Monthly Archives: December 2011

Hassle your teachers to ask to learn to… program – programme

Happy new year everyone. n.b. I updated the title to use program and programme to avoid confusion as my not so subtle play on words 🙂 This new years eve over on CITV was the last in this series of Cool Stuff Collective. It is running for the next month on ITV player here
It was notable for a double custard pie on the wall of fame but aside from that we did a different future tech. I was intrigued what was going to make the edit as we could have done an entire show I think with all the things Vicky and I went through.
I talked about Robotics in 2012 and covered Asimo, Nao and also exo-skeletons. This was a general robotics discussion and its spin offs, plus a small piece about artificial intelligence. We did this as a talking piece with footage played in between of the various things as they were going to be impossible to squeeze into the school. In transport I also talked about the Toyota car with a giant OLED customisable surface. All very big things.
I finally got to talk about Maker Culture too, and spin off from the open source ideas to things like Sugru that let you hack things better. i.e. physical hacking.

I have my headphone mute button that I enhanced a while ago and I demonstrated altering a PS3 controller button using it. It is wonderful stuff and fits nicely into maker culture.
However the closing statements were my wish for the year. To paraphrase….
Education and teaching of computer programming needs to be done properly. We have got stuck with ICT, which is important, but it is about using computers not building with them. All the gadgets we show and all the block buster games we talk about need to be built. So I want everyone to hassle their teachers to ask to be taught computer programming as it is one of the most important skills that will be needed in the future. Without it we will not be making the next generation of gadgets or fantastic games. (That of course also relates to other business areas, banks, medical establishments etc….) Knowing how to build is important, knowing how things work not just being a user is important.
A much used quote that was a bit too heavy for the show “if you are not programming you are being programmed”
I think 2012 will be a year many more things drive this point forward to build on all the work people have been doing up to know to get this message across. So if we can keep pushing we may have a chance to save the economy and everyones future, and have a rewarding career for people too. It’s all good !
Anyway thats this series done. I may do a new year retrospective on all the pieces of the puzzle that I have talked about this series, but its all on this blog 🙂
It’s also a major part of my speaking engagements for the next few months at least.
More TV for me? Well I hope so, it is a great honour to be able to share all this stuff on all sorts of media. Lets see what 2012 brings (BTW I am my own agent at the moment 😉 )


I hope you all had a good christmas holiday. It’s friday already and I am only just blogging about the penultimate Cool Stuff Collective that started airing on christmas eve! We ventured into yet more unusual tech using a telepresence robot as both the prop and the subject of the piece.
So for this one I got to talk to vicky via Skype, but I was delivering out via a controllable camera and screen using a Mantarobot.

This piece of kit contains a netbook, but it is encased in a motorised column that allows control signals to be directed to it via Skype plugin, so you can drive around (with parking sensors sending info back to the driver). You appear on the screen and you can also pan and tilt the camera on the device which gives much more freedom than a regular webcam.

Being used to expressing what I need to say through a digital medium it was an interesting feeling to know there was an actual physical presence, a real avatar at the other end. The school floor was a bit slippery for the device so when I was driving around in rehearsals I kept facing not quite the way I wanted too. I am sure with practice that could be rectified.
I am still not a fan of the video conference though. It was made harder by the fact that I was also being filmed from over my shoulder.

It creates a weird sensation even when you know the person you are talking too. It was interesting to contrast this with the experience of talking to Vicky as a Panda avatar, rather than me as a laptop on wheels. The former was more relaxed and normal. It almost felt as if there was a “oh no what has happened to you?” feel from the telepresence bot. One of the questions from the audience was “could you make it look more real?” I suggested some tinsel.
That said though it has its place, it works and it was using easily available technology. It is not just Mars Rovers that telepresence and ultra remote control can work with.
The show is on the ITV player for a few weeks and the last show goes out tomorrow new years eve. Though for some reason we are just only CITV and have lost the ITV slot. It is a roundup and a bit of a prediction show so I will see what made the edit and talk about that tomorrow 🙂

Pandamonium at Cool HQ – Live Mocap

We have another technically adventurous Cool Stuff Collective this week. Of all the ones we have done it is the one that made me laugh the most. Plus it is highly related to virtual worlds and avatars.
We got Vicky into a sensor laden motion capture suit. The suit using gyroscopic sensors to get positional information and limb rotation.
Motion capture suit
Vicky Letch gets suited up.
That is then used live to allow an avatar to be controlled (though it can be used to record BVH files for things like Second Life and other games)
In this case we turned Vicky into a very cute Panda.
All the kit and support came from the Brighton based Animazoo. Mark from Animazoo was thrown into the spotlight as the visiting expert too and did a great job.
We changed the flow as this was about Vicky performing in the suit so I took the reigns as interviewer with Mark and also got to talk to Vicky’s virtual panda persona.
Animazoo Mocap controlled panda
Many people faced with a mocap suit and an on screen digital figure just wave their arms around a bit, Vicky threw herself into character and became one with the Panda, which is what made this item even cooler.
As well as body movements a separate hand controller is used for facial expressions and the Vicky the panda became even more real.
The bit that really made me chuckle was the reversal of the silly question at the end. Usually I have to strop off in indignation saying I am a tech geek not a … whatever. As we had a digital panda there it was its turn to rant and turn and leave in a huff. Brilliant puppetry and voice combination meant this worked really well.
Those of us that live and work in virtual worlds have started to get used to expression through a digital avatar. As we know though, it is that proxy for our human actions that seems to scare many people, fearing being misunderstood or lacking in trust of the other avatars as people might be “hiding” something. It is the core of all the fuss about #nymwars too as we express ourselves digitally. (I had a go here using Kinect a while back) whilst trying to explain digital persona is not a binary thing.
In this show it was Vicky, we knew that, but equally she was acting and merging some comedy panda with her own persona. It is something everyone should try, some puppetry or digital interaction with a facade that is not just their face. It tells you a lot about that persona and about yourself.
Anyway the show is on the ITV Player for a few weeks. Two more shows to go and the next one is next Saturday but at the slightly earlier time of 7:50 (so the CITV tweets said anyway)

Augmented reality – The Cool Stuff Way

Last Friday we filmed the last in the series of Cool Stuff Collective (booooo), but there are still 3 more to air and the one currently in play (Yay!!!!).
Last Saturday’s was the one with Augmented Reality. We did some AR back in the previous series but it is such a huge subject it deserves more coverage.
I had a few things lined up to do on this but not all of them made it. I wanted to show Disney AppMates, which we had but it seemed to not work very well so I dropped it at the last moment. It turns out you have to hold the cars in just the right place which if you have small hands it works, for bigger hands it did not, until I read the manual(looked at the box). It was a pity as it is a twist on AR using a physical device on an Ipad. Never mind 🙂 what we did have was some brilliant examples from Apache that @AdamApache brought along. This were also some AR xmas cards from 3dgreetingscards
The Apache guys brought a marker based large scale driving game for the Ipad (based on the Driver poster) and a Kinect powered magic mirror that let Vicky try on some clothes.
We had a few logistical problems as this was another item where we strayed away from the table.

This quick screen has further been augmented to show the
I think it worked ok though 🙂
It’s on the ITV player for few weeks more

KASPAR the robot – Something different on Cool Stuff Collective

The something different in the title refers both to the content of the future tech slot and also the format of it again this week. Saturday saw the first showing of this weeks Cool Stuff Collective (available now on the ITV player) and features the rather unusual KASPAR robot and one of his creators Dr Ben Robins.
This future tech I got to be a full on TV presenter. I.e I did the intro and link into and out of the item and interviewed Dr Robins. It was great fun to do, and as I had a raging sore throat at the time it was good that someone else could do the talking.
However (my TV presenting CV enhancement aside), how we did the item is less important than what the item was about.
KASPAR is part of an EU project looking at the minimal expressions needed in a robot rather than aiming for 100% realism. In a way this lives in and around the uncanny valley rather than trying to cross it.
Dr Robins’ specialism though is in using various techniques to aid children with varying levels of autism to engage with other people initially mediated through KASPAR.
The robot is not an autonomous one (though it could be), instead it is a mix of responsive sensors and touch sensitive skin and the skill of the mediator to puppet him in an interaction with someone.
We had a good chat in the “green room” (a.k.a. Staff room) before the piece as often robots are considered as replacing people.
Dr Robins was keen to point out that in the delicate human relationships that need to form in helping those with autism the robot becomes a conduit for the teacher to engage with the student. This is because this is about therapy, not technology.
The look of KASPAR seemed to divide both the crew and the audience from fascination to being a little freaked out by him. It is precisely the open nature and blend of tech and features that appears to endear him to those students that Dr Robins works with though.
It was a real honour to have something that is part of some very different research in robotics that is aimed at making a real difference to peoples lives.
Dr Robins was also a great sport in the “oooh touchy” storming off that he did, as he is a massive Asimov fan but the script asked him to play otherwise just for the long running joke. He did this with great charm and a smile on his face too.
You can read more about KASPAR and the wider project here.