Meeting Minutes Feb 14, 2010

ChiBots Meeting Minutes – Sunday, February 14th, 2010

  The meeting was called to order by Salvador Garcia at 1315. All of the officers were present. The meeting proceeded following the agenda previously posted on the ChiBots website. There was an excellent turnout, especially considering that this was also Valentine’s Day, and roboticists are well known for their romantic tendencies. This is the first time that a meeting has fallen on Valentine’s Day since the club started in late 2000. It will not happen again until 2016.


Tony Stram gave the Treasurer’s report. The club is still solvent and details will eventually appear in the active member’s section of the website. 2010 dues are actively being collected ($20/year for individuals and/or families). The meeting sign-in sheet now shows paid up dues, since those members are the only ones eligible for a door prize drawing. Don and Royce have not yet been paid, but there are no other outstanding debts. The search for a new video projector has been put on hold for the time being, as the library has announced a new policy. If ChiBots notifies the library at least four days before a meeting, they will provide the projector and hookup at no charge.


Salvador noted that the ChiBots domain name is paid through 01/14/11. He is making arrangements for our registration to be continued via GoDaddy. Bill M’s offer to periodically host a Builder’s Day Out (BDO) in the basement of his condo was discussed by the group. Tony described the activities of a BDO, a number of which were hosted by Tom G at his Milwaukee (Oak Creek) place of business, and also by John K at his home. While several members indicated an interest, it was unclear whether or not the offer would be pursued. Hopefully this will be further discussed when Bill is able to attend a meeting. Salvador also noted that ChiBots has been invited by Triton College to present a workshop, which could be part of a BDO.


Al Schilling agreed to serve as Program Chairman for 2010. Al reminded the group that he enjoys building art robots. The one he brought in last year for Show, Tell and Ask (ST&A) with eyes on springy stalks was fondly remembered by many people. Al is looking for one or two folks with an interest in our programs to join him on the Program Committee. Salvador suggested combining the last two positions, those of Public Relations Chairman and Membership Chairman into a single position. The group voted to do so, but nobody has yet volunteered, or been appointed to the new position, which has yet to be named. The functions of this position may be critical to ChiBots’ future success. Volunteers are being sought for the committee and its chairman.


Salvador reminded the group of two coming events: Engineering Day at IIT from 1100-1530 on 2/20, and the CIRC games on 3/06. Several meetings ago Will F, a junior at UIC, had suggested that the robotics club there and ChiBots might exchange visits. He explained that this offer had to be withdrawn until at least next Fall, as the UIC robotics club members are currently otherwise involved.


As there were several new members and visitors, Salvador provided time for everyone to briefly introduce themselves and tell briefly about their interest in robots. As seen in the photo, this part of the group appears (for the most part) to be alert and participating in the meeting. However, the majority of those attending are not included in this shot, so no observations will be made upon their level of functioning.


Salvador then introduced Eric Gregori, the presenter for this meeting. Eric had developed his presentation with the expectation that a video projector would be available. However, this was not the case, as the members who usually bring a projector could not attend. Even with this significant handicap, Eric went ahead and presented a very complex topic that involved a walking robot (BRAT Jr) who’s movement is governed by input from on-board accelerometers. Several folks responded to numerous postings in the group email by bringing their webcams and laptops, with software already installed from Eric’s website. Eric provided five BRAT Jr robots, complete with high-level Freescale MCUs. These were used throughout the meeting under control of various members’ laptops. Eric then demonstrated a robot vision system that he had developed called “Robot See”. Members with laptops and webcams followed along with what Eric was showing, while other members gathered around the webcam-equipped laptops to observe the ‘action’ more closely.


To the left we see Eric holding forth, and to the right is the BRAT Jr next to his laptop, balancing on one leg courtesy of his on-board accelerometer. Toward the end of his talk, Eric demonstrated the robot’s ability to find, track and follow a face, as well as continuously direct a pointer at the center of the image being tracked. At the end of the presentation Eric invited folks who were interested to come up to the speaker’s table to closely examine some of the finer points of robot vision and facial recognition. When the presentation was completed, Eric most generously donated a fully functioning BRAT Jr robot to be given as a door prize.


The TagBot demo was postponed until at least the 3/14 meeting, as two of the folks with these bots were not able to attend on 2/14. Don is preparing a specification sheet for the TagBot, as the intention is that every single TagBot will have exactly the same hardware and software, the latter being two versions of the “play and interact” programs. These open source programs will run precisely the same on all standard TagBots, and are expected to allow both playful and emergent behavior to develop. For folks who cannot possibly resist any opportunity to compete, custom software can also be run. As mentioned last month, TagBots are fully capable of performing line following, or running a line maze with no physical alterations whatsoever needed. Many other behaviors are possible using just the Line Following Module and the bumper switches.


The meeting concluded with the usual Show, Tell and Ask, followed by socialization. As is usual during ST&A, many things robotic were shown , and some were demonstrated. Al S brought a marvelous robotic relic -- the TOMY Omnibot) from the ‘80s . It was complete with batteries, manual and action. While the underlying technology is rather simple by today’s standards, it nonetheless is capable of many complex behaviors. As is often the case, both homebrew and commercial controller boards were in attendance. None of the robots demonstrated were equipped with multiple programs, although this is considered necessary by some for competition in games where conditions and/or opponents might change between rounds (e.g., miniSumo).


Tony S used a black, foldout display board with white tape lines for his line following demo. He uses this during program development for his Pololu 3pi, in preparation for the upcoming CIRC games on March 6th. Due to the layout’s small size (3’ X 4’), the curves were made with a 3-inch radius (all ChiBots games use a minimum radius of 6 inches). The foamboard is lightweight, and remains relatively flat. It has a flat black finish, which to the human eye contrasts well with the shiny white tape. There was discussion re how the contrast might not be as great when viewed by an IR detector. Al R also brought his 3pi  to give the LF track a trial run.


Drawings for door prizes concluded the meeting about 1615, with no significant casualties. The BRAT Jr was won by Kyle F. Two MaxBotix sensors were given out in the drawing, to Terry J and Dave J. A copy of Make Magazine ended up with Al R.


Submitted 02/20/10

Don Kerste, Secretary