Orbs Following a Path

From Mike Prados

tonight, Niladri and I started the dispatcher program, detached the ethernet cable, and removed our stuff to a respectable distance from orb 1 on the soccer field.  It then spent a minute figuring out the initial bias on its sensors, and started rolling.  It turned left and followed the line of the mid-field circle, and corrected a bit.  It never strayed more than 2-3m from the line, we never turned the joystick on, and after four complete circles, we got tired of walking along with it and turned it off.
(image in SVN)

I’m sure we could have left it going until the batteries wore down.

We are standing at the edge of great things.  Most of them will happen eventually, but we have a special opportunity to make some of them happen in a little over a week.  How far we get between now and then is up to all of us.  Of course, the more we can nail down the platform, the more time we will have to develop the art.

There is a lot to do.  Please help to make it happen!

Followup from Niladri

It was pretty awesome to see the orb do circles. I thought it was the absinthe. On a field with no markings and with a slightly bigger circle I bet it will be hard to tell the 2-3 m deviation.  Although an orb autonomously following a circle on a field is a fine demonstration of our technical skills it’s not that interesting in terms of art.   The unique window and ~40k spectators  that BM offers will probably won’t come by soon. And these people will remember us by what we put out there on the playa and not what we do later in the shop. So ye autonomy people please please make the whole thing happen. Feel free to pass on non-autonomy work to the rest of us. As Jon remarked yesterday there has been a lot of stack popping lately and it’s wonderful. Yay we are now artists again.


A shoutout from Michael

One of the most important factors in going from the random paths we had a couple weeks ago to our current semblance of path following is changing to the U-blox LEA-5H GPS modules.  These outperform anything else we’ve seen at the sub $300 price point, but they are not available from the manufacturer with an integrated antenna.  Fortunately, the folks at PPZUAV have created an awesome PCB for the modules with an integrated antenna, which provides on board voltage regulation and comm out via RS-232, TTL serial, and usb.  They’ve been extremely helpful, and I’d recommend them happily!

Famous in teh interweb echo chamber

The lovely and talented (with a blowtorch, power screw driver, spatula, and clipboard) Simone at Suicide Bots posted about SWARM’s immenent autonomous overlord status and the “mainstream” media was quick to pick up the story.



bot junkie
We’ve archived all the stories.

Sexy Spherical Stickers

The very cool folks at Stickergiant.com printed up our most recent sticker design. They look fantastic! Thank you Stickergiant!

New SWARM Stickers

New SWARM Stickers

They even blogged about our project, :-)

The next time you see a menacing orbular robot bearing down on your position, ask us for a sticker! It will show your (hopefully!) undying support for our new robotic overlords.

Presenting SWARM at the Desert Arts Preview

Coreyfro and I will be making a 10 minute presentation about SWARM at the Burning Man Desert Arts Preview. Our presentation will be at 9:45 p.m. They might stream the video on the Burning Man web site but I don’t have any more information about that.

Here is the schedule…

Burning Man
2008 Desert Arts Preview
Thursday, July 17th
Burning Man Headquarters
1900 3rd St. @ 16th, San Francisco, CA

Masters of Ceremonies: $teven Ra$pa and Bettie June

6:30-7:00 Wine reception

7:00-7:15 Welcome & Overview of Burning Man 2008 Theme and Artist Grants by LadyBee and Beth Scarborough

7:20-7:30 Mike Thielvoldt and Lira Filippini — Lepidodgera

7:35-7:45 Michael Emery – You Are All So Many Of Me

7:50-8:00 Gene Cooper – Heart of Burning Man

8:05-8:15 Jared Gallardo — The Amazing Jellyfish From The Year 12,000

8:20-8:30 Philip Raiser — Babylon

8:35-8:45 Dadara – Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia

8:50-9:10 Intermission

9:15-9:25 Crimson Rose – Black Rock Arts Foundation

9:30-9:40 False Profit Labs — Pyrocardium and the Hydrogen Economy

9:45-9:55 SWARM — Lee Sonko and Coreyfro

10:00-10:10 Flaming Lotus Girls – Mutopia

10:15-10:25 TuckerTeutsch – Basura Sagrada

10:30-10:40 Questions and Answers

Maker Faire Editors Choice

This was nice. At Maker Faire, Goli Mohammadi awarded SWARM an Editor’s Choice award

editors-choice-maker-faire-2008 img_0948

Burning Man Update

The push for Autonomy continues!

The plan is that SWARM will be dancing -on its own- at Burning Man at the end of August.

That means GPS and inertial measurement systems will work with control software and dance software to…. well… DANCE!

Here’s an abbreviated update that we recently sent to Lady Bee:

Late March:

Finished design of standalone remote controls and purchased PCBs and parts (and other things like replacement SPU domes). Finished new Illuminator boards: now 4/Orb (up from 2/Orb). Retrofitted sound modules with noise reduction and code improvements. Worked on new central computer (7800 model), including kernel and code experiments, daughterboard retrofit. Also some work on Mother Node (central control) software.


“Remote party” to finish assembly and programming of six remote controls. New illuminator code: now individually addressable, smoother color fades, hue/value mode beyond pure RGB. Considerable work on new Aggregator architecture (subsystem that combines GPS location data with incoming control stream).

Helped to build out electronics lab in the Box Shop so we can geek out amidst the Flaming Lotus grinding and welding. Charlie Gadeken will accept work in lieu of some rent. Also organized gear to some extent, and purchased replacement/extra tools and consolidated tools/spare parts in a dedicated toolbox.

Purchased hardware for, and worked on mounting and integrating inertial navigation units and shaft encoder sensors.

Installed and tested new illuminators. Final touches on new remote code.
Installed Aggregator on test Orb.

Major engagements at Yuri’s Night, Coachella Festival and Maker’s Faire:
good gigs for many things. Field-tested new remotes and new Aggregator.
Good visibility and substantial funding for project, not to mention very positive team-building experiences! Discovered finite lifetime of steering sensor bearings (will retrofit with new design). These performances were a major incentive towards autonomy: human remote control is only a halfway measure; the Orbs should and will drive themselves.

Early May:

Full speed ahead towards autonomy: the long push to give the orbs the ability to follow trajectories (whether pre-choreographed or generated
in real time.) Removed old central computers to prepare for upgrade.
Obtained new DC/DC converters to power new computers.

Coachella 2008

SWARM rolled on in to the 2008 Coachella Music and Arts festival and had a great time!

You can find media mentions on Hack-a-Day and Wired.

Photo sets on JDV’s Flickr, Lee’s blog here and here, and Marc’s site! And especially our SWARM In the Media wiki page.

art-of-coachella kraftwerk

Yuri’s Night Rocked

We brought the orbs out to Yuri’s Night.

People really liked them.

Read about it in Engadget, CNet and Laughing Squid. :-)

What is SWARM?

SWARM is a kinetic art work consisting of multiple semi-autonomous spherical robots (“Orbs”) that roll under their own power. Each has a spherical shell 30 inches in diameter: roughly waist high to an adult. Orb shells were computer-designed and cut from a flat plate of aluminum, then welded together to form an intricate sphere. Inside each Orb are batteries, motors to control speed and direction, as well as an audio system and color LED illumination, all under the command of a powerful on-board computer with wireless connectivity to other Orbs and a central computer called the Mother Node. Orbs roll without external wheels or actuators using the weight of the batteries as a ballast. Motors move the ballast off-center and cause the Orb to roll in that direction. Tilting the ballast away from the roll axis allows the Orb to steer.

SWARM is built to explore the aesthetic possibilities and the emergent behavior of artificial systems. As a first step, Orbs are remote-controlled by human operators, but each Orb’s sounds and color illumination is algorithmically generated in response to location and motion. Each Orb has sophisticated navigational sensors including GPS, accelerometers, and solid-state gyroscopes. We are progressing towards sophisticated navigational algorithms, exactly like those used in spacecraft, that allow each Orb to determine its location and trajectory with high accuracy. From this, we can explore emergent and cooperative behavior like flocking as well as new possibilities in machine choreography. SWARM is not a simulation. SWARM is a platform for the art of the 21st century.

We are grateful for funding and support from the following organizations: Burning Man, the Coachella Festival, and a talented group of volunteer artist-hackers.

Read More

Our home page, http://orbswarm.com
wiki (the entire project is open-source) http://wiki.orbswarm.com
blog http://blog.orbswarm.com

Is it Live or Blender?

Jon Foote has been playing with Blender and made this…

He writes: I had a few minutes to play with Solidworks, which is pretty awesome, from my experience with the first tutorial.


I took the opportunity to export the shell model into VRML, which can be read by Blender. Blender is an open-source 3d modeling/rendering program, which is free and pretty powerful, and runs on all OSs. Get it here: http://www.blender.org/ (The learning curve is pretty gnarly, so I can’t recommend it totally without reservation.)

Blender lets you add light sources and render things (which may be possible in SW but I don’t think so). So I did a little experiment with internal lights (attached jpg). It’s wrong in several ways (no internal chassis) but it’s enough to get the idea. I may try some different light positions if I get some time (ha ha).

I will check all this into SVN so others can play. You can do animations and move things around if you know what you are doing. Look in the media/blender subdir

LouiseBrooks theme byThemocracy