Category: Hardware

Speakers

Speakers

crappySpeakersOK, this may open a can of worms, as writing about speakers is akin to saying what the “best” programming language is, so I’d better be precise about what I’m writing about – it won’t be about:

  • The “best value” “cheap crap” speaker you can get for your Mac or PC
  • Nor will it be about anything resembling “home stereo speakers” (although you can use some of them)
  • And it certainly won’t be about “audiophile speakers” as they’re generally overpriced pretentious crap

BEH-K8What this post is about is a set of “Studio Monitors” which I bought for use with my various synthesisers and then discovered of course that they were also about what I was using with my Mac (or PC if you’re less fortunate ;)

If you read my post on Headphones, one if the key points I made was that selecting any “sonic translation device” depends on your hearing (unless you want to be able to impress a bunch of kids ;). You should buy something for the people who listen, so if that’s you, and your partner, and your kids – then they are the only people who’s opinion matters… Snooty guests who may come over for dinner don’t count (unless you’re amazingly shallow).

MacSpeakersRight! Having got all the qualification out of the way, I’ve managed to stumble my way in to what are probably the best value Monitor Speakers for <$500 (AU). How can I say that? It all starts with a guy called Keith R Klawitter who founded http://www.krksys.com/ that have made some amazing studio speakers and headphones (which are the ones I eventually chose in that previous post) but unfortunately (for KRK), Keith left them and became independent (and also happens to own all the patents on the speaker technology he developed). One of the things Keith did was a collaboration with Behringer to develop the NEKKST range of which my choice, the K8’s are part of it, having the following qualities:

  • Ultra-linear 150-Watt reference-class studio monitor
  • Designed by renowned acoustic icon Keith Klawitter, founder of KRK
  • Advanced Waveguide technology creates ultimate acoustic dispersion and extremely large “sweet zone”
  • True bi-amping mode with 2 separate amplifiers for ultimate sound reproduction
  • Ultra-high resolution, 1″ silk dome tweeter for ultimate sound reproduction

The astute will notice the 150 Watts which would probably deafen you if you turned them up full blast at a few feet from you (which they would be), but the whole point of this is that they’re “over spec’d” and that what I’m after is quality and one of the ways to get that is a top spec’d product which is being under utilised. This is certainly proven as the speakers are way better than my KRK headphones which are amazing!

But that’s not really the point for this post. The point is to choose a pair of speakers which are Rolls-Royce in quality for your Mac or PC on a comparatively “beer budget” and if that’s what you’re after, the K8’s are probably what you’re after. Furthermore, if you want some really good Bass response, then  you can always get a NEKKST K10, which although I’ve never heard them, I’m sure would vibrate your SOCKS OFF!

Having been in to electronics and audio since I was about 14, there’s a lot more I can write on this, and probably will, but to give you a hint – here’s a few things to consider:

  • The K8’s and a K10 could form an AWESOME budget stereo which would be beyond what most people have
  • If you’re connecting digital sources, then you have to have good Digital-To-Analogue converters (going beyond just connecting them into the 3.5″ jack on your Mac or PC) to get the best

So stay tuned, as I will write about both of these topics some time. Meanwhile, listen easily, with precision and power :)

Back in Australia

MoranReserve

WOW! I just realised that it’s been a year since I did a blog post. I knew it had been a while, but I figured around 6 months max… Well, I suppose I needed it, and the good news is that I’M BACK!

I’m not going to go in to what has transpired over the past year since an agile adoption, as it’s quite involved and will come out in some successive posts, but will focus on where I am now and what my Posting Plans are.

Near the end of last year we started planning a return to Australia after almost a decade in the UK – what a BLAST! So many lovely experiences, people, places and new friends :-) Eventually though, it was time to return to Australia as it really is my home and although I may have a few gripes about it, Australia really is an amazing place and as the old cliche goes: I now really appreciate how lucky I am to live in this country after being away so long. That shot above is from my local beach which is 3 mins drive, and I can get in to the city (in the distance) in around 1/2h with a walk and public transport – that’s a pretty good lifestyle.

So what’s in the pipe? A much more varied mix than when I started out doing just “software stuff”:

  • Reflections on life in the UK and Europe
  • Observations on life in Australia now I’m back
  • Reviews of gadgets
  • Travelogues as I explore my own country – now I’ve probably seen more of Europe than I have of Australia, so it’s time to correct that
  • Process  – yes, I’m still on the agile path
  • Architecture – looks like that will be my primary area of work still
  • Software – which I’m gradually getting back in to, with the current focus being Clojure
  • Probably the odd bit of music or photography to round things out
  • Anything else anyone would like me to write about…

YachClub

The End of the Apple Honeymoon?

Note: If you think I’m some kind of “Apple Hater”, read My History with Apple at the bottom

Apple seems to be suffering an all-round lack of quality in their software and some would say hardware – what to do? Before we get in to this, let me tell you my tale of woe…

FlamingHoneymoonThis post has been 6 months or more in the making, but has culminated with the problems I’ve been having with my iPad Air 2 over the past months. It all started so innocently – I was happily using iOS 7 and I’d installed a new App which said “In order to use this, you must use iOS8”. Fine, I thought – it’s been out for a while and there have been a few incremental updates (something like 8.0.3) so I upgraded. From memory, this one was OK, so when 8.1.2 or 3 came out I didn’t really think much and just upgraded, and that’s when my problems started.

Apple Horror MovieIt was a bit like a horror movie – you know, everything is fine, the sun is shining – living the good life (on iOS 8.0.3 :). Then, one day (some time in 8.1), something a bit out of place happened – I was finding it hard to close browser tabs – didn’t really think much of it. Unfortunately over the next few days, things got worse! Typing started either not getting the characters or doing multiple characters and it just got worse and Worse and WORSE! Basically, my iPad was bricked. “Luckily”, 8.2.2 had been out for a while so I upgraded, after checking the forums as some people reported it solving the problem.

Groundhog DayThen, like a groundhog day, all started coming back with the same pathology – first, an error here or there and after a few days – bricked again. 8.2.3 came out so I went to this – same thing – worked for a while, then bricked. I was at the end of my tether and was at the stage of buying a cheap Android tablet to use at work until Apple fixed things on the iPad. Again, as luck would have it, 8.3 is out and I’ve just upgraded today. I’m not holding my breath though as I know that this bug can surface after days or weeks…

 What’s the Problem?

My experience is not unique. In fact, I’m one of the “Lucky Ones” who didn’t have problems with iOS 7. Just Google “iOS problem” and you’ll find there are 194M pages!!! I know there are even more hits for Android (564M) and Windows Mobile problems (264M), but is that really something to compare to? Especially when both those platforms are on a wide range of uncontrolled hardware, whereas Apple is a “closed ecosystem” where they’ve designed every Apple Phone ever made. As a long-time (over 30 years – I started with an Apple II) Apple user I’ve seen an increase in the quality of their software, until the last few years. A bit like my touch problem, they surfaced occasionally, but were not of significance, but now we’re talking about many, releases with the same or worse problems – where will it end? Don’t think iOS 9 will necessarily fix everything as as iOS 8 was supposed to fix the problems of iOS 7!

What’s even worse, the “Crappy Quality Virus” seems to of infected the Mighty OS X. Touch wood and 3 Hail Mary’s I’m actually OK – running Yosemite 10.10.3 and no problems. Again, Googling “OS X problem” gives 264M hits – more than iOS! For both OS’s, there’s now a huge industry around documenting and fixing the various problems – all on platforms that Apple has total control over – THERE IS NO EXCUSE!

What’s the Solution?

As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not an Apple Hater. In fact, I’m an Apple Lover – I used to have the attitude of buying Apple for anything personal. Unfortunately, I’m now in the situation where if this doesn’t improve I’ll be replacing my iMac with one of the many all-in-one PC’s, and my Tablet with an Android or Windows one. I already have an Android phone as I was about to get a 5, but the company I was working for got pre-release devices and they kept (physically) breaking.

Apple JobsTo the solution: I believe this malaise set in with the passing of Steve Jobs. For all his faults, the amazing thing about Jobs was that he got understood the Business, Design, Hardware and Software of making “Insanely Great Products”.

What have we now? We have Tim Cook who’s background is in Sales and Manufacturing and Jony Ive, the reclusive yet internally influential and widely acknowledged design genius (although I do question the “new blue folders” on Yosemite and the Apple Watch). What’s missing?

        Hardware & Software

Name the people associated with those… There’s a hardware guy who we see in their videos, but I can’t find him on Google. For software, there’s Craig Federighi and I must admit I thought Phil Schiller was until I looked up Google and found he’s VP of Marketing! Therein lies the problem – there’s no outstanding person across Hardware and Software. Although the ideal would of been to find another Jobs to replace them all, I don’t think that would ever happen. What is needed is someone responsible for “Integrated Design” who can work with Ive, ensure the highest standard of hardware and software is produced to go in to the Objects of Desire that Apple makes and has the same visibility as Cook and Ive.

Why did I write this?

Probably mostly to get all this off my chest and also as a warning of what may happen to Apple if they don’t get back on track. We’ve seen so many companies like IBM and Microsoft fall so far when they lost their way, it would be a pity to see the same happen with Apple…

Finally, I have the tiny hope that someone at Apple sees and relates to it – I’d love to continue the conversation…


original-apple-logoMy History with Apple

As mentioned at the beginning, before anyone thinks of criticising this piece (which you’re free to do after you’ve read this :) here’s a brief history of my (hopefully ongoing) time with Apple products:

  • Started with an Apple II
  • Used a Lisa – a rich friend had one when I was in my senior school years
  • Got caught up in the “PC Revolution”
  • Shipped some of the early NeXTs* to Australia, did the Australian product launch, taught NeXT programming, created software for NeXT, attended most NeXTworlds and met Steve Jobs
  • Got caught up in the “Java Revolution”
  • Employed by a company in the 90’s who used Apple gear, got my own and went to a few WWDCs (before they were hip)
  • Have continuously bought Apple products again since the 90’s
  • Currently have an iMac, Mac Mini, iPad 2, iPad Air, two Apple iPods and an Apple TV

* For you young’ns, NeXT was what Jobs created after Apple fired him and NeXTstep was the operating system which became Cocoa – all those NS prefixed classes stand for NextStep

The 100 (93) Brands at Baselworld

HYT_SkullGreenEyeAnyone who knows me, knows I’m an Amateur (cheap ;) Horologist. At the moment, Baselworld, which is one of the most exclusive watch events in the world, is on. There are many resources out there (which I’ll include in another post) but a key one which I’ll be using is the “100 Brands at Baselworld” by watchpro.com. Although it’s a great watch site, technically it’s not a great site as the search is broken and it’s clear the pages were  manually made rather than generated from a database. As a result of this, there’s no index for the 100 Brands! :-(

With a bit of “site: Googling” I’ve captured all this in to a spreadsheet which I then sorted and tidied. Below is an index for the 93 Brands at Baselworld – I don’t know why, but there are a few missing. Enjoy :-)

Note: Some links just go to pictures and others to a short article

What’s your favourite, most intersting etc..? Please post in comments below…

1 – Blancpain … 32 – Breitling … 63 – HYT
2 – Auguste Reymond … 33 – Storm London … 64 – Bentley …
3 – Ball Watch … 34 – Wolf 65 – Luminox – WatchPro
4 – Breguet 35 – Nixon 66 – Ebel
5 – Longines … 36 – Ice-Watch … 67 – Juicy Couture …
6 – Aviator 37 – Oris 68 – Bomberg …
7 – Ernest Borel … 38 – Linde Werdelin … 69 – Le Rhone …
8 – Claude Meylan … 39 – Guess Watches … 70 – Caravelle NY …
9 – Mido 40 – Bulova Accutron … 71 – U-Boat
10 – Speake Marin … 41 – Girard-Perregaux … 72 – Hublot
11 – Victorinox … 42 – Salvatore Ferragamo … 73 – Junghans …
12: Cuervo y Sobrinos … 43 – Mühle-Glashütte … 74 – Cat Watches …
13 – GUCCI 44 – Versus 75 – Artya
14 – Tissot 45 – de Grisogono … 76 – Bering
15 – Chopard … 46 – Bell & Ross … 77 – Sarpaneva …
16 – TAG Heuer … 47 – Swarovski … 78 – N.O.A
17 – Movado … 48 – Gc 79 – Eterna
18 – Harry Winston … 49 – Superdry … 80 – MCT Watches …
19 – Maurice Lacroix … 50 – Karen Millen … 81 – Mauron Musy …
20 – NOMOS Glashutte 51-Tonino Lamborghini 84 – Festina …
21 – Bausele … 52 – Swiss Military … 88 – Tom Carter …
22 – Alpina 53 – Roamer … 89 – Clerc
23 – Burberry … 54 – Versace … 90 – Albert Riele …
24 – JeanRichard … 55 – Raidillon Watches … 91 – Kairos
25 – Frederique Constant … 56 – Rado 92 – Junkers …
26 – Citizen 57 – Hamilton … 93 – Zeppelin …
27 – Georg Jensen … 58 – Dreyfuss & Co … 94 – Meccaniche Veloci
28 – Mondaine … 59 – Omega … 95 – Rosenthal …
29 – Zenith 60 – Bremont … 96 – Swatch …
30 – Emporio Armani … 61 – Pierre DeRoche … 97 – Patek Philippe …
31 – Christophe Claret … 62 – Calvin Klein … 98 – Faberge …

 

Welcome 2015!

London Fireworks 2015M25 Carpark

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted much, mainly due to a contract which requires me to drive on the M20 and M25 (aka “the carpark” for those outside the UK) and as a result, I just don’t seem to of had the time and energy…

Javelin TrainOh, how I long for those lovely trains, and will never complain about a 30 or even 60 minute delay – the worst I’ve had in a car is a 1h trip taking 4h!!!

I look forward to getting on something where someone else is doing the driving so I can use my time effectively

Amazingly, it seems like only 7% (4.5 Million) people in the UK use public transport. Given that nearly 1/3 (22 Million) live in the South-East, where transport is generally pretty good, that seems pretty low. No surprise given the number of people on the motorways – I’ll be happy to take one more off them next contract.

So what’s up for 2015 for me and this blog?

For one, I plan to start getting back in to a bit more of a rhythm, both with my posts and the associated (play) work (generally outside “real work”), and I will continue to post based on my experiences – recent and past…

theme : ecologyWhat are the themes though? Here’s a list of where I’d like to go:

  • Lifestyle & Reviews
  • Process & People & ScramJet
  • Clojure
  • Architecture, including Enterprise & SOA aspects

in no particular order. I won’t get in to specifics as much of it is not yet planned, or I’m working on it but don’t want to reveal it until I have enough meat on the the bones so I can be sure it will fly.

teaserHere’s a few teasers though based on posts I know I’ll write or have in draft form:

  • Review of Bob Marshall’s “Thinking Different” happening last year
  • Review of the: BMW i3 electric car; Samsung Galaxy Alpha
  • Corporate Subversion – in a positive manner of course :-)

and that’s really just the “boring stuff” – there should be some very interesting posts coming as I hit my stride.

I hope you’ve all had a great XMas & New Year break and look forward to some great interactions in 2015!

Changearc – the thinking person’s RiczWest ;-)

Today I’m (@RiczWest) starting a new twitter account. It’s called ChangeArc. For those who follow me, you’ll recognise this as my “Blog Name” – so what’s the purpose?

Simple – when I started using Twitter, it was primarily as a bookmarking tool. To some extent I still use it as such, but also for so much more…

There’s one problem though – as I look at a lot of content, that means a lot of tweets, and not everyone likes that, including me! There are a number of great people I’d like to follow, but I can’t because they tweet too much.

To that end, I’m going to start a much lower volume (only a few tweets per day) account which is ChangeArc. So what can you expect apart from less tweets? Extremely high quality tweets that will include any posts I do.

I don’t know how this will evolve, but it will be interesting to see…

Western Digital My Cloud Review

Western Digital My CloudRating: 4/5

I rarely impulse buy anything. I always want to thoroughly research anything thoroughly before I buy it. In the case of the Western Digital My Cloud, I  didn’t thoroughly research it (I did do a quick review check in Maplin’s though which showed it got 4/5) it was an impulse buy. I’d remembered those ads from the trains though which had got me curious, so full marks to WD’s marketing people. 

Styling wise – need I say more? It’s a nice minimalistic design about the size of a hard cover book (remember those? ;). The setup is surprisingly easy* on iOS, Android, Mac and even Windows.

Usage however, is dependent on the OS so the experience on Windows (7) is not as good, with drives sometimes dropping off and difficulty uploading files. On iOS and Android you run a client which is pretty close to DropBox, except of course it’s connected to your cloud :-) On Mac and Windows you get a custom app, shortcuts to the Web Admin console (below) and the ability to map your cloud drives.

WD My Cloud

So what’s actually in the box? This is where it gets really interesting as it’s running Debian Linux! Yep, all you need to do is activate SSH and after accepting the fact that you may void you’re warranty by using the command line, you’re in! You should theoretically be able to install anything using apt, but you’d need to be careful not to clobber or mis-adjust any of the existing packages which the WD My Cloud software depends on.

Security

The physical security seems pretty good as the connections to your drives (if over the internet) are encrypted using SSL. My only gripe is that the default settings for “user folders” (which are automatically created for each user you add) are to “Public”, which is probably not what you want as there is already a Public Share shared folder on the device. It’s just a matter of remembering to unshare user folders when you create the user. The permissions (on the interface – you could probably tune them using the shell) are quite basic – No Access, Read or Full Control but it’s pretty easy to set up a few users with private areas and shares amongst a group. You need to do it manually though as there’s no such thing as groups.

Summary

WD My Cloud is a great little device and fairly consumer friendly. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone with no knowledge of computers, but anyone with a bit of experience and enthusiasm could easily set up and maintain this securely. As for value, I got mine for £170 (for a 4G unit) reduced from £250 at Maplin, so with the sale price it really is a bargain. At the full price I’d be investigating other alternatives.

Later, I’m planning on carefully enhancing this and will do another post outlining my adventures. In the mean time, if you don’t like command lines or are worried about voiding your warranty, you may want to check out the WD My Cloud EX2 which would set you back £260 at an equivalent sale price and has the ability to install some “apps” like WordPress, Joomla, PHP BB and a number of torrent programs. There’s only 8 in all, so you’ll probably want to do some custom installs anyway.


* One piece of information which I didn’t see anywhere is that the “user” you set up on installation has no real “home directory” so it’s ideal to have as an Admin user if you’re planning on having more than one user on the system. Later users will be allocated their own home directories which have public access by default.

 

 

Review – Google Chromecast

ChromeCast BrainFreeze

I think the above error message from ChromeCast really applies to it, in that Google should really try again to make this device, but this time with an eye to making it work for most people! I was hoping this would be a fairly positive review for an “up and coming product”, but unfortunately my executive summary for this is:

Don’t buy it – wait for the next generation

I’d always delayed getting an Apple TV and wanted to test the waters of IPTV, so when I heard it was out I added it to our shopping list. Couldn’t wait to get it home and give it a try…

Set Me UpSetup took me 2 1/2h, which really is a bit much. Theoretically, it should only take 5-10 mins, but that’s only if you have the right router – what’s that?

I had a middle of the road router which worked for a few days and then ChromeCast stopped working with it. Even to get my router (a Netgear WNR 2000 – not exactly unusual, in fact widely used in the UK) working, I had to throttle it back from 802.11n (the current fast standard) to 802.11a (the oldest and slowest standard) which is a well known problem with my router and ChromeCast – see the bottom for more info.

Ready To CastAs mentioned, ChromeCast actually worked once I dialed my router back and it certainly had some cool features, such being able to “cast” the tab of a browser which is unfortunately broken as it’s extremely slow (as in – is not usable if there’s video in the tab).

What does work is YouTube and an extremely nifty Chrome extension called VideoStream. If you do have a ChromeCast, then you should definitely get it as VS allows you to play files from your laptop which as the apps tag line says “What you bought your ChromeCast for”

Chrome Cast ExplosionSo what went wrong?

I thought I’d be able to play around a bit with ChromeCast and it’s potentially cool applications until I went to show it off to my neighbour a few days later – that’s funny, it wasn’t registered on my iPad… Nor was it on the windows laptop…

Ken is a fellow geek, so he hung around for about 10 mins as I rebooted everything in various combinations but to no avail.

That was basically it! I suppose I could of done more web research or whatever but frankly I’d lost patience with ChromeCast as it is supposed to be a consumer device that I could plug and play with. Instead, it was plug and play and break and fix and pray and play and break and fix and … well, I just couldn’t be bothered.

Routers

The main problem is WiFi

As mentioned before, I have a Netgear WNR 2000 router. It works with my iMac, a Windows 7 laptop, iPad and 2 Android phones from Samsung and HTC at full 802.11n speed or fallback. Unfortunately, to get ChromeCast to work with my router, I had to set the speed right back to 802.11a! Not good – I was actually prepared to set up another ‘special slow router’ for ChromeCast, but then it just stopped working after 2-3 days and as mentioned. This was not what I expected or would tolerate. To their credit, PC World accepted the unit back without argument (maybe this wasn’t the first?). Was it just me though? A search of ChromeCast Problems yields about 15M results, so there must be something going on here…

The funny thing was that my router is OK on the ChromeCast Router Compatibility table. But note, that’s only when it is with the “default settings”. I’ve obviously got quite a few customisations on mine and there was no way I was going to set everything back to factory just for one little device.

But why the good reviews? you may ask… as looking around, it mostly seems to get from 3-5 *’s out of 5 from most mainstream outlets. I think this just indicates that they didn’t thoroughly test the device, took materials from press releases, were “favourably biased” or just plain incompetent – take your pick ;-)

Anyway, caveat emptor and fortuna, si emere

Intuos Manga Review

Intuous Manga

SummaryDon’t buy an Intuos Manga*, Do buy an Intuos Pen & Touch if you are in the right market segment…

*Assuming you’re not a comic book illustrator – see note at end

There, with that out the way, hopefully no-one else will get sucked into the useless combo that is Intuos Manga! Why do I say that? Because Version (4) of Manga software which is included in the package is absolute crap from a UX perspective (think Windows 95) and is one (very significant) version behind the current version.

I’m jumping a bit ahead here though, so I’ll go right back to the start as there are a few things I found out along my pen tablet journey. I was obviously in the market for a digitiser to do a bit of mucking around and to start work on some “RSA Type” animations for Right Shifting**. As I’m not a professional illustrator and would only use this occasionally I was trying to keep the cost down.

For this review I’ll be using the recent/new model names as Wacom “recently” (2013) “updated” their line in that some of the names are changed, so Bamboo is not Bamboo, it’s now Intuos and Intuos is now Intuos Pro. What’s Bamboo?…

bamboo padIt’s new and would be the most seemingly obvious budget solution, until you read the reviews. It really is a new product and the digitisation and pressure don’t seem too good even for a low end product. Hopefully Wacom will fix this as it’s a great concept, form factor and price point and I’d buy one just to use beside my Mac regularly.

IntuosPenandTouchThat leaves us with the Intuos range. Wacom have managed to achieve what Apple seems unable to – their digitizer can co-exist with a mouse! The Pro versions really are what they say – I don’t see any need to buy them unless you  are using them professionally. As mentioned, the Intuos’ really are the upgraded version of the old Bamboo, but with (optional) touch. I initially (unknowingly) ordered the pen only one and immediately returned it as touch really does make a difference in usage as highlighted in the video below – apologies in advance for the slightly strange colours, but iMovie suddenly decided to saturate it. I’ve done the best I can with some manual tweaking to make it viewable (which the original wasn’t):

So why did I buy the Manga, which is an Intuos Pen / Touch with Manga Studio 4?ArtRage

Because I was in a hurry and didn’t bother researching MS4 thoroughly. It would seem that comic book illustration is a very specialised area and MS is certainly one of the leading products. I’m sure it’s usable after a steep curve (I’d shudder to think how long it would of taken to get to a point of doing that video above with it, but we are talking days to weeks rather than hours!). If you’re an amateur or just someone who wants to do some “graphic noodling” then what to use?

Easy – Art Rage! It’s a fantastically intuitive and flexible package which you can also get for your iPad or iPhone

I hope this has been of help to anyone considering a digitising pad, which you should if you have any interest in drawing, painting etc… Feel free to drop me a note in the comments if you have any questions or experiences you’d like to share.


* Unless you really do comic illustration – Manga really does seem to be regarded as one of the best packages for comic illustration, as I discovered this is a world away from intuitive art tools like ArtRage

** Want to find out more about Right Shifting? The best place to start is the guy who came up with it – Bob Marshall, the @flowchainsensei and his blog, especially the Rightshifting section. More questions? Probably best to ask him…

DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials

DARPA Robotics ChallengeFor those of you who aren’t Robot Geeks and missed DARPA’s Virtual Robotics Challenge mid this year, don’t worry! Only one day ago the DARPA Robotics Challenge Live Trials have just completed

(Spoiler Alert – I’ll reveal the winner later on :)

https://i0.wp.com/media1.s-nbcnews.com/j/msnbc/Components/Photos/051009/051009_ROBOTRACE_hmed.grid-6x2.jpg

In case you’ve never heard of the DARPA Robotic Challenge and are wondering it’s significance, they had another one called the Grand Challenge for Autonomous Vehicles. It started in 2004 and no vehicle could complete it! They then scheduled another for 2005 which Stanford won with a tricked-out VW Touareg R5 called Stanley. This wasn’t the end though…

https://i0.wp.com/www.cmu.edu/news/image-archive/Boss.jpgWe then moved on to the Urban Challenge, which was won by Boss, a Chevy Tahoe with Stanford getting second place with Junior. Why is that significant? Because Sebastian Thrun (in the photo above) is the Director of the Stanford AI laboratory and also a Google Engineer. Yes, the Google Car is based on Junior, a modified Volkwagen Passat Wagon which came second in the Urban Challenge. Now back to the present and the Robotics Challenge…

You can find out more at the actual DARPA Robotics Challenge site or from the DARPA YouTube Channel which has a lot of content! If you want a bit more background, first watch Robotic Expectations & The Challenge History. The teams are all over the place, so here’s a slightly more structured curation of teams that had their own unique robots:

Yes, that’s a female robot! Uses flexible “muscles”
A mostly 3-D Printed robot Which is based on a chimp
Essentially built from one component! A clever multi-limbed robot
A lightweight robot One of the few Japanese designed robots
An Open Architecture Robot!!!  

And there were a number of other teams: IHMC Robotics; WRECS WPI; TRACLabs; ViGiR; TROOPER; MIT who all used the Atlas robot:

which is made by Boston Dynamics – the same people who bought you Big Dog, Cheetah (the fastest robot) and many others.

So who won? Unfortunately there were some pretty bad summaries for Day 1 & Day 2 and a number of 10h(!) archives of robots doing things extremely slowly…

In the end though, the top 8 (who will receive continued funding) were:

  1. Schaft (27)
  2. IHMC Robotics (20)
  3. Tartan Rescue (18)
  4. MIT (16)
  5. Robosimian (14)
  6. TRACLabs (11)
  7. WRECS (11)
  8. TROOPER (9)

I’ve bolded and underlined the ones based on Atlas (which are 1/2). Why is this significant? Because Google just bought Boston Dynamics, who manufacture Atlas!!! What’s more, Google also owns Schaft who won! Monopoly anyone?…

Atlas Frontview 2013As we saw from the Vehicles, it doesn’t matter whether a Google team actually wins. One thing you can guarantee – Google will be making robots in a few years which will be commercially available by the end of this decade. Given Google’s “record” – i.e. blatantly violating peoples privacy and who knows what else, I’m not sure how good this really is…

Yes, I know they’ve feigned disgust at various NSA revelations, but remember that their chairman Eric Schmidt, once said “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”

I’m still waiting for him to mail me his social security number and bank account details, because hey, he’s obviously an upstanding guy who has nothing to fear… ;-) How would you feel about having a Google Spy (oops Robot) in your home?

https://i1.wp.com/www.digitalworldtokyo.com/entryimages/131205_NewAsimo.jpgOne question remains though – where are Honda in all this? Ironically, the Japanese did win this challenge, but using technology which is pre ASIMO. I think HONDA are quite rightly keeping to themselves as what do they really need to prove? If you look at any recent ASIMO information you can see that it’s way beyond where all the DARPA people are, which is not to say they won’t catch up, but who knows what’s in HONDA’s labs?… The last information we have is from 2011 which is pretty awesome!

Also, they don’t really need to participate in the “DARPA Challenge” as they’re already working on a Disaster Response Robot Based on ASIMO and are using ASIMO to Act as an Autonomous Explaining Robot – beat that DARPA door opening droids! ;-)

My hopes and predictions (since we’re getting near New Year) for the future on Robots?

Google will obviously have a number of models with military and civilian applications which will become a major profit centre for them (thanks military industrial complex :) – not a surprise considering all the “hard AI” work they’re doing with Kurzweil – stay tuned next decade…

Honda will enter with ASIMO and buddies around the same time. They’ll probably be more expensive but will be more consumer friendly and secure (i.e. they (hopefully) won’t be spying on you).

Open Source will have something, and Hubo definitely looks like a good start – I like the concept that I could own a robot that I can trust and improve :-)