18 September 2012


Today I was looking through some robotics papers applicable to Sample Return that I previously found on the web. One mentioned they were using a DARPA LAGR robot so I looked to see what it was. I found that Carnegie Mellon was involved in producing the standardized robots. The idea was to provide these robots to different researchers, have them develop navigation software, and have them compete on real-word runs to see what went better. The robots only had vision, GPS, and bumper sensors. The outcome of this project seems very applicable to the SRR competition.

One of the researchers at NYU has a long list of papers on navigation.

17 September 2012

Sample Return Robot Challenge

The focus of the blog is changing. I mentioned that I rotate through projects. It is time to focus more on robotics, specifically the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge.

In June 2012 NASA ran a Centennial Challenge competition at Worcster Polytechnic Institute. This concept for the competition was a robot on the Moon or Mars retrieving samples. Its tasks were:
  • Obtain a pre-cached sample
  • Search for other interesting samples
  • Return all samples to a landing platform
I considered entering but abandoned the effort for personal and technical reasons. I am going to use the competition guidelines in the development of a robot. I believe the challenge will be repeated and am working now to overcome the technical issues. I will be sharing the effort on my web site. I am starting with a high-level analysis and dropping down to more details as that proceeds.

On this blog I will keep some notes on what has been updated on the project and provide some running commentary on the effort. 

16 July 2010

Android - Galactic Guardian: Zap GPS Lite Released

I finally released the free, lite version of Zap GPS to the Android market. If it is received at all well, I will do a paid version. If you have tried the Lite version and have ideas on how to improve it or enhance it for a paid version please feel free to comment.

The Lite version omits one capability that the ADC2 version contained: cloaking. I felt that was an interesting capability that would be better in a paid version. Cloaking is implemented by hiding a Sentinel if the GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) signal is lower than a threshold. The player still needs to damage the Sentinel to proceed to the next round but it is more difficult since the Sentinel cannot be seen. When both Cloaking and Command & Control (sequential destruction) are present it can be difficult since a cloaked Sentinel may also drop off the Sentinel list because its signal is weak and then lost. But if may reappear if the signal increases. If it is the lowest sequential number the player has a real challenge.

One additional feature is timing the player. The player would be allowed a period of time to damage the Sentinels in the list. After that time Sentinels would be "repaired" and added to the list. That isn't implemented but would be easy to do.

The big feature to add would be competition among users. That would require setting up a web presence to record scores and show the best players for, say, the day, week, and month. The effort for that would be about the same as developing the game up until now. Not sure I want to expend that much effort for little or no reward.

Any other ideas for Zap GPS? Any ideas for a different Galactic Guardian game?

05 February 2010

RoboRealm Vision Processing - Wrappers Classes

I've been working with RoboRealm over the last week. It is a vision processing application. One of its nice features is being able to access it from another program. You can let it do the heavy lifting of extracting information from a web cam image and then your program just gets a few important data points for analysis.

The module I've been working with is Center of Gravity which locates a blob in the image and reports its size and location. In particular, I'm looking for a red circle.

The interface I've used is the RR_API which is a XML over a socket connection. Reading a single variable is straightforward but reading multiple variables with one request is a lot of detail chasing. I hate chasing details over and over again. That is why they originally created subroutines and, more recently, classes. So I wrote some classes to wrap the read variable routines. I haven't need to write information, yet, so that will wait until needed.

The files are in Google Code.

Individual variables are handled through the RoboRealmVar class and its base class RoboRealmVarBase. The base class is needed to provide an interface for reading multiple variables. More on that below.

RoboRealmVar is a template class to allow for handling different data types. One of the details with th RR interface is all data is returned as a char string so it has to be converted to the correct data type. The class handles that automatically. The header file has instances of the template for int, float, and string. Other types could be added but may need a char* to data type conversion routine. See the string instantiation for how that is done.

Variables are declared by:

rrIntVar mCogX;
rrIntVar mCogBoxSize;
rrIntVar mImageWidth

The examples are all class members, hence the prefix 'm' on their names.

Initialize the variables with the instance of the RR class. In the example mRoboRealm is the instance of RR opened through RR_API:

mCogX("COG_X", mRoboRealm),
mImageWidth("IMAGE_WIDTH", mRoboRealm),
mCogBoxSize("COG_BOX_SIZE", mRoboRealm),

and then read them using an overload of operator():

int cogx = mCogX();

Multiple variables are read using the RoboRealmVars class. Declare it and instantiate it with:

RoboRealmVars mCogVars;

Again, my examples are from inside a class.

Then add the individual variables to the list by:


then read them through:


You can access their values just as shown above through the individual variables.

Hopefully this will be useful to others.

03 February 2010

Create Fun with Grandson

Last weekend two grand kids were here. The girl, Dorian, is a teenager. The boy, Kade, is six. Just before Christmas I was working on the Fit PC Slim to iRobot Create interface when they visited. He had his nose up close asking when it would be done. He asked the same thing in another visit since then. I had to reply it was not done but I was working on it.

So this visit I just had to have something working. I got the basic wander and bump into routines working with the Slim - a reproduction of the Create demo 1 behavior. I figured that would be good for about 2 minutes of interest so needed more.

Since this project will be using a web camera for vision I used some velcro to plunk the camera onto the Create just behind the IR sensor. The velcro raised it enough to see over the top of the sensor. I brought up RoboRealm and setup its built-in web page viewer. This lets you see the camera's images. I pointed the laptop at the web pages to display what the Create was seeing.

That was good for about 20 minutes and we got called for lunch and told to put the robot away. Awwww!!!

Next visit is in a couple weeks - they are visiting here pretty regularly now. The goal is to have the Create follow a "leash" - a red dot mounted on the end of a stick. That means getting the software to talk with RR to get information on the center of gravity (COG) of the red dot and send the drive commands to the Create to center and drive toward the dot. It should stop when it gets a little bit away from the dot, and even back up if the dot gets closer.

28 January 2010

Thinking Aloud - Long Ago Neural AI

I got thinking about way back when in 1972-74 in undergrad school. I was doing some work in AI, albeit within the psych department. This was before the heyday of neural network although there was some activity in the area. I ran across the book, Intelligence: Its Organization and Development by Michael Cunningham. He proposed a rigorous, testable way in which intelligence organizes in the infant. I guess it didn't work out since it didn't make the front page of the New York Times as a major breakthrough sometime in the intervening decades.

Interestingly, a web search turns up little information beyond citations. None of the titles in the citations indicate a successful implementation or breakthrough based on the work.

I still have a paper I wrote about the book and a description of a FORTRAN implementation that never got finished.

One of the challenges back then, and remains so somewhat today, is that testing ideas like this requires a simulation environment that can be as complex to produce as the actual ideas you want to test. But I realized that today I do have a physical device, my Create robot, that could be used for testing.

I'm not going to layout all the details of Cunningham's proposal since he took a book to develop and describe the idea. I won't even list the roughly 2 dozen specific assumptions in the model. What I am going to do is walk through some thoughts on how a project might proceed to see if it is worth pursuing.

You start with input and output elements - sensors and actuators in today's robot parlance. There are some reflex connections between these elements. For example, a pain reaction reflex so if an infant's hand touches something hot it jerks away. Or if the side of the mouth touches something the head turns in that direction in an attempt to suckle.

Jumping over the start up process (which is always a pain), lets assume the robot is moving forward and hits a wall. The bumper switch closes but there is no reflex to shut down the motors. The motors keeps turning and you get an overload reading. There is a reflex for this and it stops the motors. Now the motors are stopped and the bump switch is still triggered.

There would be a number of elements. Each sensor input on the Create could have an input element. Each actuator would have an output element. As indicated, the over current input element could be connected to an output element that stops the motors. Note - A point to consider that there might be output elements that don't directly connect to actuators but instead inhibit actuators. Continuing the thought, there might need to be backup, stop, and forward elements for the motors. In the situation described, these elements would have high levels of activity. Other elements, like a push button, would have no activity. The Cunningham model proposes that those elements with high activity are connected through a new memory element. The inputs to the input side of the memory and the outputs to the output side. What might happen is a connection is created between the bump switch, the over current and the motor stop elements through the new memory element. In the future, a bump switch closure would stop the motor.

I now recall one result from my work with the FORTRAN implementation. This is the need to have multiple elements to represent the state of input and output elements. My note above reflects this. For example, the bump switch needs two elements - open and closed. The motor needs forward, reverse and stopped. It may need even more indicating speed, although I would first try relating the element activity level with the speed.

The activity level of an element decays if it is not triggered. So the bump switch closing triggers activity that decays over time. The motor activity decreases until the motor stops. An issue would be to keep the bump switch closed activity going long enough for the over current activity to shutdown the motor and get the new memory element built. Note: maybe an input triggers again after a period of time?

How do we get the bump switch open? The only way is by getting the motor to reverse. Infants in a situation like this flail. They randomly move. Sometimes they do this happily while cooing and sometimes angrily while crying. It appears to be a natural reaction to try something, anything to make things different. (A really ugl phenomena in an adult but you still see it. If not physically at least mentally. Ever had a boss whose reaction was, "Don't just stand there! Do SOMETHING.") I don't recall the model addressing this situation. (I did find used copies of the book and have one ordered so I can refresh my thinking.)

Somehow some general level of activity has to increase which can generate activity at outputs. Sometimes this would be through inputs. For an infant this could be sound, pressure on skin, internal senses, and vision. I dislike simply generating random activity levels to cause something to happen. Maybe the general inputs of the Create - power levels, current readings, etc are sufficient to generate activity.

Clearly, a dropping charge level in the battery could be tied to a "hunger" reaction which sends the robot searching for its charger. That brings in using the IR sensor to control the drive for the docking station. That probably requires external guidance to train the IR / motor control coordination to execute the docking maneuver. That opens up an entirely different set of thoughts.

Which is enough for today... No conclusion on trying to implement this. But no conclusion not to do so, either.

27 January 2010

Subsumption Architecture - Introduction II

The last post left off with me wondering why the Trapped behavior needed to be called even when a higher priority behavior was active. Here is why:

Remember I ported the code from the Command Module (CM) version to the Windows on the Fit PC Slim? In Windows there is a clock and in the CM there isn't. In the newer version I can setup a timeout by taking the current clock time and adding a delay. Then when the clock exceeds the timeout the timer has expired. For Trapped this meant the robot had not moved for over 10 seconds, despite other activities trying to make it move.

In the CM version, with no clock the Trapped needed to update the "clock" value to see if it exceeded the timeout value.

I'd say this falls under checking your assumptions. In the CM the assumption was that no clock existed so Trapped had to maintain its own. I didn't catch that the assumption was no longer valid in the Windows version.

I've been re-reading a lot of the papers on subsumption and the Jones book Robot Programming. I find that my implementation isn't really subsumption as it was originally presented by Rodney Brooks. Brooks is credited with the concept of programming robots by behaviors. His technique for implementing behaviors was subsumption.

My implementation is more in line with Jones, and also derives from David Anderson. David has an article about two of his robots, SR04 and jBot, which are accessible from the Dallas Personal Robotic Group .

I continue the discussion in a later post. I also want to take some time to reabsorb the subsumption and behavior programming concepts so I can elaborate on them.

SRC2 - Explicit Steering - Wheel Speed

SRC2 Rover This fourth post about the  qualifying round of the NASA  Space Robotics Challenge - Phase 2  (SRC2) addresses t he speed of the ...