Miltalkee (The Talking Robot)


Wow, somehow it’s been months since I first mentioned my entry in the Great Robot Showdown, and it’s been another (or a few more) since I promised a write-up on said robot… so here it is.


For the Flying Car Milwaukee 2013 event there were a number of competitions held, one of which was the “Great Robot Showdown” which tasks people to “create an energetic, entertaining robot that actually does what it’s designed to do.” And noted that the robots would be “unleashed at the Flying Car Gala to delight and entertain the crowd.”

How could I resist? I had already shown things like the Friday Night Drawbot and the Arc-O-Matic at previous events in Milwaukee, so I figured I needed something new, something specifically for this event.


I wrote up a proposal describing what I planned to build, included a quick sketch, and some links to previous projects, and mailed it in. About a week later Dana and I were putting a bid on a house, and I got a call. I checked my voicemail later and found out I was selected, which was awesome, but it also meant I had about 30 days to build the robot, move everything I own, and also take part in a gallery night I had committed to. Fun!


It was time to get to work! My plan was to cut all the pieces of the robot from 3mm Baltic Birch plywood. That stuff is great to work with if you’ve got a laser cutter handy, and we happen to have one at Milwaukee Makerspace! There was a lot of cutting to do. Basically the robot consists of 8 “boxes” of various sizes to comprise the body, head, legs, feet, and arms. After cutting and assembling everything (with glue and strategically placed magnets) the pieces were painted with grey primer, and then with metallic silver paint. All sprayed in my home-built spray booth.


I ended up spending the majority of my time doing the physical build, all the time thinking the programming would be the easy part. I was (mostly) right. Since I was using a Raspberry Pi I was in my comfort zone. A bit of sudo apt-get for the right packages, some Perl, a text file, and we had a talking robot. I ended up abandoning the idea of a screen or LCD display of any kind due to time constraints, but it’s an idea for the future.


There is a hole in the center of Miltalkee’s chest where a speaker goes. It’s a powered speaker, using 3 AAA batteries, which works well in a semi-quiet room, but in a large room filled with people and music, it’s not exactly loud. (I should thank Dori Zori for turning down the music a bit!) If I ever want Miltalkee to be extra loud, I can always run the output to an external amp I guess.

One of the neat things about Miltalkee is the construction. The faceplate and chestplate are interchangeable, and if I get ambitious in the future, I can swap them out for new ones. This should make upgrading to a screen fairly easily.

There’s a bunch of technical stuff I’ve not included in this post, mainly because I’ve already rambled too much. In future posts I’ll talk about the Raspberry Pi, the code, and a few other construction secrets.




Flying Car – First Place!

Flying Car 2013

Well, it certainly has been a busy couple of weeks!

If you remember what was going on a month ago, I was selected to build a robot for the Flying Car Milwaukee event which took place on June 7th, 2013.

I actually finished the robot on time, presented it at the event, and won first place, which consisted of the lovely trophy you see pictured above, and $1,000. Sweet!

I’ll have a full write-up of the robot and the event soon, but just wanted to drop this post as a “whew!” mark to indicate, yeah, it all happened.

Oh, my friend Dena Nord also won first place in the design competition with her poster that featured an augmented reality component. Congrats, Dena!

In the last few weeks I also spoke at WordCamp, finished a series of paintings (post to come), took a FCPX class, filmed a TV commercial, and went to work nearly every day.

And oh yeah, I packed everything I own and moved! (Hence the boxes surrounding the trophy on the new mantle. We still need to finish unpacking.)


Flying Cars and Robots

Flying Car MKE

Remember Milwaukee Innovation Week? Sure you do, or maybe you don’t, it doesn’t matter because it’s been replaced/re-branded as Flying Car Milwaukee!

June is a super-hectic month around the RasterWeb! World Headquarters, and even more so in 2013, but that didn’t stop me from submitting a proposal to their Great Robot Showdown contest, and yeah, I got accepted, and I’ve got less than a month to finish building the robot I’ve proposed. There’s nothing like a deadline to get things done!

So besides getting a presentation ready for WordCamp Milwaukee that weekend, I’ll be attending the Flying Car Gala on Friday, June 7th at the Potawatomi Expo Center to show off my creation and hope it doesn’t burst into flames before the prizes are handed out.

If you’re not into robots but enjoy fashion, design, or film, there’ll be plenty of those things as well. (But seriously, if you’re not into robots, why are you even reading this!?)

There’s a ton of other stuff going on during the week, just check the events page. If you’re interested in making the world a better place, join out friends at Bucketworks for the BuildHealth Workshop. And if you happen to get in on the Innovation Factory Tours you may see me building the aforementioned robot at Milwaukee Makerspace.

(June’s my month… you may not be able to avoid me! Mwuhahaha!)