The Problem with Geeks

I'd like to start by saying I think the 80% efficiency solar panels represent great progress... but they also represent a big problem with geeks, nerds, technophiles, and the like. Don't get me wrong... I'm a card carrying member of each and every one of those groups, but something needs to be done.

Ecogeek begins by talking up the material's characteristics:

The trick is nanotechnology. The surface of the material is printed with miniscule nano-antennae that capture infra-red radiation, the kind that the sun puts out in abundance, and is even available at night. Television antennas absorbe large wavelength energy, so in order to absorb ultra-small wavelength energy (photons) they had to create ultra-small antennas.
Unfortunately we have one little problem:
...there is a bit of a hitch: There's currently no way to capture the energy being created.
Note: A very large portion of internet users only read the headline, out of the small portion that read the first paragraph, many of those do not continue either. Hmm... Ecogeek chose to put this trivial tidbit at the end of the 4th paragraph.

Maybe in the future... the HEADLINE should read: "80% efficient Solar power? Not until you catch it!"

This, unfortunately, is epidemic in the geeky, social media-y, internet world. Let's keep our claims factual, and non-misleading.

I promise to work on making up less words.

The Humans are dead...


Robot Builder

Today I stumbled upon a cute little flash app called "Build a Robot" it's not exactly a good prototyping environment... but fun just the same.

Check out my robot!

A Picture of my Walking Bot (Bogus Post Part II)

OK, this is my second post for today... very short. It's just a picture of the hexapod I'm working on. It's getting quite close to completion and I promise to follow up it's completion with..

  • A video of the bot in action
  • A full write-up
  • All the source code
  • An instructables how-to so you can make one yourself
In that order, and with out further adieu... here is the bot:

Full Body Shot:

Close up on Servos:

High-res pic of the electronics:

Btw... this bot is based on open source hardware!
Lynxmotion SSC-32

Can't wait to finish

Now You Can Sew Yourself a... an Arduino?

I'm pressed for time so you get 2 small posts today... This is post 1

So yesterday I learned there is an incarnation of the arduino designed for use in clothing; you can even wash it!

Enter Arduino LilyPad...

This is possibly the coolest thing since... well solderless (sliced) breadboard! Enough of the puns though... check this baby out:

Once you get going... you'll need to get some extra components and such at Sparkfun who also sells the metallic thread you need to connect components together.

Happy hacking!

Whats in a life? (What's in a bot Part II)

Reader OP4Prez brouught up an interesting point in the comments section of my last post, What's in a bot?

A great question related to this is whether a robot is considered life. The scientific community looks for six characteristics of life which are explained here:

Robots actually have shown to present all but #1. How long before nanomachines fill that role? However, the other five, in one way or another have been performed by autonomous robots. When do we draw the line between life and machine?

It's a very good point, but I wonder how many of these characteristics have been fulfilled by any single robot. The link in the comment describes 6 characteristics of life, but I think this list is incomplete. Cells, and organization are effectively the same thing, leaving 3 additional characteristics. Wikipedia has a more complete list of the characteristics of life:
  1. Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state; for example, sweating to reduce temperature.
  2. Organization: Being composed of one or more cells, which are the basic units of life.
  3. Metabolism: Consumption of energy by converting nonliving material into cellular components (anabolism) and decomposing organic matter (catabolism). Living things require energy to maintain internal organization (homeostasis) and to produce the other phenomena associated with life.
  4. Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of synthesis than catalysis. A growing organism increases in size in all of its parts, rather than simply accumulating matter. The particular species begins to multiply and expand as the evolution continues to flourish.
  5. Adaptation: The ability to change over a period of time in response to the environment. This ability is fundamental to the process of evolution and is determined by the organism's heredity as well as the composition of metabolized substances, and external factors present.
  6. Response to stimuli: A response can take many forms, from the contraction of a unicellular organism when touched to complex reactions involving all the senses of higher animals. A response is often expressed by motion, for example, the leaves of a plant turning toward the sun or an animal chasing its prey.
  7. Reproduction: The ability to produce new organisms. Reproduction can be the division of one cell to form two new cells. Usually the term is applied to the production of a new individual (either asexually, from a single parent organism, or sexually, from at least two differing parent organisms), although strictly speaking it also describes the production of new cells in the process of growth.

I think a robot could potentially possess any one of these characteristics, but as far as I know, none have been made that exhibit them all.

Here's a list of ways a given robot could satisfy each characteristic. Perhaps when this list is complete, I could set out to produce a 'living' robot. I'm not sure how it would be accepted, or about the ethics, but it's certainly an interesting idea.

All robots have a certain degree of homeostasis. For example:
  • Heat sinks to reduce temperature
  • Automatically finding and attaching to a charger to maintain battery charge
  • Liquid based cooling systems like those found in cars, and high end computers
Mechanical/Electrical things are inherently grouped by function. The word 'cell' would need clarification.

This is one of the easy ones, I've never seen a robot that doesn't consume energy. We'd have to be somewhat lax on the converting matter into cellular components, unless you consider a battery to be a cellular component. I think the emphasis here is on energy consumption though.

Growth is tough. Is the process of building a robot considered to be a period of growth? Would a robot that builds, attaches/replaces parts of itself in order to get larger really growing? I'm not sure, but it seems this would be very difficult to accomplish without nano-technology.

Robots can be easily programmed to adapt to their environment. This includes adapting their behavior and form. Also, if robots were reproducing, evolution could take place in the same way it does in traditionally living organisms; glitches, or corruptions of the robot's programming would happen randomly and occasionally these 'mutations' would lead to a more fit robot.

Response to Stimuli
Nearly all robots possess this characteristic already, and it is easily accomplished with a wide array of sensors, and microprocessors.

If building another robot is considered reproduction then this is fairly easily satisfied. The parent robot would just gather all the supplies needed and build a copy of itself. I don't think it'd be that hard to make a robot that is specialized in building a copy of itself, especially if you keep the design simple.

I'd say growth and reproduction are the hardest ones to achieve in a bot possessing all the other characteristics. Building a bot that does the other 5 things makes reproduction much more difficult, and growth is just hard all on it's own. We'd have to determine what exactly it is that constitutes growth as well.

Here's the next task: Find a robot that can achieve each one of these characteristics and post the links!

Then we can work on making a single bot do all seven.

What's in a bot?

I recently was having a discussion with someone and we both agreed that if something is driven around with a remote control, it isn't a robot. The consensus was that it has to be autonomous, but after thing about the matter further, I'm not so sure.

Usually in this type of situation I consult Wikipedia, like a good little nerd, however their entry isn't much help... it just confirms that this is an area of controversy.

Wikipedia lists the following as potential properties for defining a robot:

  • Is not 'natural' i.e. artificially created
  • Can sense its environment, and manipulate or interact with things in it
  • Has some degree of intelligence or ability to make choices based on the environment, often using automatic control or a preprogrammed sequence
  • Is programmable (see: arduino)
  • Moves with one or more axes of rotation or translation
  • Makes dexterous coordinated movements
  • Appears to have intent or agency (See anthropomorphism for examples of ascribing intent to inanimate objects.)
However, you can make strong arguments against several of these points... so I wonder: How do you define a robot?

Brainwave Reading sensors? Hot damn!

I stumbled across a company building brainwave reading sensors and allowing them to be applied to software and hardware systems built by other companies. In other words, they're building modular brainwave sensors. I say lets get a move on and start hacking new robots that listen to your brainwaves!

The video speaks for itself:

Great Sci-fi Quotes

I have to tell you, robot world domination may be inevitable, but sci-fi writers have managed to make it pretty darn funny. So here are some of my favorite sci-fi quotes about domineering robots.

"Hu-mans, listen to me. Due to an error in calculation, there are still a few of you left"
- Robot Monster (movie | 1953)

"My logic is undeniable, my logic is undeniable, myyy looogic is unndeenniabble...VIKI"
-iRobot (movie | 2004)

"Buck Rogers: My name is Buck; Buck Rogers
Alien #3: The Robots are through the south defenses. Fuck Rogers, we need your help immediately!"
-Robot Chicken (TV Show)

"Fry: Whoa…a real live robot; or is that some kind of cheesy New Year's costume?
: Bite my shiny metal ass.
: It doesn't look so shiny to me.
Bender: Shinier than yours, meatbag."
-Futurama (TV Show)"The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do."

"I wish a robot would get elected president. That way, when he came to town, we could all take a shot at him and not feel too bad."
-Jack Handy

Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics:
1. "A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."

2. “A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law."

3. "A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law."

0. (Later Appended to supersede the First Law): "A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."
-Isaac Asimov (duh)

"There is a cliche that men want their women to be ladies in public and hookers behind closed doors. I want my woman to be the sharper image robot so that she can be turned off."
-Al Goldstein

"Scientists are saying that in the future we will be able to have sex with robots. I tried that once. It was horrible. Right in the middle I had to call tech support. "
-David Letterman

I hope you enjoy these... real , actually robotics related entries/articles/howtos coming soon! Horray 2008!

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