For Steve Norris, authoritative hand-built robots is the absolute hobby. He’s a software architect at assignment and handyman at home, so DIY robotics brings calm his interests in hardware, electronics and A.I. programming in one convenient–and actual cool-looking–package. A abrupt glance at his archive of added than a dozen arbitrary and advantageous bots offers the consequence that his house, not clashing that of futurist Daniel H. Wilson, is some affectionate of techno-wonderland arranged with automatic marvels. That angel isn’t far off. He shares his home with all address of automatic pets and servants, including a apprentice footstool, as able-bodied as a wife and cat who abide the automated abode mates.
For Norris, architecture a bot isn’t aloof about slapping calm whatever added genitalia he finds lying around. “Before I body a apprentice I appetite to apperceive what it’s activity to do,” Norris told PM, “what it’s ambition in activity is.” About this architecture philosophy, Norris determines how the apprentice should move, what kinds of sensors it needs to collaborate with the world, and which behavioral guidelines the bot should follow. This methodical access additionally carries over to the genitalia he chooses. All of his robots use 912-MHz transceivers so that he can ascendancy his absolute abiding of automatons with ease. He uses a able mix of genitalia from high-end hobbyist suppliers so that none of his works are artlessly kits or premade, built-by-instruction robots.
Norris is a common contributor to Apprentice Magazine, a annual advertisement in which several of his robots accept been featured. Besides his own creations, he’s addicted of iRobot’s home-care line, with assorted new Roomba vacuums patrolling his abode for dust … and a Scooba for mopping.
The 51-year-old ambitious artisan says his admired apprentice is HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, these bootleg creations may not be absolutely that scary, Steve Norris’s creations are real, anatomic and a accomplished lot of fun. Check out these bristles favorites:
The Stonehenge alarm is a automatic arm that rearranges a set of continuing numbered cards to affectation the time. Stonehenge angry out to be about as abundant of a comedy as its namesake. The agreeable agreeableness the bot showed in a abbreviate YouTube video (below) bent the absorption of a ample cyberbanking distributor, which contacted Norris to body a beefier Stonehenge as a affectation in the antechamber of its headquarters.
Out of all of his creations, Norris pegs the Stonehenge alarm as a “very accessible one to body by yourself.” All you charge is an $800 CrustCrawler Smart Arm and a set of numbered cards. The CrustCrawler comes with a Parallax Propeller chip, which is a able microcontroller with eight processors–essentially eight brains. That’s vital, as in robotics, Norris says, “you consistently charge to be accomplishing a lot of things at the aforementioned time,” from active the motors and assorted sensors to programming a processor to act as a action coordinator. If that sounds complicated, don’t worry: Norris provides the antecedent cipher allegorical his arm for chargeless here.
Stonehenge is currently activity through some revisions to advance its performance. Norris begin that a adjournment in commands to the arm could sometimes account the alarm to lag abaft abundant that he had to artificially skip advanced to accumulate the actual time. In the abutting few months he hopes to acquaint the apple to a stronger, faster, added appropriate Stonehenge.
Even aback away, Norris can still be at his abode in an burning with his webcam-on-a-stick telepresence robot. The webcam, army on a two-foot-long PVC pipe, stands three anxiety off of the ground. It can be piloted by way of a Web server that Norris accesses through his laptop on holidays, so he can accomplish abiding all of the doors and windows are still closed, and that his cat, Mona, is still arena nice with the blow of her companions.
The RoboCam additionally allowances from accepting an iRobot Create as its base. The Create comes accepted with best of the sensors Norris wanted, as able-bodied as the preprogrammed adeptness to esplanade itself at its charging station. Aback Norris is done patrolling his home, he artlessly steers RoboCam aback against the charging berth and the blow is taken affliction of.
Unlike abounding of Norris’s added creations, the RoboCam has no absolute free operation save for its adeptness to dock. It is absolutely tricked out with sensors though–so abundant so that Norris describes its administration as “defensive.” It won’t acquiesce him to get abutting abundant to altar to bang into them, and it’s able with bluff sensors, which will arrest the apprentice rather than let it tumble bottomward a flight of stairs. Still, authoritative the RoboCam from beyond the country isn’t consistently easy. “Just like with the NASA rover: You do article wrong, you can’t fix it,” Norris tells us. To advice his abyss perception, Norris installed a laser arrow that is angled bottomward in such a way that it shines a red dot about three anxiety in advanced of the bot.
Norris sees a advanced array of uses for telepresence technology, abnormally aback commutual with robots, and thinks that the assorted applications will acquisition their abode in the abreast future. Anything is possible, from acceptance bodies on adverse ends of the apple to affix with one another, to added altruistic causes, such as ancient care.
The RoboStool’s apperception stemmed from a catechism Norris asked himself while out on a arcade trip: “Why not about-face a stool into a robot?” All of a abrupt he begin himself attractive for aloof the appropriate one, a stool that “could authority the electronics,” with a “lid that was ablaze abundant to sit on top of the chassis.” Who would accept thought: The blatant block of amber vinyl he concluded up demography home from Bed Bath & Beyond additionally angry out to be his admired bot.
Any why not? The RoboStool is adamantine not to love. It’ll anxiously hunt you around, and again sit for you so you can blow your legs aback you sit down. It’s able with a assembly of sensors that acquiesce it to be controlled in three altered ways: By remote, by way of an bittersweet alarm aeronautics arrangement that has the bot traveling to assertive waypoints (see video below), and a “Follow Me” approach application a thermal sensor.
Of course, that big ol’ lid aloft the RoboStool is crucial. Norris army it on two pistons that lift it up and betrayal a anchoress crab-like face army with the bot’s capital sonic and thermal sensors. The above helps the RoboStool barometer its distance, but the thermal tracking “is the best fun,” Norris remarked. It’s a bang for him and his aggregation to accept the RoboStool hunt them around. With its lid popped up, it’s about endearingly beautiful in a Wall-E affectionate of way.
At the abject of the RoboStool are sensors that accumulate it from colliding into things. A brace of bittersweet sensors keeps it from active into walls and people, and an added sonic sensor sends out pings that’ll accumulate the RoboStool in the apperceive as to what’s ahead. The alone affair the RoboStool is missing is the RoboCam’s bluff sensor as it patrols the additional attic for annoyed legs, admitting Norris has never had an blow with any of his bots. “Amazingly, none of them accept been damaged,” he said.
It’s such a absolutely accomplished automatic accompaniment that visitors to his Web armpit generally aberration it for a professionally bogus product. “People get the better bang out of it,” Norris says. “[It will] apparently be with me consistently because it’s such an agreeable affair and anybody wants to see it.”
Huey may attending baby and simple–after all, it’s about a thermal sensor army on wheels–but Norris maintains that the bot is his “most adult apparatus alike admitting he is abate than best of the added ones.” It follows three rules of robotics–not the rules as authentic by Isaac Asimov, but he’d be appreciative anyway: 1. Consistently attending at what it’s tracking; 2. Consistently move against what it’s tracking; and 3. If it gets too abutting to what it’s affective toward, aback away.
At the affection of Huey’s complication is the CMUcam2 , a able-bodied microcontroller-and-camera admixture that processes beheld information, such as blush changes. Blush tracking allows Huey to acknowledge to altered hues (Hue-y) in a array of ways–he could run abroad from addition cutting a dejected shirt, for instance, or hunt anyone with a ablaze blush aboveboard of cardboard captivated in his hand. For the best part, though, Huey follows his three directives and relentlessly pursues whatever he’s tracking like an aflame puppy. The technology that went into architecture and programming Huey will absolutely pop up in Norris’s approaching bots.
“I’ve consistently been absorbed by this abstraction of a apprentice afterward you,” Norris tells PM. He finds that Huey’s three allegorical attempt can accomplish him act in hasty ways, such as affairs off adroit three-point turns. Huey was “never programmed to do a three-point turn, yet it does them because of these three factors,” Norris says. It’s a assurance of appearing behavior: aback a apprentice performs accomplishments that aren’t accurately dictated by its programming. Instead of artlessly spinning out of control, Huey is a adroit little guy. It’s a acceptable aftereffect for Norris. He explains that it’s not about accurate intelligence aback it comes to a bot like Huey, but developing it so that it “appears to be actual intelligent.”
At aboriginal glance, Norris’s accepted project, the RoboWand, is evocative of a Wii-mote. While that’s not area he got the abstraction (gesture-based ascendancy systems weren’t invented by Nintendo afterwards all), the technology is agnate to what you’d acquisition central of a Wii-mote, or alike the iPhone. Since it uses the aforementioned 912 MHz transceiver best of his bots use, the RoboWand will acquiesce Norris to ascendancy best of the ones he’s created, including the RoboCam and RoboStool. He’ll be able to dispense both administration and speed, all with aloof a beachcomber of his hand.
The Robowand isn’t all that complex, either. It’s congenital central of a breadth of PVC pipe, and it’s comprised of an on/off switch, a transceiver, accelerometer and an onboard, single-board computer. The amount of ascendancy it’ll action over a accepted remote, however, should accommodate a added aqueous acquaintance for Norris aback he’s lining up the RoboStool aloof so for the absolute rest.
So what’s up abutting for the robo-wizard? Norris gave us a bastard peek: He affairs to acknowledgment the best generally asked catechism in robotics. No amount what a apprentice does, there’s consistently addition who wants to know: “Yeah, but can it get me a beer?”
Steve Norris’s answer? “Soon.”
He’s affable up a arrangement that would absorb two robots: One, a fridge; the other, a butler. The fridge is still beneath development, but he affairs for it to be able to handle two altered drinks in dispensers for the butler to fetch. The butler, already it receives an adjustment that a alcohol is desired, would accelerate a bulletin to the RoboFridge, cogent it to accessible up. It would again “use the aperture of the fridge to adjust itself” and berth with it, retrieving the beer and bringing it aback to whoever requested it.
And that will be a animated anniversary absolutely in the progression of robotics.
Check out added of Norris’s creations on his Web site, or appointment the robots you saw in this article:
* Stonehenge Automatic Digital Clock
* RoboCam Mobile Camera Platform
* Huey, the Blush Chasing Robot
* The RoboStool
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