I, Robot


After reading Martin Kral’s great post about The Three Laws of Robotics and with a little influence from the Begin Robotics course I have recently finished, I decided it was probably time for me to read some of the great Isaac Asimov’s work.

I started with I, Robot which is a collection of short stories which all revolve around the famous Three Laws of Robotics and the potential problems that such logic could bring. For the uninitiated:

First: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.

Second: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

– Handbook of Robotics, 56th Edition, 2058 A.D.

The book is structured as an interview with the fictional Robopsychologist Dr Susan Calvin and progresses through the development of robots in Asimov’s world. The first story features a young girl and her robot companion, Robbie, an early model which cannot speak. The stories then jump forward to look at the lives of robotics field testers Powell and Donovan once the mechanical men have become integrated into society; and things take a darker turn in the final story “The Evitable Conflict” in which it is the year 2052 and the seemingly omniscient Machines control the worldwide (or rather, Universe wide) economy and politics to keep war at bay.

It’s difficult to keep reminding yourself when reading this book that the first story was written way back in 1939. Asimov has created an entire SciFi world with technologies very similar the ones arising now – he writes about artificial intelligence, cybernetics and there’s even mention of a ‘Visor phone’ which allows face-to-face communication through the use of light cells (FaceTime anyone?). Of course, there are a few things which seem a bit ridiculous these days, like a robot which uses thousands of relays instead of a microcontroller or processor, but Asimov’s world in which robotics is a normal profession, and robots have become the norm to the point where laws are to be made to govern them, is so brilliantly imagined and eerily similar to modern SciFi that it gives me chills. The man was an absolute genius! I’ve already ordered another 3 of his books which I’m sure I will devour just as quickly.

Back to the books, ciao!

Posted in Books, Geek, Robotics | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Game Dev for Dummies (Part 2)

Project number 2 of the Complete Unity Developer course was called Text 101. The aim was to create a text based adventure game quite similar to the old Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure. All the text is controlled via script and uses the concept of a finite state machine to control each stage. Things I’ve learned:

  • Creating a Game Design Document
  • Creating a new project and importing assets
  • Adding a 2D UI text element and image for the background
  • Changing text via script (using IF statements from the previous project)
  • Using an enumeration type to list a set of named constants
  • How to build for the web and share

My version of the game has been based on one of my favourite games, Dark Souls. You can explore, gain souls and die … often. It’s all very short and you have to actually read but if you do want to, you can check it out over here.

Dark ScrollsGo to: Part One | Part Two | Part Three |

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Game Dev for Dummies

As a complete and utter noob, I wanted to dip my toe in the metaphorical ocean of programming before I’m pushed in at university. It had to be something fun and rewarding to keep me interested, so I chose a Unity course which features a bit of C# programming. It’s called Learn to Code by Making Games – Complete Unity 5 Developer and is run by Ben Tristem and Brice Fernandes. It was completely funded by kickstarter and is constantly being updated with new material and changes based on learner feedback.

I know some of the expert programmers among you may tut at starting with a more Object Oriented approach but I felt that going straight into C or the like would lose me and my interest too quickly. The course is split up into projects where you end up with a more or less finished game so there’s always a sense of accomplishment.

Project 1: Number Wizard
The first project was ‘Number Wizard’ – a purely console-based number guessing game which uses a binary search algorithm and user input. You pick a number between set boundaries and by giving Higher and Lower feedback, the “game” will guess the right answer… eventually 🙂

    Things I have learned:

  • About functions/methods including Start() and Update()
  • Unity and Monodevelop layout and basic functions
  • Printing a string to the console:
    (Of course, using our old friend “Hello World!”)
  • Declaring and initialising variables
  • Responding to key presses
  • Using IF and ELSE statements
  • Commenting your code

It’s not an amazing amount to start off with but baby steps, right?

Go to: Part One | Part Two | Part Three |

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Begin Robotics with FutureLearn and Reading University


Whether you’ve been inspired by Big Hero 6 to make your own Baymax; are reminiscing over Robot Wars and want to recreate the carnage; or if you’re an evil genius plotting your world domination by robot army… everyone needs to start somewhere!

I took the opportunity to start with an free Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) at FutureLearn.com, hosted by Reading University. It’s called Begin Robotics and is a great 4 week introduction to the world of Cybernetics.

You don’t need any prior experience – everything is introduced assuming no prior knowledge and Richard Mitchell, Associate Professor of Cybernetics and Reading, does a great job at explaining some complex concepts such as PI(D) Control and Artificial Intelligence in a simple way. Admittedly, I wish they had gone into more detail about some of the topics but it would be hard to do so without extending the course an extra week. At the very least it gives a springboard for doing some further research into topics.

Week 1: Introduction to Robotics

The first week introduced us to the history, applications and types human interactions with robots. The last point is a particularly important one to consider especially after the recent death of a German Volkswagen worker as he was crushed by a robot.

We were also introduced to some simple online simulations of robots such as ERIC, the University’s own mobile robot who you get to know inside out over the course of the 4 weeks. There is actually talk about making a kit available so participants of future courses can put together and play with one of their own. I’m really hoping this goes ahead 🙂


At the end of every week there’s also a mini-quiz to test your knowledge of the week’s subject material.

Week 2:  The Robot Anatomy

Coming from an Electronics/Control Engineering background, this week was definitely my cup of tea. We talked about the types of sensors and actuators for robots (including a lot about biologically inspired echo-location for movement), power supplies and processors/circuit boards. We used some more complex simulations to control the movement of a robot using different motor speeds and avoiding objects.

We also watched some videos of little ERIC in action, the more advanced Rover in simulated earthquake conditions and introducing Baxter, who I met at Reading University’s Open Day and also features in this TED talk from Rodney Brookes.


Week 3: Cybernetics and Control

The third week focused on control and the future of virtual reality. There’s a great explanation of closed loop feedback and the advantages of Proportional and Integral control with some more simulations to support it. I remember attending a 4 day training course to teach us about PID controllers which could have done with a simpler introduction like this.

Next, William Harwin, Professor of Interactive Systems and head of the Cybernetics Research Group at the University of Reading, introduces the idea of haptics: a method of giving physical feedback to the user of a digital system by providing a force. There is a parallel design robot which allows dental students to perform dental simulations and feel the results of their actions without the risk of doing it for real. It’s a really interesting subject which has some really impressive future applications in healthcare, training and gaming. Richard also showed us a virtual haptic drumkit made by some of the students at Reading which looks pretty cool.


Week 4: Robot Behaviours and Learning

In the forth and final week we delved into robot behaviour and how it can be similar and dissimilar to living systems. This included looking at simple neurons, interaction between robots and instinctive behaviour.

Braitenburg vehicles have sets of wheels controlled directly by two light sensors (L and R) and instinctively move towards or away from the light depending on their configuration. This concept is used in a simulation to show how robots can form part of a predator-prey hierarchy and the course mentions Craig Reynold’ Boids, which uses a 3 simple rule computer program to give a realistic simulation of flocking birds.

The subject I found particularly interesting was of robot learning and the idea of using trial and error for a robot to determine it’s next action from live probabilities.


There was also a short video showcase of some of the university’s student projects, including a humanoid robot which is capable of standing up on its own.

Overall, the course was a great introduction to the basic principles and possibilities of robotics. It’s all interactive and there’s always support available in the comments and community if you get stuck. Being a short 4 week course, it did leave me wanting more but that’s great. Hopefully, there’ll be a follow up course of FutureLearn to take things a little further but, if not, I’ll have to wait for the uni term to start.

If you want to get in on the fun, I believe the course is still running over at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/begin-robotics, otherwise it’ll be running again on the 21st of September. As part of it, if you really want to, you can get a certificate of participation once you’ve completed over 50% of the steps to prove how dedicated you really are. (I personally think it should be 100%, but…).

Next I’ll be continuing looking at some programming courses in preparation for starting Computer Science. Perhaps I’ll move on to Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game.

Posted in Robotics | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Battle of the Boxes: June 2015

Welcome to the Battle of the Boxes 2015. As I mentioned in my last post, this June I had 5 geeky subscription boxes turn up at my door so I can compare the goods and see who comes out on top. I’ve had My Geek Box, Loot Crate and Nerd Block before and Infinity Crates and Geek Fuel are new to me. Check out the video below for the full unboxing goodness or scroll down for the overview.

(1)My Geek Box: 7/10
Disappointed about the ‘European Exclusive’ Pop! Vinyl rather than fully exclusive.


Favourite Item: Mutant Academy T-Shirt

Least Favourite: Vimto sweets because they’re easily available in all UK shops anyway.

Pros: I love all the box logos and very fast shipping.

Cons: Disappointed that the “My Geek Box Exclusive” only applies to Europe. You can get the exact same one in the US.

2Loot Crate: 9/10
Always amazing!


Favourite Item: Transformer-Tron T-Shirt

Least Favourite: Cyber Pencil Case

Pros: Great competitions, social media presence and the box design always fits the theme. It’s been the longest running sub box and has had numerous labelled exclusives.

Cons: As the most popular sub box, you’ll have to abandon social media to avoid spoilers whilst you’re waiting.

3Nerd Block (Classic): 8/10
Great collection of items to the theme

Favourite Item: Doctor Who Titan figure

Least Favourite: Bendy Mr Bean figure (though I do ♥ Teddy)

Pros: Variety of ‘Block’ types for Horror, Arcade or Comic enthusiasts. Also Nerd Block Jr for kids.

Cons: Coming all the way from Canada, adding the price of shipping to this box makes it too expensive for me to keep up.

5Infinity Crates: 5/10
Not as personalised as I expected

Favourite Item: Yoshi plush toy

Least Favourite: Marvel t-shirt. I do like the Marvel films but as I didn’t have it on my favourites and received this instead of the pokémon one (which I did list), I am slightly disappointed.

Pros: Infinity Crates ask for your favourite movies, TV shows and games to try and personalise the crates based on your interests. A fantastic idea, in theory!

Cons: The website is a little basic, a pain to update new interests and could do with a re-think. I’m also not sure what you’d end up with if you only added obscure interests.

4Geek Fuel: 9.5/10
Possibly my new favourite box. Steam keys in crates is a great idea!

Favourite Item: Jurassic Park/Lost World books by Michael Critchton

Least Favourite: Power Rangers fridge magnet

Pros: Bonus mystery gifts for extra months ordered and it’s really easy to pause or cancel the subscription via the website.
Plus apparently every box has a steam key for a game 🙂

Cons: Geek Fuel was the last box to arrive – almost 2 weeks later than the previous one.

Winner = Geek Fuel

Followed by Loot Crate and Nerd Block.

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Bring Me The Bacon!

There are currently 4 different geeky subscription boxes sat on my desk that whisper at me to open them whilst I sleep. Once Loot Crate, My Geek Box, Infinity Crate and Nerd Block are joined by their brother Geek Fuel, I can start unboxing the wealth of goodies and pick my favourite company!

It’s surprising how many different types of these to-your-door boxes have popped up recently and they’re a great way of discovering new things that you wouldn’t normally buy. And, if you’re worried about building up a collection of unwanted merchandise, think how many great Christmas presents you can give at the end of the year!

It’s not just for us closet nerds either – though these along with beauty crates seem to be among the most prevalent. Whatever your interests are, there’ll be doorstep delights available for you. (Yes, there is even a weekly bacon crate!) So while I’m eagerly awaiting my next unboxing, I’ve found some other cool subs based on a few of my favourite things:

1. Japanese Goodies

Japan Crate offer a selection of Japanese foods, drinks and sweets for you to try every month. If you want to know what was in this month’s box, you can watch Jessica Nigri’s Japan Crate unboxing over here.

2. Tea, Glorious Tea


I really want to join the tea club at BRUU. For £10 a month, you get sent a bag of gourmet loose tea made from all natural ingredients – apparently it equals out to less than 12p a cup. Unfortunately, this would mean I’d need to buy a nice new glass teapot to brew it all in… oh no! 🙂 Some of the many flavours offered include Exotic Lychee Green Tea, Nice and Spicy Chai and Sweet Vanilla Black.

3. ChocolateHIW-CHOOSE-2-454px

Of course, everyone knows about the Graze box and all the great healthy snacks they send you. But let’s face it, when it comes to snacks, you want a supply of something a little sweeter… a little more CHOCOLATE. Hotel Chocolat are one of my favourite chocolate shops and they’ve introduced the Tasting Club. For £22.95 a month you get an entire box of chocolates and you don’t even need to leave the house.

For the lactose intolerant or wallet-challenged among us, TaffyMail.co.uk post out a monthly American sweets bag from just £7.49.

4. A Fresh Pair of Socks

Ooh, the feeling of a new pair of socks after a long day *sigh* and I wouldn’t even have to go to the shops to buy them.

The London Sock Company and Sock Fancy will ship out one, two or three pairs of swanky socks to you every month with free delivery.

Super lazy underwear shoppers can also have someone else handle their pants with a Year of Pants subscription from WhoMadeYourPants.co.uk  😉

5. Books11379330_441772822657352_588623915_n

Owl Crate is a book subscription service that deliver a Young Adult novel and other literary related items (jewellery, totes, pins) to you every month.

6. Science and Engineeringjoingift_insideacrate

Kiwi Crates offer something that looks like it could be a lot of fun. It is technically aimed at kids from 9 – 14… but getting a sciency project kit like a working trebuchet or zoetrope to build every month really appeals to me. $19.95 sounds like a good deal for a little inspiration and to keep me busy for a while

7. Celebrity CratesjvZ5dYhF8nLXmoRmQUUZOgsl0XQgEyIT5eJz-aHFbVo

There is such a great range of crates available at Quarterly Co. curated by a range of personalities such as Pharrell Williams, IGN’s Naomi Kyle, Wil Wheaton and (the reason I discovered them) Bill Nye, the Science Guy. They are sent out every 3 months and are a considerably more expensive than other subscription services but each box is filled with hand picked items and a personalised letter explaining why each was chosen.

8. ???CUTOUT_SMALL1For those who like surprises; Not Another Bill pick a random premium product based on your preferences and profile. Past presents have included pieces of jewellery, home wares, stationery sets and bags. It’d make the perfect present for someone you don’t know what to buy but it is a little pricey.

Now that I know I can get everything I’d ever want delivered to my house, I’m off to continue my life as a hermit and never leave again – bring me the bacon!

Posted in Subscription Boxes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

My 10 Favourite Surprises of E3

If you hadn’t already worked it out, this week LA is hosting E3: the major hype generator for all things gaming. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get across the pond to attend but I have spent the last few days locked away in my room, munching on rubbish snack food and watching all the conferences as they went live.

Of course, there were the big announcements of sequel games, as expected – Fallout 4 looks epic and I will be getting a Pip Boy, Battlefront and Uncharted 4 gameplay got me all excited and Square Enix are creeping closer and closer with the next Kingdom Hearts – but there were also a few surprises that made me make the :O face.

10. ReCore (Comcept/Armature)

ReCore is a new title announced by Microsoft. The trailer shows a woman and her robotic canine friend roaming a futuristic abandoned desert. They take on some enemy targets and the dog takes one for the team (see, Kaboom). The energy orb that made up robo-dog’s centre is taken and used to wake up a bigger and even cooler robot. Having a hot-swappable robot companion and exploring a post-apocalyptic world sounds like it has the makings of something truly awesome.

There is no gameplay footage as of yet but the introduction of a new IP starring robot battles, cool styling and a cute female protagonist definitely looks like one to keep an eye out for. It’s an Xbox exclusive and is looking to be released in Spring 2016.

9. Sea of Thieves (Rare)

Sea of Thieves feels like the game I’ve been waiting for for years without even realising. Rare have made my dreams come true by developing an online multiplayer pirate RPG in which you can sail away with your friends, explore new lands and take down enemy ships.

It’ll be released on Xbox One and PC (and I’m seriously hoping for some cross-platform play here) in Summer 2016.

8. Xbox One Backwards Compatibility

Microsoft have announced that they have devised a way to make Xbox 360 games playable on the One. They’re aiming at 100 main titles at the end of the year, showcasing Mass Effect on the One at E3 (not exactly visually impressive but it proved the point). You’ll be able to pop in your old 360 discs into the One and download the game to play. As it uses software designed to emulate the old console, you can bring up the old style menu, use all the original features (except peripherals) and still create screenshots/record clips with the new One software.

7. Dreams (Media Molecule)

The makers of Little Big Planet and Tearaway have announced the newest way you can create and discover on the Playstation 4. You can use the DualShock 4 controller to paint, sketch and sculpt your own creations which you can then animate and share with others. Some of the examples showcased included an old man playing the piano, a zombie-fighting teddy bear and robots zooming through space.

6. For Hono(u)r (Ubisoft)

Choose to align with the vikings, knights or samurai in a 4 v 4 multiplayer battle to the death. Need I say more? Check out the trailer below.

5. Ion / Early Access

The creator of Early Access survival game DayZ has announced development of a new game: Ion. The short 1 minute trailer shows an astronaut floating through space. The camera zooms out past various planets, spacestations and solar systems to show a matrix-esque image of a body labelled with ION and seemingly shrink-wrapped.

maxresdefault Ion will be released on PC and Xbox One and heralds the announcement of Xbox Game Preview – Microsoft’s answer to Early Access. Game Preview will allow you to try games that are currently still in development (including this and Hall’s previous game, DayZ) and, unlike Steam’s pay-to-play-early, you can choose after whether you want to financially support the game or not after playing.

4. No Man’s Sky (Hello Games)

No Man’s Sky also brings space exploration to the table but in a massive – and I mean massive – scale. There is no typical story element to this game but it gives you what seems to be limitless planets and solar systems to discover and create your own personal experience. You can break things down and build on an atomic scale; name a planet (which are all actually planet-sized) and all its inhabitants and make your way to the centre of the universe – everyone’s journey through the game will be completely different to everyone else’s.

I can’t find the words to express how expansive this game is so make sure you check out the E3 video below and see. Showcased at Sony’s E3 conference, it will be coming to PS4 and PC.

3. South Park: The Fractured But Whole (Ubisoft)

I shouldn’t be as excited as I am for the release of another South Park game: an RPG which exists solely to mock the existence of the RPG. I really really am, though. The first South Park game was a great mix of the ridiculous humour, recognisable story lines, pop culture references and turned-based RPG combat and I don’t expect this one to be any different. I don’t know how they could possibly manage to make a game even more crude and potentially offensive than the last but I’m sure Trey Parker and Matt Stone will have absolutely no trouble doing so. I’m already chuckling at the name… Plus, it looks like as the New Kid you get to join the ‘Coon and Friends on their adventures and possibly created your own superhero alter-ego and origin story too.

2. Hololens with Minecraft

Naturally I was expected some mention of Virtual Reality during this year’s E3 and it was Microsoft that blew me away – and, surprisingly, it wasn’t mention of their working with Occulus Rift but the HoloLens. Using a specialist camera, they were able to display on the screens what the demonstrator was seeing through the HoloLens whilst playing Minecraft. The 3D block-built world was displayed on the desk before him, allowing him to move through and affect the world and other people playing within it with his voice and movements. I’m not even a Minecraft fan but this looked amazing.

1. Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games)

Horizon: Zero Dawn was the first game to be announced at Sony’s conference and it looks absolutely stunning. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where nature has taken back the futuristic world of the Old Ones, a redhead with a bow (think Ygritte, the wildling) takes down some native robo-animals and dinos. This new world in which humans hunt in tribes, combining of primitive weapons and new age tech will be coming exclusively to Playstation 4. I’d imagine we’ve got a ling wait for this one but I reckon it’ll definitely be worth it.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments