Archive | December, 2011

Tired of having to get up to stop robot invasions? Well not anymore — Mobile Remote Control Club to the rescue!

1 Dec

Starting a new club is hard. It’s ambitious. But that’s what we did. It’s called Mobile Remote Control Club. The whole purpose of the club was to engage and experiment with technologies that enable us to do computing and control objects (digital objects in this case) at a range (be it close or far). Our first meeting was held November 24th, 2011 and to our surprise more than just the initial group actually showed up!

Caitlin and myself made posters and spoke in front of other classes on the Sheridan College campus in Oakville to draw attention. We were even able to get up to 22 members on facebook! I put out a live broadcast to my networks and people were genuinely interested in the fun twist of “controlling robots” we branded our club with.

To be fair, Roger, Saad, Travis and above all else Joel Brown did the majority of the coding and testing and messing around. I want to be clear — those guys are power horses who won’t stop until every circuit has been explored.

So anyway – how did we do it? What did we decide to use in terms of tech?

  • Arduino circuit boards – These things are open source and gaining a ton of support in the development community. Essentially it’s a circuit board you can upload code/instructions to and it will do it for you via “ports”. See the image of it below.
  • Bluetooth – most people know this technology from the loud-talking douchebag lawyers on Bay Street wearing it down the sidewalk for some reason (I mean come on, bro, really?). This tech communicated from our phone to the device (it activated our arduino code).
  • Android-powered phones – Nerds rejoice because we couldn’t get it to run at all on our iPhones. As a designer that was a bummer, but oh well. Apple is a bit of a  bastard, what more can you say?

Check out our connection and set up:

As my best friend Roger would say: “Arduino Bluetooth Magic, baby!”

Wowzers! I know what you’re thinking: for wireless Bluetooth that sure is a lot of wires! It’s very important to set this stuff up correctly – but it just takes some trial and error for people who aren’t familiar with technology (kind of a trend — just have fun and play around with new tech — if you read my multi-user post below!).

We used a “sketch” (a snippet of code) from — see below:

MeetAndroid meetAndroid;

int onboardLED = 13;

void setup()
meetAndroid.registerFunction(testEvent, ‘A’);
pinMode(onboardLED, OUTPUT);
digitalWrite(onboardLED, LOW);

void loop()

void testEvent( byte flag, byte numOfValues)

void flushLED( int time )
digitalWrite(onboardLED, High);
digitalWrite(onboardLED, LOW);

So there’s that. It essentially tells the board to send power to a certain port (we plug the led light in to that port) when it receives a message from the bluetooth attached to it.

Pretty simple for connecting something remotely. Arduino runs on a language called Processing which is eerily similar to Javascript. So coming from a web coding background it’s really easy to manipulate the data and code.

During our gathering our goal was to get the light on the board to turn off and on as we texted/pinged it a message through a wireless bluetooth connection. It took about 20 – 30 minutes of troubleshooting and setup but we got it to work!

If you require proof (what are you a detective or something?):

So why is turning a light on important? Well for one it means the Arduino is listening to our code. And considering how many attachments Arduino’s can attach the possibilities of that are endless. When you’re coding the rule of thumb is to dream big but start small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew — you get frustrated and turned off if you do that. This isn’t even our first step — it’s our first crawl in to the realm of remote computing.

Our inaugural meeting, Nov 24th, 2011:

Some guy came and wanted to take footage of us working with our gadgets and gizmos so we acquiesced. The more the merrier! Also it’s a good opportunity to potentially get more members to join our group.

Dreaming Big
So what can be done with this technology once we master it? A few ideas we came up with:

  • Remote controlled juke box for bars and pubs – with digital money exchange. You could queue songs up you wanted without having to even get up from your table. Just download an app and you’re done!
  • Home stuff – turning on and off lights, and things of that nature already exist. But it would be wholly inexpensive to utilize these boards and this technology/code to do it yourself giving you full control.
  • Mixing yourself a margarita by turning on your blender as you pull up to home after a hard day at work!
  • Add a humidity sensor to your flowers and have the Arduino automatically water them for you when it’s too low!
  • Stopping bloodthirsty robots from uprising and killing all life on earth (except turtles of course, not even robots could hate those little scamps).

If you’re interested in this stuff please join us on facebook and keep up. Hopefully it catches on because it’s inevitable robots will try something funny. I don’t trust them.

And as a survival tip always remember — when the robot invasion happens be on the second floor.

– Andrew Corway