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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)

6 - August - 1997



SFRSA VP Ed Severinghaus mentioned that Frank Garvey, (founder of THEATER CONCRETE, whose shows feature big performance robots), could be attending the next SFRSA meet, possibly as a speaker, and might even be bringing along a video of the Theater’s performances.


Kevin had several items:

You can’t hold a candle to this ‘bot, from the video FIRE FIGHTING HOME ROBOT CONTEST

Fire Fighting Robot web site

I had several items:

"...a system comprised of three products, each acquired separately:

Through sensors in his eyes. feet and hands, the plush 16-inch ActiMates Interactive Barney is able to respond to a child's touch and, with a 2.000 word vocabulary, can talk a child through a wide variety of learning-oriented activities - always with an emphasis on fun. Squeeze his foot and he'll sing one of 17 songs...(Barney) can transform passive television watching into active learning with the ActiMates TV Pack and the accompanying specially encoded videotape. As the plush character watches the videotape with the child, Barney utilizes a 4,000 word vocabulary to comment on what's happening on screen. ask questions and reinforce key themes and activities on the tape to enhance the child's learning experience...By plugging the ActiMates PC Pack transmitter into the PC's game port and inserting the accompanying Fun on Imagination Island CD-ROM, parents open up a world of fun activities for their child. With the plush character sitting alongside the PC, the child can play games and activities on screen. At the same time, a 14,000 word vocabulary enables the character to support and encourage the child with visual directives ("Watch what they do!"), cognitive prompts ("Let's count along!") or friendship phrases ("You did a great job!")."

Details of the system can be found on the Microsoft web site at http://www.microsoft.com/products/hardware/actimates/default.htm.

Robo-Barney web site

"Flying robots test their mettle...At the 7th annual aerial robotics competition at Epcot Center, engineers get the future off the ground..(the flying robots must) maneuver over a field, identify a symbol and pick up a disc representing hazardous waste -all without any human help...But the computer brains of the flying robots have to continually correct for breezes and drift, or they may crash - as one did Monday, without injuring anyone...‘It's like balancing a cue stick on a finger’...Monday's event was the seventh annual competition held by a nonprofit trade organization called the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International...Several (robots) looked like small helicopters 3 feet long, resembling children's toys...A spherical blimp bobbed on a tether on the sideline. And there was the University of Central Florida's invention. dubbed "The Beast" - a 5-foot-high, noisy barrel containing two propellers...The devices can cost more than $100,000 each...This year's contest involved a simulated mission: The robots had to find and sample cans representing hazardous waste dumped illegally... Each robot had an hour to find a pile of fake waste drums clustered on the field, then correctly home in on a can marked with a hazardous-waste symbol...Finally, the robot had to hook an orange disc lying on the barrel."



"Honda Develops 2-Legged Robot...P-2 is able to walk, perform simple tasks...the 6 foot, 462-pound ‘P-2’ has two arms, two legs, a squarish head, small platforms for feet, and resembles a man in a boxy spacesuit... the P-2's circuitry is sophisticated enough to decide for itself when to try to step over an obstacle and when to try another route...that allows it to do uncanny humanlike things - such as finding a work site, pushing a cart to it and tightening a loose bolt - all without continuous radio control. It only needs a simple initial command...P-2 can walk stairs, forward or backward, and keep its balance if given a shove, even on a slope it hasn't been on before."

I’ve since learned that, if pushed very hard, P2 will sit down to maintain balance. A press release on P2 (how’s your Japanese?) can be found at Honda’s web site at http://www.honda.co.jp/home/hpr/press-info/c96122.html.

Honda P-2

"Lancelot Becomes a Shining Knight in Tokyo...American entry in robotics contest sweeps Japanese...The contest was simple: Each of robots, which looked like souped-up skateboards, had about two minutes to race around an oval track. Guided only by the computed robotics "brains"... on their backs, robots had to complete the loop as quickly as possible, making sure to touch eight targets along way with a little lance attached to their front...Lancelot took his turn against 110 Japanese robots, all brimming with software to die for. And, like Rocky Balboa taking on Apollo Creed, the little guy from College Park, Md., kicked butt...'I'm shocked we won’..'There was another robot that smoked everybody’,...But that robot crashed, while the steady, accurate Lancelot came out ahead...."

Further details of the victory are located on the Lab’s web site at http://www.cs.umd.edu/projects/amrl/amrl.html.

UM web site’s Lancelot news


In trying to bring back to SFRSA the gleanings from this remarkable event, the most extraordinary concentration of skilled engineers and advanced technology I’ve ever encountered, I’m challenged by the sheer volume and breadth of material. Though I went to Planetfest with the single goal of live participation in this arguably greatest Adventure of Exploration in Human History to date, I soon formed a 2nd goal in response to the new theme of NASA at the event, the "faster, better, cheaper" paradigm that stresses greater use of "off-the-shelf" components. I became very interested in finding out how these folks build and operate robots - using which "off-the-shelf" technologies - and in exploring to what degree their approach may actually find it’s way to our workbench, desktop and PC. I’m happy to say I tracked down some cool stuff and established several great contacts at JPL in this regard. As a result of these findings, and the large amount of material involved, I’ll need to breakdown my upcoming presentations and writings into the following broad categories, with the aim of delivering informal presentations across several multi-part Sessions, as time permits, over the next few SFRSA meetings:

For tonight’s presentation I delivered an introductory high-level backgrounder covering the scope of the event, and brought in a smattering of materials from the various Sessions, as well as some fun souvenirs. Included in the offerings were:

Typical daily schedule


http://mpfwww.jpl.nasa.gov (Mirror sites) -> http://mars.sgi.com/default.html (Pathfinder mission page) -> http://mars.sgi.com/default1.html (Pathfinder home page) -> http://mars.sgi.com/mpf/rover.html (Sojourner rover page)


Sojourner Rover Control Workstation Command Sequence

and 3D Mars Surface Visualization windows, from Sojourner rover page\

Rover Control and Navigation link\Rover Control Workstation sublink


"WITS has been developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to enable scientists to participate in planetary rover missions from anywhere in the world using the Internet. WITS will be used in the 2001 rover mission to Mars to generate commands to the rover, and is used in this Pathfinder mission as a public outreach tool to enable you too to be a planetary scientist...With WITS acting as your window on Mars, you can interact with the rover just as a Scientist or Mission Planner would. Tell the rover where to go. What to do. See what it sees. The only difference is that you'll be interacting with a simulated rover. But everything else is real. Actual images from Pathfinder will be integrated soon".

JPL built a number of Sojourner Rovers and the one this WITS system uses explores a simulated Martian Terrain in a room at Sun Microsystems Inc. The system involves linking up to an Internet "television transmitter", downloading a "tuner" and connecting to a "Pathfinder television channel". The software then displays a choice of several views and windows, including a top view of the terrain site with graphic navigation grid overlay, a command sequence window in which navigation programs are built and executed, and a television image from the Pathfinder Lander boom camera showing ramp, Sojourner, and surrounding terrain, over which image is superimposed navigation route graphics. The software installation setup is described on a web site at http://mars.graham.com/wits/. I had some trouble following the steps but after a bit of hacking got the thing to run. I’ve written-up what worked for me as the following procedure:

Mars Pathfinder Sojourner Rover Simulation

1) Go to http://mars.graham.com/wits/

2) Install Marimba Castanet Tuner

3) Run Tuner\ Help\ How to\Find Transmitters\

4) Select link " Marimba Channels Web page"

5) Select WITS icon for download & select "what...to do with file...open it"

6) In Tuner\Channel should see transmitter name "mars.graham.com:5282" downloading...

7) If not, in Tuner\Listing "enter transmitter host name" type in "mars.graham.com:5282" & click the List button

8) When transmitter done downloading, expand it to see & select channel "JPL Pathfinder Mission"

9) Select \Channel\Subscribe then \Channel\Start

10) A "JPL Pathfinder Mission" window, with buttons to open/close the WITS windows, appears, along with WITS windows called "Panorama View" (showing top view of Martian terrain) & "Mosaic View" (showing Lander ramp, Soujourner deployed & Martian terrain), both of which windows further show overlays of a virtual wire-frame Sojourner (in starting position) & a default navigation path

11) For a sample Sojourner navigation run, in Panorama View select \Sequence\Generate\Execute, then in WITS Command Sequence dialog box select Batch button to start Sojourner moving. Then switch to Mosaic View to watch Sojourner wire-frame move along, then when get to end, select WITS Command Sequence dialog box Done button to reset Sojourner to the starting point. Custom paths can also be executed.

Starting web site for Rover Simulation software

Rover Simulation Internet TV Transmitter & Tuner web site

Appearance on your PC desktop of the Rover Simulation Internet TV Transmitter,

Tuner & Pathfinder Channel, once installed & running

Appearance on your PC desktop of the Pathfinder Channel Panorama View

looking down on Mars Terrain with RoverGraphics Overlay


Appearance on your PC desktop of the Pathfinder Channel Command Sequence window

Appearance on your PC desktop of the Pathfinder Channel Mosaic View

of Televised images of Lander Ramp, Rover & Mars Terrain, from Lander boom cameras,

with Rover Navigation Graphics Overlay


Souvenirs with 3D glasses & picture




Sparkey's robot shelf at Universal Studios in Los Angeles




President Kevin Fahl passed out the Sept. 21 1997 ARCE Itinerary, which shows the 10am - 5pm event starting with a 10 -12 Robot Prep period, followed by a 12 - 4 Contests and 4 - 4:30 Awards period, breakdowns of which follow:


A. 12pm-12:30pm - Rope Climb

B. 12:3Oprn - 1pm - Mini Sumo

C. 1pm - 13Oprn - Lifeline (replenishing power)

D. 1:30pm - 2:00pm - Kauri Sumo

E. 2pm - 3pm - Maze/Terrain Challenge

F. 3pm - 3:3Opm - Heavyweight Sumo

G. Between contest gaps - Floor Exercise


A. Youngest Entrant - Individual

B. Best Design - Individual

C. Most Useful - Individual

D. Most Intelligent - Individual

E. Most Versatile - Individual

F. Rope Climb - 1st & 2nd

G. MiniSumo - 1st & 2nd

H. Lifeline - 1st & 2nd

I. Kauri Sumo - 1st & 2nd

J. Maze - 1st & 2nd

K. Heavyweight Sumo - 1st & 2nd

L. Floor Exercise:

1. Most Entertaining - based on audience approval


Robotics Tech / Learning

Kevin led a discussion entitled "What it Takes to Build a Robot". Topic included general considerations and requirements in the areas of Structure (Base Platform), Locomotion type, Motion (Physics/Torque considerations) Weight, Batteries (Lead/Acid recommended), Motors (attached Gearbox recommended), Gearing/Drive System, Controllers, Sensors (Heat, Infrared, Light, Light-dependent Resistor) , Programming and Intelligence.


Round Table Introductions

For tonight’s meeting we were treated by a visit from Science and Math Teacher Joni Carlson and dozen student members of a pair of ROBOT BUILDING TEAMS, from the Cameron Academy in Concord, CA. Joni was instrumental in forming the school’s robot club and her husband works in robotics. Joni tracked down the SFRSA web site while picking up some robot kits for the school from SFRSA member and Mondo-tronics President Roger Gilbertson’s ROBOT STORE web site. Joni mentioned the school is looking at a 6 year robotics program, with this 1st year devoted to a checkout/evaluation phase, followed by a 4 year project. The group has had 6 months of LEGO DACTA experience, is getting into VISUAL BASIC programming, and brought in their current project, the Robot Store SONIC ROVER Kit. Future plans include investigating some of the projects in the book ROBOT BUILDERS BONANZA. Joni had each team member introduce and say a bit about themselves. In the photo below, from left-to-right are Joni, Paul (one of Joni’s 2 sons on the teams), Dennis (into Gearing, Wheels, LEGO systems), Daniel (robotics, IC’s), Nathan (software, group leader), Bret (electronics, experiments kits) and Anthony (robotics, PC’s, spokesperson) - and there are 6 more members back at the Academy!


Joni’s Robot Builder teams


Joni describes SONIC ROVER


Anthony discusses future directions as projects described in ROBOT BUILDERS BONANZA


Father and Son members Alan and Brian Denmark noted they’re working on a Maze and SUMO robot. The Denmarks earlier built the TUTEBOT described in the book MOBILE ROBOTS. Brian added they’ve since evolved their own unique designs a generation or two beyond those described in the book, and are now "on their own". The new designs involve use of HC11-based 3"X3" TCOM boards, hand-built by Ray Butts in Oregon for around $50-60.

A Father and Daughter pair are getting into robotics together. Daughter Laura is interested in exploring robotics while Dad Chuck is an experienced Computer Engineer.

Bob Thille, a retired engineer now building a robot, updated us with a progress report, in that he’d had some difficulty locating but eventually finding a drill bit large enough to bore his robot’s wheels to accept " axles.

Bob’s not Bored with his new Wheels

Kevin’s roommate Jeremy, an electronics sub-contractor, mentioned he gets loads of parts of interest to the robot builder, which he’d like to load and sell by the palette. Items include many 3V motors and over 250 RC cars!