Current Event Aug 2015

Current Events

Just to let you know that I've not been goofing off. There has been a lot of activity going on - well, they say that busy hands are happy hands.

Speaking of hands, I'm volunteering for Enabling the Future - a group that donates 3d printed prosthetic hands.  I'm just finishing my first "audition" hand to send in for quality control.

In order to create 3D printed objects, I have to have a 3D printer.  I've built a Kossel 2020 3D printer by FolgerTech of Milford, NH - just up the road from me here in Nashua. I've added some of my own modifications, plus what I've found on the Interweb.  I'm really pleased with both the quality and functionality of my printer.  This is not a kit for those who want a "plug and play" experience - there was a lot of fiddling and adjusting to get the quality and consistency out of the printer, but I've got it working.

My other activity is working with the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) as a Corner Marshall.  I've written an article about my flagging activities here at GIZMAG.  This season I've done about 10 races so far, including the IMSA Northeast Grand Prix (Tudor Racing Series) at Lime Rock Park.
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My GIZMAG Author's Page

I've written quite a few articles for GIZMAG, the online technology magazine.  Why don't you follow this link and take a look?  You'll find flying cars, 3D sensors, 3D printers, and all sorts of other things

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These books have become part of the popular culture, have influenced thought, or become popular memes in our society, some to the point of the ideas becoming separate from the book that launched them.  Just think of “Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal”, or Frankenstein’s monster, or the Three Laws of Robotics. Some have even introduced new words to our language, like “grok” or “Waldo”.

Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who lives in Middle Earth, and finds a magic ring, which he leaves (50 years later) to his nephew Frodo Baggins to destroy by throwing it into a live volcano. 
Why: This story is now famous thanks to the movies, but used to be a geek right of passage.  The archetype of all “swords and sorcery” fantasy since and the inspiration for countless video games, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.   While this fantasy book is not science fiction, its influence on the entire genre is so great it has to be included.

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Synopsis:  Don’t think you know this story if you have not read the book.  The monster (properly called Frankenstein’s Creature) in this book is intelligent, articulate, and longs to be accepted by other humans who seem to fear him.   In the story, Dr. Victor Frankenstein re-animates a body pieced together from various corpses.  The resulting creature is abandoned by his creator and suffers a lot of neglect and abuse.  The creature gets revenge by murdering Victor’s brother.  The creature demands a mate be made, which the Doctor complies with, then destroys.  The enraged creature murders all of Victor’s family and leads Frankenstein on a chase across the world, ending in the Arctic.
Why: This story has become so much a part of culture that we take its precepts for granted, that man should not “play God” and bestow life, a concept that was repeated with later robot stories.  Most of our impressions of this story – the mute creature with the flat head – come from the movies, not from this book.  Read the story yourself and learn why this is a classic. 

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Airships 101

Continuing the series on Airships:

Some basic comments on airship technical design. I'll be referring to Goodyear's web pages on flying their blimp.

The basic components of the airship are the envelope (outer covering), gondola, fins or aerodynamic controls, engines, and the balloonets.

Lift for the airship is provided by a combination of static (buoyancy) lift provided by the lifting gas - usually helium - and dynamic lift provided by the air moving over the aerodynamic shape of the airship and the thrust provided by the engines. Airships are boyant, like any balloon, by being less dense than the surrounding air. To be specific, the airship weighs less than the amount of air volume it displaces. This difference provides lift. If an airship weighs exactly the same as the air it displaces, then it is neutrally buoyant and will neither rise nor sink. The problem with this is that as you ascend into the atmosphere, the air becomes less dense. Airships are normally trimmed with ballast (added weight) to be slightly heavy at ground level - and to use dynamic lift provided by forward motion to climb.

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Attack of the Airships!

It seems that all of a sudden, everyone has an airship, a blimp or an aerostat (tethered blimp), either manned or unmanned. Two years ago no-one was talking about them, and now fat, boyant, helium filled UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), OPV (Optionally Piloted Vehicles), and MV (Manned Vehicle) lighter-than-air craft fill the skies. I just attended the AUVSI conference in Washington DC, and I saw a lot of blimps and airships.

A quick note: A blimp is a lighter-than-air craft that is propelled by an engine, has an aerodynamic-shaped (teardrop) body, and maintains its shape via internal pressure, like a balloon. An Airship is the generic name for a powered lighter than air craft. A Zeppelin, or rigid airship, has a metal frame, usually of aluminum, that maintains its shape. The vast majority of airships today are blimps. Zeppelins are heavier, but faster.

I think that the reason for all this interest in airships is fueled by the need for persistent survellance - the ability to maintain overwatch of a large area for long periods of time, and this need is created by the use of IED's to attack US troop overseas, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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My Robot Designs - the List!

In my official biography, I said that I have designed of over 20 unmanned vehicles over the years. You may wonder, what 20 vehicles am I talking about? I fell that I need to provide a list of all my original designs – time to “put up or shut up”. So here is the official list - to date:

So in this definition of “vehicle”, we will have anything that can move on its own – on wheels, tracks, or treads, float, swim, or fly. My smallest unmanned ground vehicle weighed just three pounds, while the heaviest a whopping 28,000 lbs (14 tons).

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Now entering BOOK MODE

I've finally decided to get off the fence and write a book about robots. The working title is "Don't Fear the Robots: The Myth of the Robot Apocalypse". This means that at some time I will have to learn to spell "Apocalypse".

You are familiar with the Robot Apocalypse of course- you've seen it in movies and read about in books. The story goes that robots become intelligent and decide that they can run the world better than we can and (for our own good) either destroy or enslave humanity. So that includes even the original story "RUR" that gave us the word "Robot", the Terminator Movies, the Matrix, and even the recent fiction book, imaginatively titled "Robopocalypse". You can check out "Armed Robots.com" which keeps track of this subject.

I'm here to say its all bunk.
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Robotics Technology May Keep Soldiers Far from Harm

Read more: http://www.asdnews.com/news/37274/Robotics_Technology_May_Keep_Soldiers_Far_from_Harm.htm#ixzz1UTyavbhp

Interesting article on the challenges of operating a robot remotely (like from the next continent) using the internet and a secure web site. As you would expect, latency is the issue. Interesting article.

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A Quick Update

OK, I've not been keeping my Blog updated. Well, its time to get back into the game, so expect to see a lot of updates over the next few weeks. I've been really busy doing some really interesting stuff. What kinds of stuff? I've been designing telemetry systems for race cars, with GPS and IMU sensors to track cars in real time. That job is over, but I'm really proud of the results we got. I'm now back looking for a new job and a new home, and faced once again with trying to figure out what I do when I grow up. At 50 that's both a lot tougher and a lot easier than at 17. Tougher in that I have dependents, a house, two cars, etc. that are affected, and easier in that I have a lot of tools to work with.

We also had a very sad time in our house this week, as our Cat, Aaron, passed away. He usually would sit right behind this computer as I would work at home, and would keep you company and snuggle with you if your were feeling low. He kept stealing my pillow at night and I would wake up with the cat purring happily on my pillow and my head on the mattress. I will miss him greatly. We have another cat, China, who is doing well and we are trying to keep her occupied.

So what do I do next? It all depends on what is open. I look back on what I've done, which includes designing over 20 robots, being responsible for 6 full unmanned ground vehicles (from start to finish), helping design the International Space Station and contributed to the Space Shuttle, and working on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I guess that my first love has always been aviation, and I'd like to find a place where I can put all of my talents and interests to bear.

Wish me luck!

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New this month in ROBOT

I have two new articles in the current edition of ROBOT magazine, now on bookstands everywhere. For the younger crowd, there is an article on "SO you want to be a Robot Designer", with advice for what to study and what skills are necessary to work professionally in the Robot business. The other article is called "Everything is turning 3D" about putting stereo vision on a robot (3D glasses not included).
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Here come the Mummies!

One thing I'm famous for, at least inside my family, is the number of my hobbies. The robot thing that I do now as a profession started as one of my extra activities. I will say in my own defense that all of my hobbies have one thing in common - learning something new. I'm always looking for something new to learn and some new skill. My current favorite extra project is learning to play the electric guitar. I bought a used Fender Stratocaster and I've been enjoying learning to make music on it. The side effect of this is that I'm listening to music again for the first time in years - I had gotten away completely from listening to music other then when I was helping clean house. A recent video special on the HD channel on Sirius exposed me to a group called "Here Come the Mummies". And yes, the group dresses as mummies on stage. They play "funky" music - think Tower of Power or Parliament, if you are that old.

Here is a link:

Here come the Mummies:

Now rumor has it that this is a group of studio musicians who have contracts with various other record companies and conceal their identities so that they can play together legally. What ever the reason, the music is great and you need to give them a listen.
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What I'm working on now...

Right now at home, my personal project is to create a vertical take off and landing, horizontal flying UAV (Unmanned Aeriel Vehicle). I'm starting with an unusual model airplane called a "VFO", or Vertical Flying Object, by Electrifly http://www.electrifly.com/parkflyers/gpma1135.html

This is a "tail sitter" aircraft that takes off in the vertical position, sitting on its tail, and then pitches over and flys conventionally like a regular airplane. Right now I have the model all assembled and it can hover and fly about. I had to stop testing because I blew out my cheap lithium battery charger (from one of my RC helicopters) and need to get another.
I'm expecting to put a Aurdino-based autopilot and GPS on the aircraft and have it take off and land autonomously. It will also get a wireless camera.
There are lots of good video of the VFO on Youtube - just search "Youtube VFO". I'll keep you posted on my progress.

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