Surveillance Bird update

Surveillance Bird is coming along after quite a lot of work, it’s not quite there yet but we’re on the right track.

All of the tests we’ve done so far have indicated that the bird needs to look & act like a bird, inviting people to interact in a fun/fuzzy way. Otherwise people will think it’s a surveillance robot and they will run away. At first we thought we could find a bird toy, but the Angry Birds’ head is too much of a symbol, and looking online we were unable to find a big enough bird that would arrive in time. We decided it’d be fun to make our own, anyway. Yiyang is a painter and I haven’t done paper mache since kindergarten but we thought we’d try to paper mache. Then I was going around the city and found that everything I looked at looked like it could be a part of the Bird. So I found some Christmas ornaments, a plastic apple, and a cookie jar at the dollar store along with some fuzzy socks and we’re going to make this our bird.

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Today on my bikeride to ITP I was thinking about Surveillance Bird’s need for a base to hold the motor in place. I saw a wooden bedframe, snapped off a leg, took it to the shop and—with the help of Dan and Scott who showed me how to use some new tools—managed to turn this wooden leg into a base for the motor. Meanwhile the xmas ornament proved too fragile for us to slice out a camera hole, so we used the plastic apple. Plastic is great!

We had a lot of trouble with Serial communication between Processing (face detection) and Arduino. After hours of troubleshooting, it turned out that using Delay() on Arduino was the source of our problem. I had been using random delays to simulate a noisey birdlike movement—the steady scanning we presented in class was way too ominous. Moon showed me a way to simulate delay by creating a counter, and that’s doing the trick.

One nagging issue is that the Pan/Tilt bracket for our two motors came with cheap little screws, and so far we broke four of them. We really needed those. I’ve been to Radio Shack, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware in search of replacements but none of them carry screws this small. And then on top of this, we’ve burned out two motors and had to borrow one. Each servo motor has a different shape to its connectors, and the connectors need to be spaced a certain way in order to screw properly into the Pan/Tilt bracket. This is the one piece we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about, but instead it feels like it could fall apart at any moment.

Another issue is Audio. We want to have the bird tweet when it moves, flash when it finds them, and then tell say “follow @birdveillance on twitter”. There is only 32kb of flash memory on the arduino, so our options are limited. The PCMAudio library from High-Low Tech seemed perfect, but it conflicts with the Servo library. The Mozzi library seemed like it’d work, but regular samples are too large, and Huffman-compressed samples don’t seem to wanna play in this sketch. They do play in an empty sketch, but if I add the Serial library to that sketch and start serial communication, it slows down the sample playback, so maybe the sound is actually playing but at such a slow speed that it is inaudible…

We’re still not sure what the bird is going to do when it sees people. So far we have the ability to take a photo of them and post it to twitter. We’ll hopefully figure out some sound. And we have lights installed in its head. We also have the ability to listen and post Speech To Text to twitter, but we need a good microphone if this is going to work in a bustling space like the ITP floor. Maybe we can solve our audio problem with the computer (and our own speaker?) since we’re already relying on it so much.

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