Rosie, the Roomba Remix

12:46am | 12/20/2019
Daniel Tompkins

DIY electronics

The Strandbeest

You've probably seen the incredible kinetic artwork of Theo Jansen. In 2007, a TED video was released featuring the Dutch artist's Strandbeest— a skeletal-looking, beach crawler. Jansen's unique mechanical design allows the "beest" to walk across the sand, propelled by the wind.

Theo Jansen's Strandbeest, crawling furiously across the beach by the power of the wind.

Theo Jansen's Strandbeest, crawling furiously across the beach, powered only by a strong sea breeze.

The Legsystem

Jansen is a brilliant mind in the science and art of applied physics. He invented the mechanical motion for what he calls the Legsystem in 1991. Since then, his curiosity for kinetic art has compelled him to breathe life into a long lineage of fantastical "beests".

His viral enthusiasm has spawned similarly inclined artists, makers and engineers to apply the Legsystem mechanism in their own projects and creations. Check out Blaine Elliot's Strandbeest bicycle:

A Jansen disciple, pedaling on a bicycle with one front wheel, and a series of Legsystem legs crawling at the back.

A Jansen disciple, pedaling on a modified bicycle with the back wheel replaced by the Legsystem.

The mechanism itself is fairly straightforward, yet elegant. It consists of two rigid triangles held together at four hinging points. A single axis tips the top triangle back and forth, while the rigid members force the bottom triangle to move with a life-like gait.

Basic line-art animation of the Legsystem in motion.

Using Grasshopper, an "algorithmic modeling" plugin for Rhino3D CAD software, I generated this gif to illustrate the basic motion.

Inspiration in 60s Ads

While taking Sense and Respond, a class taught by Martin Miller, I was interested in applying Jansen's legsystem within a domestic cleaning appliance.

My collaborator, Brad Nathanson, and I sought to satirize the advertisements of mid-twentieth century consumer products.

An animated .gif montage of a few examples of 60s advertisements, marketing vacuums and kitchen appliances to housewives.

Montage of examples of mid-century advertisements, marketing vacuums and kitchen appliances to housewives (or their husbands).

New domestic technologies (toasters, vacuums, food-processors, etc.) were marketed as tools to ease the burden of the cookiecutter housewife. Our own tool— for dismantling this stereotype— was named Rosie, after the robot from the 1960s The Jetsons...

Unlike the streamlined stainless steel and mold-injected plastics found in many of the products of the time, Brad and I decided to use mostly recycled or reused materials. Rosie's own "Legsystem" was built from salvaged wood trim and cabinetry pieces. The welded steel and plywood that make up the gearbox and axle were all scraps from our school's shop.

Close-up shot of Rosie's own custom Legsystem, built from salvaged wood and hinges.

Close-up of Rosie's own Legsystem. It was mostly built from salvaged cabinet parts, as well as a few hinges and welded components for tying into the main axle.

Building a New Rosie

The pins at the two major axes of the Legsystem slide into half-inch diameter pipe, which was bent and welded to form an adhoc axle.

A montage of the mechanical systems at play in Rosie. Close-ups of the axle, Legsystem, and welded connections.

0.25"-diameter steel rod is welded to a plate that was screwed to each leg. The rod slips into a 0.75"-diameter pipe (with a ~0.25" hole), and rotates with the help of a set of bearings and graphite.

We mounted a 2.5 horsepower, cast-iron electic motor (purchased for $15 at a resale shop) on the back of a borrowed shopping cart to move the legs.

Close-up of the cast-iron electric motor that powers our Rosie's Legsystem.

The first time we turned on this beast of a motor, it sparked and coughed up a plume of black smoke and debris. After opening it up and cleaning it out, and it wasn't quite as terrifying to run.

The motor spins a few bike chains through a series of laminated plywood gears and flywheels. A bit of graphite allowed the steel rods to rotate rather smoothly, propelling Rosie forward on her push-broom feet.

Close-up slideshow montage of the plywood gearbox and chains

The speed of the motor was way too fast for direct-drive. We laminated some hand-cut plywood disks to create a gear-reduction with a spliced-together bicycle chain.

Rosie's Heart

Up top is Rosie's new age "heart"— an Arduino Mega that is wired up on a breadboard to receive remote control signals. We used this helpful tutorial to find the IR codes from the oversized remote which switches on one of the solid-state relays— sending power to the ice-crusher, blender, or the motor.

Close-up of Rosie's

This was a fairly short project; so, we just kept everything wired together through a pin-and-socket breadboard. The Arduino Mega sends a smaller voltage (~3-5V) to open or close the solid-state relay connection— thereby powering either the blender, ice-crusher, or motor.

In addition to the electronics and counter-top appliances, a soft pad of red shag produces a convenient and comfortable cradle for your baby.

Showing how the upper-tier of Rosie's shopping-cart chasis doubles as a perfect cradle.

Showing how the upper-tier of Rosie's shopping-cart chasis doubles as the perfect cradle (when the blender isn't running).

Altogether, you have a personified domestic cleaning robot that would kick your Roomba's ass! Relax from the comfort of your couch with the remote in hand. Let Rosie prepare you a chunky smoothie as she gently vibrates your baby to sleep. Sweep away your troubles with this affordable, amazing product!

We personified Rosie by adding a set of glasses.

The glasses were from Halloween (I dressed up as Linda from Bob's Burgers), but we added them to give Rosie a more homely look. The steel bolt "eyeballs" looked a little too sinister on their own. Here's the final glamour photo. 👇

Beauty-shot of Rosie out in the snow.

Rosie Infomercial

Lastly, we put together an infomercial-style video to showcase Rosie and construct our satirical narrative (à la Slap Chop / Billy Mays).

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