A Little Bit About Me and What I'm Interested In
My Early Technology Experiences
I am a middle aged guy who has been playing around with technology and robotics most of my adult life. During my childhood no-one had any sort of home computer, although my Father did work for a major bank in their first computing division. Towards the end of my schooling I was able to get an Atari 400 home computer. That was it I was hooked on computers. Moving from the Atari 400 to an Atari 800 help me develop my development skills in forth and basic programming languages and also allowed me to become friends a number of the people who were leading the hobby home computer arena.
With a little help from two of these friends, I built a Z80 based CP/M computer. I pushed the boat out and had 64kb of RAM and went for the latest removable storage option with 5.25 inch floppy disks. I was pretty cutting edge, most people where still using 8 inch floppy disks lol. As my interested develop and I left college (I had studied to be a dental technician and had specialised in Orthodontics) I was able to start looking at assembler and other development tools.
By my early 20's I had upgrade to a 8086 based PC running GEM and had changed careers away from Dentistry and into computing. My first job being a hardware engineer for ICL on mid range systems. Being at ICL, I was able to see the evolution of the desktop computer, see the introduction of the PC and work on some of the earliest versions of Microsoft Windows. It also gave me the advantage of being able to indulge my love of tinkering.
One of my first PC's was an Amstrad 1640, with a black and white (well grey and off-white) CGI monitor. A whole 640 by 480 screen and the system had 2 ISA bus expansion slots. As an avid tinkerer I was thumbing through a Maplin catalogue one day and came across an electronics kit for an ISA PIO card with 15 switchable output lines that each could deliver 5 volts at about 0.5 amp (I think that was it but it may well have been at lower ampage). I got one, built it and started programming. First project just turned on a few bulbs from torches I scavenged from around my parents house. Project number two involved a relay and turning a motor on and off. That was it I was hooked. I had found something I really wanted to explore, how to get the computer out of the box.
For the first few years it was a case of what I could beg, borrow or steal...... well beg and borrow. For two main reasons:
I had very limited funds
There were very limited resources available for hobby robotics, especially in the UK
Thankfully, I stumbled across a company called Milford Instruments who had a product called the StampBug. A 3 servo, six legged walking robot controlled with a basic stamp micro controller. After cutting my teeth on the StampBug I was able to get my hands on a Lynxmotion 12 servo hexapod with a Basic Stamp BS2 processor and some sonar sensors. From there it all sort of got out of control. I still have the original 2 hexapods I built and many robots have come and gone in the interim. B.E.A.M robots interested me for a while, with the ability to fashion them from old electronic junk, but ultimately I was heading towards the holy grail of walking robots, the Biped Humanoid.
In the late 1990's I tried and failed to build a walking biped using standard 4kg per cm torque servos. The basis was sound I think, and subsequently I discovered I was not the only one trying this. By the mid 2000's there were a number of biped humanoid kits on the market. I still have a Hitec RoboNova 1, and also regularly use a Robotis Bioloid Humanoid, which I was lucky enough to be part of the initial test group for. So along with the Hexapod's, an Aibo 210, a tracked platform that I am developing a vision system on, and of course the two bipeds, I have found I have had much enjoyment over the last 20 or so years.
But one thing has eluded me. It's that Asimov moment from Bicentennial Man, the moment when you realise that the interesting and technically engaging experiment has a personality. All my robots have quirks but the technology for me to build a walking humanoid robot, that has enough processing power for a simulated(?) personality and the ability to function on a daily basic, has just been out of my hobbyist skills and budget. Wouldn't we all have loved to have created Asimo....
So we finally get to one of the primary reasons for this blog/web site. I have been accepted on to the Aldebaran Robotics Developers Program for their NAO robot. Finally a programmable robot that has the power to have a personality. Have a look at the video below and I think you'll agree he already has one, but he is also an open programming environment to allow the experimentation in, and progress of, humanoid robot acceptance in our society. So I hope you will join me for what will be far too few updates of this blog detailing my experience with NAO and, of course, the other band of disfunctional robots around the house.
All the best