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Whoa… been a while since I dropped some words on this thing!

So a few exciting things have happened recently in nerd land for me: The research I conducted for my honours thesis last year was adapted into a short paper and accepted for the PPSN conference in Italy this September. Also, some text books and software I developed for Monash Uni were recently released – more on that another time.

So if you’re into robots, and also cool natural phenomenon like swarms of insects and the way in which snowflakes are formed, read on…

 

Photo courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowcloud

 

Essentially we produced a navigation system for robot swarms that allows a dispersed group of agents in an unknown environment to find their way back to a charging station (or any other pre-determined point of interest for that matter). It does so without the agents needing to know the topography of their environment, removing the need for complex mapping / GPS equipment.

When one of our little computerised friends decides it’s time to hit the nest for some R&R, its buddies form a structure of beacons resembling a snowflake, with the charging station at the centre. The robot then traverses the structure towards the charging station, at which point the rest of the swarm can get back to work.

The collective navigation strategy uses only simple audio signals and basic behaviours based on the foraging behaviour of bacteria, meaning that the individual agents can be made on the cheap. Cost is important when it comes time to manufacture a bucket load of them. .If you’re interested, you should definitely check out this website, which summarises the end product of our research. There’s a cool video which shows it in action too.

 

Swarm Robots - Photograph by Peter Essick

 

Does the thought of a robot swarm scare you? If so, you’re not alone. I’m sometimes asked what I think about the prospect of robots taking over the world, and if I feel I’ve contributed to our inevitable demise.

The answer is no.

People tend to project their fear of other humans onto the humble robot. Let’s not forget that a robot is just a computer – a stupid machine incapable of thought, opinion or prejudice. It might have some wheels and something that resembles appendage, but it’s a stupid machine nonetheless.

People aren’t really afraid of the robot – they’re afraid of which human gets to control the robot.

Sounds like a good reason to learn computer programming, don’t ya think? :-)

Being overcharged by myki three times in a month isn’t that uncommon, in fact some people manage to achieve as many as seven overcharges a month (what a legend)!!! But today is particularly exciting for me because I learned that during May I scored my first myki hat-trick!

Number 1:

This travel pattern seems to cause an overcharge from time to time… I assume that the bus trips are to blame. There seems to be ongoing problems with buses while the readers continue to run in “headless mode”… their terminology, not mine.. although very aptly named, wouldn’t you say?

MykiLeaks only identified this as a “maybe” because it detected a “default fare” during the day, which depending on what mode of transport you’re on can rightly be charged to your account if you forget to touch off. In this case, I definitely should have paid zone 1 daily fare of $6.56, as the only time I didn’t touch off was at the end of a tram ride.

Number 2:

Both readers were out of service at Northcote station on the afternoon of the 28th May. This means that EVERY PASSENGER that alighted at Northcote during that period would have been charged an extra fare, as the system assumes they travelled to the end of the service (zone 2). This is the second time in the last few months this has happened – here’s the email I received following the first incident.

I’d just returned from Vanuatu that afternoon and caught the SkyBus / train home. Way to welcome me home from a tropical paradise myki…

Number 3:

No big surprises here, almost identical to number 1 above… probably another case of headless bus syndrome.

So there you have it… if you dream big, great things can happen! Make sure you let me know if you break current record of 7 in a month. I’ll probably arrange some sort of lame prize, and definitely give you a shout out on the MykiLeaks Facebook page :-)

For a bit of a laugh, I made a Twitter bot today. Not just any old bot, it’s a crime fighting bot bringing your criminals to justice.

What’s a your criminal? You know, people who don’t know when to use “you’re” instead of “your”.

The idea was inspired by the athiest bot, which cracked me up when I first saw it. I made this one using the python-twitter wrapper, and it’s surprisingly easy to get a simple little automated Twitter thingy happening.

Basically, it searches for people misspelling “you’re”, then retweets their crime with a friendly suggestion of how they should spell it. Here’s some of the tweets it generated before the account was suspended for unsolicited tweeting :P