Doctor Who K-9 Robotics Project

4-27-16  –  Before I give all the details on this project, let me say it probably took me five months to complete.  I do actually have a full time job teaching kids about STEM and tech stuff all day.  I worked on this project in the spare moments before, between and after classes.   A lot of the equipment used in this project is gear that is graciously provided by my employer and I am lucky to have access to it.  This project is for the enjoyment of me and my students and K-9 will remain in the classroom.

I had some spare Vex robotics parts in the lab that were left by the previous teacher including two spare Cortex controllers, three remotes, some sensors and lots of batteries.  I had originally made a simple robot that was sort of like a remote control car with two Vex motors and a universal direction wheel.  At some point, the students had played with it so much that one of the motors was messed up, so I disassembled it.

Fast forward to this school year.  I still had a spare Vex Cortex with a controller which I knew worked perfectly.  I had recently watched a bunch of Doctor Who on Netflix including some old Tom Baker episodes with K-9 and got the idea to make my own K-9 robot.

I knew I could make a basic remote control K-9, but I really wanted a robot that would work independently and maybe even patrol the classroom on its own.  I made a basic frame and attached the ultrasonic sensor to the front.  I had no idea how to install it, or plug it in.  I had experience with using ultrasonic sensors with Lego Mindstorms and Arduino based robots, so I figured it couldn’t be hard to learn how to do it with the Vex system.

I found some images of K-9 online.  Some K-9 plans were out there, but I didn’t want to pay for them (#giftedhack).  I printed some images of K-9 and came up with my own plans keeping similar angles and proportions to the real thing.

I cut the panels out of wood with a band saw and sanded them.  I glued them together with Gorilla glue and some stints for extra support. Then I sanded out all of the rough edges.  Finally I had the familiar trapezoidal body and head.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough (#giftedhack).

I wanted K-9’s ears to rotate also, so I took another Vex motor and some gears and make a mechanism that would rotate two Vex shafts up through the head.  I drilled holes so the shafts would poke through the top of the head.

Interior Vex frame with neck and mounted ear motors.

At this point, K-9 was almost recognizable.  I fashioned two brackets to attach the wood body to the robot frame.  I also bought and cut a 4 inch black gutter flexible drainpipe to cover the metal neck and wires.

I then sat down with Autodesk Inventor and set to design some of the detail parts.  The fake control panel was the easiest to design.  The final product used all the space on the print base in my Makerbot Mini.  I designed the tail in two parts and glued them together.  I made a grill (printed in red) for the eyes and the ear satellite dishes.  The ears were printed in three parts and assembled with super glue.  The base of the ears has a hole that fits perfectly onto the Vex shafts that poke through the head.

I bought some Kilz for priming and some basic acrylic paint (battleship gray with metal sheen).  I primed the heck out of the wood parts, then started painting.  I think I put at least 3 coats of gray on everything.  I then painted the darker spot between the legs by mixing a little black in with the gray.  I also painted the control panel buttons.

Fake control panel glued to top.

Other details were added at this time like the fake view screen on the right side.  I  really would have liked to have had a working LCD screen but I didn’t have anything handy.  Vex has a very expensive LCD screen, and I didn’t want to pay for it.  So I faked a screen with another piece of wood cut with the lab laser cutter (#giftedhack).  Then I sealed the whole thing with spray sealant, satin finish, probably around 3 coats.

Fake view screen panel.

I was going to just attach the red grill to the head for the eyes, but I really thought I would regret not installing some red LEDs for eye lights.  Vex sells LEDs with custom plugs for the Cortex controller, but I did some research (#giftedhack) and found you could use regular LEDs by just running a wire directly into the 5V and ground ports on any digital port.  I rigged some wires to some simple LEDs I had on hand, making sure to wire some 330 Ω resistors in the circuit.  I drilled two holes in the front of the head and pushed the LEDs through until they were visible.  Then I rigged wires out of the head and down the neck ready to be plugged in.

At this point, I was ready to add that iconic “K-9” logo to the side.  I have a vinyl cutter in the classroom and I downloaded the logo image and traced it, then cut it into white vinyl to make a sticker logo.  It’s a little big, but it looked good.

K-9 gets his iconic logo.

K-9 was now constructed, but he not very smart.  It was basically a remote control car in a box. The programming part will come in the next blog entry.


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