I'm so incredibly jealous. Lady Ada over at AdaFruit Industries has all these great toys to play and experiment with, and she's figured out how to do it while enriching all of our hacker lives and making a little money to find more great stuff.
The 'toy' that triggered this post for me is some conductive rubber stretch cord that acts as a sensor. It's like being able to pull on the end of a resistor and have it's characteristics change linearly as it gets longer and shorter. Way cool! And it is incredibly cheap. She's priced it at less than ten dollars for a full meter and even includes a pair of alligator clips and a 10k resistor. Science teachers, for example, could dice it up and have enough for each student to have a piece for experiments.
The only drawback that I can see is that the sensor takes a little while to recover after being stretched, though I guess that could be compensated for in some applications by using two sensors in opposition.
As usual, the AdaFruit website has a great related tutorial page so you can learn while having fun.
If you want to get a broad overview and understanding of sensor technologies you might as well learn from the best. Luckily, the MIT OpenCourseWare program is dedicated to making the same educational material, including course outlines, readings, lectures, assignments, and often videos, that are used to teach MIT students both at undergraduate and graduate levels.
For example, one of the program's current offerings is "MAS.836 Sensor Technologies for Interactive Environments:
"This course is a broad introduction to a host of sensor technologies, illustrated by applications drawn from human-computer interfaces and ubiquitous computing. After extensively reviewing electronics for sensor signal conditioning, the lectures cover the principles and operation of a variety of sensor architectures and modalities, including pressure, strain, displacement, proximity, thermal, electric and magnetic field, optical, acoustic, RF, inertial, and bioelectric. Simple sensor processing algorithms and wired and wireless network standards are also discussed. "
The MIT OpenCourseWare program material is covered by their Creative Commons License, and the best part is that it's absolutely free. All you have to do is bring your own intelligence, curiosity, and dedication. You can't beat that.
I've used Google Sketchup in the past to design robot parts and sometimes to create 3D graphics to illustrate articles and manuals. It's extremly handy, easy to use, and the price is right. From time to time I run across other robot builders using it, but I'm not aware of any forum, blog, or website specifically devoted to robot design using Sketchup.
A good example would be the 'Design. Click. Build' Blog that features all types of tips, tricks, and techniques for applying Sketchup for woodworking. If anyone knows, or publishes, a similar website for robotics, please let me know.
Security Camera Warehouse, located in North Carolina, contacted us about their "Securing the Future" program, designed to encourage and support robotics teams as well as physics labs and science programs by providing free video cameras.
According to the program details:
"You have to be a University or High School to have guaranteed acceptance to receive the free cameras*. Club level robotics teams, optics labs, physics labs, and other programs can also apply but will be approved on a case by case basis. Club level teams need to be primarily educational in nature and have an emphasis on youth and young adults."
The program lists quite a few qualifying cameras and many of them appear to be easily adaptable to suit the needs of a robot surveillance project or remote telepresence application. Understandably, there are several restrictions shown on the website, including the requirement that receipients are limited to the US. Nevertheless, we think it's a great program and a great way for the company to support the robotics community. We wish other companies would follow their lead.
Next Sunday, May 15th, CNN will air what promises to be an insightful and tremendously relevant documentary titled "Don't Fail Me: Education in America". The program focuses on the status of U.S. public education and the critical need to take action, or face a depressing, despondent future.
Among the leading authorities interviewed for the program are Dean Kamen, well known inventor, creator of the Segway mobility platform, and founder of the FIRST Robotics initiative; US Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Ursula Burns, Xerox Corporation CEO; and many others.
Some of the quotes and concerns expressed during the program are a wake-up call and clearly demonstrate that the country is already deep in a state of crisis. For example, Duncan states, "it is amazing to me that at a time of high unemployment rates, we actually have over two million unfilled, high wage, high skilled jobs." Burns says that Xerox can't find enough skilled engineers in the US and that she is panic stricken about it.
Kamen took the initiative to start the FIRST Robotics program years ago because he saw the handwriting on the wall and felt personally compelled to take action. He says, "If we don't generate the next group of innovators, scientists, engineers, our standard of living, our quality of life, our security will plummet."
Note: If your browser doesn't play the embedded video above then view the trailer video directly on the CNN website.
The most compelling quote we've heard from the program so far came from Fredi Lajvardi, a FIRST Robotics coach that encourages his students to "dream big, be creative, and solve their own problems." Lajvardi says, "You decide what you're going to do. Not your condition, not your status, not your economic background, whatever, you decide what you want to do. That's what we're trying to teach them." The program, and the initiative that triggered it, is sure to be a boon to academic facilities that are positioned to fill the education gap, like the University of Phoenix San Diego and other similar organizations nationwide.
Whether or not you agree with the assumptions and conclusions of the program producers, we strongly urge you to watch. Even if you don't agree, the discussion and debate it can generate will be very productive and will raise awareness of the educational crisis facing the country.
Additional information including excerpts from the documentary can be found at www.cnn.com/inamerica.
The program is scheduled to air on Sunday, May 15th at 8:00 ET and PT on CNN and will re-air on the following Saturday, May 21st in the U.S.
We had the pleasure of meeting Matt Mets about a year ago when we visited Hack Pittsburgh, a burgeoning, exciting hackerspace. Matt impressed us with his knowledge, energy, and seemly endless enthusiasm. Luckily we were able to keep in touch, and became dedicated fans of his work, including his projects and Make articles. Later last year, Matt visited Tokyo as a member of the Hackers On A Plane group, and we had the chance to spend more time with him both at Tokyo Hackerspace and the Make Tokyo 06 event.
So, it was natural for us to visit Matt at the Makerbot Industries BotCave Headquarters during our Spring trip to New York this year. He generously showed us around the facility and consented to several video interviews. Here is the first session where we asked him about the company's evolution over the past year and how it's developing so rapidly based on the dynamically creative nature of Makerbot users:
During this interview, Matt mentioned Michael Felix's design and creation of a large geodesic dome with the connectors and key parts printed out using the Makerbot 3D printer. This was quite surprising since we had been conditioned to think of the Makerbot as only being able to print relatively small parts. Needless to say, we had to track down a video documenting the dome design and deployment:
Pretty amazing stuff. Definitely inspiration to make sure that we try to think outside the box - or outside the dome - as much as possible going forward.