07 September 2015

Navigating into Robot Navigation & Waterloo Paper

I've been waiting for the announcement on the 2016 NASA Sample Return Centennial Challenge since early August. But so far no information. This is unusual since they typically make the announcement early or mid-August. I've hesitated to start working on my robots until I knew about the challenge.

During August I was visiting family in Canada (drove by Waterloo on the way!) so I started re-reading the Waterloo paper I mentioned back in January 2014. Unfortunately it is no longer available for free although I downloaded it when it was available. No, I won't distribute copies since it is a copyrighted work, although IMO the charges for academic papers are absurd. I'm glad I grabbed it while I could.

06 September 2015

Moving Onto Linux

A brief note to set the stage for some posts I'll be making: I have switched to Linux. With the expiration of XP support it was time to switch and I wanted to get off the Windows treadmill. I also wanted to switch to start using Robot Operating System (ROS) with OpenCV for my projects.

I bought a bare-bones desktop machine with quad-core I7 @ 3.6 GHz with 8 Gb of memory. Just a TB of disk since I don't store a lot of video, games, etc. I add a System 76 laptop also with quad-core I7 but not as fast, also with 8 Gb memory. I went with high end machines but didn't pay for the premium processors which would have added $$200-300 to the cost. My thought was to get machines that will last for 5-6 years if they don't break.

Both have Ubuntu 14.04 LTS but I could not stand the Unity interface. Sorry, but these machines shouldn't look like giant smartphones. I installed Gnome to get a menuing interface.

I've been quite happy and have gotten used to Linux. There are still a few places where the Linux and program developers need to be sat down and beaten with rubber hoses until they fix problems. The main one is you should be able to position windows and have them start up in the same place. My understanding is both groups point the finger at the other one saying, "It's your responsibility." It probably needs support from both sides so just fix it, dang it.

In the meantime I've played with Arduino's on two different robots: a line follower and a balancing robot. Also used the Arduino to play with stepper motors. All those projects need more work to finish them but, well, other projects created distractions. Someday...

I also started playing with the Raspberry Pi B+ and found it quite interesting. The biggest hassle was having my SD images that I saved be corrupted. I finally tried saving with my laptop's built in reader instead of the USB dongle on my desktop. The USB dongle is gone, replaced with a new $5.00 micro-SD reader that so far works well.

I collaborated on a video processing project on the Pi 2 but the project just disappeared. But it did lead to some interesting experiments including live streaming video from the Pi camera through the Apache web server. The general experience taught me a lot about the Pi (and found that stupid dongle problem).

I'm quite interested in the Pi for robotics. It can offload some of the processing from the main computer. I expect if the 2016 SRR occurs I will use at least a couple Pis along with my Atom CPU based PC. But that discussion is left for the next posting.

I do have ROS installed and working with Eclipse so I can develop by my standard approach. I even have Eclipse installed on a Pi 2 and it works okay. It isn't super fast but adequate should I need to do some code and debug cycles on the Pi.

That fills in most of the gaps since the last posting, at least as far as technical stuff.