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CREATING THE WHISKER LOOPS
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Okay, so the laser-optic whisker system may not use cat-type whiskers with ends that stick out. Still, the word whisker aptly describes the way the system works. If something even so much as brushes lightly against the whisker, the light reaching the photodetector will change, and your robot can react accordingly.
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R1 +5 vdc 3.1 v zener +3.1 vdc
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R1=47 ohms (typical; drives 30 mA) R1=27 ohms (drives 60 mA) Use 1/4-watt resistors and zener diodes FIGURE 36.24 Most penlight lasers are designed to operate with 3 vdc; use a zener diode or voltage regulator to provide the proper voltage.
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The prototype system for this book used three whiskers, all of which were formed into three small loops around the front and two sides of the test robot. The loops can he held in place with small screws, dabs of glue (don t use hot-melt glue!), or even LEGO parts should your robot be constructed with them. When forming the loops don t make them too tight. The more compliant the loops are, the more they will detect small amounts of pressure. If the loops are very tight, the fibers become rigid and not very compliant. This reduces the effectiveness of the whiskers. At the same time, the loops should not be so loose that they tend to wobble or flap while the robot is in motion. Should this occur, the natural vibration and movement of the fiber will cause false readings. A loop diameter of from 4 to 6 inches should be sufficient given optical fiber pieces of average diameter and stiffness. Experiment with the optical fibers you obtain for the project. Your laser-optic whisker system does not need to use three separate fiber strands. One strand may be enough, especially if the robot is small. I elected to use three so the robot could independently determine in which direction (left, front, right) a collision or bump had occurred.
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GETTING THE RIGHT KIND OF OPTICAL FIBER
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Perhaps the hardest part of constructing this project is finding the right kind of optical fiber. You want to avoid any kind of graded-index fiber (described earlier) because these will not produce the internal interference patterns that the project depends on. In essence, what you want is the cheapest, lousiest fiber-optic strands you can find. The kind designed for light fountain art (popular in the early 1970s) is ideal. You do not want to use data communications-grade optical fiber. Before you buy miles of optical fiber, test a two-foot strand with a suitable diode laser and phototransistor. Loop the fiber and tape it snugly to your desk or workbench. Connect
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the phototransistor to a sensitive volt-ohm meter or, better yet, an oscilloscope. Gently touch the fiber loops to deform them. You should observe a definite change of output in the phototransistor. If you do not, examine your setup to rule out a wiring error, and try again. Turn the laser off momentarily and observe the change in output.
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WORKING WITH LASER DIODES
Penlight lasers can be easily hacked for a wide variety of interesting robot projects the soft-touch fiber-optic whisker is just one of them. Penlight lasers use a semiconductor lasing element. While these elements are fairly hearty, they do require certain handling precautions. And even though they are small, they still emit laser light that can be potentially dangerous to your eyes. So keep the following points in mind:
I Always make sure the terminals of a laser diode are connected properly to the drive
circuit.
I Never apply more than the rated voltage to the laser or it will burn up. I Extend the same care to laser diodes that you do to any static-sensitive device. Wear an
I I I
I I I
antistatic wrist strap while handling the bare laser element, and keep the device in a protective, antistatic bag until it s ready for use. Use only a grounded soldering pencil when attaching wires to the laser diode terminals. Limit soldering duration to less than five seconds per terminal. Never connect the probes of a volt-ohm meter across the terminals of a laser diode. The current from the internal battery of the meter may damage the laser. Use only batteries or well-filtered AC power supplies. Laser diodes are susceptible to voltage transients and can be ruined when powered by poorly filtered line-operated supplies. Take care not to short the terminals of the laser during operation. Avoid looking into the window of the laser while it is operating, even if you can t see any light coming out (is the diode the infrared type ). Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, clean the output window of the laser diode with a cotton swab dipped in ethanol. Alternatively, you can use optics-grade lens cleaning fluid. If you are using a laser from a laser penlight, bear in mind that the penlight casing acts as a heat sink. If you remove the laser from the penlight casing, be sure to attach the laser to a suitable heat sink to avoid possible damage. If you keep the laser in the casing, there is usually no need to add the heat sink the casing should be enough.
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