I, Robot

It’s been an exhausting few months, filled with mostly 16 hour days. That sucks, but there’s a method to the madness.

I’m impatient and ready to formally get started on the project. To make that happen, long days, lots of gigs, and a rapidly expanding down payment fund. Currently sitting at 56% of what I need, and should be able to add at least 15% to that a month, until I reach the finish line, which will see me in a position to buy a place come the spring thaw.

That works, because there’s no way in hell I’d attempt to move off the mountain during winter.

Of course, once the land is in-hand, there’s a shitton of infrastructure that needs to be put in place, but as I’m doing that, I think it’s also important to make incremental progress in other more fun and light-hearted areas. Namely, robotics.

If you’ve read my other posts about Play the Planet, you know that one of the questions I’m attempting to answer with the establishment of this new system is, “What do we do about the growing underclass of people being kicked out of the dollar economy?”

Automation is everywhere, and we’ll only see more of it in coming years. As we do, it’s true that new jobs will be created. It’s also true that the number of jobs created will be less than the number of jobs lost, which will only increase the size of the group mentioned above.

Given that then, it might seem curious that robotics and automation will play such an important role in my project.

It’s not as big a mystery as you might think. The reality is that even if we automate everything we can, there are so many problems that need to be fixed…there’s so much work to be done that we’ll never be in a position of having a shortage meaningful work.

We’re going to use automation as a tool to enhance what we can do, not as a tool to replace human beings, and we can get away with that because profit maximization isn’t our primary goal. In fact, it isn’t even a consideration, or at least, not as “profit” is measured in the dollar economy.

In any case, all that to say that robotics will play a fun and significant role in the project.

To that end, one of the first things I’ll be doing is building a “Robotic Pen.”

Picture a covered picnic area, minus the picnic tables.

Basically a slab four posts at the corners and a roof covering it.

The roof will be covered with solar panels, turning the “pen” into a charging station.

The slab will be divided into various bays, which will house charging stations for a variety of bots (I can likely just use shipping pallets to frame the bays out, covering them in plywood, sand, stain, and coat with hydrophobic nanoparticles for protection from the elements to make something durable and attractive for next to nothing – literally, the nanoparticles will cost more than the rest of the materials combined!)

Once the bays are completed, we’ll start introducing robots.

Here are some initial ideas, and I’m open to suggestions. This will be an ongoing, iterative process, so it’s not like we have to stop once the bays are filled…we can just retire old models and swap out for different ones as our needs change and the platform continues to develop.

Anyway, here’s what’s in my head so far:

1) This little gizmo http://gizmodo.com/simple-tool-turns-plastic-bottles-into-nearly-indestruc-1762601114
turns plastic bottles of varying sizes into plastic rope, which has a variety of uses (especially in the agronomy lab, but plenty of other places too)

So here’s the idea:

2) Take a Tonka Truck Bulldozer and fit it with an Arduino stepper motor and control board. That makes it possible to control the unit remotely and turns it into a ‘bot.

3) put a virtual object on the virtual terrain representing the truck bot and allow a player of X level or higher to assume control of it (player can now steer the bot via the keyboard or joystick).

4) when that happens, on the unity HUD, you get an option to activate the web cam on the bot, so you can see the real world, overlaid with the virtual one you’re navigating.

5) Player can drive the dozerbot over to the collection of empty plastic bottles and push one near bot #2, which is an articulated arm.

6) Player tabs over to take control of the arm bot, picks up the bottle, puts it on the spindle, and activates the motor (we could literally use a repurposed reel to reel tape deck for this), which automatically starts tugging at the bottle creating rope

So…a player could take control of two bots from a thousand miles away and actually do something tangible on the little farm. πŸ™‚

In addition to that, I want to buy a fleet of ~4 quadracopter drones (Parrot or similar with 40 minute flight time), and allow players of X level to take control of those, and do flyovers etc. No reason, except that it’s cool. These would have an auto return feature so that when the battery pack got to some arbitrary level, the computer would take over and automatically return the bot to its charging station (which would be a modified “charging pad” for smartphones…so you just land the thing, and it starts recharging).

Also, one bay will hold an Arduino “Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robot” set… πŸ™‚

Random Side note related to this: I also thought of a cool “spell” that players of a certain level can activate: “Hundred Eyes.” Basically, you burn a small (fractional) number of Gc, and you can get a HUD of every camera in operation on the farm – or, you can selectively dial down and say, “Only show me the Bot cameras for bots currently in use” etc.) – but that would give you a whole range of views all over the farm, simultaneously. From there, you can zoom in (fullscreen) a particular camera/bot and do a kind of “ride along” with someone, then zoom back out to survey the big picture, etc.

Ultimately, the purpose of all this is to get people used to the idea of bridging the divide between the digital and virtual worlds. These crossovers will become extremely common as the system develops.


  1. Sounds fascinating, and if I had a millisecond of spare time I’d be fascinated to participate, even just as a player.
    I fear your biggest problem might be to control malicious folks. But good luck with it, I’ll check in now and then when I can.

    — Ed
    (Known on MoJo as “thersites3”)

    1. Hey! Wanted to make sure I circled back this way to answer the one part of your comment I left unanswered before – that being, the malicious folks.
      Too right – that’s always a risk in any project like this.
      The primary control mechanism I’ve designed to combat it is a transactional rating and ranking system, tied to each user’s profile.
      So…every time you complete a quest, that quest requires interaction with someone. At the end, you and the someone have the opportunity to rate each other. Were they nice? Did they show up on time? Did the (whatevever the quest was about) get done correctly and in a timely fashion, etc?

      Rate 1-5 stars.
      The ratings and comments are all public, so as the system grows, each person has a 100% transparent and visible CV of service…players can tell at a glance who’s trustworthy, and who isn’t.
      The secondary layer of this will be a small group of “Justicaars” who can apply for the positions (also a quest) and are hand-picked. These guys will be called in in cases where there are disputes or questions. Roving Judges, if you will, and their decisions are final. Not even I, as the system designer, will be able to override them.
      If I Justicaar determines that someone should be kicked out because of their actions…they’re done. πŸ™‚

  2. Hey man, and welcome! Check back as you’re able – there won’t be much happening until spring, and then, the major actions will be boring stuff like…moving, unpacking, buying the initial tool set, etc. But it’s an iterative process, and I’ll slowly get to the point where I can start doing more interesting stuff and building the first actual prototypes. πŸ™‚

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