NASA buys cutting-edge Cornish robot
To be dubbed Oooh-Arrr-2-D2, no doubt
In a triumph for West Country technical prowess and engineering knowhow, NASA has ordered a robot made in Cornwall. Here's a vid:
Admittedly the Cornish droid - a humanoid contraption powered by compressed air and known as RoboThespian - is not intended for use in space like the mighty, 12-foot-tall Canadian "Dextre" unit or the somewhat less impressive R2 "Robonaut". Rather, the RoboThespian is intended to wow visitors at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre on Cape Canaveral in Florida.
According to the contract award announcement, the space agency will pay $108,570 for the groundbased counterpart to the space station's R2 unit. No official NASA designation other than "Life Like Robot" has so far been promulgated, but given the machine's origins something along the lines of "Ooh-Aarr 2-D2" might perhaps be in order.
The RoboThespian, produced by Penryn firm Engineered Arts, is 5'9" tall, weighs 33kg and comes with a year's warranty once installed on its base. Prospective owners should be aware that it requires both a wall socket and a supply of compressed air, as well as somewhere to plug in its Cat5 network cable and a safety barrier "to prevent contact with visitors".
Readers may also be interested to note that the RoboThespian's central "motion storage and control" brain runs on a 1.6 gig Atom processor and includes 32 GB of solid state memory. There are also a brace of 800 MHz ARM processors for "eye screen and RGB face colour control" and a further 5 multicore processors for "motion and air valve control".
Software-wise, Engineered Arts boss Will Jackson tells us:
RoboThespian is built on Gentoo Linux - we have spent three years developing the core software which we intend to release open source around Xmas this year. The software will work equally well for programming hobby and research robots - it provides an abstraction layer between hardware and high level software, as well as a method for recording and mixing motion routines, controlling text to speech, speech recognition and face recognition and other 'intelligent' modules.
The main reason for not releasing the code OS to date is the incomplete documentation - we will also hope to include a binary package for Ubuntu. We also have a virtual RoboThespian built in Blender which we use to program the real thing.
Perhaps disappointingly given Cornwall's illustrious mining history, RoboThespian is made not of tin but aluminium (chassis) and vacuum formed Polyethylene Terephthalate (body shell). Full tech specs are available here in pdf for those who'd like to know more.
NASA is to be congratulated for not being U.S. centric
No one has the corner on ideas, even though Jobs might think so, and NASA, in it's wisdom of being open to all comers with good ideas - Canada with it's tried and tested Canadarm as well as the Dextre - is making another smart move.
Now, from Blighty, the Cornish RoboThespian to join other Cornish innovations which include the game of rugby, originated in Penzance; one of the earliest water closets (WC) at Arwenack Manor, Falmouth; discovery of substance manaccanite, at Manaccan in 1790, now known as titanium; the first passenger carrying steam engine known locally as the puffing devil at Penydaren; perfecting the process of refining soap (Pears).
My personal Cornish favourites are The Pastie and The Cream Tea.
Amazing how low tech the US is ...
I recall being gobsmacked, years ago - 1990 -, on my first US visit to watch some "tomorrows's world" programme where the presenters were creaming themselves over the fact that US scientists had found a way to encode data into the 4 unused scan lines in a TV picture, and that they were suggesting this could be used (with compatible TVs) to transmit, news and weather.
It finally dawned on me that that had just invented Ceefax ....
Americans love buy American
But rarely understand that buying American means components come from elsewhere.
They really do believe they make everything somewhere in the US because they are so awesome.
It literally shocked somebody to the core when they were told at Disney World when I was there that although Disney made the software (cough) for little Crush to talk the PCs were HP and therefore from China. "but HP is American came his reposte" I sniggered...loudly.