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Monthly Archives: May 2010
Robotic “Dog” from USC Shows Impressive Pathfinding Over Unfamiliar Terrain… and Makes Us Think It’s Alive

Filed under Found on the Web

This is described as a prototype robotic dog – but let’s get this out of the way right at the start. The shape and texture of its robotic body makes it look like a huge beetle, which seems a bit creepy.

That impression fades, though, as you watch it move. Its four legs are constructed like a dog’s legs and its movement is captivating. As the robot explores rough and unfamiliar terrain it applies its experience of similar situations and tries to find its way, sometimes slipping and recovering. Those moments are the ones that really make it seem alive and you find yourself cheering it on.

In fact the way it pauses and thinks about what to do next give the impression of awareness. It’s very interesting to watch and quite a technical achievement – just imagine yourself trying to train a machine to behave this way. Its interactions with a changing environment are especially, well, awesome.

But like most who’ve viewed the demonstration I find myself thinking less about how smart these researchers are, and more about the way we react to the machine in motion and why we perceive it as an autonomous creature. I like the idea of something like this, with Roomba-like instructions to explore and patrol, making way for me on the stairs and showing up next to my bed in the morning.

[tags]robotics, robot, motion, quadruped, dog, bug, usc, bring me my coffee[/tags]

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“Choice of the Dragon” game – and its Downloadable Engine

Filed under Found on the Web, Web Development

I just had some fun playing through a text adventure game called Choice of the Dragon (try it!).

It was created with a system called Choicescript. Choicescript games are free to play on the web, but are also available as iPhone and Android apps. There’s (so far) one more game called Choice of Broadsides.

In a lot of ways these resemble what I’ve done with Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual – in fact the basic differences are owed to the two facts that I’m simultaneously developing for the web and for print, and I’m illustrating my story nodes. As it stands the Choicescript games don’t support illustrations but it wouldn’t take much custom Javascript (and/or php) in the page template to fix that. Choicescript allows you to set variables depending on the player’s actions and one of those variables could easily be the URL of an illustration. A little document.write, and you’re there.

If you’re interested in playing with Choicescript – some user-created games get hosted on the choiceofgames site – you can start out with the blog.

[tags]text adventure, game engine, choice of games, choice of the dragon, choice of broadsides, roll your own[/tags]

A Clockwork Eye from the Secret Laboratory

Filed under Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual, Works in Progress

Clockwork iris animation

Click the image to see it animate!

I’ve been working on this mechanism – well, it’s a 3D model, so it’s not a real mechanism – for the past few days. In ways that are known only to my Kickstarter backers, this is a part of the next stage at my Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual web site.

It’s unusually steampunkish for me but that makes sense because this object is just the eye of a mechanical character who’s much older than anything else in Retropolis. A character who was built in the earliest days of the Mad Science we know and love. I added an eyebrow as a backplate for the band drive – and after much agony I figured out how to set the objects up in 3DS Max so that the whole thing animates when you turn its drive wheel.

The iris mechanism here is based on a real, working design that was featured at Boing Boing a few days back. The original forum thread (with many revisions!) is here. My version is based on one of the earliest of them – I wanted to start with something simple before I got all baroque about it. Which I felt was likely.

Anyway what this means is that I’m working maniacally on some new stuff for the Thrilling Tales site. And now… to that I shall return.

“Sculptris” – Donationware 3D Sculpting

Filed under Computer Graphics


Tomas Pettersson’s DonationWare Sculptris has come a long way since we first heard about it several months ago. The 3D sculpting application produces results a lot like what you get from the basic features of HelluvaLottaMoneyWare programs like ZBrush and Mudbox, but it’s a hobby project that’s supported by voluntary donations. The video above is a user video by Syntax Error. (Part two is here.)

You can start out with a simple sphere, as we see in this example, or you can import an existing .obj file. I’m still blundering around with it but I’m always curious about ways in which to combine these organic modeling tools with rigid, streamlined shapes for ever more interesting rockets and whatnot. I especially like how well its "Reduce" brush brings down the resolution of an area I’ve been mucking about with.

I did convince the program to hide under its blanket at one point… but overall it seems pretty neat. Try it out!

Go Hero adds “Dan Dare” and “The Shadow” Action Figures to its Line Up

Filed under Found on the Web

Go Hero's The Shadow and Dan Dare action figuresNow that Go Hero’s Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon action figures are out in the wild, they’re about to be joined by the lantern-jawed British spaceman Dan Dare and the, well, lantern-nosed pulp crimefighter, The Shadow.

Each of these 1:6 scale figures is now available for pre-order (the photos are from prototypes).

Not content just to fight crime and patrol the spaceways, Go Hero is also working on the incredible BAT BOY from the late lamented Weekly World News.

I’m also curious about the Atomodel, a 1:6 scale blank action figure. It’s got over 30 points of articulation and offers you a blank maquette on which to work – so if you’re dreaming up a new steampunk Star Wars, or, well, whatever, this could be just the thing for you. There’s even a version with an integrated MP3 player for those all-important pew-pew effects.

[tags]go hero, collector, action figure, toys, dan dare, the shadow, pulp, comics, atomodel, blank action figure, maquette, armature, nerd it yourself[/tags]

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