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SERVO Magazine

Article from SERVO magazine, by Camp Peavy

Failure is the path of least persistence - George M. Van Valkenberg, Jr. (1938- )

Robot building is hard work. It is an interdisciplinary craft requiring expertise in mechanics, electronics, and programming; each field deep and wide in and of itself; each has that "the-more-you-know-the-less-you-know" quality ... where every answer creates two new questions and what's the point, after all?

Sometimes things turn out better than expected and inspiration builds upon inspiration. Other times (mostly), things don't work out as planned; both are reasons to have tried though (yes, Yoda, there is "try"). Otherwise, you wouldn't know.

When something doesn't work or you don't have the right part, answer, or financing, work on another aspect pf the project. At least you know what does and does not work. Enter a contest! This is a real motivator. Nothing like a deadline to force you to create. When I was building "Autonomous Rodney" for the 1996 Robot Wars, I couldn't get the optical-based passive wheel disc encoder working and was running out of time (real robot builders work best under pressure). Then it happened in the security section of a RadioShack ... Epiphany - magnets and a reed switch! Worked like a charm ... even in the dust at Burning Man. The point is I had dreamed of building this type of robot for years but would have never finished it if I didn't enter that contest. The best laboratory is the real world and many times we need a deadline to force us to create. The more you get your robot out and demonstrating it, the better it gets. Build, test, and demonstrate ...too many folks are trying to learn everything in the world before actually doing anything physical. Build, test, and demonstrate. You learn through your fingers.

What's the next step in your robotic project? Are you in the planning stage? Are you "finished?" If so, show it to someone. Be prepared that someone might not be impressed with your new gizmo, but they are missing the point of the entire journey. Others will get a kick out of it no matter how inane. Start another project ... or add to what you already have. Robot Building is an iterative process. You build upon what you have built. Another problem ... "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Everyone dreams of building a robot but actually doing it is too much work. Let me say this ... robot building is one of the most important things you can do in life and has more potential payoff than anything. Enjoy the pastime and find others with the same interest.

We have had industrial robots for decades now. The new thing is mobility. We will soon be entering an age of smart machines where devices will know where they are and will eventually pick and place in a cluttered environment with great dexterity. "No way" you say? Let's pretend we're in the year 1900 and I'm telling you about the 1950's ... cars, airplanes, telephones, etc. "Not possible!" you would say. Now let's suppose we're in the 1950s and I'm telling you about technology in the year 2000 with the internet, cell pones, microwave ovens, Global Positioning Systems, etc. ... once again, the inventions seem like science-fiction.

Is the pace of technical development slowing? Do you think there will be technical obstacles to fully develop humanoid robots in the next 50 years? Do you think people won't need fully developed humanoid robots? Consider the aging populations of the developed countries. Who's going to do the grunt work of the future? Eventually, the robotics industry will be larger than the computer industry. If you go to the "Computer History Museum" in Mountain View, CA (Silicon Valley) and follow the evolution of historical computing equipment, it ends up with robots. There will eventually be a robotics age on par with today's computer age.

The end game for robotics is nothing less than a humanoid slave. Indeed, its origin of the word, as "robot" comes from the Czech "robota" or forced labor. Robots are our progeny. They are the next stage in evolution. By 2050, we will have C3PO type androids ... it is inevitable. If you aren't building robots today, you are missing out on all the fun and the other rewards that will inevitably follow.



T & L Publications, Inc



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