Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The robots are coming... And they’ve been programmed by 10 year olds!

On November 27th and 28th Bath University hosted the First Lego League, a worldwide annual event involving school children between 9-16 years old. It being a Lego competition, all robots must use the Lego RCX or NXT bricks for ‘brains’ and the rest of the robot must be built using only Lego parts. The kids then have to program the robots to successfully complete the various Nanotechnology missions.
The robot starts out from a base, and then races off to complete as many of the 9 missions as possible in the allotted 2 mins and 30 secs. Some mission examples include getting the robot to release a bucky ball containing smart medicine into bone marrow, start a molecular motor, initiate molecular self-assembly or test the strength of a nano tube.

Sounds complicated and very difficult even for such intelligent students of life as yourselves? Wondering how a 10-year old can do it? You will be amazed at what children can do! Yours truly happened to be refereeing the competitions over the two days the event ran for, and I have to say there was some ingenious work going on. The children were full of confidence and being cheered on by CBBC celebrities Anne Foyle and Ade Adepitan certainly seemed to help (not to mention all the chocolate, balloon fashion shows, URB music and pyrotechnics).
Surely these kind of events show that science can be fun, exciting and educational at the same time. Let’s hope that this event has inspired the next generation of roboticists and engineers to go on and create an (environmentally friendly and ethical) brave new world filled with the wonders of nanotechnology.

A LEGO tournament in action. This picture is not from Bath, but the setup is identical

The importantance of this was further stressed during a Bristol CafĂ© Scientifique evening (27th November) where Dr. Alan Winfield posed the question, “How would you feel if your robot vacuum cleaner asked you not to switch it off? We were given a brief history of modern robotics, including some of today's uncanny looking robots like Cronos (machine consciousness project, see also previous post) and EVA (an 'artificial empathasizer'). The discussion centred around the ethics of conscious machines and trying to figure out exactly what it all means (we don’t know). There was a clear schism between those who believed in the evolved (benevolent) robot kind and those fearing dehumanisation. These are very big questions indeed, and you might find their relevance tricky (unless you spend your time in Star Trek land where DATA rules). If they seem irrelevant to you, please read my previous entry which covers this subject in more depth.

Perhaps an anthropomorphic point of view will help you get the idea: spare a thought for the super-evolved IPodRobo which just loves to play music and wished you never, ever switched it off because then it feels so, so very lonely and sad...

Check out this video of EVA - a bit uncanny eh' ?

This article was originally written for the Bath University Student paper 'Impact'

Monday, December 04, 2006

Right, I've got another article to write but I think I'm going to do that later this evening or tomorrow... It's all about ROBOTS!! Which are coming to get us!!!
Well, guess what I got my first paper published (WoooHOO!). It's for The First IEEE Symposium on Artificial Life or Alife07 for short. Now, did you click on the link? Well if you did, then you'd see that the conference is in .... HAWAII.... I really really want to go, I think I should be able to afford it, the ticket is "only" around £500 so it is doable. I know you can always go to Hawaii, but when do you ever have an excuse?

Second bit of excellent news is that I got a new Job (Jubiidobidoo!). I shall from now on only be addressed as Miss Web-Author-at-BUCS (that's Bath University Computing Services, and yes, I hope you know that I'm kidding, I don't actually want to be addressed like that...).
I'll be rewriting the online documentation for them, together with another girl (whom I shall be meeting today, when I'll be receiving my training). It's all very exciting and good. I'll be working mostly from home, so it's also very convenient. And the people seem very nice, which is really refreshing from the previous job.

I even get to experience a proper Pagan Wicca ritual this coming Friday, courtesy of my new boss
It's something I've been interested in for a few years, but never really had an opportunity to explore properly, so I'm really glad that I'm finally given the chance to see what it's like.

And for your pleasure I have decided to start posting some of my culinary successes. The first dish is a puff pastry pizza, inspired by Gordon Ramsay:
  • Take one ready-made puff pastry dough, roll it out and mark out a 1cm edge using a sharp knife (without cutting through the dough).
  • Place in oven proof dish with fairly high sides, but don't worry about if you don't have one, a flat one will work fine too.
  • Brush (or in my case spoon as I don't have one of those fancy kitchen brushes...) some egg wash onto the edge (one egg yolk mixed with a couple of tablespoons of water, Ramsay only uses posh mineral water, but I'll use any ol' shit).
  • Heat up the oven to around 180C.
  • Now, Ramsay only uses butternut squash in his recipe, but I've been daring and used a bunch of different veg. In the pictured dish I have used butternut squash, courgette, red onions, tomato and swede. Cut them in to small but fairly chunky bits and shallow fry these until slightly softened.
  • Sprinkle some Oak Smoked Cheddar on the puff pastry and add the veg on top, sprinkle the veg mixture with sage (fresh is best, but whatever you got is fine).
  • Bake in the oven for 20mins or until the puff pastry looks done (that's all puffed up, brown - but NOT black) and sprinkle with more cheese just before you take it out.
  • Served here with oven baked beetroot, which I've then fried in balsamico and watercress.

Yummy for your tummy!!!