ChiBots Meeting Minutes – Sunday, May 16, 2010

The meeting was called to order by our President, Salvador G at 1305.  All of the officers and the Competition Chairman were present.  This meeting was a week later than usual due to Mother’s Day falling on the second Sunday of May, as it does every year.  The turnout was disappointing, although this often happens when our meeting is displaced from its usual time.  Also, several members who would otherwise be present chose instead to see the presentation on Friday or Saturday, when it was given in nearby towns. 

Our Treasurer, Tony S, gave his report.  There were no expenditures for the month.  Dues have been collected from 19 members since January 1, 2010.  As noted in our previous minutes, the sign-in sheet now indicates paid up dues, since only those members are eligible for a door prize drawing.  Don and Royce still have not yet turned in their expenses.

Our officers met with representatives of Triton College on the evening of April 21st.  Angel Guma runs their Tryonix (electronics) club, while Mike Erzen represented the Art Department.  Many possibilities were discussed during the 45 minutes.  ChiBots is looking for a convenient place to hold Robot Builders’ Day Out (RBDO) sessions.  Triton has a complex of rooms that include a machine shop and electronics lab, plus an associated build area with large tables.

Tony again reported on subsequent progress.  As noted last month, the shop area is not available on Fridays or weekends over the summer.  However, after school reopens in September, ChiBots may be able to hold RBDOs on Saturday afternoons, 1300-1700 on a monthly basis.  In turn, ChiBots could provide robotic presentations and demonstrations for student members of the Tryonix Club, and could also provide mentoring (when requested) for student projects.  Triton students would be welcome at our RBDOs.

Salvador reminded the group that our SRS RoboMagellan competition is scheduled for July 24th at the Moraine Valley Community College, with a backup date of July 17th.  Per KJohn, these dates have been confirmed by the Dean, but the MVCC board has still not given final approval.  In the past we have had people from MN, IA, WI, IN and IL participate, and this year someone from SW Ontario is also planning to attend.  Eric G has agreed to make a presentation on RoboMagellan at the July 11th meeting.

At the president’s request, Don gave a brief review of our adventures at iHobby Expo last year, where ChiBotica was conducted over a two-day period.  We had entrants from CA, MA, KS, MI, IN, WI and IL.  Mike Davey demonstrated his Nickel-o-Matic and Dan Toborowski (president of CIRC) brought his Marble Maze.  Mike has agreed to a repeat this year (including his Turing Machine), but nothing yet from Dan.  The iHobby Expo show manager has confirmed that we are invited back in October, and said nothing about a change in booth size.  Therefore, we can plan to again occupy a 20’ X 40’ space, unless we are otherwise informed.

Don reminded everyone of his group email sent at the end of October last year stating that he would not be repeating as iHobby liaison.  This was also reported in the November meeting minutes.  It now is time to find someone else to take over these duties.  Much of the work has already been done.  The layout is planned, all of the materials are stored in one location (courtesy of Tom G), and display boards, signage, static displays, etc are complete.  A two-page document has been prepared that covers details of iHobby Expo and ChiBotica.  Don will be available for consultation.  Salvador stated that he would be posting a request for a volunteer to assume the liaison position.

Salvador reminded us that the Embedded Systems Conference is coming to the Rosemont Convention Center on June 7-9, at the same time that the Sensors Expo will be there.  Registering for the exhibits (free) for either conference gives access to both exhibit halls.  As previously noted, other than the free, 0900 Tuesday keynote address, one cannot attend the actual conference sessions of either group without paying a substantial fee.  Parking in the Convention Center Garage (directly across from the entrance, and connected by an overhead walkway) is $13/car.  Some members report parking in the CTA lot to the north (east side of street) for $5 and walking the two blocks on days when it is not raining.  In the past both of these conferences have had excellent exhibit areas. There are usually some free items to pick up, including state-of-the-art SMD devices (individually packaged, with summary data sheets) at the TI booth.

Salvador then introduced Jonathan Green, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Sideshow Theater Company.  Jon described a play, Heddatron, that they are planning to produce in 2011, either at Steppenwolf Garage Theater (on N Halsted), or at the DCA Storefront Theater (on E Randolph).  These venues have about 100 seats.  Heddatron was first produced in New York City in 2006, and employs the services of six robots, two of these standing 5-6 feet tall, with two more being shorter, and finally two more small robots (a broom and a clump of vines).  All of the robots must be mobile, and capable of remote control.  Other than move, little is required, although Jon would like the two largest to be able to gesture with one arm.  ChiBots is being asked for assistance in developing these robots.  The club itself will not attempt this task, but all members and affiliates of ChiBots are invited to participate as individuals in this unusual activity.  Our help would mostly relate to the design of three sizes of mobile, remotely-controlled platforms.  Jon would ask others to develop the robot bodies.  Everyone who is interested can contact our president, who will pass along the information to Jon.

Next was the May presentation by Mike Davey, designer and builder of A Turing Machine.  Mike attempted to closely follow Alan Turning’s 1937 theoretical description (see < www.aturingmachine.com/ >).  With one exception (he couldn’t find an affordable tape of infinite length) his machine seems to be essentially the same as what Turing discussed 73 years ago.  If so, it is the first time that this has been accomplished, as the earlier LEGO machine does not conform to Turing’s description.

One skeptic noted that Mike has a Parallax Propeller processor ’hiding’ in the console, which would, in his estimation, nullify the entire apparatus.  This indeed might by the case if the MCU were being used for calculations.  However, the MCU only controls the Machine’s mechanical aspects, runs a display and allows ready user access to several of the built-in features.  Turing did not describe how the mechanical elements of his ‘machine’ were to be controlled, as he did not intend for his ”thought experiment” to ever be constructed.

Mike explained how he decided to design and build his machine.  Most of this process was accomplished using about two hours per day, over the course of three months, with design and build time running somewhat over 150 hours.  Additional time was spent in finding parts, very few of which are new.  The entire machine was constructed without the use of written plans, or diagrams, except for a single sketch of a subtle mechanical aspect.  Mike has had to turn down many requests for build plans, as there are none.  There has been worldwide interest in this machine, with perhaps 200,000+ viewings of his website, plus numerous emails.

A Turing Machine can accomplish any calculation that can be performed by a digital computer, and is the theoretical basis of modern computer science.  It is interesting to note that Turing’s initial publication of his thought experiment predated development of the first fully-operational, stored program digital computer by about ten years.  After the formal, well-illustrated Power Point-assisted presentation, Mike gave a demonstration of A Turing Machine’s operation to an eager audience.  As one member stated, it is a wonderful example of kinetic art, while another marveled at his close contact with a piece of ‘living’ history.

Show, Tell and Ask was informal and unstructured.  The Nickel-o-Matic was up to its old tricks.  Mike programmed it to print wooden nickels with the meeting date.  It responded very nicely to coins, and on occasion spontaneously ‘coughed up’ another wooden nickel in response to a camera flash.  Mike said that it had printed about 300 coins on the previous day at the “Unofficial Propeller Expo” held in Ottawa, IL.

Roger Barski brought in a prototype mock-up (at least we think that it was a mock-up, per the cardboard section on top) of “NOSEY”.   This is a model of an underwater vehicle that will be used by his archeology group to help explore shipwrecks lying on the floor of south-western Lake Michigan.  NOSEY had some competition from a colorful little bot equipped with thrusters, ballast tanks, camera, etc.  This is the brainchild of Cory and Karl D, and is designed to explore the confines of a swimming pool, or plunge into the cold, murky and uninviting depths of Lake Michigan, or even Lake Wobegone.  At this time there are no dive planes, as this vehicle is intended to sink at a rate controlled by its negative bouyancy, and maneuvered via the three small thrusters.

The door prize was won by Don K (a MaxBotix EX3 sensor).   Although he indicated a willingness to provide an extemporaneous, 20-minute speech of gratitude, extolling the virtues of door priziness and generally good things inherent in the meeting experience, other members strongly discouraged this offer.  Volunteers were enlisted to help Mike move his machines to the snug quarters of his 65 mpg vehicle (a 2006 Honda Insight Hybred).  Thus the members parted, after noting the next meeting date four weeks hence, June 13th.