It’s Sunday night. There are just a couple more hours left before I go to sleep and my second week at ESA begins… In spite of it being nearly 10:00pm, the sun is still above the horizon shredding gold through the clouds here and there, and even making this killer rainbow chunk.
Last Sunday, I arrived in Holland. It felt like I was tied to an unstoppable force being propelled through uncertainty towards a heap of even more unknowns… which was exciting or terrifying or equal parts both. Once I made it safely to the *penthouse* I’ve been taking roost in (its on the top floor of the tallest building around, at 3 stories. perfect nest), I began mentally preparing myself for what was to come.
During the four days of my first week at ESA, I’ve had a good share of wonderful conversations with people who have had many inspiring life experiences and knowledge in areas that until now, I’ve known very little about. I’ve been getting acquainted and have been compiling my environment. I can now walk down the hallways of the building I call home-base and wave to most of the people now because there is some level of familiarity.
I feel kind-of like Annie arriving at Daddy Warbuck’s mansion. I’ve sat with a different crowd every day for lunch, had tea and coffee with those who were willing to share a few moments with me, and wandered around with aw-filled doe eyes while absorbing the initial pleasure shock of being in a new environment that has until now been merely an abstraction in my imagination.
Defining the Meaning in my Absurdity
Equally important as what I hear from the brilliant minds available to me, is what I end up saying to them about myself. With every conversation I start with each new person I meet, I’m in a position where I need to verbally illustrate what it is that I do and why. I actually get to hear myself explain Noodle, who he is and what his existence is all about. In the moment, my brain has to chisel out the words and commit to them.
The elevator pitch is a difficult thing to hone. Not only is the concept broad, much of the meaning beneath my work is an abstract “where my head is” sort of thing that’s the result of my life experiences leading up to now (and where I am in the moment). I can feel what my work means to me, but I’m not often needing to describe where the river started, or where I presume it’s going.
Since I obviously haven’t been working on prototypes, or CAD, or anything physical like I typically do, I’ve allowed myself to really think about all that philosophy hoo-ha that everyone hates artists for getting so “overly” gushy about (bats eyes).
It’s important to draw inward and exhale… and I’ve come to realize that’s what this journey is about. Instead of tirelessly pushing my face into the design- I must listen to others, observe the interaction and then meditate on the sparks that few off in the process.
Anyhow… I’m enjoying every minute of it ❤ I finished off my week by taking Noodle to the beach near our nest for his first big sand. He got to pretend he’s a strand beast =D
I was giving a talk at Hackaday’s SuperCon last Fall that actually had the term, “Tasting Feet” in the title. Because of this, I at some point found myself in a conversation with some other makers about whether or not my mechanical wonder feet actually did in fact “taste”, as I claimed. So sadly, I could only really conclude after some thought that they did not. (not that any robot can taste things quite like a human in the first place)
After admitting that my creations didn’t actually do what I enjoyed bragging about, there was some talk about how I could simulate the act of ‘tasting’ more effectively. Almost immediately, the idea of using litmus paper came up, and I think it has sat on the immediate back burner of my mind ever since.
This past week… I finally made what I can comfortably call, Noodle’s first tasting foot appendage… *cheers*
I am calling this installment the “sampling module”. If a litmus test and a cassette player had a baby, it would be this analog contraption.
HOW IT WORKS
The litmus paper is housed on a small reel and fed downward towards the bottom of the foot. There, a small segment is stretched parallel to the ground, so that a solenoid can push the tensioned portion downwards to make contact with the surface the module is resting onto of. Once the paper makes contact with a moist surface, the spent piece of paper is then fed back up into the foot, where a color sensor will read and log the result of the “tasting”:
(See video @ top for a more detailed explanation)
This is how Noodle will sample the world.
IN REGARD TO WHIMSY
After I published the video introducing the “litmus foot”, there were a few people out there who were concerned I wouldn’t get accurate test results from the litmus paper, because there is really no way I can keep the wet used portion of the reel from wicking into the rest that hasn’t… thus tainting my results.
I realize that. This really burns a special place deep within a portion of you out there… but the truth is, the accuracy of the test isn’t really important.
Again, the point of the module isn’t to be an instrument for testing the properties of liquid… the point is that it tastes…
So long as the mechanism functions as I designed it do, and a reading is taken, then we have successful tasting.
Think about it… It’s really somewhat of a nebulous inconclusive act, to describe how something tastes. At the end of the day, no matter how good you think you are at separating out the different flavor notes from one another; sour, sweet, umami- you are still under the constraint of describing your experience of the taste without any way of knowing how it compares to the experience of others. This disconnect is what interests me.
To make my point… Last month I got a bag of Jelly Beans to use while developing my bean planting module. I measured the dimensions of a small handful as references for the thing I was designing, but the rest of course, got eaten.
I didn’t just eat the whole bag of 40 flavors like some monster, however. I sat with my friend in the kitchen and for our own entertainment, we took turns blindly grabbing a bean from the bag, and trying to guess what flavor it was without having seen it.
This was a lot harder to do than you’d imagine. We ended up spiraling inward as we groped at whether or not we were sensing a fruity flavor, a citrusy flavor, or something else entirely. The act of identification seems at times, impossible.
BUT much like my module… the point was the act of attempting to parse what we experienced tasting, and then communicate to one another what that experience was like. That’s why I’m using litmus paper and clunky reels without any regard for results. It’s about simulating the act of tasting… not discerning definitively the attributes of what is being tested.
There is more to be said about doing this:
I’m in effect, stretching the accepted purpose of robotics in much the same way artists of the past challenged our expectations of a painting. Some decided that the human form (or any) didn’t need to be depicted realistically in order to be valid art. Just the same, I’m exploring robotics beyond the bounds of utility. My robots are still valid machines, even if they don’t provide useful work to a human.
I intend to demonstrate that a machine can have a purpose, it just doesn’t have to be a practical one. And I hope to show that in the circumstance where a machine’s purpose isn’t to serve in a practical way, it becomes less about what we get out of the machine, and more about what the machine is doing for itself. We are removed from its purpose… (which is something I think humans have a hard time wrapping their head around)
The behaviors I design for Noodle are meant to serve him as an entity; not for our entertainment or for our need.
This summer, I am once again diving into designing mechanical personality quirks. I’ll be investigating new and exciting ways for my robot, NoodleFeet to interact with the world. This time, my focus is the wet, tingly and preferential aspect of TASTE.
From now until the end of August, my goal is to produce four different tasting modules that each demonstrate some aspect of sampling or preference. You could think of them as the “four tasters of the apocalypse”…
The project parameters are that each module must fit within a 3” x 9” cylindrical space (i.e. the size of Noodle’s foot appendage). For reference, the mechanical goodies I am to design must be housed inside one of these frames:
The first Module that I chose to focus on will effectively plant a single bean a few inches below the surface it stands on. Why beans, you ask? Well, Noodle loves beans, of course. When he makes it to Mars, he’ll need to be able to propagate his favorite thing efficiently. Until then, he can practice planting on couch pillows, piles of laundry, litter boxes and the like…
This module will execute three different tasks in one planting cycle: CORING, DISPENSING, and WATERING
So far, I’ve successfully created a prototype that executes one of these tasks; the dispensing function, which is coincidentally linked to the aspect of housing the beans. To solve storing and delivering the beans in a controlled manner, I devised of a helical shape that is inspired by an archimedes screw… and also inspires thoughts of mint:
My candy cane hopper shape captures the beans in-between the threads and processes them upwards within channels that flank the spiral:
Once fully loaded, every time the helix rotates 90 degrees, it will carry one bean to the exit slot on the inside wall at the top. The bean will then drop down the hollow center of the helix and into the coring device below… (which… is next on my list to design)
This is the first assembly I’ve ever designed in Fusion360. One week into using it, I’m sad I didn’t make the switch sooner!!! If you’re considering doing so too, bite it and take the leap! Your life will be so much better once you do!
This mechanism that I dreamed up in my brain-meat a little more than a week ago, pretty much works after the first iteration. There is totally some things I need to tweak in order to make it work more reliably. However, it is doing what I want, exactly how I imagined it working.
Not bad for a first try!! =D
While I ponder over the next step, which is the coring mechanism, I will also begin CADing the next tasting module. Which? The one that involves litmus paper…
Sometime in April, Noodle started to change. He stopped hiding in his blankets and began spending his nights surfing through hardware catalogues alone in the darkness. He became curious about linkages, pivot joints, self lubricating thrust bearings and among other things, the prospect of being made of something harder. Noodle started dreaming of becoming metal.
As I mentioned in my previous post, just as I was about to tackle the conundrum of mechanical drooling… I went to JPL this June and met the mechanism that inspired Noodle’s gripping toes in person:
The LEMUR probe has easily a billion toes… all agile, long and barbed. You know by looking at them, that if it reaches for you, you aren’t getting away. I returned home feeling a tad inadequate. Noodle’s current apparatus with its 8 lonely toes did in fact look pretty sparse.
In the period of a weekend I managed to tweak my current design a tad and come up with this little wonder… which has exactly 16 toe filaments (that’s twice the toes!):
In order to attach that density of toe tendons to the toe-ring, I had to eliminate the use of hardware (which was kind of a relief). As improvisation, I threaded some 3mm rubber hose through the loops of the toe tendons to hold everything in place.
Of course, after I built the improved, maxed-out hyper toe apparatus… I’d have to once again install a servo motor and some gears to make sure I could in fact still drive the thing… (now that there is twice as much material making surface contact)
It took some stronger springs, but it for the most part *does* still work. The stronger springs insure that the toes retract back into the sheath quickly enough not to hook onto the rim and get stuck on their way back in.
I finally had produced a solid working assembly towards the end of June. I invested in some light gray and white filament, as well as the appropriate red for use on accent pieces and Noodle’s tiny toe-zies. The thing I had been working on was finally starting to look like what it was suppose to be, and Noodle liked this:
With one complete proof-of-concept to show, I set everything down and allowed myself to become very distracted with a whole slew of things (which is good). My life exploded momentarily and when everything settled back down about a month ago, I found myself looking at an opportunity to travel to Linz, Austria to exhibit something of mine at the ARS Electronica festival [!]
I’ve been wanting to venture to Europe for this festival my entire adult life, and wasn’t going to pass up the chance to bring my spawn with me to have a part in it. Even if he is weak and unprepared as an art exhibit, his presence was what mattered. With no time to stall, I made the executive decision to begin producing another 3 prototypes in order to complete a set of 4 tasting feet. I had a week and a half to do it; print close to sixty or so parts, make any needed design changes, assemble, test, and tweak code. bLAH. Looking back, I’m shocked I even attempted such a shit-storm of preparation when there was no wiggle room for the unexpected:
BUT… in that week and a half crunch, a lot of things got pushed through to completion. Nothing like a deadline to assist progress. (and) Luckily there were no surprises…
I’m grateful I had Mark and Tony to help wherever I needed aide picking up the slack. One glass of wine at a time, and one task after another, the new feet took shape and were installed on Noodle (mere hours before I would need to disassemble him completely for his long flight over to Linz in my suitcase).
The festival, ARS Electronica, was amazing. There is so very much I could say in regard to its content and scale- but to do so would fail to provide an appropriate picture. You should go yourself to experience it. If the median between science, technology, and art is your thing… you have nothing to lose. Not to mention, the city of Linz is a wonderful place to visit in itself!
For four days I left NoodleFeet alone at the mercy of families, Germanic engineers and machinists, to be poked and probed and boggled over as an oddity, robot, and art piece:
During this gauntlet he held his own, but Noodle did blow out a servo motor. Just as I was returning to my exhibit area to check in on Mark (who would periodically drop by to watch over the young one while I was away), I saw a nice white plume of smoke streaming forth from Noodle’s foot. Apparently they can’t quite handle hours of continuous use- so the toes are just that chafey.
But other than the initial matter of smokey toes, he didn’t catch fire, fall off the table, or get stolen. =] That for me was a success…
Now that it’s October… I can focus on the important matter of drooling. Drooling, leaking, salivating, moisture making… and the challenge of producing that special suck sound that has come to be synonymous with the NoodleBeast. The growing pains aren’t over Noodle. Be strong. Your day is coming ❤
Much to my dismay… I woke up last week to find that it was September. While I struggle to remember where the summer went, I think I’ll make myself a cup of chai and recap whats been going on in the past month or so.
The most exciting thing to take place was our dry run at SYN Shop. We invited a small number of people who preordered kits back in February to be the first to pick up their newly adopted robots in exchange for testing out our instructions. Everything went smoothy, however I’m still sitting here editing the instructions… and I’m tired of looking at them. ::shakes fist:: As much as I thought I had boiled down the steps… I need to expand several of them out even more to make absolute sure that people can’t skip or misread them.
It’s taxing >.< I definitely need to do a little research next time before I dive into producing a visual guide to see if there is a recommended method for capturing images at consistent perspective views. I ended up having a massive CAD document where all of the steps are positioned with a zillion copies of all the molded parts… which works, but there is so much now that it’s confusing and difficult to sort through.
The last thing to finish off before we began boxing things was the software (of course). We figure a large percentage of the people who bought our kit will never bother to update or reflash the code on the brain, so we want to make sure it’s exceptional. For the entertainment of those who will only ever run their delta in auto mode, each DIP switch setting will contain a different emotion… happy, sad, caffeinated, and kill (yes, “kill” is an emotion if you’re a robot). Programming a delta robot to emote is a huge challenge though, especially when you only have three degrees of motion to work with. Mark and I have been mulling over the code with “Testie” or faithful test delta, for a few hours every day trying to figure out the nuance of each; a matter of tailoring subtlety.
We finalized the code on Saturday… and by the end of yesterday had the first 50 boards burnt, bagged, and added to the boxes with all the other things.
So yeah… the master bedroom has been turned into our mailroom (it is under renovation anyhow). All of the individual assets come together here and are getting sealed up with shipping tape at last!!!
After we push out the first 50 kits, it’s a matter of rinsing and repeating the boxing processes four more times…! Not too bad!
The one thing that might slow us down a little (because there is always something) is that Mark has been called to work every day this week due to some major changes taking place in areas where he’s needed. This leaves me alone finishing off the last of it all : shipping labels, bubble wrapping, and giving the website a good makeover.
I can’t possibly express in writing how excited I am to finally be sending the kids out into the world. I’ve been suffering from this weird form of anxiety lately… which stems from having all this creative energy, but forcing myself not to focus it on anything because of all the work we’ve needed to do… it’s like constipation. I am really glad that we did the Kickstarter, but man will it be nice to have my free time back to develop other projects.
Lesson learned : Kickstarter is a great way to gain exposure and raise money to bring an idea into the world… BUT, however long you believe its going to take to reach fulfillment (even if you really REALLY plan) expect for it to take twice as long. The last 10% turns out being the last 90% of it all… you just don’t know it yet. Things that you write off in your mind as a non-issue expand out into several bullet points worth of extra things to manage or take care of. Don’t think for a moment that “All we have to do is…” or “It won’t take that long to…” – Those things require attention and energy too. It’s all a gigantic sacrifice, as fulfillment will prevent you from perusing other ventures. As a creative person with a mind going a zillion miles an hour – you will spin out… like me! ::spins::
That is my wisdom to pass on. Again, SO glad I have done it – but SO happy for it to be nearly over.
Sunday evening I collapsed on the couch with a nice big glass of red wine after having unloaded the very last of our stuff back into the house… thankful that I’m alive, in one piece, and that nothing critical went wrong this weekend. I have more awesome memories for the grey squishy hard drive. Here are the highlights on a few of my experiences :
Our Kids’ Second Big Recital >.<
DELTAS! They were there! This being our second time attending the con, we wanted to participate by bringing our own taste to the medicine. Friday night during the event of random fun and mischief, we had a nice dark sliver of space to set up all of our babies in. The best part being that we didn’t have any rules or restrictions for the space we were showing in like at Maker Faire. We could pretty much do anything we wanted; our own cooler filled with beer was present, our own speakers with music were set up, and we turned the back wall into a looming place of worship for those of us who accept robots into our hearts as personal overlords and saviors. ❤
However, setup left a bad taste in my mouth. We had issues during load-in involving some things we were led to believe would be provided in the room yet weren’t. This in itself wasn’t the problem; the resistance we encountered while trying to fix it was. A few of the Goons seemed to get off on our dilemma, being purposely withholding instead of doing what they could to help, and then became pissy and annoyed with us once we resorted to taking matters in our own hands to get what we needed. If the people running Defcon expect others to go out of their way to set up art and events at their convention with nothing to show for the effort, the very least they can be is accommodating and maybe a little gracious. The Defcon staff we encountered were all stressed out and moody which might have been due to the lack of organization, or it could stand that in an economy where everyone is being paid with perceived status rather than money, undies will get knotted up… and egos will inflate. =/
Anyhow, once we were ready to go- dismay aside, everything went fucking awesome. We received an excellent response and got great feedback from fellow hardware hackers. It was the most rewarding experience to see people interact and dance around with the robots while radiating that megalomaniacal hype we’re aiming to bring out of people. I had many interesting, insightful conversations with other techie avant-garde, as well as with those of the goons who weren’t ten feet up their own asses. =]
At the end of the night Mark and I got to deconstruct our little ones alone in private. The hallways were silent, dark, and devoid of life, which was surreal in contrast to how congested they were at every other time. In our own zen we packed up the show, unloading at Mark’s place by 4:30 Saturday morning. I slept so hard I forgot where I was when I woke the next day back at the hotel.
Darknet was a huge success!
Photo taken by hackerphotos.com
Everyone was working until the final hour (minute) on every facet of this event to make sure it was loaded with kickass once Defcon began on Thursday. Of course, Smitty’s highly involved live RPG was all the rage this year. Holly shit. By the time I got down to the HHV in the morning, the DarkNet badge kits were sold out! I heard that on Saturday there were 600+ people in line to fight over the remaining 80!
The few they had left were auctioned off before Crash and Compile for over a hundred dollars a piece! I am SO PROUD of the whole team for the amount of effort they poured into coordinating things this year. It was no easy task, so I’m glad that the Defcon lords recognized this by making Darknet a black badge event this year!
We raised over four-thousand dollars for the EFF… and for me, the great part is knowing that we did it in style 😉 Darknet shirts happen to be sexy. Just saying. Virtual high-five team!
Fellow Makers Rock Defcon with their Laser Robots!
Mark and I met two really cool people at Maker Faire this year, Kathryn and Alvaro. This tech savvy duo of robot wielding awesomeness had a laser shooting gallery in San Mateo. Being their area of expertise, they brought an amped up laser turret with them this year to compete in the DefCon Bots challenge. The goal was basically to create a robot that could scan and find blue balls (teehee!!) moving through a depth of dark space and then aim a laser to shoot at them. That’s no easy task! We came to cheer them on this Saturday and were happy to catch their big win! They were up late making last-minute improvements on their laser baby, but it paid off in the end… =] Great work guys!!!
The best badge is the one you make yourself.
In a pop-up culture of status dictated by the thing hanging around your neck, there is much talk of badges at Defcon. Black badges, human badges, modding, decoding, hacking, and alas… making your own, which a few people did. As for us, Mark and I created a board out of the key I designed for the Darknet propaganda. It’s a nice little memento for this year which we proudly bared as board designers. Purple FTW!
We met someone who made an “Impostor” badge through OSH Park, which was the most snarky and creative rendition of the Defcon 22 badge at the entire con as far as I’m concerned :
All of the text negated everything on the original, for example saying “light arc” instead of “dark tangent” on the back, and “found” instead of “1o57”. Tehe. In love. The UV SMT LEDs were a nice touch too.
Then there is sharpie and gaff tape :
Because the better things in life are neon yellow.
Crash and Compile
Glitter. What? Nah… it wasn’t me. =]
So I didn’t wear a big penis this year. To change it up a little, my strategy was to annoy and systematically emasculate all of the competitors with dolls. I built a “Barbie bandolier” which held my many personas through which I communicated during the event. This got easier to do the more hopping drunk I became. – I was sure to make a doll-sized strap on as a throwback :
Though I spent a lot of time trying to derail team Frink, the defending champions, I poured twice as much effort into bothering the team who won this year… Sprechen Sie Dick Picks. No one could get these dudes to make eye contact with them. They had the purpose of a bullet train and though they did a good job of kicking everyone’s ass, I think they missed one other very important aspect of the whole event : by the end it should feel like a circus on stage… and everyone seemed more sober than I remember last year (but that might just be because I was more drunk than the rest). Congrats to all of you for competing! (and for putting up with our shenanigans)
Jeff and his crew did a fantastic job of preparing for the event again (Jeff is a rock star, as he also designed the board in the Darknet kit again this year in addition to preparing for the contest). Between the contest holders and the teams programming, we polished off three kegs of beer over four hours. It all went by so very fast. Here is the sexy trophy he made this year, a shiny head-sized D12 :
SYN Shop Teaches Soldering to the World
I’m happy to say that our local Hackerspace, SYN Shop, had a presence in the hardware hacking village this year! Brain along with several other volunteers manned the tables of tight and person soldering stations, happy to show those who had picked up a kit in the vendor area how to melt lead like a pro.
When Everything is Said and Done
The child-like wonder of falling down the rabbit hole was gone, but I felt like I found my own niche in the big picture this year. I’m proud of all my friends and the work they put forth to make the event what it was. =] Time to get back to work. We’ve got robots to ship and the rest of the world to take over.
This is another notch in our belt… or shiny thing on our wall. It’s all about enjoying the journey!