Mobile Computing... With A Twist!

Yeah, I know it's been a month since my last post but I think posting something interesting is better than posting something nonsensical. But then again, nonsensical posts tend to have more comments.

After work, Bao, David (one of the guys in the Tech Support group) and I were talking about random stuff. I was rummaging through a box and was looking at various abandoned pieces of computer hardware when David makes the suggestion that if I can fix whatever junk is in the box, I can keep it.

NOTE: For those of you who do not know, I'm now working at WinMagic as a junior developer. =)

I'm sure David was joking about this but he remarked how in a week are two, he might see computer towers whizzing around the office. I won't go into the boring details of the conversation but it converged to an idea of what it might take to put a computer tower on wheels and control it remotely!

I know I haven't started on the RC Car Hack but I have to pay off my student loan before I can purchase the necessary lab equipment (oscilloscope, wave gen). And hopefully while I'm working on the RC Car Hack project, I'll post pictures and stuff here.

Anyways, here's my idea for the Mobile Tower:
1. Using an available Wi-Fi connection, I can form an ad-hoc connection from a host computer (the computer I'm sitting at) and the client computer (the mobile tower). The Wi-Fi connection will allow me to give the Mobile Tower instructions and also allow a web cam to send a video feed to the host computer.

2. The Mobile Tower will provide a simple chassis to attach motors (with wheels!) and a mounting area for a microcontroller to control the motors. The microcontroller would have to control a minimum of three motors: two to allow the tower to move, and one to control a motor to rotate a camera. Obviously, the more actuator points available on the microcontroller, the more stuff I can mount on the tower.

3. I'll obviously have to consider my power source since it would be very impractical to tether the tower to the wall with an incredibly long extension cord. The easiest solution is to replace the tower with a laptop. But I suppose the added challenge would be to design and build a 3-phase inverter and then find a suitable battery. I'll need one or several small deep-cycle batteries like lithium ion. Some of you might suggest car batteries but those are "shallow"-cycle batteries.

Tech Talk: A deep-cycle battery are any type that discharges current over a long period whereas "shallow"-cycle batteries, like a car battery, discharges its current over a short period. I've place "shallow"-cycle batteries in quotes because I can't remember their proper name. Although car batteries hold a large amount of current, it discharges its current quickly to help a car engine turn over. While you're driving, the alternator recharges the battery so that you can start the car the next time you drive.

As I've already mentioned, replacing the tower with a laptop would be the easiest solution. And since I have two laptops at home, I suppose I have one to spare. But the whole idea here is to make the mobile tower as "crazy" as possible so we'll have to go back to the tower. Plus, using a tower has the advantage of it already being a suitable platform to add hardpoints and stuff. The less physical fabrication required, the better!

So, if anybody has suggestions, suggest away!


Blogger Bao said...

I dunno Ricky... most of us aren't engineers, so when you start talking about microcontrollers and whatnot, most of us seem to get pretty confused, and it's harder to comment.

How'bout, if you have nonsensical stuff or routine stuff to post about, you use your other blog? Post about how work is going, and the roofing, and the convocation on the other blog, and then people will read that and... yeah.

6/16/2006 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Bao, I agree but if I want to be a purist and keep my blog only about engineering stuff, then I just have to realize not everybody will have comments about engineering stuff.

I guess I could revive my other blog but I post rather infrequently and I think it would be easier for me to only post on one blog.

6/21/2006 12:01:00 AM  

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