In hindsight, I regret not blogging more about robots I’ve discovered on my travels and in working situations. This is where my joy and enthusiasm about the robots really gets fuelled, when I interact with them spontaneously. Recently with friends at our favourite Asian restaurant (Mchi in Ijburg – FYI the food was great and each plate left empty!), we encountered some Bellabots working as assistants to the restaurant staff. I was with my buddy Vikram Radhakrishnan, who is also crazy about robots and my partner Renze de Vries, who has made quite a few robots himself – check out his Youtube channel here). We worked on the Anki Vector project together back in 2019 – time flies when you’re in lockdown. Imagine our excitement to find these amazing robots serving dinner to patrons as if it was the most natural thing in the world! That really made our day!
These robots are also super cute – they have cat ears and when the service screen is not displayed, it shows a cat face. We’re all crazy about cats so our minds were completely blown by these robots.
These robots have collision avoidance, they were able to avoid the waiting staff, and they are programmed with table numbers and the dishwasher location for example. One also played happy birthday in Dutch for one of the tables as you can see but not hear properly in the video below:
Well, you know, by now I’m really excited to know more about the technology and company behind these robots so here goes:
Well, its finally come and gone, my first two workshops for Halloween 2020! My two main goals were that everyone have fun and learn something, and we succeeded on both accounts.
Mixing it up
We had a variety of participants in both groups, in all age groups, and all abilities and knowledge levels. The first group was unknown to each other, with two people working together per kit, and the second was a family group – both were load of fun to share this experience with.
The learning curve
To speed things up, I will create some supplementary content about the basics of sewing. Working with wearables components (Lilypad and Adafruit) was a lot easier than I anticipated. I noticed that the learning curve of the workshop was steep until we got to the electronics part, thereafter it was just repetition of the same skills. In the future I would either do a design that requires less work after the initial learning phase or teach the basic skills separately upfront. I might also do different difficulty levels, so a basics course before you attempt a bigger project.
Fun is the name of the game
Look at how fun this was, I just loved it! 🥰
Overall I’m super happy with the result, I had the best soft launch I could have asked for with lovely people and had great fun. I could see everyone learning and feeling good about it.😍
The magic of creation
When you make something that does something, like an object that lights up, it feels like magic! And I affirmed for myself that the main goals of the sessions should be learning, fun and confidence building. Also I was amazed at how different everyone’s pumpkin turned out – wow, we humans are all so varied and amazing, and everyone has so much creativity in them!
I have a ton of ideas on future workshops and improvements but this has been an exciting start and I feel good about the future.
Well this is an exciting time for RoboRabbit-Labs! The first electro-craft workshops will be happening this week, with a Halloween theme!
Well 2020 has been a challenging and even dark year for many. With the full moon on Halloween this year, its probably a good time to sweep out the old and usher in the light and good vibes. Halloween of course provides a great opportunity to allow fun into our lives and offers some iconic characters to play with like Jack-o-Lanterns of course, but also black cats, mummies, zombies, werewolves, ghosts and witches. It’s a time when we get to play with these scary themes and restore some balance to our world.
The Jack o Lantern came together as a project pretty quickly. I used the idea behind the Octopus, and simplified it by removing the controller board, the LilyTiny. I decided to make it more widely appealing by hiding the electronic components behind the eyes and mouth, and making the conductive thread lines blend in with the embroidery pumpkin grooves.
The test session
My lovely assistant and boyfriend, robotics and electronics enthusiast Renze, donated two hours of his weekend to help me test the Video conferencing and assembly process. The most challenging part for him was learning to sew! Details like threading the needles, and the tendency of the conductive thread to get kinks delayed his efforts. However, he visibly enjoyed making something that worked and lit up in the end, and was impressed that he could actually make a successful product, despite how foreign the construction was. Also, he now has a cute ornament of his own making to keep him company in his office.
Posting the kits
Today I will send the last of the kits out for this week’s sessions. It’s incredibly exciting to fill the padded envelopes, stick the addresses on and perform the last checks for completeness. It feels like sending presents out, which I love doing. I hope I can include more little gifts in future kits. This time I was able to include a second battery so that participants can make their own project with the remaining 3 LEDs and conductive thread.
ERF2019 took place at the Marriott hotel in Bucharest. As usual, the event was divided into workshops and an exhibition area with different robot-related organisations represented, including European organisations, robot and parts manufacturers, technology hubs, universities and governmental institutions. Check out my post on ERF2017 here.
The main topics for this year included:
Robotics and AI
Robotics in industry, logistics and transport
Ethics, liability, safety, standardization
Marine, aerial, space, wearable robotics
Robotics and AI
ERF2019 and ERF2017 were miles apart in terms of the awareness of AI. The EU has identified AI as a key area to remain competitive with the US and China, and have allocated a large amount of funding to AI. Lighthouse domains for investment include agrifood, inspection and maintenance and healthcare.
They seek to build partnerships across Europe, identify the key players and increase synergies between member states. They have setup a collaboration with the Big Data Value Association to create a strategy which will make AI development for robotics thrive.
AI has been identified as a way to get robots out of the cage and interacting directly with people. They need to be easier to configure, learn, program, use. It should not take weeks of training to introduce robots into health facilities, for instance. Robotics is AI embodied and brings its own challenges like application of learning and algorithms in real life chaotic and unpredictable environments. What are the value exchange points between AI and robotics? Can robots create a feedback loop to help tune AI algorithms? We need data to take the tech forward – and we need to be able to apply data and learnings across domains and applications. We also need to ensure that users and companies understand what their data is being used for and are comfortable with the contribution they are making.
AI4EU is a Horizon 2020 project which will create a platform to encourage AI sharing, gather resources, algorithms, datasets and AI knowledge in the EU. There are 3 open calls for startups, SME’s and AI talent, plus a technology transfer program. It will be the focal point in Europe for all AI resources. There will also be a search engine with a knowledge graph optimised to help search for ai-specific resources.
The platform will be as useful as we, the contributors make it. Especially in robotics we need to actively contribute and drive the content, because there is such a long way to go to independent robots. Submissions must be of high quality – safe, effective, rated by the user community, and fully specified. This could also result in financial remuneration for contributors. It will have two sandbox environments to make it easier to develop AI. A methodology will be provided to design AI components respecting EU values – inclusive and gender neutral.
The project started on 1 January 2019, and will deliver version 0 at the end of June 2019, V1 January 2020, V2 January 2021 and V3 December 2021. Industry will be represented by companies such as SAP and Siemens.
I noticed that there were few startups represented at the ERF. There is a startup competition, but I haven’t heard startups represented in the workshops where we share ideas. My guess is that it’s too expensive for startups to attend without providing immediate commercial value. But I also wonder if it’s because the pace of contribution of the EU projects is too slow for startups – all the projects take years to months and the outcomes are usually on too high a level to be used immediately. I think the EU can only harness the power of innovation in AI and Robotics by including the risk taking startup innovation layer and making it easier for us to understand and consume the vast amounts of research done. Then we need to be able to give feedback and improve the entire cycle together. As a startup, projects like this should be helping us to accelerate our development. But on the other hand we should be getting involved and demanding representation so that our needs can be addressed.
This past weekend, Vikram Radhakrishnan, Lukas Jelinek and myself, Thosha Moodley got together to try some robot app prototyping on the Anki Vector. The Vector is an adorable robot created by Anki, and a follow up to their first model, Cozmo. We are using it to produce a robot app prototype as a proof of concept.
Vikram, Lukas and Thosha with Anki Vector
Learning on the Vector has been great as it’s easy to get started and pretty cute. The main hassle is that the API requires Python 3.6 and not everything we want to work with is 3.6-ready. Also the API is in alpha state so still some incomplete features and bugs.
Our use case is based on the idea of a house sitter app which runs on the Vector or other robot hardware and helps keep an eye on important locations in the home. To get this working we had to get familiar with Vector’s camera and mapping features.
Vector builds a map by exploring the surrounding space. In the picture above you can see different colour codes on the map that represent what Vector knows about that space:
Dark grey – unknown
Green – no obstacles
Dark green – cliff
Red – obstacle cube
Orange – obstacle proximity
Yellow-green – obstacle proximity explored
Dark red – obstacle unrecognised
Black – cliff
Yellow – interesting edge
Dark yellow – non-interesting edge
Vector also has a remote_control app in the code samples – watch Vikram controlling it here:
Well, that’s all for now, be sure to stay tuned for updates on our robot application mission!