Friday, 11 December 2009

Introducing Shady, or, how to get a robot to do what a blind can

The last couple of days have felt particularly roboty.

Why, you ask? Well, I shall be posting one some of the things that came across my tech-strewn desk, and I'll introduce the mini-topic with this one. Shady.

Cast your mind back to a hot, sunny day. For those of you living in Wellington, I might suggest a quick video search on teh intertubes, just to refresh your memory.

Right, now add to that image an image of you, sitting in a chair somewhere indoors (where exactly I shall leave up to you), with the sun blazing in through the window. Does the glare bounce irritatingly off your screen? Can you feel asymmetric bits of yourself burning?

Ok, now, what would your solution be? A blind, or possible a curtain? Moving said chair/screen? Leaving the indoors to go frolick in the outdoors (particularly given that vitamin d is apparently good for mood, and might also fight diabetes and food allergies)? To scream 'aarg, I'm melting'?

Well, some very clever lads at MIT (of course) have come up with an alternate solution. One that probably makes sense if you're robot mad, but otherwise tends to hike the eyebrow somewhat heavenward. Yes, they have built a robot, called Shady.

Basiacally, if someone is feeling a little over-exposed sunwise, they simply tell the little robot where to go, and it potters to that point and then unfurls a very solar wind sail-looking fan. Which shades said controller.

Credit: Shady's website

What makes it interesting, though, is the way that it does this. It really is actually quite clever, all comments aside. Basically, it pulls itself along trusses (reminding me in the process of some strange toy from my childhood, of which I have only the dimmest of memories, except this is obviously much more clever). It's very clever robotics, in fact. Now, why would we car about something that can haul itself around trusses? Well, because they form the skeleton of large proportions of the built environment, is why, and so there are applications for construction sites, inspections of sites, and perhaps even building or forming a truss itself.

Interestingly, I just started having flashbacks of a graphic novel read many years ago (Tom Strong Issue 2, by genius and hairy-guy Alan Moore, in fact) where small, modular machines gained sentience, got their act together (literally), and had to be defeated by superheroes because they were eating the city in their quest to make more of themselves.

For those of you interested in more details, have a look here. And see here for a vid of it being cute and useful and stuff.

To anyone who builds one: I shall be most impressed, and might send you a virtual beer or something :)