Neural Networking: Robots Learning From Video

Humans are very good at watching others and imitating what they do. Show someone a video of flipping a switch to turn on a CNC machine and after a single viewing they’ll be able to do it themselves. But can a robot do the same?

Bear in mind that we want the demonstration video to be of a human arm and hand flipping the switch. When the robot does it, the camera that is its eye will be seeing its robot arm and gripper. So somehow it’ll have to know that its robot parts are equivalent to the human parts in the demonstration video. Oh, and the switch in the demonstration video may be a different model and make, and the CNC machine may be a different one, though we’ll at least put the robot within reach of its switch.

Sound difficult?

Researchers from Google Brain and the University of Southern California have done it. In their paper describing how, they talk about a few different experiments but we’ll focus on just one, getting a robot to imitate pouring a liquid from a container into a cup.

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Capture the Flag Challenge is the Perfect Gift

Nothing says friendship like a reverse engineering challenge on unknown terrain as a birthday present. When [Rikaard] turned 25 earlier this year, his friend [Veydh] put together a Capture the Flag challenge on an ESP8266 for him. As a software guy with no electronics background, [Rikaard] had no idea what he was presented with, but was eager to find out and to document his journey.

Left without guidance or instructions, [Rikaard] went on to learn more about the ESP8266, with the goal to dump its flash content, hoping to find some clues in it. Discovering the board is running NodeMCU and contains some compiled Lua files, he stepped foot in yet another unknown territory that led him down the Lua bytecode rabbit hole. After a detour describing his adjustments for the ESP’s eLua implementation to the decompiler he uses, his quest to capture the flag began for real.

While this wasn’t [Rikaard]’s first reverse engineering challenge, it was his first in an completely unknown environment outside his comfort zone — the endurance he demonstrated is admirable. There is of course still a long way down the road before one opens up chips or counts transistors in a slightly more complex system.

Flying the Friendly Skies with A Hall Effect Joystick

There are plenty of PC joysticks out there, but that didn’t stop [dizekat] from building his own. Most joysticks measure position¬†mechanically using potentiometers or encoders. Only a few high-end models use Hall effect sensors. That’s the route [dizekat] took.

Hall effect sensors are non-contact devices which measure magnetic fields. They can be used to measure the position and orientation of a magnet. That’s exactly how [dizekat] is using a trio of sensors in his design. The core of the joystick is a universal joint from an old R/C car. The center section of the joint (called a spider) has two one millimeter thick disc magnets glued to it. The Hall sensors themselves are mounted in the universal itself. [Dizekat] used a small piece of a chopstick to hold the sensors in position while he found the zero point and glued them in. A third Hall effect sensor is used to measure a throttle stick positioned¬†on the side of the box.

An Arduino micro reads the sensors and converts the analog signal to USB.  The Arduino Joystick Library by [Matthew Heironimus] formats the data into something a PC can understand.

While this is definitely a rough work in progress, we’re excited by how much [dizekat] has accomplished with simple hand tools and glue. You don’t need a 3D printer, laser cutter, and a CNC to pull off an awesome hack!

If you think Hall effect sensors are just for joysticks, you’d be wrong – they work as cameras for imaging magnetic fields too!