My Introduction to Feral Robotic Dogs

I walked into another wall this morning.

I don’t think I can continue blaming World Con for this- though I have been mentally preoccupied with all the stuff that was discussed at the panels I attended.

Of course, getting woken up at 1:31 this morning by a restless cat needing attention probably did not help.

Before I arrived in Montreal, I printed the penultimate program guide to try and figure out if I had any time my first or last day to meet up with people I have worked with in the past. I skimmed through the panels to get a rough idea what might be interesting before I narrowed it down to one per time slot. As it turned out, I only had time Thursday morning before the panels started. The programming was THAT packed.

In almost every single time slot, there were at least three panels that had potential. Sometimes it boiled down to “eeney, meeney, miney, moe.” I showed my friends the program and they were stunned. It looks like a course calendar from university. The best of the programming is like attending an upper level seminar (and it starts on page 28 for anyone who is interested in having a look).

I had the good fortune to choose well Friday morning at 10am. I had been leaning towards “How to get what you want out of a local workshop” since I have been toying with the idea of looking for a writing group but last minute, I decided to check out “Intellectual Property and Creative Commons.” The room was packed. Fire hazard in the making.

Why? Cory Doctorow.

I have to confess I did not know who Cory Doctorow was (or his website) until this talk. I do now. He was passionate, extremely articulate and has his finger on the pulse of so much that is incredibly interesting to me.

I could continue gushing but I will save that for another post.

He mentioned something at one of the last panels I attended on Monday, “No User Servicable Parts Inside”. He was moderating the panel and asked for an uplifting story about what people have been able to accomplish. His contribution: Feral Robotic Dogs.

Google it and check out the crazy, amazing stuff that average people have been able to accomplish. More detailed information can be found at the project site but essentially, the idea is to take inexpensive toy dogs, hack into them and change the programming for the forces of good. They dogs are unleashed as a pack and will converge upon pollutants detected in the air.

Everyone in the room was riveted by the story of the success this project has had. And just the idea of starting with a toy dog programmed to amuse a child for about 15 minutes, take it, change it and then release it en masse? The very image of a pack of robotic dogs sniffing around and then honing in on something that can make people sick is at once amusing and horrifying on so many levels.

But I have only skimmed the surface. People have posted their strategies and I, with my very limited knowledge of electronics and programming (read none), am tempted to get a robot dog (hopefully at a garage sale) to see if I could do the same.

The ironic subversive nature of this project gives me a modicum of hope to balance out my stronger cynical why-would-I-even-bother-getting-out-of-bed nature.

The force of inertia can be used in my favour. The force of inertia can be used….

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~ by angryegg on August 13, 2009.

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