Gift Your Next Robot With the Brain of a Roundworm

A group of developers called [OpenWorm] have mapped the 302 neurons of the Caenorhabditis elegans species of roundworm and created a virtual neural network that can be used to solve all the types of problems a worm might encounter. Which, when you think about it, aren’t much different from those a floor-crawling robots would be confronted with.

wormy

In a demo video released by one of the projects founders, [Timothy Busbice], their network is used to control a small Lego-rover equipped with a forward sonar sensor. The robot is able to stop before it hits a wall and determine an appropriate response, which may be to stop, back up, or turn. This is all pretty fantastic when you compare these 302 neural connections to any code you’ve ever written to accomplish the same task! It might be a much more complex route to the same outcome, but its uniquely organic… which makes watching the little Lego-bot fascinating; its stumbling around even looks more like thinking than executing.

I feel obligated to bring up the implications of this project. Since we’re all thinking about it now, let’s all imagine the human brain similarly mapped and able to simulate complex thought processes. If we can pull this off one day, not only will we learn a lot more about how our squishy grey hard drives process information, artificial intelligence will also improve by leaps and bounds. An effort to do this is already in effect, called the connectome project, however since there are a few more connections to map than with the c. elegans’ brain, it’s a feat that is still underway.

The project is called “open”worm, which of course means you can download the code from their website and potentially dabble in neuro-robotics yourself. If you do, we want to hear about your wormy brain bot.

Continue reading “Gift Your Next Robot With the Brain of a Roundworm”

Hardware-based keyboard remapping

[Nav] wanted to change his keyboard mapping for one particular keyboard, rather than on each operating system. He used an AT90USBKey as a replacement PCB by soldering to all of the contacts on the key matrix. This allows him to remap the keys by following onscreen prompts.

The board enumerates as an HID device, and has a special mode which is accesses by plugging the keyboard in while holding down any key. If a text editor window is active you’ll see prompts from the microcontroller to press a series of keys. This is a routine used to learn how the key matrix is organized, and it’s your opportunity to change how each key is mapped. Since the mapping is saved to EEPROM, you can use any computer to map the keys, then plug the device into a systems that don’t offer software remapping. It could also be useful as a gaming keyboard, assuming there aren’t latency issues

As with the AVR-based arcade controller, this project uses the LUFA package to handle the USB stack.

Real-time GPS tracker with mobile phone uplink

[jayesh] wasn’t actually trying to solve any clever problems when we built his homebrew GPS tracker. He just had the hacker mentality and wanted to build something fun and useful while geeking out with electronics and software.

On the hardware side, he started with an Arduino, then added a GPS module for location detection and a GMS/GPRS module for the data uplink to his server over AT&T’s network. The Arduino uses several libraries and plenty of custom code. On the server, he worked up some wizardry with open-source packages and the Google Maps API. All of the source code and hardware details are well-documented. Put together, it’s a GPS tracker that can update a map in real-time. Sure, there are commercial products that do roughly the same thing, but where’s the fun in that? The principles here can also be put to good use in other microcontroller-based projects.

WiFi Mapping with a smartphone

map

Not so long ago, mapping WiFi required a laptop, GPS, a big antenna and Kismet/NetStumbler. Today’s smartphones have replaced even this task. For those of us running a GPS and WiFi equipped Windows Mobile phone, WiFiFoFum is an excellent and simple solution, as well as a great companion for installing an AP. Continue reading “WiFi Mapping with a smartphone”

Map abstraction API in Javascript


Maybe you’ve tinkered a bit with the Google Maps API. Most of the software produced with it is not all that useful or entertaining, but a few gem have shone through. Still, wouldn’t it be better if applications produced with it could be easily ported to other online mapping services like Mapquest or Yahoo! Maps?

This is possible with Mapstraction, a Javascript API that works with nine mapping services and plans to incorporate more into the fold. Mapstraction has open-source features that normalize functions across the biggest services, which makes searching for map data a consistent, predictable experience no matter which service you use.

Some of Mapstraction’s current features are what you would expect: point, line, and polygon support, image overlay, GeoRSS and KML feed importing, and several others. We’re really looking forward to future versions with OpenStreetMap support. Currently Mapstraction works with only commercial mapping services, but OpenStreetMap combined with Mapstraction directly hits the sweet spot; a customizable, open source map.

[via Hackszine]