Photovoltaic environment-aware robot bug, I feel you, bro

This nifty robot is remarkably similar to my design in many ways. In terms of control strategy, it has two sensors that more-or-less directly control wheel direction (which is exactly how mine was going to work until I complicated it by deciding to make it balance), it is aware of its environment (hey, how much awareness do you need) and it’s designed — by using onboard photovoltaics — to be basically autonomous and self-sustaining. The larger robot that I’m currently building the prototype for is also intended to be photovoltaically charged, with the idea that I can set it loose at burning man loaded up with ice cold cocktails or other desirable goodies, and let it live — in a world of human predators who want its precious bodily whatever — by its wits (which wits basically consist of “run away from everything”, but whatever) for the duration of the event.

One big difference between this robot and mine turns out to be the BEAM design philosophy, which eschews microprocessors and high-end logic in favor of robust design. I certainly hope my robots will be robust, but when I was thinking of doing this in a much faster and dirtier way than I am now, I definitely didn’t imagine needing anything as powerful as an Arduino to control it. A combination of things (using an Arduino for the Baconator lighting rig, falling in love with the lifelike aesthetics of nBot) convinced me to go with the more complex design, but I couldn’t say with any certainty that it won’t turn out to be a big mistake.

The control system for RugBug is based, I assume, from designs used in several classic experiments by Braitenberg that more-or-less developed the concept of emergent behavior. Using two light sensors literally wired directly to the wheels, you’re able to create a robot that exhibits complex behavior (seeking darkness, running away from light) so effectively that an updated version has actually been used to integrate socially with real cockroaches.

Between all this and the cockroach controlled robot, maybe Yglesias should be worried that the robot holocaust and the only-the-roaches-survive nuclear holocaust are not only the same, but likely to be initiated by a sinister allegiance between the machines and the arthropods.


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