Understanding Genetics – Daniel Dennett Interview

These are some excerpts from an interview with Daniel Dennett. The series are titled Understanding Genetics. Points of View. Source: www.thetech.org/genetics.

Questions are very much related with the content of two of the Books written by Dennett: ‘Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life’ and ‘Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’.

  • Part 1: What is it about Darwin’s Idea that is so dangerous?

  • Part 2: You’ve described the design of natural selection as “brilliant” but “mindless”. Can you explain?


Orgel’s Second Rule: Evolution is cleverer than you are. Francis Crick (British molecular biologist, 1916-2004 ) quoted by Daniel C. Dennett in Elbow Room (1984).

  • Part 3: How do you explain evolution to skeptics? How can you convince them? Can you?

There exist more parts of this interview but as they are more related to religions I haven’t added them here.

MobileRobots Pioneer 3 (P3 DX)

The Pioneer 3 DX is a robot base platform by MobileRobots Inc. (ActivMedia Robotics). This wheeled robot has been updated in its P3-DX8 version to carry loads more robustly and improve autonomy.

Although the P3-DX offers an embedded computer option it can be equipped with an onboard regular laptop computer thanks to the 23 Kg. allowed load. Obviously, embedded computer is a more robust and elegant solution, however it is more expensive as well. The main drawback of using an onboard laptop computer is the loss of the load surface where other sensor or actuator options could be installed (see image below).

As other MobileRobots robots, the P3DX8 is based on a core client-server model which provides a set of libraries and utilities for intelligent applications (the robots act as the servers). I will not get deeper in detail about this client-server architecture as my focus is using the Microsoft Robotics Studio to control these robots. We will visit this question again when we talk about software development for this robotic platform.

Salient hardware features of this unit are: ethernet based communications (optional), laser (optional), up to 252 watt-hour of hot-swappable batteries (which by the way add a great part ot the total unit weight), ring of 8 forward sonar, ring of 8 rear sonar (optional), two independent motors, two 19 cms. wheels and one caster wheel. Maximum speed is 1.6 m/s. Other interesting options are bumpers, grippers, vision, stereo rangefinders, compass, etc.

{mosimage} New Pioneer 3 Robots have a 32-bit Renesas SH2-7144 RISC microprocessor, including the P3-SH microcontroller with ARCOS. ARCOS is the Advanced Robot Control and Operations Software client-server interface. If you want to develop your own control software application you need to talk to ARCOS interface. I am not particularly interested in using a specific interface/platform like ARCOS but better use a common development platform like MSRS. Of course, ARCOS will be always called by MSRS services, so at the end, robot control is calling the same undelying native API.

Another higher level software component that comes with every MobileRobots platform is the Advanced Robotics Interface for Applications (ARIA) software. ARIA is a C++ based development environment that also provides TCP/IP communications with the robotic platform. Typical applications available through ARIA are: mapping, teleoperation, monitoring, etc. As I said before, I won’t discuss further on ARCOS and ARIA as my focus is on MSRS.

The following video shows a P3-DX wandering around autonomously avoiding collisions:

Manuals and other documentation are available at: http://robots.mobilerobots.com/docs/

I-Cybie Review

I-Cybie Review: I-Cybie robotic pet is manufactured by Silverlit Electronics and commercialized worldwide by several toy vendors. It comes in three colors: blue, gold and transparent cover. This pet robot is quite close to a Sony Aibo in terms of form factor, usage and features. The robotic dog is made of 1400 parts and 90 feet of wire. It has an onboard computer and responds to its environment with canine-like moods. For example, he becomes sad if you ignore him… This robot is endowed with voice recognition, behavior development, sound sensors, obstacle detection, dynamic drive, orientation sensors, touch pet sensors, and communication with I-Cybie is possible also using an IR remote, clap commands, and voice commands.

I-Cybie is able to wander arround without trouble. He can detect obstacle and avoid them with no problem. Even is you make he fall down, he can recover gracely. His sensors detect his position, so he knows when and how to move to stand up again.

The robot has four main emotional states: happy, hyper, sad, and sleepy. Depending on the mood the dog shows a different behavior and decides to obey or not… The emotional state of the dog is caused by your interaction with the pet and the environment. For example, a quite and dark room can make I-Cybie to feel sad.

I-Cybies can also do some tricks for your entertainment and amusement. For example, he can give paw, dance, or scracth ear. It also can be trained to recognise you voice, so you can tell him to do a trick if you want.

 A walk-up charger is also available. If you have it, I-Cybie is able to autonomously look for the wall charger when he feels tired (battery low) and re-charge by himself.

Programming the robot is also possible. However, a hardware hack is required in order to be able to program I-Cybie using C language. A so-called Super I-Cybie upgrade is needed. An SDK for development is also available. See the following links for details on programming and SDK:

http://www.aibohack.com/icybie/index.html
http://www.deep-shadows.com/hax/i-cybie.htm

The following picture shows I-Cybie gold sharing table with some Aibo friends, so you can compare sizes and playing cards capabilities:

Manual and Guide are available from the following links:

Instruction Guide (English): http://www.i-cybie.com/downloads/Instruction/EIG.pdf
Quick Stard Card (English): http://www.i-cybie.com/downloads/QuickCard/EQSC.pdf