NAO in Reading for Bastille day

This year my NAO robot was invited to celebrate Bastille Day in Reading. Four
Frenchmen Boubacar Dembl, Eric Leray, Vincent Valre and Frdric Kayrouz were
organising a Bastille Day event in
and, since NAO is made by the
French company Aldebaran Robotics they
asked if I could bring NAO along for a demo.

A week before the event I went to Reading to meet Eric, Vincent & Frdric and
for a photoshoot with the Reading Post so they could publish a
teaser article.


Then on the 14th July I spent the whole day demonstrating NAO to members of
the public. I kept the demos short and Carl
‘s animal card game
and Aldebaran’s implementation of NAO dancing
style proved to be favourites.

The Reading Post has a writeup of the weekend.

View the discussion

2013 NAO London Hackathon

At 6pm on Friday 30th August at Queen Mary University London, the second
UKNAO London NAO hackathon kicked off.

We had 42 attendees from 6 countries (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Finland,

The Friday evening was to give everyone a chance to get to know one another
and form teams and so after registration, a welcome talk and a debate on
whether we want emotional robots the main focus of the evening was the social
event and buffet dinner at the Coborn Arms.

On Saturday morning hacking started. There were a number of optional breakout
sessions in the morning covering topics such as getting started with NAO
development and the Aldebaran ASK NAO autism program. One of the most prolific
NAO devlopers Franck Calzada, fron France, described how he implemented some
of his impressive applications in which NAO can write or draw.

Franck Calzada

On Sunday afternoon it was demo time. This year we invited 34 members of the
public to come to QMUL’s Great Hall theatre space and vote on the winning

We were lucky to have the NAOCAR team come over
from France not only to participate in the hackathon but to demonstrate NAOCAR
not once, but twice: a technical demo to developers on Saturday evening and a
demo to the general public on Sudnay afternoon.

Seeing through NAO's cameras with the Oculus

We had a selection of prizes including books and issues of MAKE magazine
generously provided by O’Reilly. Rather than having a set “1st prize” etc we
allowed the winning teams to pick the prizes they wanted. The team that came
first got to pick first and so on. Kok Ho Huen from QMUL also 3D-printed 1st,
2nd & 3rd place trophies using a 3D model of NAO’s head.


  • Asus Xtion
  • Leap Motion controller
  • 2x arduino starter kit
  • 6x Raspberry Pi
  • 4x O’Reilly books and 4 issues of MAKE magazine

The winners were:

  • 1st - Frank Calzada - NAO Maths Teacher
  • 2nd - The Tickers (Mike McFarlane, Thomas Xavier, Thura Maung) Tickle Me NAO
  • 3rd - Team Waffles (Chrisantha Fernando, Glen Searle, Matthieas Danzer, Matthias Dondorf, David Coulthard, Daniel Ecer) - “JOHN”

with runners up:

  • 4th - NAOCAR (Gael du Plessix, Samuel Olivier, Loick Michard, Melvin Laplanche) - Touch me if you can


Photographic coverage throught the weekend was provided by Ghene Snowdon of
Snowdon Photography ( Photos from
the event can be found at:

Minor mystery solved: Cygan the robot at Southend Historic Aircraft museum

While roaming around the web today I came across this
indicating that a
“giant celebrity robot from the 1950s” would be sold at auction on 5th

The Christies press release had this say:

One of the most extraordinary items in the sale is Cygan, a giant robot made
in 1957. Created in the year that Sputnik, the world’s first satellite was
launched into space and the same year Britain tested the H-bomb, Cygan
epitomises this new era of technological innovation. The eight-foot giant is a
monumental relic of the atomic age and was a great celebrity of the 1950s and
60s. This remarkable item will be offered with an estimate of 6,000 8,000. The
impressive cyborg is one of the most sophisticated robots of its time, pre-
dating PCs by over a decade and the internet by over 33 years. Designed by Dr
Ing Fiorito, an enthusiastic aeromodeller from Turin, Cygan could originally
walk forwards or backwards, turn right or left, raise its arms and could lift
or carry items. It was an extremely advanced model for the time, with a
capacity to accept spoken commands and signals and respond to light rays. Not
only could it raise its arms from a resting position in just three seconds,
but it could shift its enormous weight of 1,000 lbs at a staggering rate of 10
feet per minute. Cygan was first presented at the Milan sample fair in 1957
and then travelled to London, Olympia in 1958 to perform in front of
astonished crowds. The colossal robot captivated children and adults alike,
walking around the auditorium and even showing off its dance moves with a
well-dressed lady. It would have been an extraordinary experience to witness
the workings of such an advanced robot and Dr. Ing Fiorito was most likely
considered an innovator of the time. Before completing Cygan, he worked on a
series of models, which he fitted with radio control circuits. The first
prototype and following two or three models were built around five feet high,
in preparation for the impressive final design, over eight feet high.

Intrigued, I googled some more about found this
. It was somewhat sad to
see the photos from the 1970s with the robot outside rusting away, but
something told me that I’d seen that robot before and the aircraft in the
background made me think of a trip to Southend Historic Aircraft museum when I
was still at school. A further search indicated that this

was indeed taken at that museum.

This is what I remember: In the late 1970s I went for a visit to the Southend
Historic Aircraft museum

with my best friend from Churchfields junior school and his mother. I remember
that the museum was closed when we got there and my friend’s mother was angry
about this as the information in the guidebook she had said it would be open.
Although the museum was closed we wandered around the outisde for a while. One
of the things outside and uncovered was this robot (Cygan). I remember it
being in quite a poor state and being able to see inside it. The photos don’t
show a placque next to the robot, but I’m sure I remember one being there and
I’m sure something said it was called “Mr Robot-ham”, so the placque if it
existed may have been wrong.

Apparently the Southend Historic Aircraft
was closed in 1983
and the exhibits put up for auction. This explains why Cygan was shown as for
sale in a couple of photos in the cybernetic zoo
. There is no
information as to how Cygan ended up at the aircraft museum.

Anyway, one minor mystery has been solved: I now know that the robot I saw
over thirty years ago is called Cygan and was famous in its day. I wonder how
on earth it ended up at an aircraft museum.

View the discussion

Hack The Tower - 9th February 2013

Tower 42

On 9th February I took part in the February Hack The
organised by John Stevenson (@jr0cket). John
runs this event as a sort of one-day hackathon for the London Java, Scala,
Clojure & Salesforce developer communities and one of its compelling features
is the diverse mix of developers who attend.

I don’t think John advertised the event to the python community but even so
(with John’s approval) I decided to be awkward and turn up with a NAO robot,
planning to write continue work on my NAO wanderer
which aims to provide
NAO with the ability to explore a space, create a map and remember items of
interest. Currently the application is incredibly dumb and just allows NAO to
walk randomly around a space avoiding obstacles. One of my goals was to
explore collaborative application development on the NAO platform - since I
don’t believe that choreograph project files can be merged easily I decided to
move as much of the functionality out of choreograph and into plain python
code that could be worked on by other developers and unit tested. My hope was
that a few more experienced python developers could work on representing and
generating maps and this could be plugged into the existing code.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to complete the transition from pure
choreographe to choreographe+python before the event and managed to arrive at
the event with a broken project. This was made worse because I’d used github
as a lazy way to synchronise the code between my desktop machine and laptop
and so the github project was polluted too (facepalm). Also, the USB
thumbdrive I’d copied the NAO development environment (choreographe, Java &
python libs) and simulator appeared to have been corrupted and was unreadable.

Nevertheless a group of about five of us got together and managed to download
the dev environment and get started. Special thanks are due to Richard
Warburton (@RichardWarburto) for
improving on my initial design, writing unit tests, and improving my knowledge
of github and vim. The NAO wanderer github
is now in a usable state
(although unfortunately we didn’t reach this point during the meet up itself)
and at the next Hack The Tower (13th April) I hope to actually get started on
the mapping. The project’s issue tracker shows other items that are
currently on my to-do list

John Stevenson also published a writeup of the February event.

Hacking in progress

To hear about future Hack The Tower events, follow
@HackTheTower on twitter or if you’re
already a member of the London Java, Scala or Salesforce developer
groups you should get notified.

You can sign up for the 13th April Hack The Tower meet up via the London Java
London Scala Community
or London Salesforce Developer

UK NAO London hackathon

I haven’t posted anything about NAO for a while, which is a shame since it’s a
great platform and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. More details (such
as there are) on my NAO project

Over the last year or so a group of UK based NAO
has started to meet semi-regularly and back
in March we decided to run our own hackathon based on the NAO. We hoped to get
registered NAO developers and other coders together for a weekend of hacking
code on the NAO.

Well, the hackathon took place last weekend and it was great fun. It was
especially cool to see people who’d never written a line of python or seen a
NAO before produce working applications. Aldebaran Robotics once again proved
what great people they are by turning up with some spare NAOs for people to
use, staying the whole weekend to help with the event, providing one of the
prizes and paying for most of the food.

The applications developed over the weekend were:

Here’s a summary video that I put together showing all the application demos
and the prize-giving

Photos from the event are available on the UK NAO group on

Finally, thanks again to the sponsors who provided the venue, food and prizes

  • Aldebaran Robotics
  • UCL
  • Eurisko Consulting Services
  • Nuance
  • O’Reilly

Update 3/10/2012: Added links to Dalek and filled circles applications

Update 4/10/2012: Added link to flickr group

View the discussion


Not long after Mum died I noticed that she’d written on the base of a Robin
(the bird) figurine “My Ruby wedding present to Jim 8/8/2004” At the time I
thought it was typically Mum writing such notes on things. When we started
going through her keepsakes in her
muniment chest” (that Dad made for
her) we noticed many things had little labels pinned to them, for example her
wedding dress a pair of trousers that Mum and Dad had bought for me on holiday
in Scotland when I was about the same age as my son is now.

It was only a few months later when I was thinking of what would happen to all
my possessions when I die and how some of them mean more to me than others
that I really understood what my Mum was thinking. She was trying to
communicate to us why all these apparently random things were important to her
(we knew they were important or they wouldn’t have been in the muniment chest
or in pride of place on a shelf). She never actually said or wrote anywhere
“Please don’t throw this away” but I think it was implicit.

I wonder if, at the end of my days, I’ll be labelling my things (digital and
physical) and hoping that my children are as sentimental as I am.

View the discussion


The aim of this project is to entertain both myself and my children by
converting a radio-controlled K9 toy into an autonomous robot under the
control of a RaspberryPi. I chose the
RaspberryPi because of it’s low power requirements, low cost and small form
factor (there is very little space inside the toy).

I have the following loosely defined set of goals

  • Anything that the toy could do via radio control, it should be able to do under the control of the ‘Pi
  • It should be WIFI connected and not tethered to another computer or mains power supply
  • It should have some basic sensors such as bump sensors and ideally a webcam for video input
  • It should have audio output
  • It should be entertaining to build and to play with

A Summary of current Raspberry Pi Motor Control Options

The project I’m currently planning on using my
RaspberryPi for is a robotics
to entertain my children. As part of that I need to be
able to control DC motors from the RaspberryPi

Now that I know how to run the ‘Pi from battery
and get WIFI
the next item
on the TO-DO list is controlling motors. I’ve yet to personally try any of
these methods as I’m still in the process of working out what’s the best
option for this project but I thought it might be useful to summaries the
options I know about here (in the hope that anyone who knows of other options
will say so in the comments).

One option is to develop a board from scratch based on my exact requirements. However, I’m too lazy and my electronics skills are too rusty for me to take this approach. The space constrained nature of the project means that I don’t have space for breadboard and so would have to design a PCB or use stripboard none of which appeals at the moment.

The PiBorg can control up to two motors and two solenoids. Multiple PiBorgs can be connected to allow control of larger numbers of motors and/or solenoids. It looks like a nice piece of kit and is now available for pre-order however it costs 129 and since I need to control at least 3 motors it would be a relatively expensive option.

I wondered if I could control my arduino motor shields from the ‘Pi and then found out that others had already had that idea in the shape of Ponte. This sounds like a great idea but I haven’t seen any updates to this since the end of May and I’m impatient to do something…

Arduino + motor shield
So if Ponte is not yet available why not get the ‘Pi to control an arduino connected to a motor shield? This blog post (and it’s followup post) shows it not only possible but not that hard either. Since an arduino uno costs about 25 and the motor shield also costs about the same I could potentially control 4 motors or less than the cost of one PiBorg (in fairness though the PiBorg has the ability to measure feedback from the motors and maintain a desired speed so it would still be a technically better solution). A disadvantage of this approach is the space required by two arduinos each with a motor shield mounted on them. If I connect to the arduinos using USB I’d then also need a small USB hub (as I need another USB port for the WIFI dongle).

The Gertboard is being developed by Gert van Loo who also worked on some of the Raspberry Pi hardware. It sounds like a nice board but AFAIK is not available yet.

Raspberry Pi to Arduino shields connection bridge
Not sure if this has any relation to Ponte, but the idea of using arduino shields on the Raspberry Pi is the same and it’s available now for 40 euros.

Also worth a mention is the Pi Face but this seems to use relays which rules it out for this project as I need PWM motor control rather than just a simple on/off

Since I already have an arduino and a motor shield I’ll probably experiment more with that before considering any of the other options, but in the meantime if you have any better ideas (or corrections to anything I’ve said above) please say so in the comments.

Update 9/10/2012: Added details of Raspberry Pi to Arduino shields connection bridge

Raspberry Pi on WIFI

Thanks to this
and this post
I have got my RaspberryPi working using the tiny
Edimax EW-7811UN WIFI USB

One thing to note is that though the instructions are still at the original
location ( the
script itself has changed its name slightly and so should be used
instead of the link in the original forum post.

The script requires only that you enter the SSID, password and encryption type
(WEP or WPA) of your WIFI network and everything else is automatic. Using the
recommended debian distribution I had no issues whatsoever - after the Pi had
downloaded the updates fetched by the script and installed the firmware it
rebooted and the WIFI adaptor worked first time.