Robot

Micro:bit review

PC Cannibals

I finished running a Wrekshop for kids with a Year 4 class near Bridgend (UK). A typical Wrekshop combines creative taking apart and reconstruction of electronic waste with coding. The kids made sort of robots from electronic waste. For the coding aspect I decided to use the recently released BBC Micro:bits. Micro:bits are small, child-friendly programmable devices developed by the BBC, the University of Lancaster, Microsoft and other partners.

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micro:bit in a scrap robot’s “brain socket”

The BBC and partners are aiming to generate an enthusiasm for coding in young people similar to what happened when the original BBC Microcomputer was released in 1981. A generation of British coders learned their skills on this flexible machine (and me 15 years later). Unlike current computers or tablets, the user had to code so as to get the best of the machine’s possibilities.

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Positives:

After ten sessions in the class, I find the BBC Micro:bit well suited for the task of engaging children into coding and interfacing. They can get quick gratification with the built-in 5×5 LED display and 2 buttons. The JavaScript Block Editor programming environment (similar to Scratch) is intuitive and easy to use and there is ample way to progress with the availability of MicroPython and Java programming environments.

micro:bit block editor

I used Micropython to finalise the programs for the class, not an ideal solution for the children who were used to the block editor, but the only way so far for including speech in the project. The kids were keen to get their robots to speak.

Downsides:

Unfortunately the Block Editor is only available online, which can be seriously limiting if you have no or slow internet access. For more advanced users I recommend the MU editor, a self-contained, downloadable MicroPython programming environment that works very well.

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The crocodile clips connections system, although a good idea, makes it easy to short-circuit the board as the 3 Volts and Ground holes are next to each other. The clips can also easily cross-connect adjacent pins. Most 8 year olds do not find it straightforward to use crocodile clips and several of the boards used in the project have suffered already. Still, with a little care it works fine.

This machine could bite

•– This Machine Could Bite —————————-

The Australian online journal Fibreculture’s special issue on Creative Robotics is now available! The issue features 8 articles by academics and artists on themes such as creative robots on Mars, non-organic intelligence, working with the most famous humanoid robots, failing robots and more… My contribution to the journal is an article titled This Machine Could Bite, On the Role of Non-Benigh Art Robots. I make a case for experimentation in human robot interaction with machines not designed for being useful or friendly.

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Article abstract:

“The social robot’s current and anticipated roles as butler, teacher, receptionist or carer for the elderly share a fundamental anthropocentric bias: they are designed to be benign, to facilitate a transaction that aims to be both useful to and simple for the human. At a time when intelligent machines are becoming a tangible prospect, such a bias does not leave much room for exploring and understanding the ongoing changes affecting the relation between humans and our technological environment. Can art robots – robots invented by artists – offer a non-benign-by-default perspective that opens the field for a machine to express its machinic potential beyond the limits imposed by an anthropocentric and market-driven approach? The paper addresses these questions by considering and contextualising early cybernetic machines, current developments in social robotics, and art robots by the author and other artists.”

Llawn Festival Llandudno

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Today’s view of the Llandudno promenade, North Wales.

I am here invited by Llawn04 Festival (Llawn = full in Welsh) in their own words:, “The Llandudno Art Weekend – LLAWN – a whole weekend of free events along the Promenade and across various venues and spaces in Llandudno. There’ll be performance, street-games, music, robot-making, dance, visual-art, film and the unexpected all inspired by this year’s theme of Hide/Seek.”

The festival is totally packed with an eclectic collection of engaging events, all free! Do come along with friends and families!

Bobby wearing Tech Head

Bobby wearing Tech Head

For regulars to this patchy blog, it will be pretty obvious that I have something to do with the robot-making mentioned in Llawn’s promo blurb. I will run a free Wrekshop on Saturday and Sunday 10:30 to 18:00, open to all people above 7 years of age and not wearing flip flops.

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Also on show a short performance for the opening of the festival. Usual suspects robotic ears, bird and Mofo have travelled in their cavernous suitcase and will stretch their circuits in Oriel Mostyn Gallery on Friday at 19:30.

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And good old Combover Jo will have a chat with anyone walking down the tube in Oriel Mostyn for the next 3 weeks.

The Imitation Game – performance

As part of The Imitation Game exhibition, I performed with a selection of my little robotic sidekicks in Manchester Art Gallery, Thursday 10th March at 7PM. The show was called:

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Official blurb:

“Paul Granjon explores the co-evolution of humans and machines with robotic installations such as I Am Robot, presented here, but also with small machines made especially for live performances.
On March 10th he will deliver a performance-lecture including a selection of hand-made machines and cyborg songs, as well as up-to-date views on humans and robots. A one-off chance for visitors to catch up with Granjon and his robotic sidekicks live!”

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The gig went well, attended by a nice crowd, the machines almost did not glitch and I possibly sang less off-key than usual. Mofo and Combover Jo made a new young friend, who I wish will live to see a future where humans and friendly artificial creatures share the planet in a totally environmentally responsible and non-profit-driven fashion :>))

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Robots and Dogs

Boston Dynamics posted a new video of their quadruped robot Spot, this time accompanied by a cute biological quadruped terier. So far the two species do not seem to get along too well…

Which confirms the findings of this older experiment with an Aibo and a German Shepherd (2006).

Eppur si Muove exhibition

Last week the exhibition Eppur Si Muove opened in MUDAM museum, Luxemburg. Lots of good stuff in there. The exhibition is a combination of historical scientific and technical artefacts from Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris and contemporary artworks related to similar techniques and science. Until February 2016.

 

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The exhibition features many excellent works, including Tinguely’s Fata Morgana, Eliasson’s Trust Compass, Kowalski’s Arc en Ciel, Stelarc’s Third Hand and many more. My own Smartbot has been uncrated for living another segment of its limited existence on one square metre.

The MUDAM commissioned me and a team of artists, engineers and business students from Université de Lorraine, Nancy, France, to develop a robot guide for Eppur Si Muove. Guido the Robot Guide started its visits the day after the opening. There is a fair bit of work to be done before it can take over the human guides (phew) but Guido is popular with visitors, especially young ones. It talks about a selection of artworks and inventions from a robotic perspective, only in French for the moment. Two engineering students are working on Guido’s navigation and telepresence until end August.

 

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Robotics Challenge falls video compilation

Day 1 of Darpa robotics challenge

IEEE posted this video shot today on the obstacle course, many robots bit the dust. Most of them got back on track despite the nasty-looking falls.
Humanoid robots sure have a long way to go. Yet, I just spent a while watching the live feed and it is impressive what these things can do. Even if it the actions feel excruciatingly slow at times, the task gets completed most times.

Robotics Challenge poster babes

I mentioned last week some original lab testing devices for some robots that will compete in Darpa’s Robotics Challenge tomorrow and Saturday. Well, here they are (most them anyway) in this pure robot geek poster published by the robotics branch of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Darpa Robotics Challenge finalist, June 2015

An interesting selection of cutting edge humanoid and semi-humanoid designs, ready to bite the dust of Fairplex, California. There even is a Chappie lookalike!

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A winner will be crowned on Saturday.

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