May 2017 – Bots4Tots

Month: May 2017

Back From SabBOTical

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A pardon we beg from all of our bot-tastic readers and Twitter-followers for such a prolonged absence! Our two week adventure turned into four times that, packed full of traveling, family and investigations into prospective opportunities for future Bots 4 Tots development. To be certain, though, our minds were never far from the world of robotics!
One of our adventures took Don and I to Science World at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver, British Columbia. There, we were delighted by the robotic band in the Our World exhibit; we brought it to life for our enjoyment purely by alternate energy sources FTW! Also, we visited Science World’s Omnimax Theatre where we viewed the very well-executed and touching film, Roving Mars. Robots in space get me every time.
But wait, there’s more! Our good friends at Luscious Layers, who have kindly provided cupcakes for our participating Bots 4 Tots youngsters in the past, have asked for our help in roboticizing (I just made that word up. Take that Merriam-Webster.) cakes. Yes, you read correctly. Robot cakes. Boosh. We started where most burgeoning hobby electronics projects start: we lit an LED. In our first cooperative project, we effected a very impressive cake that included lit LEDs as part of the sky-motif decoration. It is a rather extraordinary design because all you need to do is insert the LEDs into the cake and they will light up, and furthermore you can cut a slice including an LED out of it and the slice will come out cleanly and the LED will turn off as the slice separates from the rest of the cake. Can you guess how we did it? Hint: we did not electrify the cake.
And then there was Halloween, quite possibly our favorite day of the year. It turns out that this is also true for our friends at Luscious Layers; they decided that this “All Hallows Even” was the perfect opportunity to take our epicurean madness to the next level. Behold: the Arduino-animated, palatable-yet-programmable, raucously-raspberry-filled-red-velvet Zombie Cake from Beyond the Grrrraaavvve! Where will we go from here? Only time will tell.
Last but not least, we have also been spending a good deal of these past two months discussing the future of Bots 4 Tots. Don and I have decided to make some exciting site and program changes, which I will post more on in the very near future! We are also in the midst of planning our upcoming Winter 2009 auction (featuring the always awesome Bunk Bots), the specifics of our planned Winter 2009/2010 workshop sessions, and lots of other good stuff to ensure that kids will be building robots well into the new year. Thanks to all of you who have helped and are helping to make Bots 4 Tots a successful program!


Robots to Star in Opera

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Fans worldwide wonder if it will be sung entirely in C#.

“Death and the Powers” is the first Robotic Opera ever produced, and is currently in development as a collaborative project by the MIT Media Lab and the American Repertory Theater. It is scheduled to open Fall of next year (2010), premiering internationally at locations including the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Massachusetts as well as the Chicago Opera Theater. Read on! You really want to hear the rest of this, it’s good!
What do Yo-Yo Ma, Prince and Guitar Hero have in common? Tod Machover, that’s what!
Composed by Tod Machover of MIT’s Media Lab, this opera will prove to be one of the freshest additions not only to the world of opera, but to the music world itself! See the video below to get the whole scoop directly from Mr. Machover himself. He speaks of the opera from minute 7:33 to 10:15, but I highly suggest watching the whole thing to get a better understanding of what this man does, and how he may have already changed the way humans understand and interact with music!

If you don’t have the 20 minutes it takes to watch the above video, or even the three minutes it takes to watch the segment I referred to, read this:
“It is a one-act, full evening work that tells the story of Simon Powers, a successful and powerful businessman and inventor, who wants to go beyond the bounds of humanity. Reaching the end of his life, Powers faces the question of his legacy: ‘When I die, what remains? What will I leave behind? What can I control? What can I perpetuate?’ He is now conducting the last experiment of his life, passing from one form of existence to another in an effort to project himself into the future. Whether or not he is actually alive is a question. Simon Powers is himself now a System. His family, friends and associates must decide what this means, how it affects them, and whether to follow.
New performance technologies for Death and the Powers are being developed at the MIT Media Lab, including a new technique of Disembodied Performance to translate Simon’s offstage performance into an expressively animated stage. Other novel ‘instruments’ include a Musical Chandelier and a chorus of robots.” source
Oh, and that little snippet didn’t mention the fact that the chandelier gobbles up the main character, the chorus of robots will interact, dance and perform autonomously, and that there are also living bookcases devoted to expressing the attitude of the disembodied librettist.
I have a feeling you’ve just found the time to go back and watch that clip.


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Senate views latest in Cyber-Physical Systems.

Last month, the National Science Foundation hosted a luncheon at the Hart Senate Office building in Washington, D.C., in order to familiarize U.S. Senate members with the most recent advances being made in the field of Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS, for short). This meeting stressed the importance of the research being done, and illustrated the importance of CPS in such varied applications as surgery, clinical trials, and traffic control as well as many other such useful or life-saving scenarios.
“The event brought together more than 50 researchers and students who are conducting CPS research across the country, giving them the opportunity to inform policymakers on Capitol Hill about how that research may impact many of the challenges the federal government is grappling with, including making health care more efficient and effective, revitalizing the auto industry and revamping the U.S. economy.
… Experts believe that CPS technologies will increasingly affect our wellbeing, security, and competitiveness, in a variety of areas including aerospace, automobiles, civil infrastructure, energy, finance, healthcare and manufacturing.” source
The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency created in 1950, provides about twenty percent of all federally funded basic research conducted by colleges and universities in America. In other words, they are the best people there are to tell our government’s representatives: “Hey, robots are way cool!”.

Robotics Summer Camp

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Robot Extravaganza… way better than lanyards.

The San Jacinto College of Pasadena, TX, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, is hosting a series of week-long summer camps called Robot Extravaganza. In these camps, eight and ninth graders are participating in problem solving, field trips and projects that focus on the fascinating world of robotics! This is Robot Extravagnaza’s second year, and this year they are offering three levels of difficulty in their courses. We applaud the teachers, students and parents involved in the planning and participation of this camp! The Bots4Tots teams sends a resounding “holla at ‘cha”!

The Robot Extravaganza planners and partners, such as the N.S.F., want not only to introduce today’s young American student to the fascinating world of technology, but moreover to engage and educate him/her in that world. The goal is to prepare the coming generation of professional minds in such a way that, as their hobbies perhaps evolve into careers, they can make an impact on and improve the technology of our world.

“This program is interested in addressing such questions as:  What does it take to effectively interest and prepare students to participate in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce of the future?  What are the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students need in order to participate productively in the changing STEM workforce and be innovators, particularly in STEM-related networked computing and information and communication technology (ICT) areas?” 

The students are using the Lego System Mindstorm’s NXT kits; they are making robotic arms, anthropomorphic robots, canimorphic robots (that’s “robot doggies” in layman’s), and they are even designing and creating their own robots as well!

“And, it can even get a little competitive: after building their own robots, campers are told to build a difficult maze. ‘The first task is can they themselves go through their own maze, and the second is can they go through their opponents’ maze,’ [camp director Johnny] Moya said.”

Also, Meet ROBOT DON, a fun college essay checker.

Roboburgh, PA

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2009 has proven to be a very exciting year for robots everywhere. The Carnegie Mellon’s Robot Hall of Fame announces that it will have a permanent residence at the Robo World exhibit! Roboworld is the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibition, and is located in the historic Carnegie Science Center, one of four museums founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1895.

“Hardly a month goes by without news-making innovations coming out of local universities and companies engaged in the robotics industry. Yet for all of this activity, connections between robotics and everyday life are often unknown or misunderstood by the general public. At the same time, public interest in robotics is high, and the topic can effectively engage people of all ages. Robots fascinate us, and the topic can be used to motivate youth toward careers in science and technology. Carnegie Science Center’s roboworld™ exhibition captures the essence of the fascination of robotics. And what better city to host the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit than Pittsburgh, where so many innovations have occurred already? (1)

…For the past decade Pittsburgh, also known by the moniker ‘Roboburgh,’ has been identified as one of only a handful of locations leading the country in developing cutting-edge robotics technology. From the establishment of The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in 1979, to the formation of The Robotics Corridor educational initiative, to the opening of roboworld™, Pittsburgh has been at the forefront of robotics education, development, and public interaction.

Not only does the exhibit sound fantastic, but I highly recommend checking out the site too! For example, as a part of the RoboWorld exhibit, the museum has created a fun website to entertain and educate entitled! There you can do lots of cool things, including:

  • Take a quiz to determine your Robo IQ.
  • Watch interfacing robo-puppies.
  • Convert your secret messages to binary code! 

The Quicker Picker

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B4T’s salute to industrial robots!


We rarely say anything about industrial robots here at Bots 4 Tots. It’s a shame, really; industrial robots are an oft-overlooked facet of the world of robotics as it exists today, one that needs recognition now more than ever. Think of a robot, a real life robot such Asimo, and recognize that it’s robotic-great-grandparents were probably employed on an assembly line. Take a walk with us, if you will, through the fascinating Arcadia of industrial robotics!

As you can probably tell from posts such as GOAL!!! Robocup 2009! and Chicago Hosts Int’l Robot Show, many of the awesome robotics events that are held around the world are actually fun ways to display the current capabilities of robots for potential investors in industrial robotics. The advances that we have seen just this past year in the varieties of fields that the robotic sciences apply to, from the scientific (Garden Bots, Robots Simulate Evolution) to the social/artistic (Robot Rolls, Rocks, Tweenbots Capture Hearts)… these advances would arguably not have been possible without the precedent set by robots used in industrial and commercial settings*!

“The first digitally operated and programmable robot, the Unimate, was installed in 1961 to lift hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and stack them. Today, commercial and industrial robots are in widespread use performing jobs more cheaply or with greater accuracy and reliability than humans.” 

The world-wide interest in robotics (beyond science-fiction, that is) saw its coming-of-age not so long ago, around the 1970s, when American companies such as General Electric and General Motors made huge investments with Japanese partners to change the way their factories produced. Development needs funding, and obviously huge conglomerates such as these were willing and able to provide the impetus for the leaps and bounds we have seen in the field of robotics since the seventies. Today, the field of robotics is seeing a new dawn wherein normal every day people like Don and I are building robots in our spare time, and even teaching kids to do so as well. But, as you can see from the video above, the industrial robot has become far more sophisticated than its predecessors.

Meet the FlexPicker, an example of the latest advancements in industrial robotics. It can sort items with a mass of under one hundred grams in as little as three tenths of a second. THREE TENTHS OF A SECOND! People… that’s the average reaction time to visual stimuli in most animals (source)! And consider that the FlexPicker is doing almost the same thing: it analyzes images taken, visual stimuli for all intents and purposes, from a camera mounted on the robot. I, for one, am impressed. This is not like the kind of speed we have come to expect from a bullet, for instance. This is an autonomous interpretation and relay the likes of which have never been known to mankind outside of that which occurs organically! Oh, and did I mention that it is fully washable? I cannot even say that about my cats!

By the way, thanks to our friends at BotJunkie for the video!

So, as our last homage to industrial robots, I would like to post this video as well: the Adept Quattro. It claims to be the fastest industrial robot, “with cycle times faster than any other robot of its kind” source, but I couldn’t find the exact cycle time. Either it’s an industry secret, or the information hasn’t been updated in the admittedly fast-paced world of robot rivalry. But it’s definitely worth a watch. Which one do you think is faster? I find it’s hard to tell; the snappy music for the FlexPicker makes it seem faster, but that’s unfair.


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