Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Blog Header

As you have noticed, Robotics Under the Stole has a new header. The art was done by my pal, Ben, a.k.a., Mr. Austin, over at Robot PortraitsIt all began with the sketch above and ended up with the finished drawing at the left. To see a video of the header being drawn, click here. The title of sketch is 113-Whit-v2 because it the second one I've had done. If you like it, go visit Robot Portraits and get one yourself. The prices are very reasonable!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from Robotics Under the Stole. Hope you had some turkey, some time with family and some time to play with your favorite robot!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to School

Next week, my kids and I begin a new school year. Fifth grade for my son and Seventh grade for my daughter. I will be back doing morning chapel services, teaching middle school religion and heading up the robotics club again.

Here is a video about a new student at Carnegie Mellon University - home of one the country's best robotics' departments. For more information about CMU's robotics, see here.

Note - Cognitive Learner is actually a short film made in the Art, Animation, and Technology class at Carnegie Mellon University. That means that this is just clever animation and not a real robot.

A Sheet of Stamps

Everybody who has ever seen a program about how the U.S. Treasury prints sheet of bills knows how impressive a sheet of uncut bills looks. I had a similar experience this summer when I travelled to Parallax in Rocklin, California. There, on one of the tables, was a uncut sheet of fully assembled BASIC Stamps.

Across the room, I got to see the cutter, where they are cut by hand to ensure a very high finish on the edges. I'd love to have an uncut sheet of bills, but more than that, I'd like to have a beautiful uncut sheet of BASIC Stamps!

Photo - Picture of a sheet of BASIC Stamps from the August issue of The Parallaxian (top) and a picture of a sheet of $20 bills from Life Magazine (bottom).

The First Church of Robotics

My friend Stacey e-mailed me the following from The New York Times:

August 09, 2010

Op-Ed Contributor: The First Church of Robotics

The concept of artificial intelligence clouds our view of the world.
Stacey said in the e-mail, "don't have time to read this but Church and Robotics are your subject!" It was very interesting and got me thinking.
Jaron Lanier is the author of You are Not a Gadget. He lives in Berkeley, California and his homepage is here. Lanier is and innovator and technologist himself, but is also a harsh critic. In the Op-Ed piece, he asserts that, at times, those working in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence approach their work with a religious zeal that encourages the belief that our machines can can become like us - or more than us - or replace us. Lanier believes that this also leads us to think of ourselves in less human terms and more like the machines we build. This degrades our uniqueness as human beings. We should not confuse what is human with what machines can do. Lanier believes that this way of thinking is a new sort of religion or belief system.
The article expresses a fear of technology or rather a fear of the way we think of our technology, that is different from the standard - Robots are going to take over the world! - motif. It did get me thinking about something that I noticed on our summer vacation though and until his article, I never thought of myself as working for competing camps!
So, I decided to write him. I explained that I was a priest and roboticist. Here is a portion the an e-mail I sent to Lanier:
 I recently felt the tension expressed in your article though while on our family vacation this summer. We traveled from Louisiana to California so that I could officiate at the wedding of a former youth group member. On our return trip, we took our children to Disneyland. In Tomorrowland, there was an Honda ASIMO demonstration presentation. ASIMO brought in the paper, played with the kids, helped out around the house and so forth. I remember feeling frustrated by the presentation. I knew ASIMO could not do those things in reality. I also knew that so much of what ASIMO really can do was not presented. The amazing technology of the real robot was not shown, and instead a vision of a C-3PO like helper was demonstrated. Your article wrestles with these issues and points toward some of what I was feeling.

I hope that religion and technology are not competing fields, but can be partners. But as you point out, we must first be honest about what is actually possible and the limitations and areas of expertise of each field.

I do understand though a generation of technologists and engineers who long for a robotic companion and workmate. The vision that they (we?) saw in Star Wars as children may spur them to get us closer to that reality some day. Our love of such machines, like our love of cars, says more about who we as human beings are than about the machines themselves.
He will probably think I am a goof-ball. His article and these ideas are definitely some things to think about! Maybe doing so will make us better human beings and better roboticists.

Photo - Lanier from his homepage.

Update - I just got a reply from Jaron Lanier. It said:

thanks much and good luck to you in all your roles- jaron

Monday, August 9, 2010

Lab Expansion and Reoganiztion

For those of you who follow Robotics Under the Stole, you will remember when I first made my lab. See here. Then I expanded it a bit - see here. It is great to have a dedicated space to work.

Well, I've been at it again this summer! I expanded and reorganized my lab. These photos show the changes. If you look closely, you can see that I added some plywood on my table top to provide a better surface on which to solder. I also reoriented my bookshelves (to the rear above my glass dood storage cabinets) and gained some more space for books.

Now, if I can only keep the junk from piling up!

Photos - Show the work side (top) and the storage side (bottom).

Another Reason I Love Parallax Products - Open Source

The majority of the products created at Parallax include design files that are distributed, free of cost, from their web page. Parallax encourages others to freely use and modify the circuits that they have designed and to integrate them into their own projects, whether for personal or commercial use. Parallax resources for schematics, books, and code examples are fantastic! It is all free to download from their website.

Parallax has been releasing code for the Propeller under the MIT license, and all code posted on the Propeller Object Exchange, whether originating from Parallax or a third party, is required to be released under the MIT license. (See http://obex.parallax.com/license/) The MIT license explicitly allows redistribution of software, but it does not apply to hardware designs. This is one of the things that make the Propeller Chip so much fun to use. Many objects are available at the Object Exchage. This means that someone has written a piece of code to do a particular think - like operate and read a Ping))) sensor. You can add their code to your code through the MIT license.

To encourage the reuse of their designs, especially in open-source hardware projects, Parallax will begin to release design files, whenever possible, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. (See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/) This will allow anyone to use, modify, and distribute the designs without explicitly receiving permission from Parallax. Now, the same great sharing that has happened with code will happen with hardware too.

Parallax supports its users like no one else.

Note: This information is taken from the Parallax website.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Another California Souvenir

Another surprise on my trip to California was Fry's Electronics. I had heard lots of people talk about Fry's on the Parallax Forums, but I had never actually been to Fry's.

It has all things electronic - video games, t.v.s, etc. But the best and most amazing part to me was the true electronics' section. They had many Parallax products (and other robot kits), an almost endless couple of isles of electronic components, dozens of multimeters, oscilloscopes, function generators and more. It was all right there to look at, hold and study. For someone who has gotten almost everything I have from catalogs or websites, it was truly amazing! I saw many things that I had only seen in pictures or read about. I could have stayed for hours, but I was with my family and friends and it was near closing time.

Not to be denied a souvenir of some sort, I found the perfect thing - a Fry's Pocket Protector! Not only is a pocket protector the symbol of nerds everywhere, the Fry's version features "Charlie the Chip" and was only $1.99!

I guess it is lucky that I don't have one of these stores too close! I could have spent LOTS of money at this place. It was also early in the trip and I still had my trip to Parallax ahead of me - so I didn't buy anything else.

The good news is that if I really get the urge to go shopping, there is a Fry's in Dallas!

Photos - My Fry's Pocket Protector "installed" and a couple of other nerds.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Unofficial Tour of Parallax

Most of you read about my visit to and tour of Parallax. Here is a video made by their intern Maddie. Her blog is called PBASICally Maddie. Her "Unofficial" tour shows almost everything I saw. Enjoy!

Monday, July 26, 2010

ASIMO at Disneyland

On our recent family trip to California, we took the kids to Disneyland. As we walked into Tomorrowland, I saw a big banner that said - "ASIMO - Here today!"

ASIMO was on tour and Disney had a demonstration that lasted about 30 minutes. I think my family had as much fun watching me as ASIMO. The demo was cheezy, but the robot itself is very impressive. I know that it gets a lot of criticism, but sitting in front of it and hearing the servos whir and seeing the incredible finish and precision of its movements - It is amazing! ASIMO danced, climbed stairs and ran, but all the context of visiting a family and helping with household chores.

I wish they presented robots more from the engineering side - showing what is really possible now. That would be interesting. But, not many people would enjoy it as much as seeing ASIMO dance and imagining having their own C-3PO.

Photo - ASIMO on stage at Disneyland.

My Visit to Graceland!

As any Elvis fan knows - "Graceland" is the place to visit if you are one of the King's faithful.

For a someone like me - the place to visit is Parallax. Maybe it is because my first robotics' gear came from Rocklin, or maybe because they keep making exactly what I want and provide what I need to teach others. For me, a visit to Parallax is like a visit to Graceland.

I was in Northern California to officiate at the wedding of a former youth group member on July 16th. We made it into a family trip. We got to visit with lots of friends and we took the kids to Disneyland on the way home (I got to see ASIMO in Tomorrowland!). Everybody got to do something fun and something they wanted to do. I got to go to Parallax.

Not only did I get to meet all the great people (everybody from the educational folks, shipping, manufacturing, marketing, kitting, front desk and sales) - I got the grand tour from Ken Gracey. It was great to see parts being made on the CNC machine, BASIC Stamps being cranked out and a warehouse full of stuff that would make any of you drool. Not only are the individual items cool - seeing stacks and stacks of them is unbelievable - Like a wall of QuadRovers!

Just like Graceland has the Jungle Room - Parallax has the Chip Room. I stood in the cage surrounded by silicon and got to hold a box full of Propeller Chips and have the pics to prove it. They don't really keep Chip Gracey in there...

Thanks to everyone at Parallax for the great visit. It was so good to meet you all and see everything!

As one of the Parallax Forum members (Rich, aka W9GFO) said, "Maybe it should be called "Graceyland!" I wish I had thought of that!

Photos - Jessica, me, Steph and Andy, The Education Department - above. Me in the Chip Room - right. Both photos were taken by Ken Gracey.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Father's Day Gift

Because my daughter is heading to camp today, I got my Father's Day gift a bit early!

It is a Fluke 87 V Multimeter. It is just about as good a multimeter as there is. The 87 V is extremely heavy duty, very accurate and completely made in the U.S.A. I also got the C25 soft case.

The features of this amazing meter include: 
  • True-rms ac voltage and current for accurate measurements on non linear signals
  • Selectable filter for accurate voltage and frequency measurements on motor drives
  • 0.05 % dc accuracy
  • 6000 counts, 3-3/4 digits
  • 4-1/2 digit mode for precise measurements (20,000 counts)
  • Measure up to 1000 V ac and dc
  • Measure up to 10 A, 20 A for up to 30 seconds
  • Built in thermometer lets you carry one less tool (TC probe included)
  • Frequency to 200 kHz and % duty cycle
  • Resistance, continuity and diode test
  • 10,000 µF capacitance range for components and motor caps
  • Min/Max-Average recording with Min/Max Alert to capture variations automatically
  • Peak capture to record transients as fast as 250 µs
  • Relative mode to remove test lead interference from low ohms measurements
  • Auto and manual ranging for maximum flexibility
  • Touch Hold to capture stable readings avoiding noisy signals
  • Large display digits and two-level bright white backlight for increased visibility
  • Analog bargraph for fast changing or unstable signals
  • Input Alert provides audible warning against wrong use of input jacks
  • Improved selectable sleep mode for long battery life
  • Access door for fast battery changes without breaking the calibration seal
  • "Classic" design with new removable holster with built in test lead and probe storage
  • Lifetime warranty - Holy Smokes!
Here is the link to a video review of the Fluke 87 V from David L. Jones' EEVBlog.

Happy Father's Day Weekend!

Happy Father's Day! I found this photo on the web - I thought it was good for the occasion. My daughter and I went to a Father/Daughter Dance this year!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fellowship of the Traveling Junkbox

It all started with a post by Jeff, aka Oldbitcollector over at Savage Circuits. Here's what he said,

The Fellowship of the Traveling Junkbox.
The idea here is to keep a box of interesting electronics parts, etc moving from participant to participant. Here are the OFFICIAL guidelines for participation:
1. You must live in the United States. This keeps the cost of participation to $10.70. (The cost of shipping a medium-flat-rate box in the US.)

2. When you receive the box, you have 1-week to take what you please (being mindful of others) and replace items with parts which you think others will enjoy. Parts should be useful to those working with Propeller, BASIC STAMP, or robotics. Good Examples include, electronics parts, resistors, relays, LEDs, a game controller, circuit boards with useful parts. Bad Examples include, chemicals, a cdrom drive, network card, the DVD movie of "Twins".

3. You will need to transfer all of the remaining contents and new items to a fresh box of the SAME SIZE and TYPE. The post office has these boxes free. They can be picked up or delivered upon request of the USPS website. As much stuff as will fit in the box will ship for $10.70. The box needs to ship to the next person by 1-week of it's arrival.

4. Add your name to the log included in the box. Name, forum alias, city, and comments.

5. Report back to the forum. You might include a picture, or video. Let us know what surprises you found and what you added. Under NO circumstances list the inventory of the box in the forum. If you find items which you feel are dangerous, (chemicals, etc) or items which you feel violate the spirit of the Junkbox, please contact me by PM for instruction.

6. By registering to our group, you accept these rules and allow that your NAME and ADDRESS is allowed to be posted within our private group so that members know where the box is shipping to and where it needs to go next. If we reach the end of list, the box should return to the top of the list to be refreshed and keep moving.

7. Have fun! This is a fun project!

Anyway - a bunch of us signed up and the game is on. I received the box on May 11, 2010.

The Traveling Junkbox continues its journey after I mailed it on May 17, 2010. It is on it way to "Potatohead" in Oregon.

I took some of Microcontrolled's LEDs and PS2s (plenty more remain!), a mouse PCB with two encoder wheel detectors, a Parallax Servo, a Piezo Speaker, and few other bits and pieces. By the way - I loved the photo Microcontrolled included in the log book. It inspired me to include my own. See above - it'a me opening the junkbox when it arrived.

I added some nice goodies, a surprise, some fun hackable items and the photo of me opening the box (which I added to the log book along with my Robotics Business card).

The box was stuffed full! The woman at the Post Office said that if it wasn't the Flat Rate $10.70 Box - it would have cost me over $20.00 to mail!

Thanks OBC and all who have contributed. I can't wait to hear of the box's continued journey.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Nation Robotics Week Photos

Photos of National Robotics Week are available on Flickr here. To see just the GatorBots Demonstration Day photos click here.

It looks like there were some great events around the country. The second annual National Robotics Week will be April 9-17, 2011. See you then!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Accidental Find

Tonight my wife, the kids and I took a ride. We ended up at an Atwood's Ranch and Home Store in Crossett, Arkansas (about 30 minutes from home). It is like a farm supply and hardware store.

 As we walked along the asiles my wife spotted some robot toys. There were three key wound motor robots. The Space Robot is made by Schylling - http://www.schylling.com/

As the robot walks he lights up with sparks inside. It is really cool! See the pic and info from their website here. The price at the store was the same as online - $19.99. The Box was almost as cool as the robot. Neat huh?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stingray Alpha at Demonstration Day

The Grace Episcopal School GatorBots had a Demonstration Day and end of the year party on April 13. This was done in conjuction with National Robotics Week.

I took my Parallax Stingray Robot and let it "roam" around. The kids were very impressed. The loved the size, which looked huge compared to their Scribblers.  I am starting to make some head way on this great robot. A picture from the Demostration Day is posted above. The current version has 5 - Ping))) ultra-sonic sensors and a Parallax 4 x 20 LCD display.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dual Voltage Power Supply

I picked up one of Brian's (http://ucontroller.com/index.html) Dual Voltage Power Supply Kits to use with my Propeller Education Kit. It supplies 5 volts and 3.3 volts to a breadboard and uses a Parallax standard 2.1 mm center positive connection to a 7-9 volt wall wart. I includes and on/off switch and an LED to indicate when it is on. There are alterative pin locations to adapt to breadboard variations.

The PCB boards are very nice and screened clearly. The documentation is simple and clear and it is a cinch to put together. I don't know if I got lucky, but mine is dead on. The 5 volt side provide 5.000 volts and the 3.3 volt side provided 3.305 volts on my meter. Can't beat that.

It is a nice little kit and sure beats using batteries! My son even helped me put it together and learned about the parts, how to place them and got to watch some soldering.

Update: I added some heat sinks that I found in my junkbox to the voltage regulators. (This is not shown in the photo)

Friday, March 12, 2010

National Robotics Week

The first annual National Robotics Week is April 10-18, 2010. The purpose of National Robotics Week is to:

  • Celebrate the US as a leader in robotics technology development
  • Educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society, both now and in the future
  • Advocate for increased funding for robotics technology research and development
  • Inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related fields
Why is robotics important?

  • Robotics technology is a growing industry which creates high-tech jobs in the US
  • Robotics technologies are helping to improve healthcare, national defense, homeland security, energy, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, agriculture, education, consumer goods, and many other sectors
  • Robotics provides an exciting, hands-on way for students to learn Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math
You can find more information at http://www.nationalroboticsweek.org/

A Little Inspiration from R2-D2

Sometimes it seems like my robotics projects take a long time to be what I want them to be. Progress is just so slow. Other things happen to slow things down. This video gives me great inspiration and reminds me that some things take a lot of little steps.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scibbler Robot Scribbling

I've posted before about the Scribbler Robot Camps that I am doing with the Monroe City School system. After the students learn the basic functions of the Scribbler (demo, sound, LEDs, motor control, etc.), we have a contest. They are to make their Scibbler play "Charge!", draw one of their initials, and then play "tada!" They have to stay on a piece of 22" X 28" poster board.

They have to work on making the Scribbler run straight, the time duration of the strokes in the letter, turning the proper angles, etc. They get to work on this for about 20 minutes one day and then get about 20 minutes the next day. The work is done based on what they have learned at that point and trial and error for lengths and turn angles and other issues.

This video is of one of the student's work at Carroll High School. Her "K" was the most complex letter chosen. We had Ts, Ls, Ds for instance, but this capital K is impressive. Multi-stroke letters (where they have to back-track) are the hardest. This one was a winner!

By this time the contest is held - the students have had less than 5 hours experience with their Scribblers and robotics!

Pretty neat, huh?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Robotic Priest Post

I saw this today on a blog called Ration Reality and couldn't resist posting it here...

When I was a child, someone showed me the Chicago Bulls logo, upside down, and pointed out that it was, in fact, a robot sitting on a park bench reading the bible. My little mind was blown. 20 plus years later, I look at the logo and no longer see the bull. Just an upside down robot priest…

You, dear reader, have seen the proselyting robot menace, haven’t you?

I’ve made an art to clarify the danger we face:

I prefer to think of "it" as standing at the altar. Pretty funny, huh?

The Path of Innovation

Last night, I was sending a message to erco, one of my Parallax Forum buddies. I used the term Robotier, which is misspelled and misused because that is actually the level on the Love Boat specifically for robots. It should be spelled Roboteer (like muska- or mouseka-).

Later I wondered - Is that a commonly used term? Perhaps it should be added to the robotic vocabulary. Was I perhaps the unique person to coin the term? Could it be that I would find a nitch the the history of robotics?

I wrote erco back to see if he had ever heard the term used. Then, I decided to google it...

Never mind... See - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roboteer Crap! Its hard to be an innovator.

P.S. I really do like this term, even though somebody else thought it up and gets the credit in the great and storied history of my beloved hobby.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Stingray with Pings)))

Here is the latest picture of my Stingray Robot. I have added three Ping))) detectors and three rack handles for bumpers (like Parallax's Chris Savage did on his prototype). Parallax has a kit to do this (less the rack handles) and you can see it here. A video is also at this link.

The test code that I am using is giving me some problems and I haven't figured it out yet. The left motor spins in reverse when it should go forward. Some people are correcting this by reversing the connections, but I want to understand what is going on first. I will post my own video of it roaming when I get it working.

Update: I have it working now! I've made a lot progress understanding the code and how it works. Thanks to all the Parallax Forum members who helped! Video will follow...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Louisiana Tech Robotics' Club

The Louisiana Tech Robotics' Club is up and running and off to a good start this year. Their new blog can be found here and will include meeting times, activities and other info.

I tryed to attend these meetings last year, but the meeting schedule was irregular and so I only made a couple. I hope they have a great year! I also hope that  I can make some of the meetings too. I know I can learn a lot!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Another Scribbler Robot Camp

We just finished the third of six Scribbler Robot Camps for the Monroe City Schools. This week, Jody Moorhead, of Instructional Technology, and I were at Wossman High School. We had another full house of fifteen students and some great teacher support. It is always so much fun to see the students figure out all the little robot can do.

This year, we will have three Jr. High camps and three High School camps.

Friday, January 1, 2010