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
... 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
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