Prepare yourself for yet another British invasion. No, this time it isn’t an attempt to quell a rebellious tea party uprising nor is it a mop- topped musical foursome trying to steal your teenage daughters’ hearts. Rather, this time it’s a technology invasion. Similar to the
appearance of the Raspberry Pi and the BBC micro:bit,
prepare yourself for a tidal wave of technology crashing
onto our shores in the form of British robots.
Huh? You thought that the only “good” robots come
from the labs in the US and the factories in Asia? HA!
Britain will soon be able to lay claim to being the
undisputed champion for creating affordable robotic
technology that is nothing short of incredible.
This world of technological achievement rests squarely
on the shoulders of one Atlas-like man: Tony Ellis. That Was Then
Astute long-time readers of SERVO Magazine should
recognize Ellis from his remarkable work on Vintage: a
tone-programmable wood and metal robot thought to have
been built in and around 1979. A description of Vintage
(see Figure 1) was featured in the January 2004 issue of
Designed with an aesthetic
resembling the Huey, Dewy, and Louie
droids from the Bruce Dern classic sci-fi
movie, Silent Running, Vintage housed an
automobile stereo cassette deck in its
chest along with a 16-channel RC system
for programming, playing, decoding, and
maneuvering itself via musical tones —
mop-topped musical foursome, indeed!
Through today’s eyes, Vintage looks
whimsical, but it’s earned its place in the
robot Hall of Fame. Furthermore,
programming a robot via audio tones is
not only laborious, it is also downright
brilliant. In fact, these skills for “thinking
way outside the box” enabled Ellis to
push the robot design envelope to its
limits with his most recent incarnation: a
tour de force effort named ALTAIR. This Is Now!
ALTAIR — or more specifically,
Affordable Latest Technology Artificially-
Intelligent Robot — is actually an upgrade from another of
Ellis’ successful designs: the PIC-based AIMEC robot series.
You might recall the AIMEC robot; it was featured in several
media outlets. The AIMEC: 3 robot won the spotlight on
Russian news, was interviewed on BBC TV, and even read
the nightly sport scores on BBC radio.
While Ellis gets most of the human media attention, he
isn’t some intellectual lone wolf who does more in one year
than most of us do in a lifetime. No, Ellis is actually a cog —
albeit a massive vitally important cog — in a Sussex,
England company called Applied Machine Intelligence (AMi;
Supporting Ellis is an equally incredible team of
talented contributors: Judie Ellis (co-director, inventor, wife);
Mike Hodgson (programmer); Steve Carpenter (inventor,
entrepreneur); Steve Cole (model maker); Bill Keller
(computer scientist); and Ian Ozsvald (data scientist).
The goal of AMi is to develop topnotch kickass robots
for the fields of education/home use and developmental
robotics. After just a cursory review of their Scientific,
Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) ALTAIR EZ: 2
and ALTAIR EZ:1 (and, AIMEC: 4) robots, you can tell that
Ellis and crew didn’t just meet their design goals, they
shattered them! This Is Your Future
The ALTAIR EZ:1 is a four foot tall
robot with advanced vision (including face
and object recognition) and emotion/
gender/age detection. This robot is a
sensory-rich platform with incredible
dexterity via two 5DOF (degrees of
freedom) arms (see Figure 2).
Ellis calls ALTAIR a CMS type robot:
Collaborative — Mobile — Social robot. In
this context, he uses the terms:
collaborative, due to the bot’s dexterity to
achieve things while working with humans
and other robots; mobile, because ALTAIR
can move around freely; and social, based
on the ability of ALTAIR to communicate
in a human-like manner.
Inside the ALTAIR robots, AMi uses
the EZ-Robot EZ-B v4/2 controller with
custom software, making a formidable
“brain” for these bots. A P2 vision sensor
gives high accuracy face recognition;
emotion, gender, and age estimation; plus
By Dave Prochnow
SERVO 07.2017 37
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Figure 1. Tony Ellis’ Vintage robot.