Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Free Robot for Everyone

What's better than building and playing with your own robot? Letting someone else build it, someone who then lets you take the controls. So who would do something like that? Michael Shiloh would. And does. He lives in the capital of the Left Coast, but you don't need to step anywhere near San Francisco to log some playtime with his robot. Just go to http://www.linuxrobots.org. This is Michael's website and where he tells you all about his homemade robot, how to log in to it, and actually issue commands to control it. If you know a little Linux or some other kind of UNIX, you'll be quite comfortable inside the robot brain. If you can code C (probably the most utilized and certainly the most august of all programming languages), you can write and try out your own programs. If not, you can still read and run the code that other visitors have written and store there. To see the programs in action, another page on the website provides a robot's eye view through a live webcam mounted on it. Non-geeks can check in here to see the world through the robot's eye and from this strange perspective watch what other people are making the robot do. Michael doesn't let the robot travel out in the wild, liberal streets of San Francisco. Not yet anyway. For now the robot's confined to Michael's crowded home office. Because the whirring and bumping into things interfered with the family's sleep, Michael shuts the robot down at night and turns out the lights. I find this allowance for human needs and dependence on the sun comforting, a small escape from the 24x7 cyberworld. Unfortunately, this means that folks on the far side of the planet, in Australia and Indonesia, have to stay up late or get up early to view the robocam, but everyone in the world can still log into the robot and read or craft code at any and all hours of the day or night. There are many more interesting Linux robot pages at http://www.linuxrobots.org, including photos, documentation, instructions on how to build your own, a parts list, links to other sites on robotics, and quite a bit more. The website runs wiki software, meaning that anyone on the internet can add to the knowledge contained in those webpages. For those wanting to play around with a robot without getting your hands dirty and without the expense, for anyone curious about how internet technology can be used to organize a collaborative effort, Michael's is a very interesting place.

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