Droids Rev Up Android Development at Maker Faire UK 2015

Posted on April 30, 2015


Maker Faire UK, as usual, showcased the best in maker kit and development. Featured at this year’s show were the small but perfectly formed robotics of Droidscript and a Hitchin Hackspace project that is brewing up nicely.

Droidscript.org is the brainchild of Dave Smart, a software developer and maker whose interests branch into space hardware, Lego and Android programming. It is a mobile development platform that can connect electronic devices using USB, Bluetooth, TCP and UDP. This fantastic steampunk TV Eye (above) was put together by Matthew Taylor from Cambridge MakeSpace and is controlled by DroidScript using an ODROID-C1 – a powerful Android based mini-computer alternative to the Raspberry Pi.

“The head turning servo control and ‘steam squirting’ facility was triggered by an Espruino board, which is a fantastic embedded micro controller similar to Arduino except that it runs JavaScript,” says Dave. “DroidScript can also interface to Lego Mindstorms NXT kits via Bluetooth and we were demonstrating this using our smartwatch controlled robot. We believe this is actually the world’s first smartwatch controlled robot and recently upgraded it to send a video stream from the robot to the Sony SmartWatch2 as well as adding automatic face tracking capability. The face tracking proved to be very popular with our younger visitors as it gives the impression that the robot is actually alive as it’s head turns to follow people walking across the room.”

Also on display was Droidscript’s home made games console, again powered by the ODROID-C1: “We had an HD TV and XBox360 game pad connected to it and it was running ‘Angry Androids’, written entirely using DroidScript,” says Dave. “It shows how makers can start creating their own high performance games using JavaScript on embedded platforms like the ODROID or mobile phones and tablets.”

Droidscript's face tracking smartwatch controlled robot

Droidscript’s face tracking smartwatch controlled robot

Google Powered
Droidscript lionises the powers of the ODROID because it offers a more powerful alternative to the Raspberry Pi B+ at around the same price and allows their coders to use mobile development skills on an embedded platform for robotics and automation. Part of that concentration on Android is the introduction of Google’s V8 JavaScript engine, says Dave. “The Google V8 engine allows JavaScript running in Chrome browsers and Android mobile devices to be compiled to machine code before execution. This means it runs blisteringly fast, enabling functionality that was previously out of reach for JavaScript based applications. You can now do amazing things with image processing, 3D graphics and physics simulation that were simply impractical before.”

JavaScript is powerful, platform agnostic and easy to learn, adds Dave, as well as being the most popular and well-used programming language on the planet. “It’s used in literally billions of web pages displayed in our browsers every day and used by many companies to serve up those web pages in the form of node.js based server systems. Plus it’s not limited to your browser anymore having found its way onto servers, mobile devices and even micro controllers like the Espruino.”

Droidscript.org obviously believes in JavaScript as the way forward, but there is also the fact that it has benefits for anyone looking at a career in coding. JS uses ‘C’ type syntax, says Dave, used by many languages in industry such as C, C++, C# and Java. “Not only is it a great stepping stone to those other languages, it has huge value in itself since anyone who learns it will be able to create their own interactive web sites and mobile applications too.”

Hitchin Horatio
Hitchin Hackspace – notorious builders of the Big Hak (Big Trak’s big brother) – were on hand with Horatio, part of a project to develop a tea-making robot. Using a 3D printed arm and gripping hand the team hopes to put together the perfect robotic cuppa. Horatio at this stage was there hidden inside a denim shirt with a white glove (Jackson style), its automatic system set up to recognise when a person walked up to the team’s desk and then randomly offer a wave ‘hello’ or a robotic handshake.

Once he is given his full tea-making abilities, Horatio’s makers hope to use the data from his activities to see what the most popular brew is – the robot will be hooked up to the internet so people can get their orders in online. Social media collaborative crowdsourced robotic tea. As it should be.