Rules for Roboticists

In honor of Robot Day on Make: Blog, I’ve posted my “Rules for Roboticists” from my 2004 book Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building. It’s a playful list of operating principles, rules of thumb, and words o’ wisdom about bot building. The piece is accompanied by robot scientist “trading cards” illustrated by Mark Frauenfelder for the book.



In last year’s Holiday Gadget Guide, I reviewed the wonderful then-new LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT system. It’s a year later and my admiration for this product has only grown. It has been enthusiastically embraced by robot hobbyists and professionals, educators, kids of all ages, R&D departments looking for quick n’ dirty prototyping components — 1,001 uses. It’s also been embraced by publishers, who’ve followed the product with a felled forest worth of books. Three of may favorites are from No Starch Press (disclosure: O’Reilly, the publisher I work for, distributes No Starch titles).

[Read on…]


Robotic Art from Christopher Conte

Christopher Conte is a New York artist and prosthesis engineer. Like his early inspiration, HR Giger, he likes smudging the boundaries between flesh and machinery. His site features some of his impressive sculptures and BEAM robots. Seen above are (top to bottom): His “Singer Insect,” made from antique instrument and sewing machine parts, the “Steam-Powered Insect,” made from cast bronze and stainless steel components, and a “Microbotic Insect,” a vibrobot made from watch parts, a pager motor, and piano wire.

While on his site, make sure to take a look at the gas-powered R/C helicopter he outfitted with four model rocket missiles. A pyromaniacal kid’s wet dream!

Thanks, Patti!


Advances in Wetware Interfacing

From CNet News:

Scientists are making progress on neural devices that can translate the thoughts of a paralyzed person into driving action for a prosthetic device.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Wednesday that they’ve developed an algorithm for a neural prosthetic aid that can link an individual’s brain activity to the person’s intentions; and then translate that intention into movement.

Of course, other scientists have already done that, and built prototypes for neural brain-to-machine devices that can work for animals or humans. But each team has taken a different approach to the problem, such as developing algorithms for measuring activity in a specific brain region, or measuring them through EEGs vs. optical imaging.

MIT said that it has developed a unified algorithm that can work within the parameters of these different approaches. Lakshminarayan “Ram” Srinivasan, lead author of a paper on the subject, said MIT’s new graphical models are applicable no matter what measurement technique is used.

“We don’t need to reinvent a new paradigm for each modality or brain region,” he said in a statement.

Still, he said, the algorithm isn’t perfect, nor the final solution to solving what is a difficult problem. “Translating an algorithm into a fully functioning clinical device will require a great deal of work, but also represents an intriguing road of scientific and engineering development for the years to come,” according to MIT.

MIT will publish a paper on the subject in the October edition of the Journal of Neurophysiology.


i-Sobot Site Goes Live

You may have seen my posts on MAKE: Blog about the Tomy i-Sobot, the US$300 mini-humanoid that looks pretty damn full-featured for the dough. The English version of the i-Sobot site went live today. On it, you can see videos of the bot, how its button-sequence programming works (very similar to Robosapien), read some tech specs, etc. Some interesting tidbits, such as the fact that the bot is 6-1/2″ tall, has two gyroscopic sensors, the gearboxes on the 12 servomotors have metal gears, and that the run-time on the included NMH batteries is an hour (which probably means less than that in real-world operation). The bot has three CPU chips for general control, voice recognition, and motor control. No other details on these, as far as I know.

This looks like a decent robot that does the lion’s share of what other humanoid bots can do that cost three or four times as much. Can’t wait to see what sorts of hacks and mods people come up with.

Thanks, Robert!


Mercury, Robot Seeker of Light (Detector of Dark)

One of my favorite BEAM builders, Harold Ilano, has posted a new project on his site. It’s an awesome little bugbot he dubbed Mercury (being a light-seeker that wants to be close to the sun). The design is based on a circuit by BEAM whiz Wilf Rigter, using a single 74AC/HC240 chip to create a reversing photovore (the 74*240 is the same chip family that I used — the HCT — in my single-motor walker from my robot book).

I love the way Harold always builds on established BEAM circuits. Here, he’s made his photovore with two tactile sensors (Wilf’s had one), added a dark-detecting behavior (with two dark-activated LED “predator” eyes), and a stop and go behavior (which makes him seem more organic), all with the single 74*240 control chip.

The Mercury is made from scavenged pieces from a Playstation (including the two motors), a Li-Poly 3.6V cell phone battery, and some misc analog components. Looking at the numerous pics and videos on his site, you might get the impression that this was an easy build, but getting that much “behavior” out of so few components involves a bit of electronic origami. Harold says it took weeks of long hours every day to finally get it all working smoothly. Sheesh. Maybe I don’t have the patience to become a real BEAM master. No worries. I’m more than happy to sit at the feet of guys like Wilf and Harold, and marvel at what they do (and write glowingly about it in cyberspace).

More pics after the jump…


Restaurant Replaces Waiters with Robots

“Oh, waiter, there’s a bolt in my soup.” According to a piece on Spiegel Online, a Munich restaurant has gotten rid of a waitstaff (in a country known for its crappy service) and replaced it with an automated food delivery system. Patrons order by computers at their tables and a rail system that works on gravity (the kitchen is above the restaurant) sends meals directly to the tables. No word on what you do when your food is cold, or you get the wrong item, or have other complaints. I’m guessing ejection seats are involved.

[Via Wired Gadgets]


Robot Portraits for Chump Change

Artist Ben Rollman, who’s been involved in the 100 Artist Project, 700 Things, 700 Robots and a number of other online drawing projects, is now offering robot portraits for a dirt-cheap price of 10 PayPal’d dollars. Nice work, too. The top one’s called “Battlebot Vulture.” The second one is “Sammy 12-Switch.” He did these two for Simone of Suicidebots/ RoboGames. You not only get a piece of art for your tenner, Ben also records a video of him drawing the portrait and uploads it to YouTube. I’m so squirting over my ten creds!