Benjamin Johnston

Welcome

I am Benjamin Johnston, a researcher and a developer. I believe in the power of technology to improve our life at home, work and play. My passion is for using artificial intelligence and social robotics to create systems that bring joy and amazement.


JavaScript Robots

I fear there is a public perception that robots are too "complicated". It is true that some problems are difficult. However, the basics are very accessible. It has never been easier to get started with robotics.

Programming a robot is literally as easy as creating a web-page.

I've recently been using the Sphero robot toy as a way to introduce people to robotics. Sphero works well with several technologies: Ubuntu, ROS, rosbridge, sphero_ros. These technologies make it easy to program complex robot behaviors. Because the technologies are standardized, the same programs can be used on other robots, including the PR2.

In the reminder of this article, I will walk through the process of installing these technologies. Once they are all installed, I'll demonstrate how we can program and control Sphero using JavaScript in a web page!

Continue Reading (Published 9 March 2014)

Audio-feedback Speedometer

Should cars use sound instead of a dashboard?

Speedometer checks take attention away from the road. Audio could communicate the current speed without the driver needing to check the dashboard. It seems reasonable that, with audio feedback, a driver should spend less time looking away from the road.

I put this to the test and it turns out that, no, audio is distracting and annoying.

PLX Devices Kiwi2 Bluetooth ODB-II Interface

To prototype the idea, I purchased a Kiwi2 Bluetooth adapter made by PLX Devices. The device plugs into the On-board Diagnostics ("OBD-II") socket found in virtually all cars made since 1996. The OBD-II standard is designed for technicians to check engine trouble codes as well as retrieve real-time engine performance data.

Continue Reading (Published 2 February 2014)

Robo-hugs for Woz

Steve Wozniak is the inventor of the Apple I and Apple II. In early January, he visited our research lab to meet our robots.

Steve Wozniak receives a hug from a PR2 robot

In the photograph (by Srinivas Madhisetty), my software is giving Steve Wozniak a hug by a PR2 robot.

Continue Reading (Published 1 February 2014)

The Job Market for Prolog

Prolog is one of my favorite programming languages. It is a very powerful language but has not had significant industry adoption (yet!).

Almost a decade ago, I set up keyword alerts for "Prolog" on the major career websites.

There is also a Project Management software system also Prolog. This resulted in many false alarms over the years. I hadn't come across a single authentic advertisement.

Until this one based in Adelaide (CareerOne, 5 January 2014):

An advertisement for a Prolog job

I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn't dreaming.

(Published 1 February 2014)

Markdown Metadata

My homepage is a place where I can experiment with technology as I know the "client" is tech-savvy.

When designing the technical architecture behind this site, I had three objectives:

  1. The site must be served from static HTML
  2. The site must be easy to update
  3. The technology must be simple and elegant

My solution is to use Markdown encapsulated in RFC822 messages.

Continue Reading (Published 26 January 2014)

Hello, World!

I have decided to start a "blog". I will use it to highlight my current projects. I will focus on projects that are experimental, incomplete, unsuccessful or 'just-for-fun' fun.

Prior versions of my personal website have had 'static' designs. They made it difficult to add new content. My intention is that the informality of this format will allow me to share work wouldn't suit publication elsewhere.

So, welcome! Feel free to let me know what you think!

(Published 25 January 2014)

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Major Articles

Published 25 January 2014 by Benjamin Johnston.