Well, in case anyone has wondered if I died in the past two weeks, I didn't. I have become deeply entrenched in the world of job interviews. Let me say again in case people haven't heard me say it, career fairs work. They really really work. They work so well that you can find yourself having an interview of some sort, phone or in person, nearly every day for over two weeks. But, so that I don't jinx any of these interviews, I'm not going to be saying anything about them. Actually that's bull, I'm just tired of telling the stories and would rather wait until I know what all my offers are to tell more on that topic. Instead I wish to recount the tale RoboNexus!
, at a first glance appears to be a business conference for the world of robotics, but it is so much more! Well, actually that's about all it is, but apparently craploads of people thought it would be something more. Apparently the conference was presented on television as being a really really cool event perfect for small children by the illustrious KRON4, the local news show which otherwise covers such gripping stories as indian casino updates and squirrel sightings. Lets get one thing straight, robots are only cool to a very small audience, not the general public. The families that arrived expecting lots of exciting things to see were sadly misinformed; only nerds like me would really want to go to anything like this.
Robots are slow, ponderous, and generally uninteresting. iRobot's vacuum cleaner is cool from an algorithm perspective, very cool algorithms for spatial mapping, but most people don't understand or care about that. Otherwise its a what you'd get if a hoover and a remote control car mated, strange to look at and dancing the line between practical and interesting, yet being neither. To watch the Roomba navigate around a room is a lot like watching my aunt's blind dog navigate a room; it goes in a straight line until it bumps into something, lurches backwards and shakes awkwardly while regaining its bearings, turns, and then continues. In the event that any food crumbs are found on the floor, they will be sucked up with great haste and then an odd search of the nearby area for precious more crumbs ensues. There is a robot lawnmower out there too with similar object avoidance ability. Basically it cruises on the lawn until it bumps into a dog turd, nagivates around the turd, and then continues. Within several days you are left with a putting-green lawn with random high grass tufts, each marking the location of a unique "present" from little fluffy.
One of the main events of the conference was the hourly performance of HRP-2, http://www.kawada.co.jp/global/ams/hrp_2.html
. HRP-2 is an incredibly impressive machine. She stands about 5 feet tall and walks almost as well as my ninety year old grandfather. While she may not be the best walker out there, she beats me at yoga. Her apparent claim to fame is the ability to take punch to the gut, fall on her butt, and then get up. Remembering elementary school, I know that last part is a difficult challenge. In the event that someone has placed a "kick me" sign on her butt and she has fallen face down, she first assumes the yoga pose "downward dog", transitions into a squat, and then lifts from the knees. After about ten minutes she needs a 45 minute battery recharge. I'm so glad we progressed to the point where we don't need to push over and bully nerds for entertainment, we now have robots we can do that to instead.
Another big event of the day was the Tetsujin Bionic Weight Lifting competition. The basic concept is to build a machine which will aid an individual in a standard weight lifting competition. While incredibly slow as competitions go, roughly 30 minutes to set up each lift, this had many of the most exciting moments of the conference. Since Battlebots got canceled from Comedy Central there have been many nerds left with no outlet for their nerdliness. Tetsujin is where many have gone for their fix. One group, who I recall having built that weird yellow claw/double hammer/wedge thing for Battlebots, brought this nifty, though poorly balanced, motorized scissor-jack device. The team decided to start with a modest 650 pounds to lift. The human lifter got the bar a good 4 feet off the ground before there was heard a disconcerting "clunk", the bar came slamming to the ground, and the lifter was physically hurled out of his suit as it swung forward from the force of the falling weights. The team decided that that was a definite success and upped the weight to 850lbs, resulting in similar success. Later in the day I believe a team lifted 1000lbs, though I couldn't hear well from where I was in the convention center. All I know is I saw a significant amount of smoke coming off of the power packs on the lifter's back, and then heard a delightful crash of falling weights.
All in all I had a pretty good day. It was exactly my kind of fun. There were many parents with small kids there that seemed confused and out of place, but that's ok. The parents are lost, but the children are our future.