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January 16 - Rex: The Brain for Robots

There is a kickstarter for an interesting robot board, called the Rex. It is a combination of a small computer board (like a Raspberry PI) based on the A8 Cortex, and the IO and electronics connections for a robot board. The team building it is also building an operating system with support for some common components. It seems worth checking out.

I would like them to get enough subscribers so I get my board. So please show them some support.

December 29 - At Techshop

I got a Techshop class as a Christmas present from my wife. It is very cool to live near a Techshop so that I can learn more about tools and fabrication. I always hoped they would open one in Los Angeles.

While I was learning basic metal working, two people near me were fabricating an elaborate aluminum part. I asked them what it was for. They said they were making an eight legged robot to tend gardens. The techshop is very cool.

November 24 - No Robogames

Apparently there is not going to be another Robogames. I saw David Caulkins at BarBot in San Francisco and asked him about this. He told me that this year's competition was the last.

Robogames is the most ambitious amateur robotics event by far. I am sure it was very difficult to produce and apparently unrewarding to its creator. David said it wasn't the difficulty of the event, it was all the trouble he had to go through the other 51 weeks of the year to put on the event. I am not sure exactly what he meant. He said he had posted about it but I haven't been able to find the post.

February 15 - Robot Hiatus

My robot building has been on hiatus in preparation for a move to the San Francisco Bay Area. I am packing up all the tools and all the robots, but I am still don't know where we will live. Robot updates will probably be a bit sparse until I am set up again.

December 9 - Raspberry Pi Robot

Scurrier is the robot I used in last year's walking robot race. I have improved the legs and now it is a big sturdy walking platform. But I have never really had it do anything but walk in a straight line.

It's obvious that I should make it into a smarter robot, but with a couple of pounds of payoff what processor should I put on it? I would like to have something that can run a real OS, as opposed to a microprocessor. I looked at Beagleboards and other small card PCs. I decided on a Raspberry Pi.

A Raspberry Pi is about as powerful as most computers its size. AdaFruit has started supporting it with prototyping shields, so I expect it will become a board that is pretty easy to connect electronics to. It's very cheap, which meant that it is popular and replacable. There is a version of ROS for Raspberry PI, and people are making a variety of cases and shields for it.

Cheap is important for robots, because while the time you put into programming a robot is a lot more valuable than the board, you have to multiply the cost by the number of times you will have to replace it. With new robots, used outdoors or in combat, the chances are you will have to replace it more than once. My most extreme cases are the robots I have used for combat. Both the Peanut Tin of Terror and Decapitron have destroyed two controller boards, usually from an impact that causes them to short out.

I am waiting for my prototyping shield from Adafruit, it is back orderd.

October 11 - Editing Circuit Boards in a Browser

As I learn about robots I have been learning better and better fabrication techniques. Some of my earliest robots aren't even on this site. But even the ones that are you can see that I started out by using tin cans and shoe boxes. I have learned a lot about working with plastic and metal, and how to fabricate many parts.

I think the next step is to make my own circuit boards. With all the shields that exist for Arduino and Parallax Propeller, I still can never find the perfect robot controller card. I keep having to hand solder circuits, as I do on Decapitron. I really think I should learn how to make my own shield cards. People say it isn't that hard. And here is the evidence it is getting easier: a circuit editor that works in a browser!

Circuits.io is a circuit editor that works in a browser. You can edit circuits and make pcb boards. They don't have a vendor yet, but it looks like they will have an option where you can order the circuit board you design in your browser. I wouldn't believe it was possible, except that I have seen how Big Blue Saw has been able to put part editing and part ordering into a browser. We live in amazing times.

Crazy cascade of one-shots from circuits.io on Vimeo.

September 29 - Combots

Unfortunately it doesn't look like there will be any other autonomous combat robots at Combots other than Otto and Decapitron. I know John Frizell is improving Otto. I have done some work on Decapitron. Still, it would be nice if there was some new robots fighting. I want to make a new combat robot, but I was planning that for next year since I am busy with work again.

September 16 - A Cord on Decapitron

I spent a lot of time this weekend experimenting with new software for Decapitron. Decapitron is going to be in Combots 2012 in the autonomous combat division. I'm not changing the hardware much. It is very sturdy. I let my eight year old son take it to school in his backpack for show and tell. It went unpacked in his backpack to and from school, got passed around by kids (probably dropped) and still worked afterward. That's about as tough as I can make a robot.

The software has more room for improvement. I had problems with my color sensors at Robogames so I added some code to autocalibrate the line sensors. I am also trying to get the robot to use its ping sensors at longer range to detect targets. It is hard to get that to be reliable. You can detect the sonar gradiant of the edge of a robot. But telling the differnce between the edge of a robot and the edge of a wall requires more accurate positioning then Decapitron has. Still, I'm experimenting with different techniques.

In order to speed up programming I left a USB cable inside the robot attached to the controller board. That way I can just plug the robot in and reprogram it. I run it (holding the cord) and reprogram it again without having to open the shell, which takes a long time. It let's me iterate on the software much more quickly.

One thing that is bad about Decapitron is that it has too much battery life. Ideally it should use up all its power in the 3 minutes of a match. Instead it can go twenty minutes or more, which means I didn't design the power system optimally at all. But it does mean I can run it a long time in test.

September 10 - Why I Make Quads

When you look at videos and robot events people seem much more interested in bipeds-- particularly humanoid bipeds-- than quadrupeds or hexapods. I avoid making bipeds because I just don't think they can get around very well. Darkback is an excellent builder of legged robots. This video he made of a race between his biped and his quadruped illustrtates the relative merit of having four or more legs.



September 9 - Parallax

UPDATE - The sale has ended (9/10). I will try to put up notices of these sales sooner.

Parallax is having a 25th Anniversary Sale. This includes many items 25% off and $25 BASIC Stamp 2 modules. That is the best price I have ever seen for the BASIC Stamp, the easiest robot controller to use.

August 29 - DragonCon

Simon Arthur, of the Big Blue Saw, will be talking at Dragon Con. I didn't know it until now, but apparently he was the director of the Robotics track for that convention. Apparently they are changing the format to be more about the Makers movement in general. Simon will be on a panel about digital fabrication.

DragonCon is "largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe." They also have a robot combat competition. It's very far away from me in California, but if you live in that part of the world I would recomend going, particularly if you are interested in fabrication.

August 22 - Combots Prep

I will be entering Decapitron into Combots this October in the Autonomous combat competition. I want to improve the software of Decapitron, but to do that I need a better mock up of the autonomous combat arena. In the past I have tried to use robot sumo rings, but they are not righ in terms of shape or size.

Here is the combat arena I started working on. I need to add low lexan wall around most of the edges. It isn't exactly the same dimensions as the actual arena that is used. It's a few inches smaller, and the push out holes are smaller. Still, it should help me refine the robot's AI.



August 12 - Open Sourcing Scurrier CAD Files

I am putting up the CAD files for Scurrier as open source here. I don't really expect people to make this robot, but if you want to see more about how I did it you can look at the files.

August 5 - Robocup 2012

Most Robocup games just make me glad I don't make bipeds. They seem so slow and weak. But every year the bipeds get better and the AI gets better. I think this is one of the best matches I have seen yet.

July 28 - Combots 2012

Decapitron is registered for 3 lb autonomous combat at Combots 2012. I have been improving the robot (which came in 2nd at Robogames) so I hope it will do well again.

July 26 - Scurrier Page

I have been working on Scurrier to improve the legs so that they will be more sturdy and hopefully it will be able to go faster. I also plan to add sensors and a better controller. So I created a page for updates to Scurrier.

July 14 - Better than duct tape?

Although Scurrier is a pretty sturdy robot, in order to make sure it held together safely at top speed I added the miracle component of duct tape. This worked fine for the walker challenge, but it is not my preferred approach to leg engineering. So this month I have gotten some redesigned upper leg pieces that add some extra bracing, and a bearing to help take the strain off the horizontal servos.

Here is the before and after:



July 3 - Patriotic Robot Parade

Today our robots were able to show their love of country by marching in an Independence Day parade. Check out the video of our Patriotic Robot Parade.

June 30 - Servo Magazine

I got an email from Servo City because apparently Decapitron appears in the July issue of Servo magazine. They were happy about it because Decapitron has a Servo City decal on the top of the robot that is in the picture.

I am glad I was able to help them out. Decapitron has drive motors, motor mounts, and servos that I got at Servo City. In particular I built the robot arount their vertical servo mounts. They are sturdy and easy to use.

Now I have to find a place where I can buy that magazine. Between the Kindle, the iPad and the podcasts I don't really buy a lot of magazines anymore. For robot news I recommend the Robots Podcast. And Servo magazine of course.

June 16 - Digital Servos

Many people (most actually) come to this site for the pages describing servos. But I haven't updated those pages in a long time. In particular, the decription of recommended servos didn't include any of the digital servos I often now use. So I updated the page to include the servos I use in Quokka, Scurrier, and Decapitron, which are all digital.

Going back to this page makes me realize that there is a lot more I want to update. For example, Robotis has replaced the RX-28 with a servo with a different communication protocol called the MX-28. There are also a lot of unusual servo types I have tried now that I would safely recommend. I do plan to update these pages more in the future.

June 10 - Steel Sale

Big Blue Saw is having a sale on waterjet cut cold rolled steel. The sale is June 19-22 on A366/1008 Cold Rolled Steel at 0.06" thickness. You get the volume discount even on small orders. I am going to take advantage of this to make longer and lighter teeth for Decapitron while the steel is on sale.

They also are offering some new steel types for waterjet cutting: Cold Finished Steel 1018, Hot Rolled Steel A36, Hot Rolled Steel 1045, Hot Rolled Steel A569/ASTM A1011, and the A366 which is on sale.

I haven't- made a lot of parts out of steel, I mostly use aluminum. But I am always interested in learning about new materials.

June 1 - Showing Decapitron

My older son (8) took Decapitron to school to show his classmates yesterday. I was glad he was excited to show it. I am really proud of it. In some ways it is the best built and best designed robot I have ever made.

I have been stepping away from robots to catch up with everything I neglected to get ready for Robogames. Spencer asking to take the robot to school came out of the blue. It gave me a chance to reflect a bit.

None of Decapitron's fights this year were as good as the match between the Peanut Tin of Terror and Toro+ in 2011. That was a good fight. And it was pretty exciting because it was the last fight and it had quite an audience. Part of this is because Decapitron is a less exciting robot to watch. It moves slower and it depends more on defense.

May 11 - Final Match (Autonomous)

I’m taking forever to put up pictures and movies from Robogames this year. I still have a lot I want to post. But in the meantime I found this video that Uai!rrior put up of the final match between Decapitron and Carrapato+. This was not Decapitron's best match. On the last hit the case that holds the AAA batteries for the receiver came open and the batteries popped out. A piece of tape would have held it in, and otherwise the robot was fine. Next year!

You can see the Uai!rrior team are very proud to be Brazilian. You can also see my son and nephew checking out the action across the arena.

I never got to fight Toro this year because of the brackets. Toro was very good and I was really hoping for a chance at revenge for last year's loss. So now I have two teams and two robots that I hope to beat next time: Toro+ and Carrapato+.

April 29 - Walker Challenge 2012

This year I entered Scurrier in the 2012 Walker Challenge. My goal was to do the course in 15 seconds. I actually was able to do the course in 14 seconds. Any other year 15 seconds would have won, but this year two terrific robots from Indonesia showed up with great times.

Scurrier won Third Place. It is my most capable walking robot yet and I am very proud of it. It can carry a lot of weight and walk around on almost any terrain, so I expect to use it for many projects going forward.

April 24 - Sale at Big Blue Saw

Big Blue Saw is having a sale on 5052 water cut aluminum. They are cutting prices from the 23-26th. I can't think of a worse time for me then the week after Robogames to order parts, but if you do need some aluminum cut now is the time. Decapitron and Scurrier are full of custom parts from Big Blue Saw and I can strongly recommend them for custom parts.

April 23 - They Spin!

The medals for robogames this year have little motors in them and gears that spin. They are really cool.

April 22 - Robogames Update

Participation in Robogames this year is huge. The crowds seem bigger than ever and there are over 130 robots in the ant and beetle weight classes.

After our first two days of matches Little Miss Destruction (LMD) is 2-0 and Decapitron (pictured below) is 2-1. LMD is doing great due to the excellent driving of my nephew Krishna. Decapitron had an embarassing failure to recognize the red line in the arena in a fight vs. Otto. I adjusted the sensitivity of the sensors and hopefully will not have that problem again.

Tomorrow LMD will fight again and hopefully Decapitron will get to fight again. I would really like to avenge my loss to Rio Bots last year. Decapitron was strong enough to handle the full force of Otto's blade, no problem. Hopefully I will be able to handle Mini Toro+.

Tomorrow we will also have the walking race. Scurrier, my entry in this event, has been very reliable at slow speeds. Walking fast puts lots of pressure on the machine and hopefully it can hold together for the event. I know Ziggy will be there, but I do not know who else I compete with. There are at least two other bots entered I haven't seen.

April 3 - Countdown to Robogames 2012

Right now I am so busy working on robots for Robogames 2012 that I am way behind on updating what I am up to. There is so much I am working on that I am really excited to show. But I am going to start my Robogames 2012 page so I can start updating with the details.

March 20- Botborduino

Cruising around the Lynxmotion site I noticed they are working on a robot board that uses the Arduino (aka AVR). There are already some robot boards for the Arduino, and quite a few robot shields that go on to Arduino boards. But Lynxmotion makes good robot kits and they have a sense of the features that are important to a roboticist.

The board has a small size, screw terminals to connect power supplies, and three pin headers that can be connected to regulated or unregulated power supply. It has a speaker and LEDs on board and a connection for a PS3 controller. I would say this board would be a good candidate for the autonomous combat robot I am working on now, Decapitron. It would be if it were available, which it isn't.

For Decapitron I am using a propeller chip as usual. A prop is much more powerful than an Arduino in terms of processing, and I am also much more familiar with it. I will be lucky to finish this robot in time for the Robogames so it is good to go with what you know.

March 6 - Prox1 Sensor

I have found a new sensor that is one of my favorites. It is called prox1 from Ray's Logic.

Why do I love it so? First, it is digital with a short but very reliable range. Most IR sensors are not digital so that you can get distance readings that sound great.. except: IR sensors can be interfered with by light sources and the farther away you point the signal the more chances you have for that interference, and the range reading can depend on the color you are reflecting off of. So they aren't that reliable except in very controlled circumstances. The prox1 has a one inch (2.5cm) range so it is pretty easy to set it up so that nothing will interfere with it. I have been testing it as a detector for when a foot makes contact with the ground. Not much can interefer with a light sensor that you point downwards a few inches from the ground. And the color of the reflective surface doesn't matter that much. It may detect a white object 2.5 cm below the foot a black object 1.5 cm below the foot. Either way, it detects the object.

Second it is very small and easy to mount. Third, it runs on 3.3v or 5v and seems to work fine at either voltage. Fourth, it's extremely cheap. $5.99 includes shipping and a cable. What a value!

February 26 - Little Miss Destruction 2.0

My nephew came to visit this weekend and we worked on improving his robot, Little Miss Destruction, for Robogames 2.0. I think he did a great job last year, but he wanted to get a stronger weapon on his bot. He also designed some defenses for his wheels, which got destroyed in his last battle. My sister took a lot of pictures so I will update the page for his robot showing some of what we did.



February 18 - Open Source Quad Frame

I have been working on a four legged robot frame that supports the parallax servo controller and the gadget gangster propeller platform USB. The frame is small, cheap, and easy to assemble. I made everything open source, so if anyone wants to take the design and copy it, please do so with my blessing.

One thing I have learned about robots is that if you can iterate on a design it gets much better. This probably seems like a really simple thing, but actually its my fifth version of the design. The first one worked, but this one is much better. The next iteration I think I will try to add sensors on the feet and mounting holes for an Axon MCU.

You can see it in action below. It works pretty well.



January 27 - I Have Wrecked A Lot of Servos

Over the years I have damaged or destroyed a lot of servos. So much so that I decided to add a few notes about how to preserve your servos in my servo guide. Everytime I have wrecked a servo I try to think of what can do to avoid the problem next time.

January 20 - LMD 2.0?

My sister emailed to say that her son was interested in working on a robot to battle in Robogames 2012. Little Miss Destruction, his robot for 2011, may not look that impressive but for a robot mostly designed and built by a kid I think it is pretty good. I know my nephew has some ideas to improve LMD. I am just excited that he is interested enough to keep working on it. I will update the page to show the changes we make.

January 16 - Metropolis II

This weekend I went the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum to see Metropolis II. It was, as they say, fun for the whole family. If you have never seen this thing you should check it out here. Of course it is much more impressive in person.

January 8 - Working on Quokka

I spent this weekend doing some tests on John Frizel's robot Otto and Wanderer. Wanderer is OK from its last battle, but something is wrong with Otto. I also tried to imprvoe the 3:1 gait of Quokka. I still don't have a nice steady 3:1 gait for the robot, but for fun I shot a little video of it clomping around with it's 2:2 gait.

I put a video of Wanderer being tested at an event in Petaluma up here. Wanderer ia a 1 lb autonomous combat robot.

January 3 - Arduino at Radio Shack

After Christmas I went to Radio Shack to get batteries for the kids toys. Of course I took a peak at the electronics section. I saw that they now carry Propeller and Arduino boards. As someone who grew up tinkering with electronics from Radio Shack I found this really exciting. Pretty much every component you need for the electronics of the type of robots I make is available at a strip mall near me.

I asked the sales clerk about this and she said they had Arduinos, but they never sell. That is sad. On the Radio Shack board I saw two complaints. First, Radio Shack charges $35 a board as opposed to the $30 it costs at some online stores. Those stores probably charge about $10 shipping, and you have to wait a week.

The other complaint was that the sales clerk couldn't help the customer when they were having problems with the compiler. Apparently this person thought that someone who sold batteries was going to provide that kind of technical support. I happen to be lucky enough to live by All Electronics, and even at a specialty store like that you are not going to get that kind of technical support from sales people.

Someone complained on the forum that the sales clerk didn't even understand what DIY meant! Isn't it ironic that there is someone out there that thinks they are "do it yourself" yet they expect the clerk to show them how? I think that community is so used to buying off the Internet that they don't understand the convenience of having important components close at hand and easily available.

Decemeber 28 - Brush Robot

For Christmas, my father in law got my son a brush robot kit. With all the robots around I'm surprised it interested him. He doesn't take a lot of interest in the robots I build. But I think he really liked something he made himself. Also, it was a pretty cool kit.

December 23 - Air Manta

There are some robot builders that are an inspiration to me.  Festo is a great example of this.  I have gathered together a page of their biologically inspired robots.   You can see more here.  



December 18
- RQ-170

I am fascinated with the technical aspects of the story about RQ-170 drone that landed in Iran.  I don’t think people know what actually happened to the drone, and you should assume that both sides have an incentive to tell stories that are not accurate.  

Assuming that the drone was fooled, I have seen two different descriptions of how it might have been done.  In both scenarios the satellite controls for the drone were jammed.  Then, according to the first hypothesis, the Iranians imitated the line of sight landing controls for the drone and just landed.  The other scenario is that they jammed encrypted GPS and then spoofed un-encripted GPS to get the drone to land where they wanted under the drones own control.  

I am really interested in this because of what I learned from building an autonomous robot that fights.   Although that robot has lost fights by not being able to take a punch, the hardest part really is getting robot sensing to work in a hostile environment.    

Robot sensing is difficult in general.  It becomes much harder when the sensors are likely to get damaged or interfered with.  For example, a color sensor will return crazy values if the robot is flipped over and you are sampling ambient light.  A broken connection will cause an ultrasonic sensor can either cause a sampling thread to hang or return an in plausible distance measurement.   One thing I have learned to do is to program Peanut to sample every sensor, but not to have the program fail if the sensor is broken.  The next step is to get the robot to make a decision based on what information is available when there is a chance that any sensor is not valid.  

It seems like you need to do two things.  First you need to evaluate how plausible a sensor reading is, and discount it if it looks bad.  Second, you need to have a decision loop that can work with whatever sensor information is available.  That’s obviously very similar to what has to be done on drones in hostile environments.  

December 6 - Servo Bundle Sale at Servo City

There is a really good sale right now at Servo City. You have to buy servos in bundles of four or more but you can get up 28% off on HiTec servos. These include some of my favorite servos like the HS-5685MH at a good discount. You can mix and match different hitec servo types. This offer only lasts until December 8th, so you only have two days to take advantage of it.


December 4 - Useful Tools

Almost the first thing I ever put on this site was a list of the tools that I thought were useful for making robots. Learning what was useful has been a trial and error process, and some of the tools I used to use a lot I use less now. One particular piece of equipment has become indispensible: a smart charger with an equalizer.

This weekend I thought I would trty to get three walking robots going at the same time. The three robots used between them a NiCD, a NiMH, a LiPO and LiFE battery. My old robot Fluffy uses a NiCD for the microcontroller and an NiMH for the servos. Quokka uses a single 7.4v 4000 maH LiPO. And my small open source quad works quite nicely with a 6.6v 1800 maH LiFE battery. The 7.4v of a LiPO would wear out small cheap servos quite quickly, 6.6v is more friendly. Anyway, all these different types of batteries take a different type of charging. And in the case of a Lithium battery, it takes a balncer as well. I can charge all of them with one smart controllable charger, the Triton.

November 19 - Robots Across the Pacific

Liquid Robotics is launching a set of wave glider robots that will try to cross the pacific. These robots are amazing.

November 9 - Otto Back From Combots

The Peanut Tin of Terror's nemesis Otto has returned from Combots 2011. Otto defeated Wallie in autonomous combat 2-1, but took some damage in the process, I have learned so much about working with metal in the last year. I think I would like to see if I can help come up with a replacement robot for this robot.



October 30 - Help from Big Blue Saw

I have been using Big Blue Saw to make pieces for a quad kit. I am trying to make the cheapest, simplest walking robot I can.

One nice thing about something that is simple and cheap is that you can try it a few times and experiment. So I'm trying different configurations to see what is best, including different types and thicknesses of aluminum. I'm trying to find a balance between rigidity, bendable-ness, and ease with which it can be cut. I have had some questions about different metals.

I thought maybe I could find some help from some forum or something but I didn't have any luck. It's hard to find places where people will answer questions who are really expert. Somebody answers your question, but often it's just a person who knows a little trying to be helpful.

So I thought I would just ask the people who cut the metal at Big Blue Saw. Simon at Big Blue Saw has been able to give me some suggestions about what metal to use and how to handle it. It's very nice to be able to ask someone knows what he is talking about.

October 18 - Sonar vs Lasers

I never put much time into working with infrared sensors. I tried some early versions of sonar sensors (which were quite expensive) and then got a Ping sonar sensor and I never really looked back. In my opinion sonar sensors are superior to IR ones, the only benefit IR has is that it is cheaper.

I have been using sonar for a long time now but I can see that for hobby robots it is going to be eclipsed by visual systems. The Kinect is amazing for robots because it gives you a depth field in front of you in real time. While the Kinect is kind of heavy and complicated for the kind of robots I make, the Parallax Laser Range Finder may be a reasonable alternative.

Both the Kinect and LRF work on a similar principal. They both project out an image and use a camera to predict distance based on the location of the image. In the case of the Kinect it projects out a grid in the infrared spectrum. The LRF uses a laser pointer that creates a red blob. By triangulating where these images show up on a camera you can make a very good estimate of distance quickly.

There are other techniques that may become increasingly useful, such as dot-cloud calculations. Using Sonar works pretty well, but it can only have a very limited resolution because sound disperses. Also, sound has a limited range. Visual techniques can give you a more precise and distant topology then you can get from sonar. It can let you see the shape of things.

These new visual techniques are leveraging cheap digital cameras and the low power processors that are powerful enough to do visual processing. Essentially the technology of smart phones is making new things possible (and cheap) for robots.

October 6 - Combots 2011

Combots is happening this month on October 28th. I know that Otto and Wallie will be competing but unfortunately I will not be able to attend because of my work.

John Frizell asked me to send up the Peanut Tin of Terror but I don't think I am going to send it up. If my robot was as well designed as John's I think it would be possible to just mail it and have someone flip the switch. The problem is that the PTT is kind of a mess. There really is just a nest of wires inside that can with a bunch of electronics that rattle around loosely. There are two batteries that need to be charged, one that is Lithium Ion, one that is Nickel Metal Hydride. The steps to get it started our complicated, a lot more complicated then they ought to be.

September 29 - Terror Drones

Apparently people have woken up to the fact that a lot of the basic technology of military drones can be recreated by hobbyists. If you look at some of the projects at DIY drones you will realize this is not an exaggeration. Small flying drones like the type the army use for observation can be bought or built. Larger aircraft are harder, but even hobby kit planes get very big. And if you google pulse jet you will realize that there are a surprising number of people who know how to build the engine for a cruise missile. You don't need a lot of imagination to see where that could go.

The FBI has caught a would-beterrorist who was trying to do something like that, putting explosives in a large RC airplane. Now, inevitably, people are going to start to worry about large radio controlled and unmanned aircraft. And that worries me.

When I started to make robots, one of the things I thought about doing was using servos to add guidance to a model rocket. It turns out this is quite illegal in the United States unless you get some special permits. Apparently long ago someone thought to regulate guided rockets out of hobby existence. They could easily do something similar with guided planes.

As robotic devices become more capable they inevitably will become more dangerous. It's not going to take long for someone to realize that a self driving car can be made into a self driving car bomb. I'm not interested in cars or planes, but I do like to build walking robots. I would build a robot that was much bigger if I knew how, probably big enough that someone would consider it dangerous. I don't want people to try and ban me from doing it, or make so difficult to get permission that no hobbyist would bother.

If you look at what people are doing today with unmanned boats, unmanned submersibles, drones and robots you can see that they are developing incredible technology. Like the early personal computer, this technology is driven by students and hobbyists, not large corporations. Trying to regulate it to make it "safe" could kill the movement, or at least keep it out of the hands of college students with limited funds.

There will always be some frontier of technology that has the potential for danger. One of the reasons why the United States has usually stayed in the forefront of new technology is that we have a government that trusts its people. We never banned copy machines, or modems. We let people have guns. I think we need to be a country that lets people build drones. We need to be a country that lets people make dangerous things, or will probably stop being country that makes things at all.