Saturday, November 06, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
My Robonova doesn't get out much these days. It's a time thing, see. If you're as time poor as me, you don't waste the precious little you do have on fiddling around with little humanoid robots.
Granted, like a good book, video game or movie, programming up your own 'droid can both be rewarding and a black hole for time. That's not a good analogy, really. Black holes make time stand still... anyhoo, you get the idea. It's an interesting hobby but vastly time consuming which is why I suppose I haven't written about it before.
Robonova, if you haven't met him before is a low-ish cost bipedal robot constructed out of servos, an aluminium frame and a micro-controller board to drive the servos.
Programming is done via a PC using the supplied Robo-Basic programming tool.
Now, out of the box, Robonova doesn't do very much, other than the stock moves supplied with the software. These moves are varied enough to give you an idea of what the little chap is capable of, but there are no sensors or AI out of the box like you might find in, for example, Robosapien.
But there's a wealth of information in the online robotics community if one cares to seek it out, and one of my future aims is to equip Robo with some sensors to facilitate some autonomy.
One task I was particularly keen to see was Robonova tackling some stairs. There are few videos on youtube showing this and those that are there are a little underwhelming. But credit is due to the roboteers involved for at least trying.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
At the same time, I've been impressed by the time it takes Windows 7 to boot to the desktop, on fairly modest hardware. Good work, Microsoft. This in contrast to a Vista laptop at work which seems to take an eternity to settle down after switching on from cold.
So, in the interests of Science (and geekdom), I undertook to prove, once and for all, that we haven't really moved forward in the last ten years.
Monday, August 23, 2010
With a little sleight of hand, it's possible for me to make this cube look scrambled, yet solve it as normal for muchos kudos.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Just got an iPad? Got an empty wallet? Wondering what to do with that Struxx robot you bought last year and left, forgotten, under the bed in the spare room?
Have no fear, mygadgetlife has the answer!*
Ok, I admit it, I had a... let's call it a nerdgasm, because let's face it - anyone with an iPad soon finds out that the device spends a lot of its time on its back when not being supported by hands or lap. Not much use for the fancy pants photo frame mode let alone the video playback mode.
Oh sure, you can prop up your iPad or couple it with Velcro, or you can just buy a stand. Have you seen the prices for some of the stands?
With that in mind, I sought a DIY solution and ended up discounting Lego, down to lack of confidence in its structural integrity. Fine for an iPod touch, but not for the iPad.
Then I remembered Struxx, the alternative construction toy.
What you'll need is shown below.
For the spars, you'll need 3 x 14 length, 2 x 12 and an 8.
Next, form a triangle with vertices of 3 x size 14 spars, with 3 x 3-way ball joints. Angle the ball joints about 45 degrees so that the axis is pointed inwards.
Position the triangle so that the shortest side faces you. This is the front. Clip the two size 12 spars to the left and right ball joints, then clip a 8 spar to the back.
Position the triangle so that the point faces away from you. Clip a further two 12 spars to the left and right ball joints, then clip a 8 spar to the back corner.
Bring all the spars together and join them with a further 3 way ball joint.
Take the 75 degree angle joints and fit a single ball joint to each. Fit the angle joints to the inner left and right axis of the 3 way ball joints so that they poke out of the frame. These are what the iPad will rest on.
Take the 2 way ball joint and fit it to the axis of the top 3 way ball joint. To this fit the parts with the vinyl tips that were the robot's fingers. Angle the fingers slightly up and out to provide a suitable angle for you iPad.
You're just about ready, but first even up the frame a bit, make sure your angles are symmetrical and that the thing lies evenly on a flat surface.
There you have it, an iPad stand made out of Struxx.
*of course, it goes without saying, but build and use this at your own risk!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Monday, May 03, 2010
Nissan’s Leaf will be one of the first mass produced fully electric vehicles to be introduced to UK roads.
Last week, I had the privilege of taking one of the prototypes for a short test drive, as part of Nissan’s rather low key efforts to raise awareness of this new model.
With the Leaf, Nissan are attempting to bring to market a battery powered car in the shape of a regular family sized hatchback. And, to an extent, they’ve largely succeeded.
Of course, the usual caveats of EVs persist - limited range and (at the time of writing) poor recharging infrastructure.
However if, like me, you drive a 20-25 mile commute and have a garage within which to charge the vehicle, then the Leaf starts to become a serious proposition. Fuel is relatively cheap and is free of the duty levied on petrol and diesel. Being a zero emission vehicle, it attracts zero Vehicle Excise Duty - or road tax to you and me. There are fewer complicated oily bits to go wrong, so servicing should be cheaper.
As a result, the Leaf should be a cheap car to run. And, unlike the Tesla Roadster, the Leaf is approaching affordable, even if it is expensive for the size of car it is. Entry to the EV club was never going to be cheap for early adopters. The same was probably true for ICE automobiles until the Model T arrived.
Back to the Nissan event. The roadshow, if you could call it that, was held at 2 locations; the 02 Arena in London, and at the Centre for Life, Newcastle Upon Tyne. As the car is planned to be built at Nissan's Sunderland plant, Newcastle was the obvious choice for this demo.
Having driven down from Glasgow, and not knowing what to expect, we were a little underwhelmed to find a couple of small Nissan tents and a small exhibition trailer parked up in the courtyard that forms the campus of the Centre for Life.
That said, the Nissan staff were helpful and I quickly got signed onto the test drive list. The car was still being charged (unceremoniously left in a corner, near a power outlet), so we decided to come back after lunch.
Under one tent sat the 'static' Leaf showcar. Cordoned off, this was strictly hands off, because apparently they only have two - a left hand drive model and a right hand drive model. Present was one Nissan gentleman sporting white cotton gloves who was good enough to open the rear hatch and doors so that we great unwashed could get a better look at the interior.
Whilst the cream insides of the prototype might not be very family friendly, the blue tinged dash and controls looked very Star Trek. Whether this makes it to the production model remains to be seen.
Overall, we liked the look of the Leaf. The slightly bulbous look is deliberate - apparently it makes it look like an eco car - and I'd agree. And because it looks unique (as opposed to fitting the electric gubbins in, say, a Micra or Note), it's sure to leave it's eco mark wherever you leave it.
It was time for my test run. Turns out the test vehicle was actually a Nissan Versa, a production car available in the US, and thus a left hand drive. It had been modified to accommodate the electrics and drive train of what will be the production Leaf.
The first lap was with the Nissan test driver at the wheel. Let me tell you, this car can shift. And it does it silently.
Within the limits of the tiny track, the vehicles' performance was surprising to say the least.
My turn, now, to drive Nissan's only working model.
As I slid behind the wheel I found the controls were exactly like an automatic, and as my current car is a CVT equipped Nissan, I was right at home.
Still, I forgot to put my foot on the brake before engaging Drive, so nothing happened initially. (The CVT has a mechanical interlock - the gearshift won't move unless the the footbrake is depressed. Not so on the fly-by-wire Leaf.)
Underway, the car was surprisingly smooth. Nissan have obviously put a lot of work into making the drivetrain respond in a similar way to that of a petrol car and dipping the accelerator provided a pleasing burst of power.
The car does all this silently, of course. There is legislation being introduced to make EVs emit a sound to alert pedestrians of their presence. If not, I imagine the death toll in local supermarket car parks to be quite high.
So, test drive complete, the serious question of would I actually buy one quickly came up. I certainly fit the profile of a low-mileage commuter, and as we're a two car family, we always have a fossil fuel car for those long trips up and down the country. So yes, if the price is right, the Leaf seems a viable proposition.
Prices are to be announced in for the UK at the end of May 2010, so watch this space.