• Product Review | Totem Black Spider

    07/13/2021 at 14:16 3 comments

    I have been a big fan of Totem products for quite some time; they have some fantastic construction 'maker' kits which have proven extremely useful to me for prototyping many projects, and I have been invited to test some of their other kits in the past, varying from mini lab setups to robots.

    Very recently I applied to become a Global Team Member for Totem, and was overjoyed to be accepted as an ambassador. This gives me a fantastic opportunity to continue to work with Totem and continue to share some reviews and thoughts on the stuff these guys are working on, and to help spread the word about these fantastic kits amongst the maker community.

    ***Disclaimer*** - all thoughts and opinions on the products are entirely my own, and are in no way influenced by Totem. 

    Now, on to the first kit I have been sent to review -  the Black Spider robot kit!

    The Product

    The Black Spider robot is a fairly recent addition the kits available on the site, and once built creates an 8 legged robot using two motors to power the walking movement. At the heart of this robot is a custom Totem microcontroller and is powered by an onboard rechargeable battery pack.

    I was really excited to get the chance to get my hands on the release version of this kit, as I had previously sampled a prototype build of the kit some time ago and I was keen to see what improvements had been made to it from that stage.

    The biggest and most exciting change for me was the microcontroller upgrade; the version I had used the X3 version of the microcontroller, which only worked with the Totem smartphone app. Now the kit features the X4 version of the controller, which is built around an ESP32 module and can now run Arduino sketches and could possibly run micropython with some effort. There are also some GPIO available too, in addition to the 'BUS connectors' used to connect various Totem modules to the controller. I'm itching to see if those can be used as a software Serial port via an arduino sketch to allow for communication with a Raspberry Pi or similar SBC. This thing is screaming out to be given some kind of machine learning capabilities.

    On to the unboxing!


    Upon receiving my package I opened it up to be greeted by this imposing, impressive thing:

    1150+ parts. It's a big old kit! :-)

    On first glance it looks as though the linkage system used to transfer motor power into leg movement has been revised, which is great to see. My prototype kit had a few sticking issues with the mechanism and I think it was due to some extra framing around this mechanism. I'm keen to try revising my prototype model to see if I can reflect the changes seen in the released model!

    Inside I was pleasantly surprised at how organised the parts were; each construction step is packed into it's own little bag, meaning there'll be no lego-esque 30 minute pre-build sorting going on before building it, ha ha ha.

    The inclusion of a size guide was helpful too, just to speed up the identification of similar lengths of beams and screws.

    There's no bulky manual to accompany the kit; they include a little card with a smart code on to scan and it takes you to a link on their site where the instructions are found. This is something I like about all the Totem kits; their manuals are all available on their wiki, so there's no paper waste and it's also possible to build other things if you have the maker kits.

    Assembly Phase 1 - [Added 27th July]

    So far I've been able to put together the first few steps, fitting little 20-30 minute segments of building in where possible. Ideally you should put aside bigger chunks of time, as you lose a lot of time getting everything out and organised to crack on and also packing things back up, but I lack the ability to plan my life that way, ha ha ha.

    So far, so good! I've assembled the 8 legs, the sides of the body that hold the gearing for the motors and begun adding the gearing.

    The legs are nice...

    Read more »

  • Drilling my own enclosures

    09/02/2020 at 16:49 0 comments

    Just a quick post about a little project I'm doing for buddy of mine. Normally I never really get my hands dirty with enclosures (I suck at them, and have no patience for the learning curve ha ha), but when assembling a mini test rig for the project I decided to give it a go.

    Pretty bloody happy with the results! A few buttons are slightly off thanks to drill bits jumping (using a nail as a centre punch isn't brilliant) but overall I'm really happy.

    Next up I need to wire up the encoder, five pots and the encoder, mount an Arduino Mega and Pi4 4gb inside, cut a hole for a panelmount USB port to power the Pi and add a phone holder on top.

    It's sad how pleased with myself I am ha ha ha!

  • 2020 Targets

    01/01/2020 at 23:42 0 comments

    Just a little list of things for me to aim for for this year:

    • Complete DigiBone - i have an L shaped idea top prototype that I keep procrastinating over and it's time to stop doing that. Rather than having a full over-the-shoulder part the L shape will just have the mouthpiece area, the slide stock (where the ping sensors will be located) and then the speaker on the other side of the L, roughly in the position the bell would find itself.
    • Complete my Pi Pedal - the pedal enclosure is built, and it's just a case of wiring it. Buttons to pi pins, power supply to Pi, then the case sockets to the HAT ins and outs.
    • Explore another Pedal Idea - I have an Acer Revo Build that would sit nicely on a small pedalboard. It should run something like Guitar Rig, so building a large, Arduino-based foot controller for it would be something I'd like to pursue. Perhaps even de-casing a USB soundcard and housing it in the controller with a USB Hub could be on the cards
    • Finish building Pi Cluster - the Pi boards should be in my possession in the next week or two, so putting the kit together and getting Kubernetes working will be the next phase. Also contemplating a new enclosure design for it; more rectangular. Screen to the left, with the Pis mounted to the right. The switch and its power brick underneath.
    • Totem Maker Kit Review.
    • Fix Totem Spider.
    • Write up the NodeMCU wifi clock I made for my son.
    • Write up and build the new Pi version I have planned.
    • Finish Car Pi audio install - awaiting Mauseberry board
    • Build Totem rack to hold din rails- triangular ends, beams to support. Cut din rail and mount the rail PoS and Nodemcu to the angled side, power modules to go on the back side rail. Face back side rail inwards to keep it small and tidy. Install arduino Mega w/ Ethernet or Wi-Fi shield in base with breadboard and potentially a small switch or access point. Will simplify development. 

    I'll add more as and when I think of them.