You be the ghost in the machine

By   |  March 29, 2006

There’s nothing quite as geeky as a programmable robot. South African technology company Starship Systems is taking advantage of this geek obsession with a competition to program the Wow Wee Robosapien V2 robot with Starship System’s home-grown Java software development kit (SDK) for the cute little electronic critter.

The software development kit is expected to be launched early next week, and developers will be able to submit code for testing to Starship Systems and watch how the robot responds through a web cam. The robot gets to strut its stuff on stage at the Sun Tech Days on 4 and 5 May in Johannesburg. The best five programs will be judged by father of Java, James Gosling, and the winner gets to have lunch with Gosling himself.

“Hopefully nobody will do the Macarena, but it will probably happen. The programmers have free reign, but we expect mostly dance and karate moves,” says Herman van Heerden, MD Starship Systems.

While the voice is not programmable, the legs, arms, torso, hands, vision and preprogrammed speech are all accessible to developers. “It’s got all the range – that’s 100-odd commands in any sequence. We’re opening everything the remote control can do with Java code,” says van Heerden.

The competition isn’t the sole domain of hardened Java developers, says van Heerden. “It’s not hard. The function commands are simple – walk, pause, stop, lie down. With a little bit of development experience – not even Java – you will be able to program the robot. We will also post example code on our site, so you can learn to code by example.”

The robot will also tour the Sun Tech Days show, along with its little brother, Robosapien version one. Van Heerden is particularly excited about the next iteration of the Robosapien, which will include the Linux kernel embedded into its head, and make the robot much more programmable.

The V2 robot will be given away at the show in a lucky draw, while van Heerden is taking the Robosapien V1 home with him for his own geeky enjoyment.

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