Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Link Dump / Robotics Inspiration

I recently attended most of a (telecast) lecture by Andrew Ng. The lecture was primarily about various algorithms used to control STAIR. STAIR uses ROS with various software stacks and low-level programs that are piped, linux style. There were some pretty spectacular things here to look into further, and I've barely started going through the information in these links. I was impressed by the ability to identify and manipulate unseen objects the most. Speaking of which, it looks like they have a downloadable STAIR Vision Library that works with OpenCV, which I've also been meaning to try out (I suspect that once I'm past my current run of events, I will focus on building a robot with some sort of computer vision).

There's a very good chance that I will be building a simple robot to monitor the "lab" at work. Since we're not moving the office to a new location before the summer, we've started renting out a second office in the same building for our lab. The lab gets very hot - we're running large amounts of computers and networking gear in there. Having it in a second office means that it can use a separate air conditioning system instead of overworking the AC system that we need to keep people like myself from overheating (as it is, we have fans set up outside of cubicles in a few places). When I heard that we had a need for something that could remotely tell us the temperature over the internet, the part of my brain that remembers "crazy things people have used Arduino and Twitter for" leaped into action.

First, I found out that homebrew RCX temperature sensors are easy enough for someone with my level of electronics skill to build. Then I realized I could get away with tethering a simple RCX-based 'bot to a random Linux PC (need to check on serial ports yet, but I don't expect much of an issue there), and set to figuring out if I needed additional drivers to run an old serial port IR tower on Linux. It turns out that running the LEGO hardware on Linux is easy, complete child's play, and that there's even a perl module for it. If that's too easy, there's also a command-line interface for NQC that I had completely forgotten about. The remaining issue now is just buying the resistors necessary to build the homebrew sensor (the one described here can't be found easily online, but I will try a RadioShack tomorrow)- the rest of this can be done at work. Of course, once you have an RCX on the loose already, it's not hard to imagine us finding ways to expand on the idea...

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