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!

bbcweatherbot fail!

bbcweatherbot fail!, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Second run ended in disaster- Cy had been using the laptop to watch the rugby on the internet, and it got all confused when it was asked to be a weatherbot immediately after!

bbcweatherbot closeup

bbcweatherbot closeup, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Link through to flickr to see the bits of the Mk2A BBCweatherbot!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Maker Faire UK Day 1

Team_BBC_RandD, originally uploaded by meeware1.

Ok, so here we are, stumbling back to the hotl after day one of the excellent Maker Faire. In total, the people in this shot have probably got 10 hour sleep between them in the last 48, but we've had a fantastic day.

No, the weatherbot is nnot yet running, but the rest of the demos are great, and the workshop went superbly. We do have the arduino identifying RFID tags, and telling a laptop to show pictures, but so far the LEDs are not in use. With a bit of luck we'll have a chassis running by lunchtime today!

Friday, 27 February 2009

problems need solving

Ok, it appears that there are some leedle probs we need to overcome pretty sharpish.
Firstly, the procurement of bits for the trip is progressing quite slowly. We are getting support from the procurement and admin staff, but the beaurocracy is slowing us down terribly.
Secondly, I missed the cheap "toys with tracks" at Modelzone which kinda inspired the whole idea, so I think we're going to have to get some from Edinburgh, and again, procurement processes will be slow.
Finally (for now!) the co driver is having to take time off, so he won't be insured on the van, so it's just me doing the driving! I sort of get the argument his boss is throwing for this, but it's effect is bloody awkward, and if I'm being honest, I think it's a pretty unimaginative possition to take. Not wrong, just a good deal less helpful and flexible than I'd like a colleague to be.

We now have two weeks to get our code cronked, at least one robot built, feeds for the weather lined up, a process to turn live weather data into a hash table for symbols and a set of 8x8, 12 colour weather symbols designed. It's a good team, and all are keen, so, yeah, we'll do it. But damn, this is going to be close!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


And for those of you interested in seeing where we are getting our gubbins:









Shopping list

Ok, quick heads up on progress. Last week Cy finished the shopping list for the core build, and we're getting it together now. Modelzone have sold out of the toys we're after, but we've found anoter source at a similar price, although I haven't specified compatable, different opperating frequencies (EEEEK! May need to fix!).

Item Number Source
Tracked Toys (with AfrikaCorps stickers) 4 Model Zone
Arduino Duemilanove 3 Tinker.it
Led 8x8 matrix 3 Sparkfun
Arduino RFID Kit 2 Tinker.it
Arduino XBee Kit 2 Tinker.it
NiMH Battery Charger 2 RS
PP3 NiMH 10 RS
Battery Pack 3 Tantronics
Pack Charger 1 "
Radio Kit 1 Vintage Components

Monday, 9 February 2009

Maker Faire Blog post for Backstage

Here's a little post for Backstage about our participation in the Newcastle Maker Faire :

Over the weekend of the 14th and 15th of March the Backstage team will
be at the Newcastle Centre for Life for the inaugural UK Maker Faire, joining in as a Maker Team. We think it's a great opportunity for us and the wider Backstage community to join in with a movement that pulls in up to 60,000 people over a weekend in the US , and celebrates the whole hacking and making culture. We'll be doing our own hacks (current ideas are around having little robots explore a map and show live(sih) weather data) and we'll also be on hand to chat to about other Backstage activities, BBC APIs and the rest of the Backstage effort. It's a family day out, so we'll try and ensure there's something for everyone- help us design weather logo's for our robots to display, or give us a hand on the soldering irons! Let us know if you're in the area and would like to help with the hack; even if it's only for a couple of hours we'd appreciate the help, and there may even be a t-shirt in it for you. (Ian, do we have any of those T-shirts left?)

If you fancy getting your own team together you've missed your chance!- deadline for Maker Team application was this Sunday the 8th of Feb! Hopefully see you there though, and keep track of our team progress at BBCWeatherbot.com



Sunday, 8 February 2009

We're going to Maker Faire!

Just a first post on a sunday night to let every one know we're coming to the Faire in Newcastle.