Jun 11 2010

Buster: Chapter 1 in essense

From page one, the book is memory filled. I’m glad to have it because there’s no other way I could remember the details.
Published 1976, Buster the robot is described as “one of the most unusual machines possible in the context of modern technology” and that he “Represents the highest-order machine that technology can produce today”. And I believe it.

It’s a strong contrast to the book itself, as the glue holding the pages in is cracking and the first 14 of them are threatening to come away entirely.

Buster is set out in a three-stage project (accordingly titled Buster I, II and III), in which the same machine is further added to and modified, increasing it’s abilities.

The Buster I phase warns that it will be the most expensive, dealing mostly with converting/building the driveframe, power supply, control systems and so on. Basically building Buster up as a tethered remote control vehicle, going up through the stages of; going from brute-force power switching to logic-level control, adding speed variation control, self-centring steering, and finally converting the controls over to binary.

The Buster II stage starts working on the autonomic reflex system and “brain”.
I’m rather excited that it talks of them separately, indicating lifelike concious and autonomic motivators.
The section also adds sensors and reflexes, as well as low-battery self-monitoring and an alarm to alert the owner of this, which is also used if Buster gets stuck somewhere.
After this comes the cutting of the umbilical controls, and making some form of audio control system (though it mentions the transmission format being compatible with then-current regs for data links between telephones and CB radio systems. This seems rather esoteric now! I had no idea CB radios were often hooked up to telephones.).

Buster III starts by adding the impressive-sounding “tracking function” which ties in with giving him goal-seeking abilities. This then ties in with the hunger alarm, and allowing Buster to seek out his charging station to plug himself in.
I seem to recall from the first time I read the book that this had some sort of contacts on sprung arms. Guess we’ll see when we get there.

Yes, I’m not re-reading the book up front, I’m taking it as it comes (well, chapter by chapter).

By this point Buster should be able to run around by himself, bumping into things, hurtling into empty spaces, and charging himself up when needed.
Beyond this point it talks of the icing on the cake; optional extras and so on. Things like line-following and other variations.

There’s also mention of a theoretical Buster IV, adding microprocessor control on top of the reflexes and goal-seeking. Perhaps these would be analogous to reflexes, instincts and concious learning?

The staged construction and review layout of the book sounds perfectly manageable.

And ultimately it points out that you need to choose some of the design choices at each stage yourself. It’s a recipe, not a design.

It also notes that “despiking” capacitors are omitted on all schematics. Will have to remember that.

[20/06/2010: Amalgamating old posts from “Dreamwidth Creative Blog” into sci-fi-fox.com to re-purpose DW blog account.]

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