Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Where Next for Weatherbot

Following the Maker Faire in Newcastle we've been beavering away tidying up all the footage we shot, and also sorting out the code produced there so it's worth sharing. So now thoughts turn to where we can take the team to over the rest of the summer.

Barcamps are an obvious place, but for me at least maker Faire showed just how many more poeple can be enthused and inspired by 'home brew' tech. Of course, Barcamps are now spreading further afield- net weekend sees the first Bournmouth one! I guess given enough warning we could well take the weatherbot to a barcamp, especially if there was going to be a bit of a roboty/physical hackery focus.

I'd also like to explore the posibility of taking it along to a few Hackerspaces, and use it as a way of opening a relationship between us and this network of excellent communities across the world. My local Hackerspace- The Skiff- hosts the brighton Robotics community, and I really ought to get down there! In a few weeks I'm off to San Francisco, where (if Rowstar is very generous) I might try and catch up with the excellent Mitch Altman at Noisebridge and see how these spaces work on the US too.

Of course, the very excellent people at Tinker.it, Oomlout et al are already active in this space and we should see where they go and tag along, but while we ponder this, do please give us suggestions; I can't prommise we'll be able to take up every invite, but we'll try and spread the love around a little!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

More Media coverage

From Monday this week- Maker Farie uk on Click On, Radio Four.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Robot Chassis

Supplied by http://www.wonderlandmodels.com/ these are the chassis for the BBC Weatherbots. The smaller yellow one is still unconverted, but the big green and grey ones are actually the same once they're stipped to the chassis. This gives us skid steering, forward and reverse, and four other R/C channels to control (turrets get removed in the strip down, but the control signals remain on a handy plug!).

What is/was the weatherbot, part deux- the other demos

So, off we go and order all the component parts for our master plan, and we hit the first snag. You see, we're none us of paid a vast fortune in this job- it's a great job, and we're paid a living wage, but we don't have the personal cash reserves to order all these bits ourselves and claim back on expenses. And I'm not going to ask volunteers to cover credit card interest either. So we tried to use the BBC's procurement process.

If you've ever been a BBC supplier, you have my sympathies- the process is long winded and deeply bureaucratic. Somewhere, deep in the bowels of the accounting system, there is a perfect logical justification for the baroque complexities of the system, but for us, trying to buy unusual, one off purchases from components suppliers scattered across the globe, it was very much an encumberance rather than an enabler. In spite of our colleagues best efforts, Maker Faire minus five days rolled around before we had all components in the lab and ready to go. And then we discovered the somewhat rudimentary state of some of the kits.

Mid week team members were furiously surface mounting LED controller ships onto generic breadboards- a somewhat testing job at the best of times, and these were not the best of times, plus all we had to go on were a couple of data sheets- yup, kits with no instructions. At the same time, the coding elements of the team were champing at the bit to get to work, but had no hardware on which to test their code- bit of a log jam all around.

So this is where we broke into the 'emergency demo goodies' cupboard. Which is a fictional cupboard in @alteralias's head. Which is why, if you came to Maker Faire, you saw not just the BBCWeatherbot, but also the Virtual Steady Cam, Audio Visualisation, and Mini Multitouch demos!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

What was/is the weatherbot? Part 1

A few people have, quite sensibly, inquired into what exactly was the weatherbot, so here, in a series of glib and inaccurate simplistic generalisations is what we thought we’d do, what we ended up doing, and what we might like to try I the future:

We thought we’d make a system that would move around a large map drawn on the floor, identify locations on that map, check the state of the weather in the real world location correlating to the map location, and display the state of the weather on an LED array, by means of symbols (probably a lot like the BBC weather symbols). The weather state for the marked locations was to be maintained from data drawn from web sources automatically- RSS feeds being the obvious choice.

We thought this would be good for a few reasons-

  • It’s probably doable with little low power micro controller boards like arduinos, and we fancy playing with them.

  • It wizzes around and looks cool, so enthusing kids etc.

  • It potentially gets web data so builds on the Backstage Mashup thing.

  • It gives us a lot of base elements to build on in the future.

  • We get a big map of the whole UK, giving a message of inclusiveness.

  • We can let kids drive the robot, which get’s them involved (this later turned out to be not so good an idea.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Us on the Web!

Here's a few links to various video's of the event and us!
fivelive pods&blogs (Cheers Chris!)
Make Magazine
BBC News Online

And soon to appear on the World Service

Monday, 16 March 2009

Thanks to our fellow makers

One of the most amazing things about a maker faire is the fantastic cameraderie between all the exhibitors. On Saturday we wondered if we would get the weather bot running at all- by Sunday we had a design created by Jack who was running the comics workshop, and had passed that to Andy on the Hexray diy CNC stand, who fabbed us our fantastic BBCWeatherCockBot bodywork!

And the Oomlout chap even shared a spare robot with us, so our growing Manchester lab will have a robot too!

Photos to follow, but for now all praise to our fellow Makers!