Monday, March 22, 2010

Robot Rumble 2010 Recap

A brief recap from yesterday's show:

Robot Rumble 2010 was a great show. As a LEGO-only person (this time out, anyway) with Triangle Amateur Robotics, I ended up being a bit of a point person for various AFOL-related topics. Although there was a group from IBM calling itself "Lego and Dancing Robotics" (long story short: they build generic 'bots from the NXT Education edition booklet and make them "dance" around. It's an outgrowth of an older educational program that they started a few years back), and there were several FIRST LEGO League teams on hand, I ended up fielding questions about LEGO, NCLUG, LEGOPalooza, and BrickMagic, alongside the more expected TAR, Maker Faire NC, TechShop, pneumatics, programming, and robotics questions. Some of it was influenced by the fact that we were so close to the front of the museum, but overall I feel like it was a good idea to have a dedicated LEGO robotics adult there (no offense - but there's a decided shortage of active LEGO hobbyists in this area who are into the robotics side of things).

The other groups displaying (listed at the official event link above) were alright, although a few were a little anticlimactic - Carolina Combat Robotics spent the day playing robot hockey instead of battle bots (maybe I got the wrong impression from their name...) and iRobot brought out almost the exact same display that they had at the NCSU career fair last year. The IBM group was helpful, since I could refer requests to see my NXT kit in action to their group. One of the IBMers also clued me in to OpenCV, which looks like something I can use with all those Logitech cameras I've been stashing around the house (back when LEGO had a branded version of the Logitech QuickCam and Logitech was still supporting the programming API for the QuickCam, I got excited about the idea of building a serious robot with them and started buying up every one I could find cheap).

My pneumatic walker spent most of the day between a completely homebrew line-follower and a Zhu-zhu pet, which is actually a pretty good metaphor for the range of robots you'll see at TAR. It was fun blowing people's minds with an entirely pneumatic robot - although pneumatic logic is old-hat by the standards of the LEGO fan community (in the late '90's/early '00's, it was something of a classic project and a fad), most people still have never seen a pneumatic walker or heard of a pneumatic logic control circuit. The idea of a system that doesn't need any software is apparently pretty far out of the mainstream of robotics now. Parents and kids, on the other hand, were pretty thrilled with this - here's something you can build and design yourself, with a little thought and less than $60 down into the hobby. A simple $60 walking robot (with almost 500 spare parts afterward) is understandably more appealing than spending ~$250 for an NXT kit and then not knowing quite how to use it and program it (which, of course, is why I intend to post instructions and encourage today's kids and parents to take this project up). Another fun thing I noticed was that kids really loved the pneumatic hand pump. Sure, it was annoying spending ~4 hours of my Saturday pumping up air pressure for my walker, but it was kind of fun to hand it over when kids asked "Can I try?", and then watch as every kid near the booth had a chance to "control" it for a minute or two. During the few times when the walker was unattended, kids were able to figure out how to use the pump and run the 'bot on their own. Next few LEGO shows, I'll have to make a point to have an interactive element controlled by a pump.

I will, as promised, deliver instructions for my pneumatic walker shortly. I've been making some revisions to allow it to run more smoothly, and I'm not entirely sure at the moment when/where I'll be putting photos and instructions online. I may test further - I had taken all the photos I needed to post instructions in the style of before, but then I realized I needed to work on reliability so that this would be ready for hours of use. I'll probably put off doing another round of instruction photos until I've worked out those kinks.

Expect event photos to show up online around the same time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The pneumatic walker was a big hit and a fantastic addition to the TAR exhibit. I enjoyed having my turns in making it go.
I am looking forward to seeing the pictures...

Bob (line-follower guy)