A Year In Review…

Come the new year, I hope to start working on this uncourse blog properly, pulling resources and fragments together that can then be used as part of a refresh of OUr level 1 robotics unit.

For now, here are a handful of reviews of various robot related to topics (note – this post may evolve to add more topics over the next couple of weeks…):

  • Audrey Watters is a must-follow critical ed-tech journalist. As part of her annual review post series, comes this piece on ‘Robots Are Coming For Your Children’. This fits our Robotics and the Meaning of Life course view well: children’s education is influenced by curricula designed, in part, to help children make sense of the world and ultimately become productive in it, and their lives are impacted directly by robotic devices around them. One thing this review brought alive for me was how we need to look at the gestalt of robot tech and consider how the whole spread of robot technologies can influence a life, as well as how particular technologies work in particular situations.

  • IEEE Spectrum’s 2017: The Year In Robocars review provides a handy round up of some of the notable events and trends in the evolution of autonomous robot cars throughout 2017. I wonder if there is a cliff-edge coming though, and whether the progress to date has been towards a local optimum… And longer term, is there something akin to an uncanny valley to be crossed with robot vehicles in safety terms. The closer we get to autonomy, will robot car safety behaviour be not quite right enough in a way that makes us feel uncomfortable…?

  • from the House of Commons Library’s Second Reading blog, I note the publication of a House of Commons Library Research Briefeng on Artificial Intelligence and Automation in the UK. I’ve haven’t had time to read it yet – but I often find such briefings a good place to start reading in moderate depth around a topic. It’s briefings like these that Parliamentarians use to help them make decisions around legislation, so we should at least know what sorts of thing we might expect them to be aware of and what level of understanding we might expect of them?

V-REP Simulator – Getting Started

One of the best ways of learning about robots can actually do, and of understanding the problems associated with trying to get them to do anything at all, is to try to build and programme one.

In this uncourse, we’ll be using the Coppelia Robotics V-REP simulator to explore how to programme simulated robots modelled on several different real robots. In particular, we’ll be programming the robot via simulator API using the Python programming language executed using a Jupyter notebook interface.

There are two options for getting the environment set up.

The following advice is just a raw first draft – more comprehensive instructions will appear at some point…

The first option is to download and install everything you need onto your own desktop yourself:

  •  download and install the simulator from the Coppelia Robotics download page (use the educational version);
  • download and install a Python environment that includes Jupyter notebooks. (For example, Anaconda.)
    • you also need to install the v-rep python binding for the V-REP simulator into your Python environment.
  • download an unzip the uncourse project files from here.

The second, recommended, option is to use the pre-packaged virtual machine developed to support this uncourse:

Once your environment is set up, you can start programming some robots….