outsourcing your work as a captcha

I guess everyone’s seen the robot test captcha thing on Google these days. If you try to use their websearch engine too fast, then you’ll soon be proving that you’re not a script that’s running on some spammer’s computer.


Often, though, you’re then next asked to select which squares have store fronts, or doors, or signs or food.


And of course, since we want that content, we dutifully “prove” that we’re not a robot. But—and I realize this might sound a little cynical of me—what if we’re actually being forced into conscripted labor, as if we were Google’s robots?

What if we’re actually being forced into conscripted labor, as if we were Google’s robots?

Try to follow along…

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Amazon has a variety of services within the AWS space. The one I’m thinking about at this moment is their Amazon Mechanical Turk. If you have a computer and Internet and want to make some money doing (usually) mundane tasks, then Amazon will pay you to do so.

For instance, Amazon might pay a hundred people to look at one image after another and to indicate/highlight where in the image they see a sign or a store front or whatever it is that Amazon needs highlighted. Humans are great at this. Artificial intelligence applications are getting there, only it takes a supercomputer these days in order to do these tasks.

What if Google doesn’t want to use their supercomputers nor wants to pay anyone to do object recognition either?

Google Maps Streetview

Google’s mapping featureset with Streetview represents a way for them to make a lot of money. And their collection of project managers would love to know where storefronts are within all that captured data. (Imagine that they’ve paid drivers to drive around a car with 360° cameras.) Because behind every storefront is a business who could pay Google money for placement within Google Local.

Now, Google has datacenters with plenty of available processing power to do this. But what if… they’re using us instead.

Think about it, we’re asked to identify objects within photos (which look like they’re taken from the Streetview data) and we’re being asked to identify things (businesses) which could make Google money or things (signs) which could be used in mapping directions.

Call me cynical but Google is looking a little guilty on this one. Why aren’t we identifying the squares with puppies in them? Because puppies don’t buy listing upgrades, that’s why.


a robot which builds robots

I suppose the problem with buying a 3D plastic printer is that it makes the owner imagine all sorts of modifications to that very same printer, especially so when it’s largely open-sourced in the first place.


I must admit that owning this Robo C2 printer has been a blast. I’m now past the let’s print some demos phase to the let’s print our own designs next step. And part of that design process is envisioning a better printer from this one. And what better way to modify it than printing some 3D parts, right?

So, here’s a list of some of the current things I’m doing with it.

Sound Events

It’s a wonderful printer and often, just because of the sounds you get from its collection of servo/stepper motors, it vaguely sounds a bit like R2D2, the cute robot of Star Wars fame. I’m working up a modification to add sound events from a variety of Star Wars WAV files related to R2D2.

As themes go, the movie Iron Man includes an AI character named J.A.R.V.I.S. (as voiced by Paul Bethany) who had some fun dialog with the Tony Stark character (as played by Robert Downing, Jr.) I’ve often thought that it would be sweet to add a sound event theme set based around Paul Bethany’s voicing of J.A.R.V.I.S. as well.

Video Feed and Time-Lapse Photography

I’ve just picked up a Pi NiOR camera which I’ll be adding to the printer. Next, I’ll need a longer ribbon cable, some suction cups and a designed/printed part to hold the camera itself inside the chassis.

Given the resolution of the camera, I’ll likely need to upgrade the microSD card inside to accommodate the files from the streaming activities.

Enhanced Spool Feeder

The out-of-box spool feeder seems a bit minimalistic to me. I’d like to upgrade that with a feeder which allows the spool to spin more freely. I imagine that the part needs to be more rounded at the top.

Heated Bed

The Robo C2 doesn’t include a heated bed in its design like some of its more-expensive Robo alternatives. So I’d like to machine an aluminum bed with a heating element and add this to the system.

Side-to-side Conveyor Bed

The maximum build size for the Robo C2 is a mere 5″x5″ square at the base so that’s a bit restrictive. There are techniques for joining a series of smaller parts (say, to make a sword) but I’m guessing that a possible approach is to remove the two blue side windows and rig up a conveyor system which is accurately positioned left/right as required. In this way, a very long part could be printed.

Remote Control via Joystick

I’ve purchased a Raspberry Pi Sense Hat which includes a small joystick control. I think I’d like to write something so that, using remote GPIO, I could then control the stepper motors of the printer indirectly via wi-fi.

OctoPrint Plugins

The underlying web server which runs on the printer is called OctoPrint and since it’s open-source, there are a variety of plugins for this already. I think I’d be interested in writing some plugins, especially so that someone may pause jobs in the middle so that internal components may then be assembled inside.

I’ll likely add some SMS notifications so that I can remotely know how a print job is going.

Voice Control

I also like the idea of adding voice control to the printer. How awesome would it be to just tell the printer to do something?

So basically, since the Amazon Alexa code is completely available and can be setup on a Raspberry Pi 3 computer, I can imagine then interacting with this piece (as installed on a Raspberry Pi) and having it direct activities on the printer itself.

robotics and you

I’ve kind of gotten into a robotics kick lately while looking for cool projects and thought I’d share some of the information with you.  We can probably thank Fab Lab for the motivation since I stopped by there recently for a visit.

I think I’d like to make a remote-control tank with an additional autonomous mode in which it drives itself.  I’d probably put a webcam on there, sensors… not sure, really.

I’m thinking that the closed ecosystem could use a shrimp pellet (food) dispensing system.  I do worry though that one of the shrimp is getting bigger and more of a bully around feeding time, for what it’s worth.  <_<

I’ve also been thinking about a re-breathing device which recaptures the moisture lost when hiking in the desert.  I’m guessing that some sort of breather like scuba gear could additionally inject moisture into the incoming air in such a way that the hiker doesn’t suffer the effects of dehydration.  Unlike the stillsuit of the Dune movie fame for recapturing sweat, I’d suggest that most water is lost by someone in the desert due to the humidity of the air we’re breathing out.  As each new dry breath is taken in, this normally is a very effective means of drying someone to their death, if you think about it. So this invention would presumably avoid this normal loss by trying to recapture that moisture or merely to insert back what is normally lost in the process.  I’m thinking that a system like this might introduce enough water through the bloodstream via the lungs that drinking wouldn’t even be necessary.  Taking this another step, what if you could introduce sugars and nutrients into the mist?  If you google “parenteral nutrition” you can see that someone can be fed intravenously through an IV.  You’d have to balance pH, osmolarity and lipid content of the “food” (glucose, protein and lipids) to make this work and it would need to be sterile.  Something to think about…

So, another trip to Frye’s.  Here’s what I snagged, along with some follow-up research.


There’s an awesome company named OSEPP which makes Arduino-compatible robotic parts, accessories and even kits.  Frye’s Electronics appears to be carrying some of their stuff now which is good if—like me—you don’t enjoy having things shipped from somewhere else.

I just picked up their Tank Mechanical Kit as well as a Motor & Servo Shield and a Motor Driver Module.  I’ve put the tank together and it looks wonderfully sturdy since it’s made out of aluminum for the most part.  Even though it was intended for the Arduino, I’ll drive it with a Raspberry Pi Zero W, probably.  I also got a Joystick Module which I’ll use on a remote, likely a Raspberry Pi 3 in this case.

Tank MotorServoShield MotorDriver Joystick


Frye’s also carries a number of parts by Actobotics which appears to be made by RobotZone (Servocity’s parent company).  They’re likely behind the system of aluminum plates with overlapping hole design often seen throughout these projects.

The demonstration photo on their website was really too big to put here but you can see it if you click this.  So they reasonably have you covered if you’re trying to build anything.  I’m thinking that it must be fun to work there.  I just picked up their 0.1227″ Pitch Plastic Chain for some future project.



Another great company within this space is Servocity.  This company has some seriously heavy-duty linear servo motors.  Someday I’d love to build an exoskeleton robotics project and these would be the servos for that job.  rawr!

Much of what’s being done now in the robotics area involves extruded aluminum channels, beams, plates, brackets and some very polished mounts, clamps and what-have-you.