This article presents in story form our vision for Arxterra. In the story I portray a future day in the life of a telerobotic rover.
Me and My Rover
It is early Saturday morning as I drag myself out of bed, brew a cup of coffee, and sit down at the breakfast table with my trusty laptop – today is the big day. I log into my account and turn on my bot named Sasha located in one of the Hangers at Surveyor Park. Surveyor Park is named after the first US unmanned moon lander. I would have been fine with Luna Park after the first moon lander, but Russian names often do not translate well to English. To partially correct this injustice I gave my rover a proper Russian name.
Sasha’s control panel starts coming alive as LEDs blink from gray to green, meters start to glow, and needles move to center positions. Sasha greets me with a good morning and begins her startup sequence. I immediately request clearance to leave my docking slip, as Sasha begins her diagnostic report; all subsystems are operating within acceptable parameters, routine maintenance is not required for another week, and the Lithium Polymer battery is fully charged.
Clearance to leave my slip is taking longer than normal, probably because everyone is here, like me for the big event. As I wait I look over at the bot next to mine. I observe that Natasha has just awakened. So I am a little ahead of Mike on this day. Mike and I have one of the premier locations in the FedEx Hanger at Surveyor Park – the first bot park ever constructed. A privilege earned by us both as one of the first to purchase our slips. Both Mike and I belong to the San Diego Makers Society, the largest in the US, and have been friends for years. Before we joined the Makers Society, we both built 3D printers and robots independently. But what can you print when you have a 3D printer and what can you do with a robot once it is built. The Makers Society and Arxterra Parks gave us a solution to both these dilemmas. It also gave us, as well as other Makers, an opportunity to work together towards a common goal.
As I finish my breakfast, Sasha is finally cleared for launch, the guide gate opens and I move Sasha out of the slip and into the hanger’s primary traffic lane. As I head out of the hanger, Sasha fills me in on the day’s events. Later this afternoon the Surveyor and New York Yacht Club are hosting the Oracle Regatta at Surveyor Lake. The time difference affords those in New York a nice alternative to nightly television. Not being a sailor, and as a member of the park’s Robotics Makers Society I am more interested in how our automated bots are progressing on construction of a bridge over Grizzly Creek. Sponsored by AT&T wireless, like most projects, this one has not gone according to plan, with a few bots lost to the creek. Once completed, the AT&T Grizzly Creek Bridge will provide us with quick access to a beautiful grove of dandelion flowers, a journey that now takes over a day to complete.
As we clear the hanger, Sasha continues her monologue. The Lowe’s Surveyor Nature Club, as usual is hosting a number of guided nature hikes.
I have been on a number of these hikes and have always been impressed by the quality of the invited speakers. Not surprising when you consider that in exchange for the guided tour the naturalist gets to control one of the member’s bot for a day. With the limited number of bots available, access to even the oldest bots, like Sasha, is an offer few can turn down. Even though the senior members of the park, like me, tend to travel on unguided tours, these events still attract thousands of web visitors to the park.
With the FedEx hanger behind us, I start to enter waypoints into the overhead map of the park for my journey to the event site. On Sasha’s last visit home, I upgraded her GPS receiver and added a MEMS Gyro. Both were required in order to use the newest open-source navigation software developed by the Microsoft Surveyor Programming Team. Pressing the go button, Sasha makes a quick right hand turn off the main path linking the hangers and heads for the first waypoint – I am getting lazy in my old age. To the left of me, on a grassy field, are two groups of bots arrayed against each other. The pattern looks random but is not. The bot nearest me is Katrina. Looking around me and seeing no deer or any other animals or bots on an intersecting course, I click on Katrina.
A new window is opened in my browser, and I am teleported to Katrina’s control panel. From her perspective the scene I observed from the outside makes perfect sense. Using augmented reality the bots arrayed in front of me take on the form of 3 foot tall white chess pieces. Katrina to the others appears as a black knight. By applying the same technology used in NFL games to show the first down line, the grassy field is transformed into a chess board. In Katrina’s control panel text window and on the IBM Surveyor Chess club audio network the team members are discussing their next move. I know Tuan, Katrina’s owner, is not a member of the club, so he must have responded to the tweet sent out yesterday asking someone to fill-in for a member that wanted to go to this morning’s big event. Clearly, Tuan is not included in the discussion. I click on Sasha’s tab to return to my bot.
The coast is still clear and I have a little more time before I reach the first waypoint so I think I will take a chance and do a little more sightseeing. Actually, the potential for a crash is minimal with all bots required to carry ultrasonic range detectors and software to automatically stop the rovers if a collision with anything is imminent – independent of any owner generated instructions to the contrary. I rotate and tilt my camera up so I am viewing the camera located on top of our hanger. I click on the camera.
A new tab is opened and I find myself looking out over the park. This is a pretty fancy and expensive camera allowing us to electronically change our view and zoom into different scenes. In this way tens of thousands of visitors to the park can watch and interact with our bots in the same way I have just done with the game of chess. Many of the newer bots are sporting a smaller version of this panoramic camera; Sasha’s servo scan/tilt camera is now old school and that is fine with me. I electronically pan the hanger’s camera to the right and zoom into the water tower. I always marvel at this crowd sourced art project lead by Banksy and jointly sponsored by the Michaels Art Club and the Patagonia Climbing Club. This was the perfect project for Banksy to maintain his anonymity while reaching out to the artist community at the park and around the world. The Patagonia Club’s spider bots, as modified by the Robotics Club members, were invaluable in executing this fine-art piece. I stay, as I have in the past, and study the tiny doodle art making up the Banksy piece. After a while my mind drifts back to Sasha, and I realize that she must be approaching a glade of sycamore trees shortly and feel compelled to return to my bot. I open Sasha’s tab and find myself back in my comfy bot.
Sasha has reached the first waypoint and has turned slightly to the left avoiding the tree line. I pan Sasha’s camera ahead and slightly to the right towards a group of bots hiding in the trees. A visitor to our park would quickly discover the game without the use of augmented reality – in fact I do not know how many hundreds of web visitors are looking through Katrina’s eyes at this very moment. I look around and not seeing any animals or bots in my immediate vicinity, I teleport to one of the bots that is in the open and clearly not moving. The game is now clear as I see a virtual blue flag waving on the mast of a charging station. The trees around me as well as the bot are littered with exploded paint balls. Clearly, this bot was a newbie to our version of paint ball – minus the mess of cleaning up after each game. I listen in on the game channel for a play-by-play of the action and see much of it first hand – one of the reasons I chose this rover was that I saw it carried one of the new electronically steerable panoramic cameras. Games are a great way to pass the time, however it is time to return to Sasha.
I have been delinquent in not introducing charging stations up to this point. Charging stations are located in remote areas of the park and extend the range of our bots. Sasha is a rover based on the design of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers sent to Mars so many years ago. As such she has little solar wings which give her the longest range of all the bots, plus if I make a mistake and run out of power before I can reach a charging station, I can camp out until the sun recharges my batteries to the point that Sasha can make it to the hanger or to the nearest charging station.
The second waypoint is located close to what looks like a child’s dream park – full of boxes, cylinders, and ramps. In fact this is GE’s Imagination at Work Park. On each face of these basic shapes you will find a black and white icon. GE provided augmented reality software targets these icons to correctly place and create different lands for us to explore. I have explored many of the provided lands, including an old western gold mining town. I do not have time to let Sasha visit the park today. Instead, I teleport to a bot that is already in the park and spend some time viewing a fantasy castle through the eyes of a bot I do not know. I wonder what this bot’s owner would think if he or she knew that the visitor who has joined in the exploration of the castle was also its creator.
When I return, Sasha has left the second waypoint and is halfway to the third and final waypoint. Keeping a rover at the park is expensive for a hobbyist like me, so I offset the cost by renting out Sasha to friends. Not just anybody gets to drive Sasha they must first spend some quality time with a simulator and then with me looking over their “virtual” shoulders as they take Sasha out for the first few times. Only when they are ready do I let them take Sasha out on their own. I have been surprised how many new friends I have made every time I mention that I own one of the bots at Surveyor Park. Today I will sadly not be returning to the hangers with Sasha, instead Alexa will have the honor after doing a little trailblazing on her own.
It is lunch time when Sasha and I reach our final destination. I am joined by a cadre of other bots – Rovers like Sasha, Biped Android Robots, Spiders, and flying overhead a few Quad-copters and Drones. The wind must have grounded the newest addition to our park, a Blimp, and will make me deviate from my original plans.
I get an Alert on the park wide network that the Boeing sponsored rocket launch is at T-minus 1 minute. This is the big event we have all come out to watch. Boeing teaming with rocket clubs around the world will attempt to simultaneously launch rockets from every park. As the first park, Surveyor is hosting the largest of the rockets and this year’s winner of the “Largest Rocket Contest.” I turn control of Sasha over to Alexa and click on one of the quad-copters, I really wanted a view of the rocket from the blimp but this will work nearly as well. 3, 2, 1… I click on the rocket… lift-off. Wow this is amazing as I view the Earth receding below me. Now for the tricky part that I have been planning for weeks. As we reach apogee I open the Park tab in my browser and zoom out from Surveyor park to the world map identifying all the other parks, I quickly locate Viking park located in the Andes Mountains in Chile. Zooming in on the park I locate a circle of green dots. This must be bots watching their launch. I click on a random green dot and find myself looking up at a small white dot descending to Earth. I click on the dot and find myself looking down on majestic snowcapped mountains – Wow wait until I post this on You Tube.
I end my day’s adventure in the typical fashion, zooming out from the parks located on the Earth, past the Moon Park, and finally find a bot on our newest park on Mars. The view is truly otherworldly. Mike and I, along with most of the members of the San Diego Makers Society, are pooling our intellectual and financial resources for our next bot. Can you guess where we are going?
Forming Corporate Partnerships is critical to the success of AoSA-Adventure. In this story, I introduced over a dozen potential sponsors. I selected these companies for illustrative purposes only and no endorsement is implied. Please contact us if you would like your company included the “The Story.”