Monday, January 25, 2010

Australia Day - We are Here Day

A lot of my friends are calling Australia Day "Invasion Day" - the historical connotation of landing in Sydney cove are unavoidable. In the larger context a few hundred years makes no difference, lifeforms come and go. We are here only temporarily, no use getting caught up in messes from the past - time is much better used focusing on the future. Let's call it "We are here Day".

Australia Day can become the focus of patriotic (read bogonism) can have at times violent outcomes. I have been at the receiving end of it way too often for my comfort and have been caught by the safety net of private health insurance. At least it promotes some kind of Australian industry - which the Australian flag bag (made in China) I just got from the supermarket does little to. As an engineer it is sometimes frustrating to see the lack of technical production capacity in Australia, well we have a few defence contractors perennially running over budget and some car industry but no advanced electronics. Labour is just way inflated in value - good for affordability of iPhones I guess.

Wealth is usually on a logarithmic distribution and highly influenced by the initial conditions i.e. luck of birth. Our lives are too short for the chaotic butterfly effect on which the universe rests to sufficiently evolve from our initial condition. What we observe is a finite almost linear element of the unfolding system, yet it is sufficiently unpredictable and fractal to be interesting.

Being Australian can simply be the luck of being born in this country or "earning" the right through education, preserverance and holding up signs to do the Citizenship test since the National computerized testing system failed and we don't have the technology to make it more robust. Yet I am willing to hang around and make the system better.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Quadcopter taking shape

Thanks to some excellent drilling and sawing from Fabrice we are on our way toward making the quadcopter airframe. To keep my end up I need to make either a timer based or software extended PWM on the AVR Butterfly. May be it will be worth getting another more modern microcotroller board like the Teensy which has more PWM channels.

The X-frame of the copter has taken shape, we stuffed a PVC centre piece with some toxic fluffy packing foam to hold the carbon fibre in place. Some flat struts form the outer edge. Aluminium end plates will be used to mount the motors and account for my short sightedness in getting cheap inrunner motors instead of outrunners. All looking good so far except my 300 words per day PhD budget.

In one of the Cape Town IGARSS a presenter making a remote sensing UAV wanted ideas for mounting a mini radar on it. Andreas Reigber suggested a FMCW (Frequency Modulated Continuous Waveform) Radar scanner. I have seen Laser range finders mounted on quadcopters but not a radar yet. It is time to put one on and find the needles in the haystack, because with radar you can if the haystack is dry enough and the needle is not made of bone.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

DirectX Shader in MingW

I  promised some VLC devs to try and to YUV to RGB conversion via shaders. Then I hit a wall, MingW does not have the headers to load and compile HLSL from text. There have been attempts by wine and reactos at rewriting the headers, but none that I could use.

So it seems like I will have to take the long route, compile a utility DLL to compile the shader and pass a handle to it back to VLC.

PS: I ended up answering my own question on SO about this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The FOSS4G gang comes out on Haiti

 The group of people who helped put together aerial after Katrina have started a set of web services to deliver the situational imagery being collected by the American and any other satellites and aerial platforms over Haiti.

The anchor site is telascience, the quick access url's to Openlayers viewers for imagery and WMS access from other viewers are here and here.

Other satellite imagery from EROS can be viewed here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday night phone call - peer to peer voip

In a dense human populated area in the pub region you make phone calls to find your friend. Clog the phone networks and can't get through. Why not use the people not making a call to route your call ? Give them call credits if you use them as a hop.

The telco provider system creates a star topology where all calls have to pass through the base station. With the proliferation of wireless capable phones, this topology can be converted into a mesh-topology and  reused to provide social phone calls.

Swarm MIMO and cognitive antenna creation on the "Fly"

Looking at the skybotix and talking to folks in the lab about GPS jammer direction of arrival and null-steering to locate and isolate jammer - I considered building a flock bot to produce reconfigurable GPS antijamming arrays. The GPS antennas are typically omni-directional and pick up the signal as well as strong jammers. A flock antenna can easily locate jammers by producing spherical antenna arrays on demand to detect and null jammers. A perfect example of what a group of objects can do when individuals fail. The 3D array configuration can then change from detection mode to nulling mode where the array reforms to steer the most effcient nulls. The whole swarm gains by receiving GPS position and sharing the information via difficult to jam short-distance communication such as bluetooth.

The tricky bits now would be to build the relocation and swarm shaping without collision. The swarm has to collectively agree on the position of the elements and plan paths while observing the RF environment. Sounds tricky but if bees can do it, we can too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wearable dating site AKA beer goggles

One of my friends described his psychology lecture as being replete with people wearing huge sunglasses, mini skirts and ugg boots, who would not know psychology if Freud kicked them in the face.

Being summer sunnies are part of Australian attire - Slip-Slop-Slap-Seek and Slide. Watching a video on Augemented Reality farming recommended by Eric Rice, I wanted to make a facial recognition based dating site goggles. If you jumped on oasis, you would fine 500+ girls looking for guys within 10km from you or vice-versa. Why not pick up those profile pics and build up haar templates trained to pick them up in the crowd in the mall - go and deliver your newly found and unique pick up line instead of the stupid one-liners oasis lets you send.

Australia speak for these could be beer-goggles , lacking a better name. If you are not into beer you could have whiskey, champagne or vodka goggles - whatever is your poison.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Writing top-down bottom-up and round and round

I had a crucial meeting with my PhD supervisor today. I basically declared that I have fiddled about long enough and I am now writing my thesis. I have about 300 days to go and University policy dictates a thesis 80,000 words or so.

I will have to approach this from many directions, a bottom-up approach will be to write 300 words per day consistently, this will form the oodles of clay that needs to be pushed around to give the thesis body. Top-down approach my supervisor recommended was to structure my thesis with chapters and sub-headings and write 2-lines about each sub-heading, this will come to about 2-pages and form the armature of the thesis.

People do their PhD's on a single track and their theses are like great big towers. Some collaborate widely like Erdos and end up PhD's which look like the Savannah ( I was going to say sahara but that is not true, there are splashes of greenery). Mine is ending up like a Nautilus, starting from a point, fidgeting about and organically growing in spirals.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Talking to butterflies - over Adelaide

I finally got a bit of soldering done and serial comms with the AVR Butterfly established. I like it since it is cheap and the LCD provides other means of debugging than the serial console on the microcontroller. In production it can run off a buttoncell providing nice option for backup power and recovery if LI-PO's run out of charge.

In other news Nearmap has done it again and delivered the multiview mosaics + terrain over Adelaide from Boxing Day. This one features much better consistency and great attempts at vertical building facade mosaics. The algorithms still need some improvement to produce stunning results. Adelaide does not have many tall buildings, errors will be worse in Sydney or Melbourne.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let's get real - Real Tournament 2010

I love working on visual effect using the graphics card, but sometimes simulated renders just doesn't cut it. You want the real look and feel of what it is like, you want to hop into an Avatar and run out there in the harsh world with toxic air and play a game. Admitted the movie has some of the richest renders ever and a lot of human effort went into the art and content creation, but it is difficult to do real time.

So here is the idea, quite simple really - an Augmented Reality MMO with camera robots. Going with the classic shooter genre, we will need some lasers and possibly other projectiles. Here are the units from a quick looks at ThinkGeek.

The Basic Spawn Foot Soldier - Grunt

This is the unit you spawn as before acquiring a transport. Has to be simple cheap, yet robust unit. It also needs to be physically agile with humanoid motions. Ideal candidates are the plethora of humanoids built in Japan. I will choose one that is smallest, runs embedded linux and has a preprogrammed motion called round house kick - i-SOBOT. Sadly the i-SOBOT as it stands lacks a camera, so this is the alternative.

The Basic Land Vehicle - Tank

You of course do not want to be foot bound and run everywhere. So your robot avatar can interface and drive a vehicle. You could also possibly just apparate in a vehicle and never be foot bound. Lots of video streaming car bots are around. I like the ones running a blackfin DSP, but it is aimed at the research market. Though it is hackable, it is pricier. The other option is the Rovio.

The Basic to Advanced Aerial Unit - Chopper and Troop drop

The greatest fun is going aerial and dropping into the back of their base when no one is looking. Need an aerial platform that is cheap small, has a camera and will not be greatly impacted by a fall. The dual-contrarotor designs are good and will make for a fast platform,
where as the quad-rotor designs will make a more stable platform and function as troop-drop.

There is a Swiss ETH spin-off making the dual-rotor ones, Skybotix. Recently there was a lot of media around the iPhone controlled Quadrotor - AR. Drone Parrot. You can actually get one of these as a game dev. Only if I had the cash.

The Scenery and the Sand Pit

So we can now move about willy nilly and see where we are going. Still need a play pen though. This is where we can get really inventive and easy. Making a real forest with trees which take damage on shooting is hard in graphics, but really trivial in augmented reality. May be it will encourage preservation of play parks and clean play beaches, or post-apocalyptic architecture. We will have to stream and clean and stabilize the videos, we will have to motion track and assist with auto-lock shooting. Technology which I pray the millitary will not try to use for other means.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Chewing gum computer - Gumstix Verdex

Matthew at the Uni lent me one of the coolest and smallest functional computers on a tiny board. It is a Gumstix Verdex based unit with a 400MHz processor, it also comes with a GPS add-on board and you can run Linux OpenEmbedded or windows CE on it. I also have a microstrain 3DM-GX2 to complete the kit for positional sensing.

Time to hop-along and install an autopilot OS on the Gumstix to get flying.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy new year - may the stars keep moving

It was a great new year's eve - a completely awake night of food, friends, drinks and dancing. For some reason I got obsessed with pointing out that nothing lasts for ever - stars live, move around and die. Showed the stars in the Orion constellation thrice and pointed out the rabbit on the moon.

Orion has some of the most exciting stars around, Rigel, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix. Nearby is the brightest Sirius. Strangely enough a lot of separated cultures identify the same group of stars as the same constellation, points to the common human wiring for pattern recognition.