Thursday, October 30, 2008

Prototype That

In addition to Time Warp, the Discovery Channel has another new show called Prototype This. Although you definitely get the impression that Discovery is trying to ride the Mythbusters wave a bit with these new shows, this one features an interesting balance of mechanical and electrical/computer geeky hosts.

This week's prototype, a truck that could navigate above a traffic jam and slide sideways into an occupied parking space, featured a bit of technology that I've seen in action before: Mecanum wheels. Rather than try to explain how they work, a short video:

(Check out the new TechTV player!)

These pretty cool sideways-action wheels have been gaining popularity in the FIRST competition for some time. So, if you don't have the budget of a Discovery Channel prime-time show, you can obtain a set of these wheels at reasonable cost from FIRST supplier AndyMark. They only have small robot versions for now, but are working on a 21" version which I think would suffice for making your car slide into a parking space.

Most of my projects fall squarely in the "prototype" category - the first take at something or other. After that is the "beta" phase, which is an interesting in-between ground for working out the finishing touches. Then, the final mass-manufactured product release. I've seen a bit of the whole sequence, but most of the time I enjoy working in the early "whiteboard" stages.

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