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So, how was the meeting?

Proceedings of the San Francisco

Robotics Society of America (SFRSA)

Monthly Meeting at the Exploratorium

Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception

By Cliff Thompson

(email: clifftrobot@home.net)

5 - June - 1997



SFRSA Newsletter Editor Win Williams offered spare room at his house for the purposes of building robots. Win’s "Robot Lab" has a basic set of tools and a handy electronics setup. The Lab is at 320 A 62nd St., Oakland, CA 94618 Ph: (510) 547-8085.

Guest Jackie Santos mentioned a PBS television special on Fractals. The mention led to a discussion of fractal compression as applied to robotic vision systems. Jackie said he would bring a video of the show to the next meeting. Jackie also mentioned an upcoming Advanced Imaging Assoc. Symposium coming up in Santa Clara, 8/15, admission $175.


I had a couple of items:


showing opening screens, Search input screen,

Search results screen showing scrollable list

of robotics books titles, and detailed info on

a particular book




President Kevin Fahl noted:


SRS Web Site has moved to



Exploratorium Technical Curator Larry Shaw stopped in to inform Kevin that, to "plan accordingly for the SFRSA Terrain Challenge", the 1st pictures from the Mars Pathfinder will be showing up on Exploratorium screens Sunday, 7/6.


Robotics Tech / Learning

Kevin discussed and opened up the chassis of the Mini-SUMO SLIDER machine he entered at the SEATTLE ROBOTICS SOCIETY ROBOTHON. The Basic Stamp-driven machine costs $39.95 and comes with 2 modified Servos, Chassis and Wheels. Kevin coded the Basic routines and added some additional modifications such as a top-mounted switch. By the time he was done, he had stuffed so much into the chassis that its sides could be seen bowing outwards. Kevin drew a circuit diagram detailing his modifications, which included using a Transistor for Amplification and tying Relays to Servo Voltages of +5 and +9V (direct to battery). Kevin mentioned a Stamp Kit and Stamp cost around $139 and $ 39 respectively, and that the software and manuals can be downloaded for free from the PARALLAX web site at http://www.parallaxinc.com/. Kevin then broke out his laptop computer, connected it to the SLIDER robot via a port cable, then ran and walked us through the Basic Stamp software he used to program the robot. Kevin mentioned his learning experience included discovery of the fact that the use of Subroutines slowed execution down to the point of causing SLIDER to "stutter" in its movements. Kevin ended up rewriting the code as a single program of only 32 lines long. Future plans for SLIDER include:


SLIDER, end up

SLIDER internals

SLIDER internals close-up

Kevin’s SLIDER circuitry modification schematic

Kevin’s intended future SLIDER replacement BSI

Stamp, as advertised in NUTS & VOLTS

Kevin programs SLIDER from laptop

SLIDER’s cable connection (black cable

between chips) from laptop

Kevin’s laptop displays SLIDER Basic Stamp code

PARALLAX web site



SFRSA Treasurer Robert McAdams, guest Jackie Santos, Kevin, Win and I discussed strategies for improving the print quality and mail handling of this Newsletter. Currently the printer makes a copy of the Win’s master print before duplicating, which degrades quality by introducing a 2nd generation copy. Robert gets bogged down in handling the folding, labeling, stamping and mailing of the printed copies. To resolve these problems, Win will try printing the master on a different type paper that the printer prefers, as well as try a "print-to-disk" approach to provide the printer with a disk print-image file from which to spawn copies. Robert and Jackie will look into various mail services and print shops to check on the cost of handling distribution. Robert suggested that perhaps a publisher can be found who would be willing to take over overall publication if a profit venue could be worked out.


New Attendee Round Table Introductions

Jackie Santos works with sensors and is interested in robotic applications of remote sensors for pollution/toxic material detection as well as sampling robots capable of moving down wells and 2" pipe. Win responded with mention of a number of sensors that detect specific organics and Livermore Lab work on smoke stack sensors that see exhaust. Jackie also mentioned his interests in model rocketry and how he’d turned up some model rocketry web sites using the Lycos Search Engine at http://www.lycos.com. Intrigued, I checked it out at turned up a cool model rocketry site with plenty of related links, for SUMMIT CITY AEROSPACE MODELERS at http://www.mixi.net/~bobhart/scam/scam.html.


Rocketry web site


Chris DeMonterrey is interested in robotics and has worked with "industrial strength" robot creations of SURVIVAL RESEARCH LAB’s Mark Pauline.

Mike Kan brought in some photos and described a number of his projects including:


Mike’s PC internal’s monitor display

Mike’s High Vacuum/Cryogenic gear


SFRSA Librarian Joe Gilbert described his work in software engineering and passed around a copy of EDN magazine that featured a story on a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) chip set.

Win Williams mentioned he is working on a real-time Ride-Sharing project involving cellular phone links. Future plans may include a corresponding "match-maker" service for the ride partners, as well as a PC-based system using Artificial Intelligence, Voice Recognition and Speech Synthesis to enable natural language operation of the system.

I mentioned my work in software engineering and followed-up on Joe and Win’s information by noting a newspaper story I’d read describing a video camera-based traffic condition system being installed in some cities. The cameras relay live images of various roadways to a web site resembling a Video Conference session. Drivers can preview congested roadways from their car laptop computer. This information can be combined with route mapping software that works with GPS. These systems display maps and driving directions, monitored in real time by the GPS, on the laptop. Some high-end auto manufacturers such as BMW include these GPS mapping display systems, enhanced by Speech Synthesizer readout of the directions, mounted on the dashboard. Perhaps such technology could be linked to Win’s Ride-Share system.

By the way, speaking of mapping software, I’ve stumbled upon a web site that offers free use of such software at the MAPQUEST site at http://www.mapquest.com/. Selecting the "TripQuest" link gets you to a screen where you can enter a Source and Destination street address, then click a "Calculate Directions" button. The system returns with Overview and Detail maps, which can be zoomed to various detail levels, as well as a text table of specific driving instructions indicating turns, road names, distances and estimated driving time. For example, I’ve pictured below the screens the system presents when it is instructed to provide driving directions from my home in Foster City to Planetfest in Pasadena.

MAPQUEST web site showing opening screens,

Source/Destination input screen, Overview

and Detail maps screen, and Driving Instructions



Here are some excerpts, from the PLANTETARY SOCIETY web site at http://www.planetary.org/default.html, describing what’s happening at PLANETFEST:




"We are now seeing an exciting burst of planetary exploration worldwide:

•Galileo continues to send back amazing images of Jupiter and its moons.

•The Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous will fly by asteroid 253 Mathilde in June.

•Mars Pathfinder will set a rover on Mars' surface on July 4.

•Mars Global Surveyor will reach the Red Planet in September.

•The Cassini spacecraft will be launched to Saturn in October.

•Two lunar missions (one by the US and one by Japan) will rocket to the Moon.

To keep up with this ambitious schedule of exploration, Planetfest will celebrate these missions and their discoveries, in Pasadena, California from July 3-6, 1997.

On July 4, 1997, the Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner microrover will land on Mars. Join us for Planetfest '97 at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 East Green Street, Pasadena, California, July 3-6, 1997 where you will witness this landing live! This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Together we will gaze at new images of Mars returned to Earth from 35 million miles away by the Mars Pathfinder lander and the Sojourner microrover. On a 45-foot video screen, you will see everything Sojourner sees. Her journey will begin at the landing site -- Ares Vallis, a gigantic canyon carved billions of years ago by a massive flood of water and rocky debris from the ancient highlands of Mars. Where will Sojourner go from there? What will she encounter? Where will her journey end?

Find out at Planetfest '97, as together we cheer Sojourner on and undertake our own journey exploring other worlds!

Planetfest '97 Exhibitors

American Astronautical Society, Earthlink Network, Interplay Productions, Inc., JPL Employees Recreation Club, LEGO Dacta, Los, Angeles Unified School District, MBNA Marketing Systems, Inc., Meade Instruments Corp., National Space Society, Novagraphics, Space Art, Oceanside Photo and Telescope, Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, Sciences and Art Products, Sky Publishing Corporation, Spaceshots, Inc., The Astronomical Society of the Pacific, The Living Earth, Inc., Vroman's Bookstore, Warner Brothers Studios, Wind River Systems, Zidek Art

Planetfest '97 Activities

The Worldwide Linkup

The latest Internet technology will connect Planetfest '97 with the world. Exciting discussions and debates conducted by leading scientists and thinkers will be broadcast through the Internet.

The Mission Status Board

A state-of-the-art television projection system, with computer-rendered images and diagrams, will display the Pathfinder trajectory. You will follow the mission step by step, as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory receives continuous information from Pathfinder.

The Discovery Symposium

Featuring exciting presentations by speakers from throughout the world on a variety of interesting -- and controversial -- issues. Let some of the most stimulating thinkers today challenge your mind!


Mario Acuņa, Scientist, Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Astronaut, Kelly Beatty, Sky and Telescope, Gregory Benford, University of California Irvine, Bruce Betts, San Juan Institute, Andre Bormanis, Star Trek Technical Editor, Roger Bourke, JPL Mars Program, Ted Clarke, JPL Galileo Project, Marcello Coradini, ESA, Glenn Cunningham, JPL, Franklin-Chang-Diaz,Astronaut, Dave Doody, JPL Cassini Project, Steve Edberg, JPL, Carter Emmart, NCAR, Lou Friedman, TPS, Everett Gibson, NASA Johnson Space Center, David Grinspoon, University of Colorado, Alan Harris, JPL, Andy Ingersoll, Caltech, Glo Helin, JPL, Warren James, McDonnell Douglas, Robert Jastrow, Mt. Wilson Institute, E.C. Krupp, Griffith Observatory, Lonne Lane, JPL, Larry Lasher, Former Pioneer 10 Project Mgr., Larry Lebovsky, David Levy, Author, Jere Lipps, Vlacheslav Linkin, Russia, John Logsdon, George Washington University, Mark Lupisella, Kari Magee, JPL Galileo Project, Tom McDonough, Planetary Society SETI Coordinator, David McKay, NASA Johnson Space Center, Bruce Murray, California Institue of Technology, TPS President, Story Musgrave, Astronaut, Larry Niven, Author, Adriana Ocampo, JPL, Bill O'Neill, JPL Manager Galileo Project, George Powell, JPL New Millenium Project, James Randolph, Solar Probe Manager, Sally Ride, Physicist, Seth Shostak, SETI Institute, Rob Staehle, JPL Ice and Fire Project, Kim Stanley Robinson, Donna Shirley, JPL Mars Pathfinder Project, Rick Sternbach, Star Trek Senior Illustrator, Rich Terrile, JPL, Donald Yeomans, JPL, Bob Zubrin, Pioneer Astronautics

The Hall of Technology

A hands-on exhibit area where you can explore and experiment with technological innovations from space science and planetary exploration. Learn how these technologies work, and see how they allow us to reach farther into space than ever before.

The Gene Roddenberry Theatre

Continuous showings of science documentaries and science fiction films. These will range from classics like Cosmos, War of the Worlds, Star Wars, 2001 and ET to television favorites like Star Trek, Lost in Space and Space Cadets. We'll also include some wonderfully horrible movie classics.

Exploring the Art of Space

A gallery exhibiting fine space art of artists from around the world, selected through a rigorous juried competition. Many of the pieces will be available for purchase.

Exploring Distant Worlds Book Extravaganza

Featuring classic to just-released science and science fiction books for all ages, this event is a tour of the creative and inventive mind as it tries to understand the universe we live in. Authors will be scheduled throughout the day, each day, to discuss, read from and sign their works.

Science and Science Fiction Authors

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 Astronaut, Greg Bear, Science Fiction, Doug Beason, Kelly Beatty, Sky and Telescope, Gregory Benford, University of California Irvine, David Brin, Science Fiction, Andrew Chaikin, Science Fiction, Sheila Finch, Science Fiction, Mel Gilden, Science Fiction, David Grinspoon, University of Colorado, Don Goldsmith, William Hartmann, Science Institute, T.A. Heppemheimer, E.C. Krupp, Griffith Observatory, David Levy, Tom McDonough, Planetary Society SETI Coordinator, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Gar and Judith Reeves-Stevens, Allen Steele, Bob Zubrin, Pioneer Astronautics

New World Boutique and Exhibits

Planetfest '97 will offer the ultimate cosmic shopping experience! Distinctive exhibitions will range from models of the Hubble Space Telescope, Galileo, Cassini, Pluto Express, Mars Global Surveyor, the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) and Magellan to displays by international space agencies, computer software, T-shirts, mugs, pictures, posters, slides, books, videos, jewelry, scarves, ties and more.


Some of the planetary missions Planetfest will be celebrating:

Cassini, Galileo, Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Pluto Express, Stardust"