Robot insects on the march

3D printed flexoskeletons. In English, that would be “a cheap army of robot insects”:

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new method that doesn’t require any special equipment and works in just minutes to create soft, flexible, 3D-printed robots.

The innovation comes from rethinking the way soft robots are built: instead of figuring out how to add soft materials to a rigid robot body, the UC San Diego researchers started with a soft body and added rigid features to key components. The structures were inspired by insect exoskeletons, which have both soft and rigid parts—the researchers called their creations “flexoskeletons.” The new method allows for the construction of soft components for robots in a small fraction of the time previously needed and for a small fraction of the cost. …

But what could an army of such robots actually do? The most obvious immediate applications would appear to be military. They could be what I’ve already said: an army. Of miniature kamikaze bugs, or some such horror movie type thing.

I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of a hive of these little thingies.

Another fun thought: See the second category in the category list below.

Helicopter photos of London

Incoming from 6k:

Hi Brian

Hi 6k.

Hope you’re well.

I am, and likewise. Although, I usually know how you are, because you often blog about this subject. My recent favourite in this genre was the one where you included a chart of your stress levels for an entire day when there was a football match in the evening, involving your team.

Been a while since I’ve been in touch, but I am (of course) still reading BMNB dot com every day.

Good, good.

I only had to look at the title of this one – London’s Imperfect Geometry Revealed in Aerial Photography by Bernhard Lang – to know that I had to send it your way: enjoy!

Given 6k’s keenness on photoing with a drone, I half expected these aerial photos of London to be drone-photos also. But I guess it makes just as much sense to use a helicopter, given the amount of grief you’d surely get if you launched a drone into London’s sky. For starters, you can’t go within a kilometer of an airport, which rules out a big chunk of London near to London City Airport.

If you want to, make a start on drone law by reading this.

Meanwhile, my favourite of Herr Lang’s snaps was, of course, this, with all its bridges:

I make it eight of them.

My personal record is seven bridges, and all of my seven bridges are to be seen in the above photo by Lang. Only the nearest bridge (Waterloo Bridge) in his photo is missing from my photo. Not only that, but Lang’s photo also includes the spot where I did my photoing from, in the bottom left corner of his photo. This was the top of the Hotel ME, which is at the western end of the D that is made by The Strand and The Aldwych. Follow the link to my earlier posting at the start of this paragraph and you’ll also encounter a map which shows this. 6k thought I’d enjoy, and he was not wrong.

I’m not sure I agree about London’s geometry being “imperfect”. I know what this means, but it is these very “imperfections” that distinguish great cities from boring ones. Rectangular grids make for urban uniformity. “Imperfections” make a city far more interesting. But that’s a whole other posting.


I like photos that look like abstract art but which are really of something real.

To quote myself (underneath the August photo there, of London Bridge station seen from above):

I tend not to admire Modern Art. It takes itself far too seriously for my liking. But I love it when real stuff resembles Modern Art. Explain that to me, somebody?

Still working out the answer to that one.

So anyway, it would appear that these guys, agree with me. They call themselves AAA (they arrange the AAAs more aaartfully than this), which stands for Abstract Aerial Art.

Quote (from this):

Taken from a top-down perspective, every aerial photograph we take is of a real place on our planet. We like to compose our images as artworks rather than traditional photographs. Other than slight colour and contrast enhancements none of our images are manipulated in any way. As we always say, “the point is not to work out what it is, but to show how weird and wonderful the world can look from above”.

Actually, not quite my attitude. I like explanations, locations, etc. But, I still like these images.

Here are a dozen (I picked four, then nine, then twelve) that I especially liked:

Here’s the equipment the AAA guys use. Drones. Calling 6k. (The link at the top of this posting is to an earlier posting I did re another of 6k’s drone-photos.)

Drones replacing sheepdogs (and some embedded video about this)

This is the first time I’ve tried embedding a bit of video in this blog. Let’s see how this works:

Seems to have worked. Another major improvement of this blog over the old one, especially important for me at moments like this, is that when I press “Save draft” and them “Preview”, I get a preview of exactly how things will end up looking. The old blog, for some idiot reason, couldn’t or wouldn’t do this. Not exactly. Well, maybe it could have, but I couldn’t make it.

I found this news report, about how drones are replacing sheepdogs on the farms of New Zealand, here. This is definitely the most interesting “other creatures” thing I learned about during the last seven days. I first got a clue about this story when semi-watching a BBC4 TV documentary about the wildlife of New Zealand. They must have digressed into not-so-wild life.

According to the above video, drones haven’t yet learned how to function when it’s raining. So sheepdogs, for the time being, are still useful when it’s wet. But work is surely progressing on that, and the days of sheepdogs as workers on farms are surely numbered. These things can take a long time, so it will be a big number. But, a number.

Sheepdogs will not completely die out. Like horses, they will survive as sporting entertainers. And drones will give viewers a much better view of all the action.

LATER: I just realised it’s Thursday today, rather than Friday, which is the day I usually focus especially on cats, dogs, etc. Well, no matter. I’m probably the only one who noticed, so I’m not even going to apologise.

A drone at the Oval – and what drones will replace

I took this photo at the Oval (sorry the Kia Oval), on July 23rd 2012, when I and Michael Jennings were watching England lose by an innings to South Africa:

All very regrettable. England lost all twenty wickets, but South Africa only lost two wickets. Hashim Amla got a treble century. Boo hoo.

But, take a close look at the rather odd stick-like thing sticking up over that big stand in the distance. Not the big flyswatter, which is for floodlights. No, I mean the rather insect-leg-like thing to its left, as we look.


That’s a simple crop-and-expand of the first photo above.

Then as now, I was interested not just in cricket, as in: Is my team winning? (It was not (see above)). I also was already interested in the means by which cricket is televised or video-internetted. I know this, because at about the same time I was photoing the above photo, I also photoed this photo:

Imagine spending your entire day, which on that particular day was a pretty hot day, doing that.

Okay. Now, fast forward to the Oval exactly seven years to-the-day later, July 23rd 2019, when Darren and I visited the Oval, to watch Surrey get beaten by Middlesex in a T20 game.

Once again, that my team was losing was very regrettable, but once again, I consoled myself by photoing other things besides the actual cricket, as already recounted in this earlier posting.

And the most interesting thing, by far, that I photoed that evening, was this:

I owe the spotting of this contraption, which hovered throughout the entire game over the same part of the ground as the 2012 crane-photoer did, to Darren’s sharper-than-my eyes, and to the fact that he reads this blog and knew that I would be interested. I would be amazed if I discovered that it was actually not videoing the game that Darren and I were watching, even if it was only panoramic views, for now.

It is surely only a matter of time before drones start being used to video games like the one I saw at Beckenham, where I also photoed video cameras.

And scaffolding. Drones don’t need scaffolding.

I’m guessing that the drone problem just now is keeping them absolutely still, or alternatively, moving them in exactly the required manner, the way crane-photoer has long been doing. But if humming birds can solve this problem, I presume that drones can, and that actually, somewhere, they already have.

Googling for drones-cricket etc. tells me that this is a technology that is bowling ahead, so to speak. For instance, it says here, in connection with the recently concluded Cricket World Cup, that:

The drone camera provided by Batcam will also provide stunning visuals of all venues across England and Wales.

“Batcam” link added.

So, as Darren suggested, it is quite probable that the TV picture in this posting was done by a drone, rather than by a bloke at the top of a crane.

Which means that the Big Alignment described in that posting (the Shard and the BT Tower) may have been no accident. Maybe the drone lined them up right next to each other on purpose.

Big Thing alignments from Lord’s

One of the many things I like about watching cricket on the television, along with things like that I can see properly what is going on, is that in between overs, those high-up cameras often look beyond the cricket, to the surroundings beyond, a process which is especially appealing if the game is being played in London.

As last weekend’s Cricket World Cup Final was, at Lord’s:

That’s a photo I just snapped off of the TV, with a camera.

Let’s see if I can do better, by putting one of the three DVDs I made of the Final with my TV recording machine, into my computer, and then do a screen scan. It helps a lot having the score, because that way I can quickly find the same shot.

Here we go:

A bit better, I think. Not a lot, but a bit.

In the foreground there is Regent’s Park. but the particular thing I like is the way the BT Tower aligns with the Shard. The BT Tower even manages to place itself between the Shard and Guy’s Hospital.

Here’s another Lord’s photo, that I photoed myself on a more sedate Lord’s occasion. Rugby v Marlborough, on August 12th 2017:

I took that from the top of the big new stand which has a roof on it like a big tent. You can see the same alignment, of the Strata (the one with three holes in the top) and the Wheel, in the TV shot above. What this tells me is that the TV shot was taken from a lot higher up, and off to the left as we look. So, on a crane, standing at the Media Centre end.

Here is a photo of some Real Photographers …:

… whom I photoed that same day, minutes after that earlier photo. Lord’s was not exactly buzzing that day, was it? Anyway, I’d like one of those Real Photographers to be sent up to the top of the crane where the TV people took their shot from, and take some extra good stills of the same BT Tower/Shard alignment.

Alas, they probably wouldn’t be that interested. Plus, nowadays you can probably do everything you want along such lines with drones.

That earlier game, described here, had one thing very much in common with the recent World Cup Final game, which was this:

Neither side deserved to lose and cricket was very much the winner …

It was indeed a terrific contest, even if only a tiny few people watched it, compared to the crowd last Sunday, at the ground and on TV.

Drones are expendable

This, from Tim Newman, concerning Trump’s threatened-but-then-not-done (or not yet done) retaliatory war against the Iranians, in response to them shooting down an American drone, strikes me as very sensible:

… Now one of the advantages of using unmanned drones is that shooting one down does not require the same response as if a pilot has been killed or captured. That’s the whole point of using them: while expensive, they are expendable to a much greater degree. …

My guess is that Trump is playing to the gallery, the gallery being the discontented people of Iran. He is trying to show, by cranking up the brinkmanship and thereby drawing attention to what he’s doing, that he is on their side, but that their own rulers, seemingly ready to provoke a war with the USA, don’t care about them. Will this work? Is that even the plan? What do I know?

Certainly, starting a war over the destruction of a mere piece of equipment seems to me very stupid, indeed wicked, and more to the point will seem stupid and wicked to many others besides me.

On a more peaceful note, here is a piece about robots as aerial transporters. Rapid progress is being made here, apparently.

Although, this piece is about robots carrying passengers.

It would seem to me that there is particular merit in using drones to transport mere stuff, as opposed to transporting people. With stuff, what’s the worst that could happen? It goes prang, and some stuff, and a drone, gets lost? Provided the transporting is not done too dangerously over built-up areas, few humans are likely to get hurt or killed. That book you ordered from Amazon will take a bit longer to materialise. Boo hoo.

With the passing of every year, destroying stuff matters that bit less, and killing people matters that bit more, and long may that trend continue. Which means that peaceful drones, transporting stuff which is as expendable as they are themselves, seems like a particularly good plan. Passengers? There’s a lot more to go wrong with them on board.

However, aerial robots seem a basically better idea, to begin with, than robot cars that drive along anything resembling regular roads. I get more and more sceptical about robot cars as each deadline for their mass deployment seems to come and go. True, if you lose power in the air, that’s a lot worse than losing power on the ground. But, the air, for now, unless you’re in a war, is a fundamentally more predictable environment than the ground, because the ground is already so very occupied, so full of people wandering about doing their own deeply unpredictable things, often using their own vehicles. The air, on the other hand, only contains admittedly rather undisciplined birds, but otherwise, mostly, much more disciplined and tightly controlled aircraft. Okay, a few small aircraft sometimes go where they aren’t wanted and that can complicate things. But there are, for the time being anyway, no gangs of drunken pedestrians in the sky.

But, like I say, what do I know?

UPS drones and drone vans

Another drone application hovers into view:

Yes, it’s UPS:

“This is really a vision for the future for us,” UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider.

The drone will work as a mechanized helper for the driver, reducing the number of miles a driver will need to drive. According to Wallace, UPS can save $50 million a year if everyone of its drivers reduces the length of their delivery routes by one mile.

UPS sees several potential usage cases for its autonomous drones. This ranges from inventory control at warehouses to the delivery of urgent packages such as medical supplies. However, this latest test is geared towards the company’s  operations in rural areas where drivers have to cover vast distances between delivery points.

But all this is still some way off:

Currently, the technology [is] still in the testing phase and UPS doesn’t have an exact timeline for its introduction into service, Wallace said.

Timeline being the twenty first century way of saying: time. See also learning curve (learning); learning experience (fuck-up); etc.

I once had a job delivering number plates, in a white van, all over Britain. Much of it was lots of unassembled number plate components in big heavy boxes, to big suppliers, which we delivered direct. And the rest of the job was one-off finished number plates to motorbike shops, which the other drivers often used to deliver by posting them. I always went there direct, because I enjoyed the drive, but either way the economics of those one-off number plates was ridiculous. A drone to do the final thirty miles or so would have been most handy, if it could have been organised. (A digital camera would have been very nice also. But alas, I had to wait a quarter of a century for that.)

The serious point: drones are useful tools for running big and visible and trustable (because so easily embarrassable and controlable) businesses, for example the big and very visible enterprise that provided this. Drones are, basically, tools for workers rather that toys for funsters. They may supply fun, but they will mostly be operated by workers.

In London anyway. Things may be different out in the wilds of the countryside. But even taking photos out in the wilds of Yorkshire involves – I bet – getting some kind of permit. If not, it soon will. Because there will be complaints, and drones are highly visible.

Also audible, yes? Anyone know how noisy drones tend to be? 6K? How noisy is your drone?

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Guess what this is

I’ve been meaning to post this image here for some time:

Guess what it is. If in doubt, look at the categories list below. Then go here, to confirm what you must surely have worked out.

Many have described the event at which this happened as historic, but not because of this. But I reckon what you see in the above picture is what historians will end up being most impressed by, about this event, because it was a very public manifestation of a very impressive sort of technology, which is going to have a very big future.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog