A trip to Bengaluru, Robo Revolution workshop

“All’s well that ends well”

  Little did I know that this is going to be the moral of every trip that I set upon until this trip to Bengaluru. As a hobbyist, maker and robotics enthusiast I was fortunate enough to qualify for the “Robo Revolution” workshop organised by Swissnex India, Consulate General of Switzerland and Workbench Projects on Robotics and Artificial Intelligence hosted at Workbench Projects maker space in Bengaluru, India from 12th to 15th August 2015. The first in the series of this workshop saw a participation of around 40 from various parts of India. Joining me was my friend and colleague.

  Our experience of long train journeys and our work schedule tempted us to fly to Bengaluru. It all began with the flight getting delayed by an hour and half and that offset set a chain of events for the night. Our stay for the duration of the workshop was organised at a community centre which had strict rules regarding entry. No one was allowed to enter in the night after 10:00pm and before 6:00am in the morning. We managed to convince them to keep it open till mid night especially for us. As we sat in the waiting area and saw the clock tick by from 9:00pm to 10:00pm our hopes of accommodations diminished exponentially like the graph of cot. Our flight took off from Mumbai at 10.30pm, by then we were expecting to reach Bengaluru.

  We landed in Bengaluru at midnight. 15 minutes later we were out of the airport with our luggage looking for means to travel to the city which stood about 35kms away from the airport. At a distance we spotted some buses waiting. Upon enquiring at the counter, we were informed of the bus no which would take us very close to our accommodations at M G Road. We hoped on and waited another 10mins before the bus was full. The bus seemed to take its own time, partly because our lost hope and partly because of the no of stops it took. About 1:30 in the night we reach the “Aashirvad community centre”. In a small campus it hosted, a garden, the main building three floors tall and few rooms arranged in a chawl fashion on the outside. The gate wasn’t locked, for a moment we hoped it was kept open for us only to find out that everything else in the campus was locked. As we went in, we saw light in one of the rooms on the outside. We went to the room and knocked. A guy opened the door. As it turned out he along with three others in the room were there for some training program and didn’t know whom to contact. One of them called someone who didn’t pick up. We explored the campus in the middle of the night for any door that would welcome us. 20 minutes later we walk out of the campus and came to the main road. We glanced at each other with that look of “Now what?”

  We started browsing our phones for booking a hotel. As we sat around the tree along the road, many cabs passed by each one eyeing us hopefully. About 15mins later we decided on a few hotels and started making calls to enquire. We felt things were in control until a policeman rode straight to us on his bike. He questioned our lonely presence. We tried to explain to him the whole situation but realised the circumstances were against us. I mean who wants to tell a policeman a story this big in the middle of the night. He warned us of threats and attacks and set us afoot. Apparently he was also talking to phone on someone and had been tipped of our presence. Within minutes we took a taxi and asked the guy to drop us to a hotel which isn’t expensive. The taxi guy took advantage of our desperation and asked for a hefty cost of the ride assuring that he would find the right accommodation for us. He took us about 5kms away from our location and we had to visit multiple hotels until we found the right one. By the time we reached hotel and checked-in it was past 3 in the morning. We went straight to the room and slept for what was remaining of the night. Next morning we checked out and reached Aashirvad.

  The four day workshop was an amalgamation of learning, fun, excitement, panic and confusion. It started with a welcome address and an ice-breaker session which made us more comfortable with one another. We were divided into groups of 5-6. Later our mentors and guides Anurag and Raghav from Autonomous Systems Lab, ETH, Zurich took over and briefed us with their work in the lab. We then moved through various sessions on Arduino and kinematics. Everything seemed perfect except for the lunch which felt too exotic for India. But it was the first day and the hope was still on for a better menu from freshmenu.

  The second day saw sessions on Probabilistic based approach for localisation. Raghav took us through the various stages of the approach. We were then asked to decide on the application that we would build. By this time we were provided with electronic components and a Thymio, a ready-made robot platform. The options provided to us were to implement 3 application of localisation using our own robot or digital art application using Thymio robot. Post lunch which was once again exotic but better than the previous day, we discussed through each application and other opinions that came across the table. By the evening of 2nd day we decided to make a selfie robot, a robot which would roam around and when picked up it would take your selfie if you smile. Amit was the only person in the group familiar with CAD design and hence he started working on the design of the robot. Ajith and Dinesh started interfacing the camera module and Arduino. The evening saw a networking session over barbeque and drinks. The rains and the music chilled the atmosphere to savour the grilled chicken and various other recipes served by chef Vindya. This turned out to be the most interesting part so far. I was quite fascinated by the taste of one of the chicken dishes. With my recent endeavour in cooking, I decided to ask Vindya the recipe. In the conversation that followed brought out a huge surprise for both of us. As it turned out before moving to Bengaluru, about 6 years ago, she used to stay in Mumbai and in the same locality where I stay now. Later in the night we met our friends currently in Bengaluru over dinner and had a nice get together.

  The third day began a bit late for everyone. As Prajwal and Suraj helped Amit with the design, Ajith and Dinesh were still struggling with the camera module. Venkat was busy half-managing the entire space since day 1 and we would seek him whenever we required anything. Our robots design were not yet ready to be laser cut and I could not start with the programming until it was done. I enquired with Amit and he said it would be done in 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes grew to 6 hours and with the assistance of Pavan, an engineer with WP, we were able to get the designs ready and cut in the evening. We then assembled the robot and found that the wheels were small and would have to be cut once again. On the other hand Ajith and Dinesh were unable to interface the camera. Later in the evening, about 10 of us who were staying at Aashirvad gathered along with Anurag and Raghav for dinner.

  On the last day everyone came early in a panic mode realising it’s the day of exhibition. With the failure to interface the camera we decided to put the phone on the selfie-bot, a plan which we had earlier rejected with the hope that we would be able to interface the camera module with the Arduino. This bought another challenge for us. The bot was not designed to hold the phone. Fortunately we managed to put the phone on with the help of rubber bands, a tweak that will still look good. By 2.00pm our selfie-robot was ready. Post lunch, I started with programming. In an hour the programming was done and it was operating perfectly when connected with a computer.

  The exhibition had started and people started pouring in. The problem we realised was that the 9V battery wasn’t able to take the load of both motors running simultaneously which made the programming board reset every time the motors start moving. Fortunately I was able to find a quick fix. I plugged the Arduino into a 5V power bank which I would use for charging my phone and left the 9V battery to run the motors. It was a eureka movement for everyone as we saw the selfie robot working independently. Finally everything was working. For the next hour and half the selfie robot interacted and entertained people in the exhibition clicking selfies of everyone who smiled at it. In no time, the robot became the sensation of the space. A senior academician from IEEE had the first selfie of his life clicked by the selfie robot.

  The conclusion ceremony had an activity where participants gave certificate to and spoke about what they know about the person. Later a cake cutting ceremony and some group photos saw the last light of the evening.

I am grateful to Anupama, Pavan for having this wonderful setup and encouraging the maker movement. Thank you Swathi for co-ordinating, keeping us informed and reimbursing the travel expenses. Thank you Pavan (PS) for helping with the design and fabrication of the robot. You are the commander-in-chief of the army of machines at the space. Thank you Mala for getting me addicted to your tea. Thank you Satish for capturing this journey. A special thanks to Venkat, the search bar of the space. He knows where the stuff is. My heartfelt thanks to Anurag and Raghav for increasing our probability of implementing probabilistic based localisation on robots. Thank you makers of Thymio robot. I am grateful to Aashirvad community centre for comfortable accommodations. All of this would not have been possible without the efforts of Navya, Maitree and Balz at Swissnex India. Thank you guys and I extend my regards to the Swiss government for supporting the initiative. Not to forget, thank you Freshmenu for providing exotic dishes for Lunch. Every day for those 20 minutes I would feel like I am eating in some European country. A special thanks to the person who made the choice of cookies. As you would have noticed the sweet and salty flavour was the favourite and would exhaust quicker than ginger and the spicy flavour. Something to remember and order more for the next event. Thank you Vindya for the amazing barbeque menu. Thank you to all the participants and visitors for coming forward and collaborating. Last but not the least a big thanks to all my team members Amit, Ajith, Dinesh, Prajwal, Suraj, Venkat and the selfie bot. In the end all’s well that ends well.