Archive for the 'Robotics' Category

The bed at home beats the hotel bed any day.

February 20, 2008

So last night I stayed at a hotel on a business trip.  They had those Craftmatic Adjustable Beds.  At first, I made it as soft as I could get it.  That was ok for awhile, but then I blew it up again.  I kept waiting for Lindsay Wagner to jump out and tell me what her setting number was.  I think I slept for 10 hours, so it must have been a good bed.  Heck, it’s a robot bed, what could make me happier?

Even so, tonight, lying here in my own bed writing this on my laptop, there is no place on earth that I’d rather be.  When I travel, I get homesick.  It never fails.  When I’m in the airplane, I think about home.  When I’m in the hotel, I think about home.  When I’m home, I think about home.

The good people at iRobot have a device that you can operate away from home and interact with the people there.  I think that would make me even more homesick.

Zeno the Robot Boy

September 14, 2007

Zeno got lots of press today.  I saw articles on both Fark and Yahoo.  Even a casual reader of this blog knows about my penchant for robots.  Companion robots are very appealing to me, but I’m not sure that I want them looking like Astroboy.  Nonetheless, this robot is very exciting.  I applaud the use of external brains.  This robot is really a drone that’s wirelessly connected to it’s computer for the heavy brain processing.

What’s sad is that this thing is 3-5 years a way from commercial production.  You’ll never get to the singularity at that rate.  At least the Pleo is supposed to be out this Christmas.  That’s a companion robot too, albeit a little less ambitous.  It’s still far ahead of the Robosapien droids.

I, for one, welcome our companion robot overlords.

Robots and Rocketry

August 7, 2007

When I was a teenager, I went through a model rocketry phase.  I spent a lot of paper route money on Estes kits, engines and paint.  Model rocketry is a great hobby for a nerdy kid.  This peaked out for me around 14 years old.  Then that was it.  I never touched another one.  Other people, I suppose, continue with the hobby into adulthood.  I’ve read that with the right permits, you can build some amazing stuff.  However, none of it is ever going to launch a satellite.  That’s why it stopped being satisfying to me.  It wasn’t an end in itself.  It just became a fancy way to burn money and time.

Robotics is somewhat similar, at least as it stands today.  I’m still very intrigued by Robots and I read Robot Magazine.  However, the kits that you can buy (and some of them are expensive) give you what amounts to an expensive toy.  You can buy completed robots that will do things like clean your carpets and I’ve recounted my experiences with the Scooba here before.  Robots that help you with your day have huge value.  I lose interest in dancing robots that don’t do much else pretty quickly.  Again, as a hobby, robotics is unsatisfying because the robots you build don’t do anything meaningful.

So am I ready to turn in my geek card?  Not at all!  I’m still a computer freak.  But I can justify that interest.  Computers do stuff.  In fact, I use computers constantly.  A computer is more important to me than my car.  (Although my car is part computer and part robot).

Another geeky hobby that doesn’t quite fit the mold here is Lego.  I build Lego projects with my kids.  They enjoy it and I don’t mind it so much either.  But you might chide me and say:  “Well, the Lego dragon you’re building doesn’t do anything productive either!”  It does sound like I’m being inconsistent.  I think it helps show kids how to focus though and when you’re done, you’ve got a toy you can play with or take apart and build something else with.  Also, compared to rocketry and robots, Lego is cheap.  I dunno.  I guess I’m still working this out in my head.  You know Lego has a robot kit…

The Scooba and the Xacti.

September 27, 2006

It’s been a rough week for my precious gadgets.  On Sunday, my Sanyo Xacti died.  Today, my Scooba battery gave up the ghost.  The good people at Sanyo and iRobot are honoring their respective warranties.  Both had very nice customer service.

iRobot is shipping me a new battery.  The old one is junk anyway.  There’s no need to ship it back.  I did express my wish that they had used lithium ion batteries instead of nickle hydride, but what can you do?  Nickle hydride batteries are cheaper.

Sanyo had me ship my camera to a shop in Illinois.  It was out of warranty on labor, but they extended it for me.  I appreciated that.  Of course, I’ve only had the camera since April.  It’s been wonderful, but I’m surprised it broke.  Cameras usually last a few years at least.

Soon my toys will be fixed.

Scooba Update.

September 10, 2006

I swept and mopped the kitchen myself today. I used (gasp) a broom, a dustpan, a mop and a bucket. This, gentle reader, is not good. I resorted to these tactics because my Scooba battery died. Now you know that I’ve been happy with my robot mop even though I’ve had it replaced once. I’ve blogged about it a lot. The battery died after less than a year. It’s a nickel hydride battery. I wish they’d gone with lithium ion (so long as it’s not made by Sony)

So I’ll buy another battery and hope for the best. Maybe what I really need is one of those industrial robots…

Shameless YouTube Links: Cool Robot Videos

August 1, 2006

I should have done this one a long time ago.  They’ve got robots fetching beer, making the ultimate sacrifice, being pack mules.  You’ve got gigantic walking robots out of anime brought to real life.  You’ve got robotic cats, which in my view are a heck of a lot better than the real thing.  I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Cars of the Future.

June 22, 2006

In 50 or 60 years, when computers with cameras and sonar and GPS systems can drive cars with fewer accidents and fatalities than people, the interior of the automobile will look completely different than it does today.  From the future compact to minivan, cars will be places where we no longer lose time to travel.  The steering wheel and controls will be gone.  Seats can oppose each other and there will be at least a table for passengers to use and all the latest entertainment or work equipment will come standard.

For larger vehicles, everything will be modular.  You’ll be able to change from bed to kitchen to desk to treadmill.  Whatever you would do normally, you’ll be able to do while hurtling down the interstate at 80 miles per hour.  It will be far better than public transportation, because you’ll have all your home comforts or office necessities in the vehicle. 

Vehicles with bathrooms will be far more common than today.  Eight-hour night trips will be very popular.  Imagine packing your car then setting the GPS and climbing into a very comfortable bed.  You would get a great night sleep and arrive at your destination.

Parking in big cities would be different as well.  You could tell the car to park itself someplace cheap and be back by a certain time.  Or you might tell it to just drive around until you call it later in the evening.  Cars will become the ultimate party accessory when you don’t have to worry about drunk driving.  You can have a full bar and limo-like module pop out for bar hopping complete with disco ball.

Sure, it will be difficult to give up control of your car to machines, but the payoff in time is huge.  Time in the future will be even more precious than it is now.  And I’m sorry, but no flying cars until we can control the weather.  It will be at least another 150 years.

iPod goes the way of all things.

June 19, 2006

Last night, I got the unhappy iPod screen on my 5th Generation 60 GB unit.  Then, tellingly, I heard the “click, click, click” sounds of a dying hard drive emanating from it.  I had to face the truth (with apologies to Monty Python).  It's passed on. This iPod is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late iPod. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. [It’s] pushing up the daisies. It's metabolic processes are now history! He's off the twig! He's kicked the bucket, he's shuffled off his mortal coil, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible! This is an ex-iPod.

Being a poster child for iPod dependency, this event upset me greatly.  My Scooba had similarly given up the ghost earlier in the week and had been shipped back to the good people at iRobot for a swap out (the pump quit).  Two crucial gadgets going the way of all things in one week is hard for me to take.

Amazingly, I had free time today to visit the local Apple store at lunch.  My friend David went with me and we discussed what we thought they would do.  We both figured the answer would be that they would ship it off someplace and that I would have to face the prospect of being iPodless for an indeterminate period of time. 

I had to make an in-store appointment to be seen because they were very busy.  I did this and David and I went to lunch.  Upon returning, the young man at the genius counter immediately told me they could swap out the unit.  I could not contain my joy!  The $30 restocking fee seemed inconsequentially small to have my iPod back.  Besides the iPod itself costs as much as a dishwasher.  $30 is nothing.  I even went further and extended the warranty.  I don’t normally do that, but hey, I’ve already killed one unit, why tempt fate?

So I have my shiny new iPod ensconced in it’s Lexan case and I could not be happier.  Incidently, I only use it for Podcasts and movies.  I’ve never loaded a single song on it.  Now I just need my Scooba back so I can have clean floors again.

Topics for Friday Night Party Line, May 12, 2006.

May 9, 2006

It could be a banner week for FNPL.  We stand to have as many as 6 guests, 50/50 guys and gals.  I want to say thanks and give a link back to K at A Yoga Coffee Outlook.  She's going to be one of our guests this Friday and it's her first time on a podcast.

Here are this week's topics:

1.  The summer blockbuster movie schedule is fast upon us.  There's lots of mutant and superhero action coming and plenty of comedy and adventure too.  What movies are you looking forward to this summer? 

2.  Do you do any sort of exercise or physical activity that requires training or special skills?  How did you come to take it up?  What makes you keep doing it?

3.  I had the occasion to see Itzhak Perlman play this week.  In my mind, he defines the term virtuoso.  He takes his natural gifts and fulfills their potential.  What examples of virtuosity have you seen in your experiences?  Is it ultimately better to be a master of something or to be merely good at many things?

4.  Do you ever think humans will be able to stop the aging process?  Would you take advantage of it if we had the technology?  Would you have surgery to make yourself look younger?  How far would you go?

5.  Few people would run their lives based on astrology, yet just as we have fun opening fortune cookies, most of us know our our astrological signs.  Some of us may even know a bit more.  Do you ever say "that explains a lot" when you find out someone's sign?  Do you read your horoscope at least every once in a while?  Why does astrology still have enough pull today to appear in the newspaper?

6.  On, there's an article about a new robot suit "that could help older people or those with disabilities to walk or lift heavy objects."  This suit is sleeker and less cumbersome than some of the bulky things that have been available in the past.  Is the age of the iron man here?  Have you seen the YouTube video of the guy with these spring stilts on his feet jumping around Las Vegas?  It's just another example. 

7.  There have been many TV shows based on animals (Mr. Ed, Flipper) and many commercials based on animals (Geccos, Tuna).  What is your favorite TV animal and why?

8.  There's an article from the AP this week that says women can look at a guy's face and tell which guy is interested in becoming a father.  Then they can also which ones they are interested in for "short term romantic partners."  Is this real?

9.  Generally speaking, women live longer than men.  I have an article that claims to know why.  Why do you think that is?

10.  I put up a link in my to  It's television shows that you can watch online.  They have 24, Boston Legal, The Daily Show even Thundercats!  I'm not sure that that site is particularly legal, but there are lots of sites that are.  I have a computer hooked up to a television upstairs.  Is the average person going to start watching TV from his or her computers with content delivered from the internet? 

Planned topics for Friday Night Party Line, May 5, 2006.

May 3, 2006

They say that 16,000 species face extinction. What does this actually mean? How many species go extinct naturally and how many are directly attributable to man? How can we actually test for extinction? Is there workable middle ground on this topic?

Eccentricity, idiosyncrasy and genius. How are these character traits related? Have you ever met a highly intelligent or creative person who is mostly normal? Is it true that in order to be creative one must walk the line of insanity?

The DARPA 3 Grand Challenge has been announced! Will this be as fruitful as the prior two Grand Challenges?

A 104 woman is marrying a 33 year old man. While this is not a western couple, are we going to see more things like this as humans live longer? Will there come a time where this type of thing is not viewed as gross or funny?

There was also an article about a 46 year old female bigamist. That’s sort of an interesting turn. Normally, you hear about men doing that. Is this just a one-off sort of thing or is it a societal trend?

Can you believe that people are still trying to use made-up documents to get out of paying their bills? Will people ever accept the concept that there is no such thing as a free lunch?

Have you heard about the new “Skypecast” 100 person chat service? I’ve figured out ways to get multiple Skype sessions going, but this is another thing entirely. What do you think it’s effect will be on the podcasting world?

This week I noticed one of my computers was trying to hack into one of my other computers. “Uh Oh.” I thought to myself. Something must be wrong. So I downloaded a virus checker and found no fewer than three viruses on my computer. That hasn’t happened to me in years. What’s been your recent virus experience. Do you do anything to protect yourself?

What do you do to keep yourself organized every day? Have you heard of time mapping? Are gimmicks worth it? Is there a point in doing anything beyond a Outlook or even a paper calendar?

David Blaine, everyone’s favorite masochist has created a human aquarium for himself. Will you be following this guy’s exploits this time?