Ball-Balancing Bot Makes HAL 9000 a Bit Less Frightening

James Bruton gives an old project a serious upgrade.

Stephen Hawes
18 days agoRobotics

James Bruton is well known for his excellent robotics projects and creative builds, which he documents quite well on his YouTube channel. He has been posting his builds since 2007, which has created a comprehensive journal of his progress and expertise.

In one of Bruton's most recent builds, his evolution as an engineer is demonstrated quite clearly. He built a ball balancing robot with the visage of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. But this is not the first bot of this type that Bruton has built. In 2015 he built a BB-8 in the same manner, and the comparison between similar projects five years apart is striking.

Bruton's new build is overall a much cleaner and more considered approach to building a ball balancing bot. Instead of using brushed DC motors in the last build, he upgraded to brushless motors and two ODrive controllers. This not only gives him much more power and speed, but actually lets him keep track of how far the bot has drifted while trying to balance in a neutral state, thanks to an encoder-like feature available with the ODrive.

The electronics in this build have also gotten quite an upgrade. Instead of sticking with an 8-bit microcontroller, he switched to the blisteringly fast Teensy 4.1, a 32-bit controller which clocks in at 600 MHz. Bruton admits this is overkill for the application, but when it comes to reacting in real time based on sensor data, it can never hurt to have more speed. The electronics also consist of an nRF2401 module for radio control, and an MPU6050 inertial measurement unit for gathering orientation data.

To finish it off, Bruton had the bot balance on a disco ball, which gives off an excellent visual while the bot is keeping balance. This is not purely for novelty, however. He had issues with a previous ball being too soft and preventing the omniwheels from spinning correctly. After adding some 3D printed body panels, the end result is spectacular.

Bruton's builds are always excellent, but it's quite gratifying to see him come back to an old project and demonstrate all the skills he's accrued from his numerous builds. Check out the final result in his video!

Stephen Hawes
Engineer, Maker, Easily Excited. When in doubt, connectorize.
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