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October 2008
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corvi [userpic]
That time of year again...

This year's proposal for zero-gravity flight for NASA due in a week. Whee and ARGH and everything in between. I am, of course, pulling my hair out and falling asleep on my keyboard (hopefully all paragraphs typed with my forehead will be deleted before NASA gets the documents - I don't think that's what they mean by stress-testing!) and forgetting to eat.

There are types of stress that make us want to hide under our beds and tremble, and types that make us just clench the knife tighter between our teeth, and climb a bit faster. I believe I'm happy, in a rather masochistic sort of way.

Livejournal brain-trust: NASA likes us to present an 'Outreach Plan' detailing how, exactly, we will be doing public relations with our experiment. They make it clear they want us to involve 'minority groups and institutions', yet they also claim we should be creative. We've done the rounds of Seattle Robotics Society meetings, demonstrations to classrooms of fifth-graders, and obligatory website with grainy video footage of team members floating upside-down in zero gravity. I am, however, stumped for anything either creative or involving minorities. Does anyone have any suggestions/useful connections?

(GYRE is a cubical robot, fourteen inches on a side, which uses three cameras to observe the world and twelve compressed-air thrusters to move around in zero gravity. It's not all that impressive on the ground - the thrusters aren't strong enough to make it hover or anything, but it can be hung from a frame and allowed to spin itself around for demonstrations.

This year's experiment actually aims to discover the best way for the robot to react to its motions once it figures out which direction it's drifting or spinning in. As an example, suppose you wanted the robot to just float in place somewhere out of the way, and it noticed it was floating up. It might turn on the thrusters on top of itself to move back down. If it left those thrusters on until it was back where it was supposed ot be, and then shut them off when it arrived, it would keep moving and overshoot its position. It needs to be able to guess when it's getting close and power down, and we're testing various computer programs to do that.

Or, in geek: we're trying to configure a decent PID (or PD, or PI) feedback loop based on the camera input for visual servoing.)


How about a real-time movie, with free admission, in an inner-city area with URM folks at hand?

How about letting children at a local homeless shelter make critical choices about the way in which the robot will move for one part of its experiment?

maybe do some zero gravity experiments on kids who belong to various minorities? (and while i am sure the results will be meaningless, the kids will definitely enjoy the ride)

A robot mockup on strings? In a tank of water?

You might be able to do something on the history of movement in zero-G, a short movie and lesson pack. Include your project at the end. Then give it to inner-city schools. You can spred your involvement a lot wider that way and reach a lot more people.

I would be willing to help if you needed it.

Kids (and some adults) love public demonstrations of nifty stuff. If you can create a two-minute nifty-toys demonstration, sit outside a high-traffic downtown area or a bus station and show people. Especially if you bring a demonstration that's manipulable in some way. Are air hockey tables portable enough? Having a kid whiz the puck around and then imagine what it would be like to be the puck trying to figure out where you're going and how to stop might work, unless you got a whole bunch of kids focusing on whizzing the puck at each other, or something.

Disclaimer: most of this is from my experiences with spinning demonstrations, and spinning is a very different sort of thing, so mileage probably does vary.

Here's a group you might be able to do a presentation for. They sound great on paper: "The Lake Heights Family YMCA and Bellevue Family YMCA is jointly piloting a Minority Achievers Program. This program encourages success in all aspects of life (education, work, personal) for high school students from diverse ethnic programs. Since this is a pilot program for the Eastside YMCA's, many opportunities are available including advisor, guest speaker, guest workshop facilitator, recruiters and much more!" Contact: Brenda Kulow-King (Director of Business & Membership Service) Phone (425)644-8417 Email bkulow-king@lh.seattleymca.org Website www.seattleymca.org