Getting Settled at ESA

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.

rainbow.jpgLast 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.

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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

 

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How Could a Robot Taste Things?

THE TASTING (SAMPLING) FOOT

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)

IMG_0691.JPGAfter 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.

IMG_2415.JPGThis 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.

IMG_2482.JPGHOW 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”:

litmusDiagram.jpg(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.

tastingBeans.jpgTo 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.

Noodle Puberty

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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:

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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!):

IMG_8715.jpgIn 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:

IMG_8805.jpgWith 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…

IMG_9541.jpgI’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).

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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:

IMG_9672.jpgDuring 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 ❤

 

Robot Army : LAUNCH!

In spite of all of the things that looked like they were going to delay us, we got approved in time for our February 1st deadline and launch at midnight! ON TIME! (WOOOO!!!!)

CHECK IT OUT! : ROBOT ARMY STARTER KIT

Today has been exhausting. We’ve been blasting all of the social channels and so far things are off to a pretty promising start… although Mark and I are both running on empty. We were up until close to 3am last night because we were too excited to sleep. It’s taken everything we’ve got not to just sit and hit the refresh button on our KS page all day long… so we’re getting stuff done at the shop… like set up a nice display in the window.

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We plan to make it look like a pet shop window, with graph paper shaving and food bowls filled with scrap electronics… so the little deltas can run their chicken code and charm tourists on Fremont Street. We hung these chintzy xeroxed adoption flyers all over and gave them to our friends to hang up at work.

As I write this we are hanging at 15%…which isn’t a bad start. Hopefully once the weekend is over, we get a mention or two on some tech blogs and things will take off. We’ll see. I really, really hope all my PR pays off. Wish us luck! Better yet… don’t wish us luck- buy a shirt :

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We are in the process of getting a bunch of these made; jersey knit with soft ink… vintage style. They’re going to be sharp!

Disco Bug Goggles

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[JUST TO MAKE THIS CLEAR: I do not use any of adafruit’s LED products in my goggles. These and all others on Robotic Arts are original pieces of work… and their editors should learn to cite things better.]

It’s been a little while since I’ve pushed out a pair of goggles. It seemed like a good time to do so with October being the anniversary of when I created my first set, the 3D light goggles.

I didn’t do anything new and unusual with this set. In fact, my goal was to see how interesting I could get these to look without the use of a micro controller. I keep getting asked if I sell these things, and I am too stubborn and sentimental to part with any of the others I’ve made in the past. This is a low-cost, ‘all that glitters’ pair that simply blinks and has the cool leather trim that is my signature icing on the cake. They’re neat, but are the sort of model I’d be comfortable letting go of, as they didn’t take me a stupid long amount of time to make or troubleshoot. That being said, I think they’re a nice addition to the family.

I’ll talk a little bit about them now…

The lenses might look familiar to those of you who have used a 3D printer once or twice. Jeff and I got our Flash Forge in the mail a couple of weeks ago. A scrap piece of rafting from a failed print was floating around on my desk and I though it was a neat shape, so I clipped it into a circle and printed out a second one for the other eye  (Jeff and Mark keep saying they look like fly eyes, thus the name) :

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To make this lime green “eye grill” stand out, I chose to paint the base set of goggles a nice shiny red.

I used a mixture of black and light brown leather for the trim with red stitching to complement the red eye pieces :

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I soldered some basic color-change LEDs to these small square boards from SparkFun and plugged a couple inside of the goggles through some holes I drilled on the inside wall of the eyepieces :

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The fancy thing I ended up doing was in recycling one of Jeff’s old surface mount boards he had made for a set of his own goggles last year. They are white and crescent-shaped… with pads for LEDs. I managed to solder some resistors and SMT LEDs onto it and bridge the things I needed with thin wire. It was like performing surgery, but the outcome worked and was well worth the trouble :

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Jeff also designed a nice battery box for me with a switch mounted inside! This is very helpful. Thanks hun! :

All and all, when you turn these guys on… they’re just as cool to look at and attract the same attention as my other more interactive sets. Plus if anyone wants to buy them off my forehead, I’ll be more than happy to send my baby out into the world. =]

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Here’s me with a lush cornucopia of light bursting from my hair jungle :

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