The Wednesday Update: On Saturday!

Even though it’s Saturday night, I wanted to do a weekly update. It’s important to me to at least show progress or benefits of taking time off from work to progress my hobbies/education in one way or another. In the last update, I said I had a rough plan. Now, how well have I progressed with that plan!

Begin Robotics by Reading University

This is now complete and I really enjoyed doing it even though I have completed it before. The simulations tasks really get you thinking and I now even understand the maths in the motor controller example. I did have to take a little time out to get my head around it however this is all part of that plan.


So I have started relearning Algebra using Khan Academy, I have also been asking friends and family who know maths a lot better than me. This has really helped and I am starting to get the brain working again. At school, maths was my strongest subject by far.

Gwiz electric car

The Gwiz is back from the welder, I have done a few jobs on it and it is booked in for an MOT next Wednesday :). It did come back with an odd beep sound but that was just the door sensor being a pain


Taking a step back from trying to jump before I can walk, as mentioned I did really enjoy the simulations on the Begin Robotics course. So much so that I plan to set up a hardware (e.g using actual robots) version of it. I have a VEX Robotics competition area that I plan to put in the conservatory. This should allow me to do ultrasonics wall detection, light following, line following and even sending data between robots.


All in all, I do think I am making good progress so far!

Progress so far : I need a plan

So I have had my first Wednesday afternoon off and I did do some useful things (clear space for working, sell some stuff, do some online learning). However, it has become apparent I really need to focus on a subset of things and get them done. Already I have signed up for lots of online courses, and have a billion ideas. Usually, this would be good thing but context switching wastes time and I don’t have a lot of time!

So, initially here are the high-level objectives I want to achieve over the next couple of months from my Wednesdays afternoons.

Finish Begin Robotics by a Reading university.

To be fair I have completed this 4-week course before but I really enjoyed it and have nearly finished it already again. This is a great introduction to robotics. (ETA 1 week)


Next I think I need to improve my Maths, mainly Algebra and surrounding topics that are useful for robotics. Robotics can contain quite a lot of formulas from PID controllers to working out the position of things (kinematic) and this is usually the area I really struggle on. Khan Academy is my go-to place for this. (2-3 weeks)

Re-intro into Python and Kinematics
there are 2 other Future Learn courses I want to finish, another robotics one (again nearly finished but paused on the maths) and a really simple Python course which I should smash through. I have done a bit of Python in the past but it’s been a while. Python is the go-to language for AI & Robotics (2 weeks)

Do some practical
Once I reach here I hope to take a short pause from education and put into practice some of the stuff I have learned. I would like to get my Inmoov head talking with lip sync (Arduino wired up to a sound level meter) and I want to add some sensors to the GWiz car and see if we can get a picture of the outside. (2-3 weeks)

On a slight diversion, I would also like to update to be a bit more useful/themed around my learning. Everything is a bit static and rather boring. (1-2 weeks)

End of year goals

Once I hit these, I think it’s then time to review and see what I want to do next.
By the end of the year, I would like to be more comfortable with Maths, general robotics and have a semi-complete Inmoov robot. I would also love to finish the Udacity Self Driving course I attempted years ago.

Lets kick it off again!

So one of the only plus points of not getting any sleep due to the effects of the extreme diet for this bodybuilding show is insomnia, my mind gets very creative and forces me to start kicking off new ideas, projects, missions et!

So, if you saw my last post, I said I was gonna finish Hack24, fix and sort the garage!   So far, is back up, but about to completely change, the garage is nearly finished being geared up as a robotics lab and Hack24 has not moved.  I do want to finish hack24 but I don’t want to rush it and I want to harness my energy on some crazy robotics ideas while my brain still works 🙂

So the plan v2!  Warning it’s a little bonkers, even for me!

Build a backend set of machine learning API’s that, mobile devices, and my robots use to send and retrieve data.  The idea is I could send it a question, a command or an image and it does some magic and responds.

  • So for mobile devices, they would send images and text to speech, it would return ImageNet classification or answers to questions.
  • would become more of a knowledge base system using NLP to feed into other systems.
  • There would also be a public facing chatbot which would hopefully learn off of all of this.  Planning a system POC using AIML to test the waters
  • This would all somehow be also brought together to add some usefulness to my future robotics projects (image classification, knowledge base, etc)

I brought some odd bits of hardware, upgraded the server, brought some domains, and started rewriting in Java.  I decided I want to try and use a common language and randomly Java seemed the best fit (client, server, mobile etc)

It’s gonna be a slow progress but I think its gonna be exciting.

Let’s kick it all off!

Sorry for the last few months there has been little update. I decided that before I got too old I should enter a bodybuilding contest, honestly seemed like a good idea at the time. Well it’s been the hardest 3 months of my life to be honest. First off it isn’t the cheapest thing to do (I have spent £500 on chicken alone), you have to be super disciplined (up at 5, 1 hour cardio, training even if ill), you become very moody, tired and even get insomnia (writing this at 3am) because your constantly hungry! However with less than 2 weeks to go, I am still chuffed I decided to do it. On a positive side, because you don’t sleep as much, your brain seems to be come very creative!!!

So what’s the plan Batman?

So, I have many plans, lots of ideas and have been researching lots of stuff but I need to do some house keeping first!

1) Release a v1 of Hack24 cross platform to prove the framework works.

2) Fix Search Engine because I turned it off.

3) Finish the garage so that large projects are possible 🙂

All of the above are in progress and I hope to have them done very soon. Then it is full speed ahead for some cool robotics / machine learning project that I will discuss in my next post 🙂

VEX Worlds 2017 – Robotics Competition

Sorry for the late post about VEX Worlds, I thought I would have more time after worlds to catch up with stuff, sadly (well not really), the kids have been mega active.  My eldest son played his first football tournament, had a holiday, lots of family stuff!

So, VEX Worlds, what an amazing experience, I went along for the VEX EDR side of the competition (this year it was split EDR / IQ) as I was showing off the EDR Tank.  Sadly I had to leave the US early as my son, Max was ill.  Still a very cool experience!

So, the EDR tank, well it performed really really well in remote control mode.  I mean the thing was fairly slow but must have covered MILES!  The batteries never died on me, nor did any motors!  I did kill a few Omniwheels, however, that’s to be expected.   Even though I left early, the EDR tank did not and so others drove it around.  I have not received it back yet to see how bad it is now, but I am sure it will be fine.

The autonomous side was a bit of a failure, to be honest, and looking back I had set up myself to fail and I will explain why.  The autonomous side was using ROS (Robotic operating system) which is an industry standard.  I was using a Neato Lidar system which is awesome however it only had a range of 5 meters and SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) to work out where I was, and where I needed to go via building up a map.  SLAM works by detecting features of the surrounding area to work out where it is.  When you’re in a hall that’s hundreds of meters wide with very little features, a sensor with a range of 5 meters is practically useless.  In the end, I just showed kids how it worked on my laptop using RVIZ.  If I had to do this properly I would need to invest in a proper LIDAR system with a much greater range.  Another aspect which makes this very hard is all the people moving around, how can SLAM pick up features if they are constantly moving!

Overall, the EDR tank was hugely popular, I gave tons of fist bumps, high fives, etc, people just thought it was cool, just a little slow.

Next year, if I did a vehicle again, I would have to make it a lot faster and forget about advance sensors etc!

Here are some videos of VEX World and the EDR TANK:

The VEX EDR Tank

Over the last few month’s, I have been building a vehicle out of VEX EDR with the aim of it to self-drive. This is my first big project with VEX EDR, I usually build large stuff out of LEGO Mindstorms or VEXIQ. My view was that VEX EDR would be easier as it is a) made out of metal as opposed to plastic, and b) more powerful. I thought it would take me a week to make the vehicle, and the rest of the time would be on software. I had to also learn ROS (Robotic Operating System).

It actually turned out more challenging than I expected. Due to my lack of experience with EDR, I just assumed metal would just be stronger, and the motors would just work. However the first version of the Tank collapsed under my weight, and it took around 10 versions to get it to move me (95kg) without the motors shutting down after 5 seconds. Unlike LEGO and VEXIQ, EDR motors had a protection circuit in (PTC) which shut down the motor if it gets too hot or draws too much power. This is, of course, a good feature to protect the motor, however, it made my project very difficult.

I went from 8 motors, direct drive to 14 motors geared down to 2.44. The 8 motors could move me at a rapid speed but would just shut down after a few second.

Here is the progress of how it went

Current state

So I managed to get the Tank to a point where it worked, it was not as fast as I hoped however it seems reliable.  Next is the software.  ROS is a big subject to learn, there are lot of books on it and it is not the easiest thing to learn.  I have actually made some good progress on this thanks to the community.  Stay tuned to my next post about ROS.




So, the first part of this year, I have been swamped with VEX stuff to do, it’s been pretty good fun actually.  I now have lot’s of VEX EDR (the metal stuff) to play with.  Very excited about that!  I have also been invited to VEX World Finals in the US!  The aim is to build some smartphone controlled robots that show off the power of the Smart Radio. Thanks to Xander and RobotC it is now possible to do 2 way communication between VEXIQ and iOS

Code is here!

Anyway, so MR PURPLE, I went in to the garage, I came out with MR PURPLE.  3  DOF per arm and his head moves!  Super happy with him

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VEX and the Big Bang Science Fair

So I have been asked by VEX Robotics to build 2 small robotics for Big Bang Science show at the NEC.  The 2 robotics will be on stage as helpers.  It’s a super fun idea, focus is reliability!  The robots need telescopic arms to push buttons and be able to push out a bottle of water from their chests.

Here are 2 initial videos I did showing progression

I actually got to see the robots on stage and they worked perfectly!

What I enjoyed about this was trying to make VEX stuff look cool, it’s actually harder than it is with LEGO 🙂