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What I’ve Been Up To For the Past 2 Years. Hint, it’s mostly robotics

I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 years since I’ve posted on my own site. I have made a couple posts to the Nomad site (http://nomadrobot.info). This is what happens with chronic procrastination. There have, obviously, been a lot of things going on the past couple years. I’d like to be able to say there have been more updated in other places and that’s why they haven’t been here, but that would be a lie. So, what I’m going to do here is run down what I have been up to for the past 2 years, then outline some of the projects I am working and that are coming up (especially since they are, more or less, one and┬áthe same).

The Robot Group

To start off with, The Robot Group. They were foolish enough to vote me in as their president. Or I was foolish enough to let them, I haven’t quite figured that out. But, as a result, things are already shaking up.

As the VP, my mantra was, “build, build, build.” Or, just as frequently, “If you built, they will come.” The goal was to drive membership through group activity. If new folks come by and see we’re and active group, they’ll come back. And that worked to a limited extent. We have grown our numbers, some, though not as much as I would like. Though, if I’m being completely honest, we are starting to max out the classroom at the Hackerspace.

When excepting the P and dropping the V, I made it quite clear that the drive for activity was not going to slow down. In fact, the impetus is now being placed on group leadership. I’ve convinced Mike to accept the role of VP, and this was done due to his supreme organizational skills and his experience as a professor at St. Edwards University. Bonus, it turns out his wife has a lot of experience in K-12 education. Which aligns nicely with plans and goals for the group.

TRG leadership now meets monthly, so we are actually getting things done. One of the first initiatives is to work on our image. I am trying to get our folks to think about how we look to the public and trying to put a professional polish on our displays. We’ve added a new center piece for our larger shows; essentially a 4′ x 4′ x 8′ tall pillar with a 6′ x 6′ x 2′ cap with new TRG banners around it. At SXSW Create, this year, it was pretty impressive, even in its in-progress state.

The other thing we will be implementing, along these lines, is something I’m calling “The Four Pillars of Robotics.” These pillars, for the purpose of our display, are industrial robotics, research, education, and arts & entertainment. What this will do is allow us to organize the displays a little better, create categorical themes, and develop graphics, marketing material, and/or branding around these themes. That is one of the next steps for the booth set-up.

Other Robotics

Outside of The Robot Group, I have my other robotics projects happening.

Nomad, of course, is the big one. For a complete update on Nomad, go to its site at http://NomadRobot.info. In short, however, Nomad has gone through several iterations, mostly based on the main processor. Originally it was going to be based on an Android phone, but I didn’t have time to learn Java or Android. Then it was going to be based on an Intel Edison, but that wasn’t ready for the hobby market. There were just too many critical functions not available or that were overly cryptic for my neophyte understanding of Linux. So, on to the Raspberry Pi. But, this was woefully under-powered for my use, even with a small stack of them (at that time. I think the Pi 3 has some great potential for other, less intense projects). Then, after last year’s SXSW, I was convinced to go try out the NVidia Jetson. So, between the Jetson and the stereo camera, there’s a whole new form factor. Add to that the suspension change that happened, it’s a completely different bot. But check out the other site for more detail.

I continue my quest for the best educational platform to both learn and teach robotics. Once upon a time I was going to use the Arduino, low hanging fruit and all. But that just proves too limiting. Besides, there are hundreds of tutorials on getting started with Arduino. No, instead I went a little more complex. I am currently developing a series of workshops on using the Raspberry Pi 3 as a robotics platform.

These workshops are being presented at TRG meetings, twice monthly. So far we’re six lessons in and things are going pretty well. In fact this has led to another project, which I’ll be expanding on shortly. Point is, Raspberry Pi robot, that I’m calling the RasBot Pi, is being developed. The nice thing about this project is it’s scalable. Though it’s initially being built on a 5″ disc platform, it can easily be ported to BARB, the 24″ disc platform I’ve been working on intermittently for the past 4 years.

In addition to these, which are the lions share of my personal robotics work, I spend time, here and there, on other robotics projects.

I am writing periodic reviews for different robotics projects for Servo Magazine. In fact, I’ve got a scanning laser rangefinder that desperately needs my attention. One of these articles was the Mantis chassis from Servo City. Nomad may be ported over to this chassis simply because it’s bigger and a little more capable than even the modified Nomad chassis from which the project got its name.

There’s also Bad Egg, which is an experiment in using a modified┬árobotic arm as a quadruped or hexapod style robot. There’s still a lot of work (and laser cutting) that needs to happen for this. But, if it works out, it may become a generic platform for other projects and experiments.

And then there’s home automation. I recently invested in a couple Amazon Echo devices with the goal of automating my home. In fact, I’m hoping to take it further than your average home automation and work toward the home promised us by science fiction. All those years watching sci-fi shows about our possible futures, Star Trek, Star Wars (which isn’t our future, but still inspirational sci-fi), Firefly, etc., etc., have driven me to want to make some of that a reality. And with the current state of tech, the accessibility for tinkerers and makers, like myself, now is the time to start making this stuff happen. So, I’m making it happen in my home. Who knows, with a little luck, it may be more than just my home.

Chupacabracon

Less robotics and more, “taking up a lot of my time,” I am the chair of Chupacabracon this year. That means the first half of the year, when not getting TRG ready for either SXSW or Maker Fair, my time is eaten up by getting us ready for the convention in May. After May things tend to calm down, in general. Thankfully, Sheena is co-chairing with me. She has done such a great job for the first three years, but with her new family, she just doesn’t have the bandwidth to chair this year. So, I am doing my best to step up. There’s a lot to do here, and little to say. If you want to know more, or even register to attend, go to http://Chupacabracon.com.

Writing

Lastly on my short list of things happening (that don’t include my day job at a certain Round Rock, TX based technology company, now the largest in the world), is writing. I’ve already mentioned the articles for Servo Magazine and the workshops for TRG. Well, the workshops include a series of workbooks. One of our members, Andre LaMothe, an accomplished writer himself, read one of the workbooks and has convinced me that I need to write a book. I’ve floated the same workbooks by a major publisher of technical books, and they seem interested. I am now in the midst of planning out the book and putting together a proposal. We’ll see how that goes.

Conclusion

With all of that written and done, don’t be surprised to see this article become the opening article of a new site. As much as I like CicolaniStudios, it’s hard to remember and type. So I will be launching a new site, very soon, at JeffsRobots.com. This new site will serve as my general, technology based blog, as well as, possibly, a store for robotics kits of my own. CicolaniStudios will then turn into an index site, directing folks who stumble across it to the various other web properties.

Robot Group Chooses New VP

December every year an Austin local robotics club holds its annual banquet and member meeting. This is the first year I was able to attend and, as is not uncommon when I get involved with a group like this, I left the event with some authority and duties.

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