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Cognitive Systems has thus far been quite good; I love the Computer Science classes, and the philosophical issues we discuss are intriguing. But it wasn’t until this year that we really started down the path which most interests me: the construction of the remorseless mechanical slave-soldiers which will one day form the cruel, unfeeling fist of my tyrannical oligarchy. It should be stated that we have started at the very beginning of that path; the robots we are currently building in COGS 300 are several generations removed from the final (diabolical) product. But it is a start none-the-less.

The labs are really great. We’re in groups of three and we have two or three weeks to complete the robot, after which we compete with the other groups. Those rankings determines the order in which groups pick debate topics, so it gets quite competitive.

For the first lab, we had to build a bot which would find the light-source an approach it…. Fairly elementary stuff; in the end most of us built some form of modified Braitenberg machine. Ours compared the values between it’s two light sensors to determine the direction to turn. Most of the challenges came from the Lego mindstorms hardware itself: one of our motors ran at different rate from the other, which caused the robot to list slightly to the left. In the end this was the difference, and we were slightly behind the second place team. I cried bitter tears to an unfeeling sky.

At the end we strapped my cellphone to the robot to get a “terminator view”. It promptly crashed into a chair and fell over.

(click video to play)

For the second lab we were to navigate a maze taped out on some bristol board. The frustrating aspect was that we were only allowed to use internal representation: the bots could have no external sensors. So it became a frustrating affair of trying to perfect the commands. Of course, random variations meant that we could never get it perfect. We minimized these with our design; a high gear-ratio and slow speed meant we were better able to track the distance it was turning with the one rotational sensor we were allowed.

Our first run was perfect; we didn’t touch the line once. Of course, I wasn’t filming for that. This is our second run, which wasn’t nearly as impressive. We won the challenge on the merits of our first attempt.

Thanks to my group members, Cam and Andrew.