quite a chore to update all of them. Worse, you start to cross pollinate by posting in different places with the same content. Sometimes by cut and past, other times by one site picking up a post from the others RSS feed.

Ok, so what are all the places I am trying to update?

Well, for starters, your here. This blog. This is really the first online presence that I had. I have been posting computer, family, and photography related things here for several years.

Next I added flickr. Seemed like a good idea. Provide a way where the community could see my images and tell me how great they were. I never did get that many ego boost images, and the ones that did I could never figure out why. Mostly I upload mobile pictures here.

Since then I have added another site at to cover just my professional wedding and portrait services. I finally have a place that my business card can direct to that is just photography.

Then I added a Photoshelter site for my clients to be able to review the images I take of them. I don’t use this for much else. I don’t have many public images up here.

Then Facebook came along. I have a personal wall that I was using to communicate with family. Unfortunately not all my family is was on Facebook.

So I created a site for family pictures at I like the idea of having this site separate from Facebook anyway.

I have a Linked In account. Yes, I do! It may not be all that popular, but it has been the most productive for me business wise out of all the social sites. I use this site just for computer consulting, and have found my last few consulting jobs via this site.

Where would life be without a 140 character limiting per post twitter feed? I have met a lot of neat people here. I mostly use twitter to interact with other photographers, and find links to photography and Photoshop information.

Then came the need for a Christopher Ward Photography page on Facebook. The idea being a place I can interact with clients and they can help promote my images. However, now I need content here, and on my website.

I also have a presence at bestcam, instagram, and hipstamatic. These are all mobile photo sites.¬† I don’t really spend time on, or try to view these sites. I just post images to them when I take a picture on my phone with their app. They really only work as mobile apps, although there are starting to be web sites pop up that use their API’s.

Which brings us to the the glamor children of the moment. 500px and Google+. Yes, I am on both.

I started up an account on 500px as a way to make sure that cwardphoto wasn’t taken by someone else. I kind of like it though. Looks pretty. I started using it as a bit of a portrait portfolio.

I connected up Google+ just for the heck of it. I like it better than Facebook for the moment, but I hardly know anyone on Google+ yet, and the mobile web interface on my phone is very limited. I do like the idea of circles though, and hope it takes off.

I think.

It is with this last sign up to Google+ that I feel like I hit the wall. I have more places I try to update my “social status” than I have friends. Not more online friends, more PLACES. That’s wacked. It might mean I don’t have many “real” friends, but I am too busy updating my status to a group of people that hardly know me to have many real friends.

I need to consolidate. Keep just what I need for family/friends and for business reasons. I might have to listen to one of the social media experts that keep pinging me on Twitter. Or not.

Don’t forget to Like me, friend me, comment on my posts, +1 my content,¬†give my pictures an award,¬† and slap me silly.

Strobist shoot of Eddie and a 75 Nova

My friend Eddie and I headed up to Mounds View Park in St. Paul for a little evening photo shoot. I wanted to let you know how I took this shot.

First, we are in the twilight hour, just before the sun goes down. I decided not to meter this manually. I set the camera on aperture priority, with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. This is what is controlling the background exposure. For the lights, I used manual. I usually shoot in TTL, but I both wanted to experiment, and I knew that for the light on Eddie it was going to need pretty much full power.

I started with a SB800 speed light toward the front of the car, that is skipping across the side. I had one SB900 mounted on a stand to the left of the car in a 24″ lastolight softbox. This was pointed at Eddie. My 3rd light was on the camera, a SB900 acting as a commander. But, the back of the car was too dark, and as the light went down, I was able to switch to just the popup flash on my D7000. I was surprised, but happy that I had another light. I was out of stands, (only 2) so with only the foot, and pointed up at 45deg at the car, I lit up the back end of the car.

So, if you caught that, I am using the pop up flash on my camera to trigger the flashes in manual mode. The cool thing about this, is that I could change the power of the lights without going over to the units themselves. I would have had to do this in SU-4 mode. Instead I was able to adjust the power and settle on 1/4 power while staying at the camera.

The next issue was that I didn’t get enough power out of the flash on Eddie. I had it zoomed to 200mm, but it was fairly far back to stay out of the frame. (Shooting at 55mm if you were wondering). So, to fix it, I upped the ISO from 200 to 400. This gave me the power I was looking for from the flash, and we were good to go.

The rest was all composition. I think some of the best shots came from the low position when I was kneeling on the ground. The only issue is that you can’t really see the city in the background this way. Anyway, there are some other pictures on my portrait site.