Focus for an awesome robotic region

Cross stitch image by Jeffrey Veen. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

Cross stitch image by Jeffrey Veen. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

Our Region of Waterloo (and the surrounding area) is awesome. There’s no doubt about that. Full of tech, three amazing post-secondary institutions, rural areas, artistic, progressive. What more could you ask?

How about more robots?

What’s that you say? Robots? Yeah, robots!

Robotics already have a bit of a foothold (or wheel/track/propeller hold) in our area. There’s Aeryon Labs and Clearpath Robotics. ODG builds space rovers. New companies are popping up too, like Redtree Robotics in Guelph. Our secondary students get involved in First Robotics competitions. Conestoga College has a couple full-time courses involving robotics (of the industrial persuasion). I’m sure the post-grads at UW and WLU are cooking up some interesting research that none of us know about. Putting commercial bots and academia aside, we have a thriving bunch of enthusiasts (think Kwartzlab) building their own quad-copters and published robotics authors (hey Doug and Karl!).

So with all of that going on, why do I say that we need more robots? I believe our region could be a real force in the design, research, production and general advancement of autonomous robots. Drones are going to be a “big thing” in the (near?) future, and we can/should play a part. I’m not talking about the weaponized, mass surveillance type of drones that you hear/fear about in the news. I don’t really want to get involved in that. There’s so much good that can be done instead. Let’s talk about drones and precision agriculture. Let’s build bots that locate and rescue disaster survivors. Let’s think of crazy things that will help make the world a better, safer place.

I’m thinking I’d love to see a non-profit focused on advancing our area’s capability to design and build mobile and autonomous tech to do novel and useful tasks. A place where research is sought out and disseminated, helping start-ups build viable companies. There’s something like this out west called the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, although I don’t dig the seeming military connections. I want a spot where we can pull companies together to integrate their technology, host public speakers, share source code, guide government policies, explore, innovate… sorry, getting dizzy from my own buzzwords.

Do you think a non-profit like this would be possible, practical and/or beneficial to focus the region’s attention, energy and finances on robotics?

Thrift on Kent now open

thrift_on_kentI stopped by KW’s newest thrift store today. It’s “Thrift on Kent” and it’s another thrift store run by the Mennonite Central Committee. Its located at 50 Kent St. in Kitchener and the store clean and bright. I’m sure it will be a regular place for Kwartzlabbers, as this local maker space is directly across the street.

Drop by and check it out for yourself, but if you can’t make it, check out a few pictures I snapped.

One thing to note, from the street it looks like there is not any parking available, but in the back of the building there is a large parking lot with two access points from Kent (and it looked like one from Stirling). The parking lot also runs along the Iron Horse Trail if you happen to be walking or biking to the store.

A Motorino Milestone

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This last week my Motorino Xpn e-bike passed the 6000 km mark. That’s roughly 100 commutes that I’ve made to and from the office. If you consider a (very) rough estimate of $10 a day for the gas I would use driving the family minivan on the same commute, I have saved approximately $1000. Not bad!

I’ve been riding this electric scooter for just under two seasons for my daily commute as often as the weather would allow. It’s my second e-bike, and it’s been treating me well. I know that I’m due for a new set of batteries with this many kilometres on it, but it’s still charging in about 8 hours, most times, so I’ll try to keep going until I don’t make it on a one-way trip before losing its charge. Buying a new set of batteries (I have eight 12 volt cells arranged to give 48v) will take a chunk out of the $1000 savings in gas, but it’s not all about saving money. It’s been a great way to keep us a one vehicle family, which is good for the environment, and good for the pocket book in more ways than just saving at the gas pumps.

2014-06-09 Update – I ended up selling my e-bike last weekend. It was sad to see it go, but I’m not able to use it as much as I could in past years due to new commuting arrangements. I’m hoping it will get more use with it’s new owner.

Help me build my minion forces

minionsIn our area, a recent McDonald’s happy meal toy series has been the minions from the recent Descpicable Me 2 movie. Chances are, there are plenty of people out there that collected a few of these toys. If you’re like our family, these toys always end up in the garage sale “free basket” after be dug out from the bottom of the toy box years later.

What if, instead of leaving these things lying around houses all over the province, we could bring them all back together in one place? What would they all do when they’re together again? I’m not exactly sure, but I’d like to help these little guys out, but I need your help.

Here’s what we need to do. If you know me, bring your minions to me the next time you see me. If you know someone who knows me, drop the minions off at their place (and have a nice visit or chat while you’re there) and they can bring them to me the next time they see me. Once we get as many of these little guys together as we can, I’ll figure out something for them to do. It might be as simple as a cubicle display at work. It might be something more elaborate, or more sinister. I haven’t got any ideas yet, but I think it’s going to be wonderful. If you think of something, let me know.

What a loose connection will do

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This is the breaker on my e-bike. Apparently I had a loose connection which caused arcing when I went over bumps. The breaker tripped a couple times while driving, and when I went to reset it, I realized that the wire and breaker were far too hot.

In the photo, I have pulled the connection out to show the melted insulation. The breaker is charred in places too. Luckily, the breaker is still functional, none of the circuitry is damaged and there isn’t much damage to the wiring. I cut back the wire and there was enough slack to tin a new connection and wire it back up.

It’s official, Cybernetimals are going to Maker Faire

Just got the word that my application for a table at the Waterloo Mini Maker Faire has been accepted. That means the Cybernetimals are going to meet the public. Yippee!

Since I want to have attendees be able to make their own Cybernetimal to take home, I’m looking for donations of gently used, clean and smoke-free stuffed animals and electronic waste parts (cables, small circuit boards, mechanisms, etc.). As well, I’m hoping to find an assortment of needles, stitch rippers and scissors… I have some, but the more I have the more people will be able to work at the same time.

If you have anything you would like to donate to the cause, let me know at onecog2many@gmail.com

Thanks! Maker Faire is going to be monumental!

Easter egg creations

droid_egg The family tried some Easter egg creations this week. We were going to try some natural dyes, but opted for the quicker food colouring route, and we used some wax from a soy candle as a resist on some. It worked fairly well, but as you can see from my attempts, a finer brush and a steadier hand could have done better. We emptied the eggs of their contents first by using a push pin on either end to make holes, then blowing out the contents, filling with water and rinsing… not the easiest thing to do, but it worked. We sealed the openings with a bit of wax to hopefully keep any residue inside.smile_egg