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“A wise robot once said to me through Serial.println- that robots teach us about ourselves.”

All posts tagged MIT

RoboBrrd @ Open Hardware Summit!

RoboBrrd Open Hardware Summit 2013

RoboBrrd was at the Open Hardware Summit! The Brrds were running demo programs, and entertaining the passing by humans. The tentacle mechanism was also above, swooshing its tail around!

Open Hardware Summit 2013
^ photo by mightyohm

Robo brrd
^ photo by soycamo

In addition to the three Brrds, we also displayed all the photos of RoboBrrds that other people have made! It was fantastic to have these displayed, and it was definitely like everyone’s RoboBrrd was there in spirit :)

RoboBrrd Open Hardware Summit 2013

Thanks everyone for posting photos of your RoboBrrds on social networks (and keep it up)!

I met up with Sabine from the Robots Podcast and Robohub! It was VERY COOL to meet her in person, and we recorded an interview about RoboBrrd. It will be showing up on the podcast later this month, in a series about robots and education.

RoboBrrd MIT

She also took me on a tour of her lab, and the research that she is doing. WOW, I learnt some really cool things about nanotech!!! (Thanks Sabine!!!!)

Afterwards, RoboBrrd and I walked around MIT some more.

RoboBrrd MIT

The funny part while walking around was that other people touring around saw RoboBrrd and thought that I was a student there. I wish I was smarter so that I could attend MIT. Also, I wanted to visit the Media Lab so much… maybe next time.

Open Hardware Summit was interesting this year. I went in thinking that it would be a little more futuristic, but still people were seemingly still stuck on the question ‘why make OSHW?’. This is a good question to reflect on from time to time, and especially before the summit, so that you can unveil deeper questions.

This question essentially sums up what I was interested in:

In what ways can kit makers add OSHW to the core experience of actually building the kit — aside from just adding the logo and writing tutorials? How do we start the motivation to make modifications, even if the person didn’t have any initial interest in it?

I wanted to pose this question to the panel in the afternoon, however they decided to cut the line too short. (Yea, I was ANGRY!)

I did of course pose the question to some people around the summit, and the responses were split into:
– ‘Wow, yeah, that’s a good idea- it would be cool to figure out how this can happen’
– ‘That would require more time, that we don’t have! We only do OSHW to release our files’

Of course, it is the second response that annoys me. There are some people out there who only do OSHW for the ‘badge’. Their reasons are that they do not have enough time, people would never look at it, this is all that is required, etc.

One of the speakers, Matthew Boragatti, gave a presentation about essentially how everyone needs to document their work. This is so true, and definitely hits on the above issue. Maybe there can be the invention of a tool to help with documentation or something.

Going back to the original point, hopefully in the near future, more OSHW makers will be interested in figuring out how to communicate that “YOU can modify this”! 😀

I really enjoyed seeing all my friends in person again. I gained so much words of wisdom and advice from Massimo, what a great opportunity to chat with someone who has essentially given rise to the maker movement with the Arduino Team. It’s my goal to exercise the advice in real life. 😉

The badge turned out a lot better than I thought it would, it was pretty nifty. Though mine was slightly damaged from it smashing on the floor when diving under the table (more on that later).

Thank you to CircuitCo for the BeagleBone Black– always wanted one of these! Still have no idea what to make with it, but stay tuned for some future projects that’s for sure! Also thanks to Sparkfun Engineering for the RedBot Kit– it will be interesting to add this on to RoboBrrd for some wheel ability. 😉

Something that can be improved for next time:

The demo tables and poster set up was poorly organized. Our demo table was partly hidden by neighbouring posters, so we had to squish everything together. We also had to assert that we definitely needed the entire table, otherwise it would have been split in half with another project. In order to escape from behind your table, you have to go underneath it, and when you come up be careful to not knock over one of the posters. To add on to it, I didn’t even know demos were allowed to enter earlier than doors-open time, so I was standing around for nothing. It’s nothing serious, just little frustrating things that sort of crack into your excitement for the day, especially when you were waiting an entire year for this one day! The demo chair did the best with what he was given, which was not enough extension cords, and posters all over the place.

After the event, there was a dinner for all the women involved with OSHW. Some of the discussions were interesting, involving circuits and pcb programs, but then some of them were about guys and other things. I don’t usually hang out with other girls, so maybe this is or isn’t common. I wouldn’t know, I haven’t been surrounded by > 5 women in two or so years (aside from this dinner of course).

There’s now a Google Group for all of the women involved in OSHW, so it will be interesting to see how that will develop. I’m looking forward to discussions about how OSHW inspires girls to start making things. :)

A lot of the other women enjoyed the dinner very much- so thank you to OSHWA, Adafruit, and Sparkfun for sponsoring the dinner. Also, the nachos were super.

RoboBrrd MIT

A big THANK YOU to the Ada Initiative and Open Hardware Summit for the travel grant, otherwise we would not have been able to go and learn about these new thoughts.

The most memorable moment was just walking along the night before- and a RoboBrrd Backer comes up to me and says “I love my RoboBrrd!”! It was AWESOME!!!!!! :’D

Ottawa Mini Maker Faire!


The Ottawa Mini Maker Faire was super cool! The previous Maker Faire that I was invited to go to was in San Fransisco, but I was in a car accident and it would have been unwise to actually go. This is why I was looking forward to the Ottawa one so much! It was a hit! There were tons of people to talk to, with lots of cool exhibits and stuff. About 500 people visited throughout the course of the two days! It was a fantastic turnout, for a “mini” Faire!

Ottawa MF 2010-25

Photo by emdaniels

For my table, I brought MANOI and Yoda Bot, and all the tools necessary to make repairs if they were needed. MANOI was going to play hockey, and Yoda was going to pass the ball to MANOI. What really happened was MANOI ended up doing dance moves every three seconds, and Yoda Bot moved back and forth a bit while conserving battery life. People really seemed to enjoy MANOI and Yoda Bot though!

Ottawa MF 2010-33

Photo by emdaniels

The most common questions that I received were…

  1. What does MANOI do?
  2. Is that a camera on MANOI’s headband?
  3. What does Yoda Bot do?
  4. What powers MANOI?
  5. I saw MANOI on Daily Planet! Right?
  6. Are you affiliated with any institution?

Ottawa MF 2010-14

Photo by emdaniels

Pretty cool questions that were fun to answer. I really enjoyed explaining how MANOI’s hockey stick works, as well as the wireless link back to the computer. People were impressed with the smooth motions that MANOI had, too. A lot of people thought I was going to MIT for some reason… The most in depth question that I got involved the robot mesh network idea and SLAM. Actually, I think that question was from Carlitos so check out his blog at Carlitos Contraptions!

There was a lot of reprap action at the Mini Maker Faire. There were so many MakerBots it was an army! It was interesting to see them up close in person. They really are interesting tools that do a precise job of making things. Many people only print stuff in black and white though, which is kind of boring. There’s a reprap loaner program that I might be doing with Foulab. I’m misty about how it works in the details, but essentially I will be able to either print or make a new reprap from the old one, and I document and make a Bill of Materials covering how I made it.

The other robots at the Mini Maker Faire were pretty interesting. There was a ping-pong ball robot that had a complex mechanical loading system. There were LED indicators too to tell it where it was in the process of firing ping pong balls at you!

There were the tiny sumo robots too. One of them played the first few bars of “I’m a Barbie Girl” in MIDI tones. There was another robot that could move its wheels to be on a 45 degree angle, that way it could spin in circles. There was also another robot that looked like it was made from a Vex kit, which was pretty cool.

There was a boat robot from one of the university’s clubs. It used OpenCV to detect a red buoy and fire off its propellors accordingly. Water and electronics is a super challenge, it was pretty nifty to see some people doing that!

All of the people were really nice. it was like a science fair but without the judges, so people were there to genuinely learn about the hobbies and projects that local Canadians were up to! It was a blast, really. I am really interested in seeing what changes in the various projects next year! The rumours going around are that there’s going to be a Maker Faire in Toronto and Vancouver sometime next year!

Ottawa MF 2010-1

Photo by emdaniels

Thanks a bunch to the organizers and volunteers for the Ottawa Mini Maker Faire! :)

Rodney’s Robot Revolution

There was a pretty awesome TV special a few nights ago- Rodney’s Robot Revolution. It was on “The Nature of Things”. Here’s the summary they give on their site:

As former head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Professor Brooks is once again going to test his robot-building mettle with what has become the most challenging project of his entire career: to build a robot for the Pentagon capable of playing an ancient Chinese board game of GO against a human opponent. Brooks has only five months to build it from scratch, making his challenge that much more outrageous.

The premise of the show surrounded Rodney Brook’s project for the government- to build a social robot that will play go…. in nine months! (For some reason the CBC website says 5 months, but I clearly heard 9 months, three or four times).
I think he did have some students help- at least he did with the hand part that needed to pick up the pieces. The hand consisted of two fingers, with special force sensing resistors on them. The fingers was pretty good at first- it worked often. Afterwards, they placed a cover on the two fingers with bumps on it so that the piece would remain grasped until placed onto the board. It didn’t work often- it couldn’t pick up the pieces.

The other main parts of the robot was the computer vision. It used two off the shelf logitech cameras as eyes, and it had a few more stationary cameras around to get different views of the board. The eyes were mounted on a metal part that served as a face, which could move. At one point, the robot almost fell off the table because the movements were too quick, and not fluid.

The only part that seemed a little wonky was when they mentioned that robotics is a competitive industry. The jist of the message was that other places like Google, Sony, and Honda are competing with MIT’s robotics. I kind of laughed at that… as MIT is a university, not a company. They weren’t just comparing an apple with an orange, they were comparing an apple with a pineapple. Either way, Sony’s Aibo robot is a distant past, and Asimo has sort of been around for a long time- just evolving and improving! As for Google… errrrr. I thought we were talking about physical robots here? Lol! I think what they meant to portray was that there are other places that are R&D’ing robotics.

The part that I found quite interesting was that even though each of the “sections” of the robot worked okay- like the hand, the computer vision, the algorithms, they weren’t combined to work with each other very well. What I mean by that is… there was too much focus on creating the basics perfectly, instead of just building a simple model first, and improving on it with milestones. If it would have been done this way, there would have been something to demonstrate at the end that would work. It’s better to have something that works, even though it doesn’t meet the requirements, than something that meets the requirements but doesn’t work.

First start off with giving the robot the piece, and start off with all the cameras stationary. The robot can still be sociable even if the cameras aren’t in the eyes (for some reason, this seems to be a common misjudgment). Once that stage is working, make a hand that will have to move the piece. Then make it pick up the piece. After that works, then go on to moving the cameras, and finish up by adding a sociable touch.

It’s almost like the difference between the old macbookpros and the new ones. The old ones were created by putting pieces together, the new ones are created by taking material away. My suggested method is like taking all the possible difficulties away, one by one. If you only put pieces together, you’ll miss out on many opportunities to improve and optimize the robot. Additionally, there were no backup plans. If the robot didn’t have a pebble, it wouldn’t go back to pick another one up. It happens all the time in games between humans… the pieces are small and glossy, seriously!

9 months (or even 5 months) is a lot of time- especially when you have all the resources, and people that are eager to help out.

If I would have built the robot, I would have used an octopus-like suction cup to pick up one of the pieces. The location of the cameras would have been different… and the base would be bigger so it wouldn’t tip over. Plus, my method would have been different, as discussed above.

There’s another neat TV show soon, Five Years on Mars! National Geographic channel, Sunday Nov 2!
Don’t forget about Daily Planet too… my fav TV show that’s on at 7pm each weekday (Discovery Channel) 😀