Friday, July 08, 2011

Shuttling off

What's this? Two posts in as many days? My eyes!

I didn't think I needed to write about this, but seeing as it's one the biggest, most complicated gadgets the world has ever seen, I though it apt post some words on this day.

Of course, I'm talking about the Space Shuttle, and the successful launch of Atlantis - the last ever shuttle launch - not more than about two hours ago as I write.

To echo other comments I've read online, I'm surprised by how emotional I've been about the whole thing. I think it's because, like the space race generation before me, the shuttle launches have taken place over a large proportion of my life.

It seems that, with the ending of the Shuttle programme, and the ending of supersonic passenger flight in the shape of the Concorde, the world is taking retrograde steps in the progress of mankind.

That's not in any way belittling the advances in other fields of science - medical progress, the development of portable computing power - personal phones, tablets, really quite powerful battery operated computers - these were the stuff of science fiction when the shuttle first launched in 1981. I don't think we even had a home computer back then.

But the image of the shuttle stack sitting on the launch pad, the sheer brute force of these engines - in my mind represented the ultimate in human endeavour.

So despite being surrounded by small tech - great tech - I'm saddened by the loss of one of the greatest technological feats in our short history.

There are some exciting technologies in the pipeline, I'm sure, but I don't find the same attachment to BDBs* as a delivery mechanism.

And the world is a poorer place for that.

*Big, dumb boosters

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The littlest 'bot

I stumbled across Robo-Q at a local discount store - they had a pile of them selling at 8 GBP so just had to pick one up, er, for research purposes of course.

Tomy's Robo-Q claims to be the smallest autonomous robot. There's no denying he's small - measuring just 3.4 cm tall - but a robot? Let's see...

Like these indoor 'copters, Robo-Q charges his tiny battery from the handset. Like Apple's magsafe connector, the little contacts on his belly attach magnetically to the corresponding nodes on the controller. He takes quite a long time to charge - up to 20 minutes - which is disappointing, since his run time is short at only a few minutes per charge.

The [noisy] controller has a few simple controls; a sliding speed control, a left/right control and a button marked 'Auto'. Robo-Q lives in a bubble within the controller itself when not in use, ready to be deployed when needed. Well, not really - see 20 minute charge, above.

Robo-Q himself is kitted out with two IR transceivers, two little arms that can be 'posed', and two little legs that do the walking.

His motive force is provided by two tiny actuators, aka coils, in his legs, and the design of the foot allows him to shuffle forward as the feet flick back and forth. Steering is done by flicking one foot more frequently than the other.

But Robo-Q rarely walks straight - often employing a graceful curve before heading over the edge of the table.

This is where the handy controller comes in - you can manually steer Robo - and one can only imagine the unbridled fun it must be to have two different Robos in the same room independently controllable. Remember the discount store I mentioned earlier? That's right - they only had the one model all operating at the same frequency... so no Robo-Q footy world cup for me.

That 'Auto' button on the controller does just that - it sends Robo-Q into a wall-seeking frenzy. Or rather, it's an aversion to walls - he steers clear of such obstacles, the idea being that, like some lab animal, he can negotiate his way out of a maze.

Of course that's bollocks - unless your maze is uniform and white (but not too reflective) the little bugger will ignore most things you put in his path and instead pounds his little head into that box of tissues you thought would work.

Similarly, he can be ordered to 'follow' an object - well mostly his oversized, multi-faceted 'ball'. This he has some fun with this before kicking it too far and losing interest.

Uh oh. Your five minutes are up. Batteries flat. Time to charge up again.

So enjoy my short vid of Robo-Q in some maze action. Soundtrack by me courtesy of Garageband on iPad. Sorry.

You can find a much better video here.

And if you want more, you can watch the crazy Japanese promo here.