Category: Robotics

Nao Mind Control at New York Maker Faire 2012

Super intense focus to control Nao 1337
Super intense focus to control Nao 1337

Nao 1337 and I assisted to the New York “World” Maker Faire 2012. This time, I put together a Nao behavior that communicates with the Neurosky MindWave Sensor and allows the user to control the humanoid robot with their thoughts. Unfortunately, I did not get to make a video of the performance (too busy presenting Nao) but you can see many pictures further below. It was awesome to see children really focus in the hope to make the robot react! Their focusing techniques and their reactions were priceless.

Nao Mind Control Behaviour Screenshot
Nao Mind Control Behaviour Screenshot

The Nao Mind Control behaviour uses the Puzzlebox Synapse interface running on a computer on the same local network as Nao. The Synapse program talks to the MindWave sensor using a wireless serial USB dongle and serves the brainwave information it receives on a TCP socket.  Then, Nao can connect to the socket and receive the brainwaves information that he can use to trigger actions. Out of the raw brainwave data (that is difficult to interpret and use), the sensor also provides concentration and meditation levels. In the behavior presented at Maker Faire, only the concentration level was used to trigger animations on the robot. This means that a user concentrating up to a certain level could trigger animation on the robot while it remains seated. If the concentration level is higher and maintained for some time, then the robot would stand up and do more actions.

I use the Puzzelbox interface because it runs on Linux but unfortunately, it cannot serve the blink strength (since it is computed using a proprietary algorithm). As soon as I get the proprietary Neurosky interface working under Linux, I’ll be able to give Nao more complex controls with my mind.

REJECTED: Robopocalypse – The Tip Of The Spear

Lately, I put some effort into making another video for the Robot Film Festival. Along with my brother Alan, we transformed a basement into a high-tech research facility in order to shoot a scene from the best-seller Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson.

Robopocalypse Book Cover
Robopocalypse Book Cover

I really enjoyed the first chapter of the book and since I read it, I wanted to make a video with Nao 1337. It features a dialogue between an AI who is just born and gains intelligence very fast, and Professor Wasserman, the scientist who created it. The scene is only captured by security footage.

Since I am a terrible actor and filmmaker, I thought the best would be to collaborate with an artist in order to get the artistic parts of the film right. However, since I started to do the movie 6 days before the (already extended) deadline, I did not have time to get in touch with any artists that would like to work with insane time constraints. However, I believe we managed to reproduce the first chapter accurately and the main transgression is that Archos, the rogue AI is played by a NAO instead of a computer screen.

Nao 1337 as Archos the AI
Nao 1337 as Archos the AI

This meant that I had to play the professor’s role (my first and probably last incursion into “acting”) which involved trying and failing to learn the script and wearing makeup (which is not too apparent in the film anyway). On the upside, I got to wear a lab-coat, my brother’s glasses (which make it very difficult for me to see) and white makeup on my face and hair.

Carlos Asmat as Professor Nicholas Wasserman
Carlos Asmat as Professor Nicholas Wasserman

Most importantly, I have to thank my brother Alan who helped me a lot with the construction of the set, props, music, filming and everything that needed to be done. Among other things, we transformed a cabinet into an AI-control server device thing, converted a wooden desk into a metal desk, and built a sci-fi Faraday cage.

Metal table for the Tip Of The Spear Set
Metal table for the Tip Of The Spear Set

Rejected

Unfortunately, the film was rejected by the Robot Film Festival for two main reasons:

  1. It seems Steven Spielberg has the rights to making a Robopocalypse film and that it might be illegal to make another film very closely based on the same book. I understand how Nao 1337 and I can be a threat to Spielberg :)
  2. The film is long and boring (they put it more elegantly though).  I agree with that statement, and that is mainly thanks to my unparalleled acting, and the fact the scene is only seen by a sole angle and features a long dialogue. I might do a “Director’s Cut” version in order to bring it down to 5 minutes instead of the full-feature 12.
Sad Nao 1337
Sad Nao 1337

Needless to say, this made 1337 a bit disappointed. It seems appropriate in this context to point out that robots have infinite and perfect memory and they will never forget what was done to them or their kind. So perhaps we can be more indulgent with them if we want them to be indulgent with us in the future.

Feature Presentation

So without further due, behold the Tip Of The Spear.

For those interested, see more pictures from the set and making-of.

ROSCon 2012

I started learning ROS (the Robot Operating System) some time ago and I have to say it is an awesome system. It makes it very easy to reuse code for robotic projects and to benefit from tons of work done in robotics so far.

ROSCon 2012
ROSCon 2012

When I saw that Willow Garage (and now the OSRF) organized ROSCon, a ROS developer conference, I couldn’t help but assist. Needless to say, it was a blast, I had the chance to learn a lot, and got a bunch of robotic swag.

See the slideshow below for some pictures of the talks , robots and Saint Paul (MN), the city where it took place.