Rob at Pint of Science 2018


So, tonight finds me in Furley and Co in the middle of Hull. I was there to give a talk about the Robots to be most afraid of. I was second on the bill, the first speaker was Dr Stephen Burwood, a lecturer on Philosophy, talking about Science and Human Nature. It was really interesting to hear a philosopher's take on science, and where it fits in. I learned a few new words including the word "aporia", which means an "impasse in reasoning".

The central tenet in Stephen's talk was that we seem to have used the scientific viewpoint to prove that we are really just a very clever kind of ape, but this leaves us with a really big thing about us that just don't seem to have a scientific explanation for; namely the things that we do that make us human.

Is there a scientific explanation of why we have things like good and bad, morals and stuff like that. If there is, then where is it? If there is no explanation, then what does that say about the scientific method? Deep stuff. Great exercise for the brain. 

Then it was time for me to do my stuff. I talked about my worries about machine learning, that we are building tools that will be making decisions for us based on potentially shaky reasoning and dodgy stats, and that we are using software in situations where an ethical framework is urgently needed. It was interesting how Stephen's discussion on reasoning collided nicely with my observations on Machine Learning. More great questions, more great discussion. 

Thanks to Phil for inviting me, and the audience for being awesome. I mentioned a few things in the talk that I'd link through to in the blog. Here they are.

One of the most accessible books on philosophy that I've ever read is Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. You can track down a copy on Amazon here

The video of the Google software agent booking a haircut and using umms and ahhs in its speech is here

The Universal Paperclips game is here

You can find the Hull branch of the British Science Association here

Littlebits R2D2 Droid


As another celebration of my writing prowess,, and because they were 20 pounds off and because,well, I don't have to make excuses to you do I, dear reader, I got a Littlebits Droid inventors kit. I've not built it yet, but I have had a play with the controller board. It's actually very neat.

Best bit for me is that the speaker is inside the robot (unlike the Lego Boost robot which plays the sound from the controlling tablet or phone) and it is packed with authentic Star Wars sound effects. For the price it is actually pretty good value for a Star Wars branded product.  Looking forward to making it. I think I'll paint mine white so that it looks like a "proper" one.

Robt Wars is Back. Yay!

What with all the sub-woofer excitement yesterday I totally forgot to mention that Robot Wars is now back on the telly. Big, and brash and bolder than ever. The competition never really went away, it just stopped being on the telly for some reason. 

Which means that all the robots that we know and love of old, plus a few new ones, are now back with a whack. We watched the first episode yesterday and it was as wonderful as I remember. Well worth seeking out on iPlayer.

Robot Building at C4DI this Thursday

We will be holding a special Robt Building meetup this Thursday (16th of June) at C4DI. I'll be bringing along a bunch of printed components (see above) for people to use to build their own robots. If you've been collecting the hardware to build your own robot, come along and we'll help you put it together and get it moving. 

I'll also be showing off the latest "two brained" version of the PixelBot and we'll be discussing the way forward. Everything will start around 6:00 at C4DI in Hull on Thursday. 

Cut Price Robot Kit

These are all the bits that you get

These are all the bits that you get

I was up town visiting the Red5 gadget shop today (who'd have thought it) when I noticed they had robot kit at substantially less than half price. Of course I bought it. And I've already got plans for spending the money that I saved. Go me.

The robot is big version of the Hexbug tiny ones. It is remote controlled and is able to act intelligently. Sort of. A bit like me.

It's supposed to be suitable for 8 years and upwards, but I reckon you'd really need to be a few years than older than that or have a grown up assistant. There were a few stages where I could have used some help myself. Some of the parts are very similar to each other and their alignment is very important, something you only find out when you've built it and it doesn't work properly. Also the instructions can be hard to decipher, my advice would be use the ones you can find on the web site and zoom in on them a lot.

Reviews online are mixed, and I can see where the bad ones are coming from, but the robot is certainly impressive once it gets going. It has a definite preference for tiled floors, carpets cause it to get a bit stuck because its feet dig into the pile and make turning difficult. However, for the price I paid I reckon it is good value and building it was not a bad way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Exploding Robots

So I fancied having a go at building one of these Sainsmart balancing robots. But I wasn't sure how hard they would be to build. So I hatched a cunning plot. Get one for each for myself and number one son as Christmas presents and then, once he had built his and got it working, carefully copy it. 

The plan was working very well until a wire came off my robot and rather than providing a nice friendly 5 volts to the robot controller it delivered a much more unpleasant 11.3 volts. This did not end well. The voltage surge took out the Arduino board, the radio receiver and the gyroscope. Around ten pounds worth of damage. Wah. 

The good news is that the spares arrived today and my robot is now back on his wheels, lurching around the kitchen under sort of remote control. Getting the robot to balance was a bit of a challenge, my top tip is to just use the values given at the end of this video

I'm looking forward to adding a few more features.  Ideally I'd like to make him self tuning, or at least be able to tune the PID loop using the remote control rather than the fiddly trimmers that are supplied.

The kit is good value, the components are good quality and you get a lot of them. This would serve as the basis of a lot of interesting projects. 

Our New Robots have Arrived

It is with a heavy heart that I've had to retire the .NET Micro Framework robots that we've been using for teaching our embedded module for the last few years. They served us very well but wear and tear on the mechanical bits has meant that they are having to be put out to pasture....

The good news is that the replacements devices have arrived (or at least some of them). We are using the Arduino bot which has one or two useful attributes, including a dual processor design, a spiffy LCD panel and a bunch of line following leds. 

Now all I have to do is update all the courseware.....