Project Goon The Beginning

by on May.17, 2015, under Project Goon

Ancient History

Once upon a time when I was a young man (16) I built my first robot.  I was already building computers from scratch, so it wasn’t much of a stretch.  Now this robot was not particularly… ummm… shall we say functionally robust.  What it really was, was a radio control tank taken apart and re-tasked into a robot.  Sadly I have no pictures of my first creature, uh, I mean creation 😉  I took the treaded chassis, built a wood base, put a coffee can on that for legs, a box for a body, a piece of PVC pipe for a neck and a magic 8-ball for a head.  The head had two eyes that alternately flashed (LEDs and a 555 circuit)  The arms were hot red vacuum cleaner hose with fixed wire claws for hands.  I painted it and made the whole thing look really cool (at least to my 16 year old brain) and then showed it at the competitions for VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America), now know as Skills USA, with two of my classmates who had built a larger robot.  Ever since that day I have been hooked…

What’s in a Name – Project Goon… HUH?!?!

Wondering where the project name came from?  Well, it is based on a couple of robot sentries from the Clive Cussler novel Dragon.  Their names, given to them by the character Al Giordino, were McGoon and McGerk and their job was to keep an eye on the book’s heros and keep them from causing their owners trouble.  The names stuck with me, being the nerd I am, and so I have used them in different projects over the years.  I was a coach for a USFIRST FTC robotics competition teams for three years and the last year our team was named Project GERK (Generalized Entity of the Robotic Kind), so I figured it was time for a project Goon.  I am still working on a clever acronym expansion, so if you have ideas drop me a comment.

How’d I Get Here?

I recently came into possession of a fairly significant set of Lego NXT and Tetrix Robotics parts which has opened up a huge opportunity for me to experiment without having to constantly buy new parts.  All of my other recent projects have involved robot kits, that once they were built and I finished what I was trying, they weren’t very useful for other things.  If you aren’t aware of this combination of parts, it has extreme flexibility, lots of good sensors, motors, servos, etcetera, and very solid aluminum structural components paired with Lego ease of use.  All I need to add is software, well a programming environment so I can write software, and then WooHoo!! I can start experimenting my brains out.

Where Are We Headed?

So what is project Goon?  Many years ago I read about, and drooled over but could never afford to build, a learning robot.  The book was How to Build Your Own Self-Programming Robot, by David L. Heiserman.  Since this was all the way back in 1979, I had long forgotten about it, but then while perusing the February, 2015 issue of Servo Magazine I ran into it again in an article by Camp L. Peavy, Jr., Rodney Junior: Smarter than the Average Robot.  The second installment is in the May, 2015 issue.  Camp’s articles renewed an old interest in me that I had wandered away from, learning robots.  I have built many robots over the years; radio control, autonomous, self-navigating, but never learning.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet… That’s what I am going to do in Project Goon.

The first phase in the project will be in keeping with Heiserman’s original work.  By that I am referring to the three initial levels of machine learning: Alpha (α), Beta (β), and Gamma (γ)  (This will be the discussion topic for the next post).  Once those three basic levels have been developed and tested, I will begin adding sensors for various purposes.  Hopefully somewhere around the third or fourth phase I am hoping to maybe add machine vision and object recognition, trying to keep the machine learning active throughout the project.

That’s it for today, but I will post more soon.  Stop back or follow me to keep up to date.

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