David Anderson, a long time fellow member of the Dallas Personal Robotics Group, did an interesting presentation recently in which he distills down what he’s learned about building subsumption based mobile robots over the years. The video is a bit long but well-worth your time if you’re interested in intelligent robots. David provides some additional notes that link to video of specific examples. And don’t forget to check out David’s “my robots” webpage for more photos and details on his robots.
2010 got off to a good start, then I was hit by some unexpected family losses followed by some annoying family weirdness. Between that and a larger than usual assortment of extra-curricular activities, my blog got derailed. It’s time to fix that.
For those who haven’t kept up with my twitter feed or photo stream, here’s the short version of what you missed the last few months: 1) The DPRG is working on starting a Dallas Hackerspace. We’ve decided to call it a Makerspace because Dallas people seem to be easily spooked by the word “hacker”. 2) I’m still playing with vintage cameras and have more in the queue to try out. 3) Still playing with my DSLR too. Got some recent photos into an exhibit Germany. My photos of the Traveling Man Sculpture made into the May/June issue of Robot magazine 4) Still working on the Noise Boundary robotic music project. We did a demo for a class at UNT and I got the opportunity to chat with Pat Metheny about the topic while he was in Dallas 5) DPRG did some major stuff at All-Con this year and also at Tech-Fest and the FIRST LEGO League regional championship. 6) Lots of other fun stuff, events, people, and places. More to come.
The Austin Maker Faire was last weekend and I was there, of course. I got a different view of it than last year because I spent part of the time as a maker. I helped out at the Dallas Personal Robotics Group table, where we showed off a variety of a small robots. We had several autonomous mobile robots, a robot arm that Martin interfaced with a game controller, a variety of robot components, and a couple of robot-like art pieces that were the result of my recent obsession with welding.
We did pretty well. There was a good-sized crowd of people at our booth throughout the faire, handling our robots and playing with the robot arm. Our table won an editor’s choice award from Make magazine. And we’re already talking about how we can do something bigger and more interactive next year.
All the usual crazy stuff was there too; cyclecide with their human powered carnival rides, including one they didn’t have last year called the Melody Maker, in which the rider propels spinning guitars to make music. The Austin Bike Zoo brought a 50 foot human powered rattlesnake that could be seen slithering in and out of the show barn and surrounding areas during the faire.
The Austin Robot Group had the giant ponginator robot, which is probably the biggest, loudest robot to be found in the State of Texas. They had about a dozen tables of smaller projects too. There were also fire-spewing machines, strange vehicles, medieval siege weapons, the Swap-O-Rama, DIY metal forging, liquid nitrogen ice cream, wind generators, linux clusters, pretty girls, (with mohawks), pirates, (and a pirate ship), tesla coil music, and a nice sunset on Saturday night.
It’s way past time to catch up my readers on what we’ve been up to lately. Since my last post we went to the La Reunion winner announcement party for their Make Space for Art architecture contest. While there we heard a really cool music ensemble that called themselves the Escalator Maintenance Society. In addition to a cello and bass, they played an amplified mechanical typewriter and a child’s toy piano. It was some fun, minimalist-sounding music. After the event, I ran into the manager of Club DaDa outside and she said the group would be playing there soon. We’ll probably go hear them again if we can work it out.
We also went to the Dallas House of Blues for the first time to hear They Might be Giants and Oppenheimer play. I’d previously been to the Las Vegas HoB and spent a lot of time in the Foundation Room there hanging out with bizarre local characters. We weren’t lucky enough to know anyone with Foundation Room access here but still had a good time. It’s an interesting place and a pretty good mid-sized music venue. We got the cheap tickets for the standing-only area near the stage but it turned out there are a couple of bars near the back and we managed to snag some bar stools there. It was further away from the stage but the view wasn’t too bad. As is frequently the case, the audio was mixed so that the instruments were 10 times louder than the vocals so you couldn’t make out any words. For some bands that’s not a problem but TMbG’s music is largely about the humor of the lyrics so it was a bit disappointing.
Last weekend, I went to All-Con 2008. The Dallas Personal Robotics Group was invited to display and do some demos so I went along to take photos. This was the first science fiction convention I’ve been to in many years and it was a lot of fun. There were all sorts of robots to be seen. Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol of Battlestar Galactica) was one of the guests, and I suppose we can count his character as a robot too. There was a fun demo by the Assassination City roller derby girls, a local group that does flat-track roller derby. I was also surprised to see the Lollie Bombs there. The Lollie Bombs are a Deep Ellum burlesque troop and this was the first time I’d seen them. Also a lot of fun. I met lots of other interesting people and posted a flickr set of All-Con photos. I stayed out way too late and ended up coming down with a cold the following week, probably from some alien bug I caught at All-Con.
That’s right, I’m taking a welding class. Some fellow DPRG members found the community education class and were getting a group together to take it. Granted, welding isn’t a skill I generally need in my daily routine but it intrigued me enough to join the class. It might come in handy if I find the need to create a giant robot, or a big metal dinosaur for the front yard.
The first day of class was spent on the use of a fuelgas welding rig to cut and make holes in metal. Practical lesson #1: sparks fly everywhere and, while they’re harmless if they hit your skin, they have deleterious effects on some types of clothing, like those cheap hoodies you find at Sam’s Club that are covered with a thin later of fuzzy stuff. The sparks create mysterious little craters in the fuzz. Practical lesson #2: if you’re wearing non-leather shoes, watch out for blobs of molten metal falling on your feet.
As I write this, I’m sitting at the DPRG’s booth at the International Space Development Conference. The ISDC asked us to be an affiliate and demo some robots. In the next booth is a group of high-powered rocketry people who have some rockets about 15 feet tall. John Carmack’s Pixel lauch vehicle, built by his Armadillo Aerospace group, is sitting on the floor about 20 feet in front of me. Carmack and his engineers were here yestereday. I’ve also spotted a few other interesting people wandering around; Ben Bova and Buzz Aldrin. Larry Niven was supposed to be here somewhere but I haven’t seen him yet.
There are also loads of non-profit space colonization groups here. I remember 20 years ago at science fiction conventions seeing groups like the L-5 society asking for donations so they could colonize space. I optimisitcally became a member of several groups. Eventually I realized they weren’t really doing anything. After all these years, they still haven’t gotten any further than sitting at tables and telling people about how great it would be to colonize space. The names have changed. Apparently, the L-5 Society is defunct now. In it’s place we have groups like the Mars Foundation and some Moon Society. I talked to the people at a few of these and they seem to have the same strategy of achieving their goal by talking about it endlessly. It’s kind of depressing. They all seem to ignore the basic problem that it’s expensive to get into space to do all this colonizing. If they spent a little time working on that, they might get somewhere.