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Paul D. Fernhout

Jul 24, 2010, 10:12:05 AM7/24/10
to Open Manufacturing
As I continue to research ideas for building a Red Dwarf Scutter robot to
sort LEGOs and pick up toys, I stumbled across this:
"TOBI - The Tool Bot"

Silent Running drones have changeable end effectors, as did the Exocomps on
Star Trek. I've thought it would be nice to have a robot that could fetch
(or carry) tools. A Scutter could do that.

Bryan mentioned a link to that site about a year ago on this list:
"This is the second version of a homemade CNC machine build using
mostly off the shelve parts."

The main page:

Has anyone here used that site for documenting their robots?

Here is an example start page that could serve as the base for a Scutter:
"This tutorial is the easiest way in the world to give you a fast start
into building robots."

BTW, as I Google on "scutter", I can wonder if maybe there is too much slang
associated with the term, as in the "urban dictionary", which might lead to
censoring issues if it was used as a project name? I was thinking maybe an
"open scutter" project name, or maybe "Build your own scutter". On the other
hand, if the site gets blocked because of slang connotations, that's not
good. Also, the project might gain more interest if it stays close to the
Red Dwarf name, but on the other hand, then there are potential trademark
issues etc. to worry about... Still, whatever the slang connotations,
"scutter" is a legitimate word, probably related to "scuttle" and "scurry".

Probably safest to pick a new name and just say "originally inspired by the
Red Dwarf Scutters". And almost certainly, from the beginning, the design
might start to change. For example, it would be nice to have interchangeable
end effectors and a place to store them in, like Silent Running drones. And
it might be nice to have a basket for collecting stuff, given that the
robots are likely to be expensive at first, so you can't count on having two
around to work together to collect things (although a pushable cart might
also work). And maybe even something like a fork lift in the front would
allow it to deal with heavier objects given leverage issues mean the arm
will probably be weak (or otherwise expensive). And maybe a general
interchangeable reconfigurable frame... And so on... There is no end to what
one might want to try, especially to make some specialized devices that
might work together. The late :-( James P. Hogan in "The Two Faces of
Tommorrow" (1979) outlines drones that are specialized.

Still, even if one can imagine lots of specialized variations, I think the
form factor of the Scutter used in Red Dwarf is a really interesting one,
approximating that of a dog. It can easily deal with things on the floor
that humans otherwise have to stoop down or bend over to deal with, which
can get painful to do repetitively, like if LEGO is scattered everywhere. I
guess one could just use a broom instead in some cases. :-) But the Scutter
is potentially much more multi-purpose, as a broom still can't put things
back on shelves or in boxes where they ideally should go, nor can a broom do
sorting, or handle tools. Also, I really like the idea of having a camera or
other ranging sensors right up at the manipulator like the Scutters do (or
dogs do, for that matter. :-)

As I think on it from a robotic dog perspective, K9 on Dr. Who is also
related, although I don't recall ever seeing it hold a tool:
And Aibo:
Humanities partnership with dogs has paid off well for perhaps 100,000
years. I can hope that might be the case with robots. :-)
"Dog history is really the history of the partnership between dogs (Canis
lupus familiaris) and humans. That partnership is based on human needs for
help with herding and hunting, an early alarm system, and a source of food
in addition to the companionship many of us today know and love. Dogs get
companionship, protection and shelter, and a reliable food source out of the
deal. But when this partnership first occurred is at the moment under some

--Paul Fernhout
The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of
abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity.


Jul 24, 2010, 11:48:06 AM7/24/10
to openmanu...@googlegroups.com
According to TOngue Tired, the Red Dwarf Encyclopedia, Scutter is
spelt with a k (Skutter):

I am from England and have never heard anyone ever use the word
scutter or skutter to describe people or things - though it might be
some very localised vulgar slang.

Wikipedia's article:


"...Series VIII also featured a skutter named Bob along with his "wife" Madge. "

so if you called your bot "Bob" and released it under some sort of
open license (Bob Open Bot) - it becomes recursive!


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Paul D. Fernhout

Jul 24, 2010, 12:45:59 PM7/24/10
to openmanu...@googlegroups.com
pa...@openmotox.com wrote:
> According to TOngue Tired, the Red Dwarf Encyclopedia, Scutter is
> spelt with a k (Skutter):
> http://reddwarf.wikia.com/wiki/Skutters
> I am from England and have never heard anyone ever use the word
> scutter or skutter to describe people or things - though it might be
> some very localised vulgar slang.
> Wikipedia's article:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Dwarf_characters#The_Skutters
> says:
> "...Series VIII also featured a skutter named Bob along with his "wife" Madge. "
> so if you called your bot "Bob" and released it under some sort of
> open license (Bob Open Bot) - it becomes recursive!

I like that Bob recursion! :-)

Reminds me that there is a movie robot B.O.B. (BiO-sanitation Battalion):

Thanks for the perspective from England on the name, which allays some fears.

I've seen the word spelled both ways, and Google has about 3000 matches for
each way on red dwarf skutter/scutter.

Athough now that I look, I see it is "Scutter" in the title on UK Amazon,
but "Skutter" is on the official box it seems (a little hard to read in the

But here Amazon in the US has it as "Skutter" in the title.

Although even on "Tounge Tied" here is an example of "Scutter":

So, it seems like people do often use either spelling. But, it still seems,
from the Red Dwarf DVD box, that you are right that "Skutter" is most
official then.

BTW, just snagged a very old discarded SCSI scanner from our local recycling
center that has a nice timing belt in it and a sliding arrangement (maybe
better for a CNC device or pick-and-place XY robot than a Skutter though). I
have a couple old scanners already that I bought over the years and still
have around, but it may just feel easier to rip apart one that I got for
"free" as opposed to one, say, we paid $1000 for about fifteen years ago and
I just still have trouble accepting it is mostly obsolete and otherwise
worthless. :-)


Jul 25, 2010, 3:07:31 AM7/25/10
to openmanu...@googlegroups.com
Weren't the robots in Silent Running (Huey, Dewey and Louie) a bit
like Skutters?



Paul D. Fernhout

Jul 25, 2010, 9:02:33 AM7/25/10
to openmanu...@googlegroups.com
pa...@openmotox.com wrote:
> Weren't the robots in Silent Running (Huey, Dewey and Louie) a bit
> like Skutters?
> http://www.jeffbots.com/silentrunning.html

Yes, and they helped inspire my first robot (for a grade school science
class / science fair) and later ones, as well as R2D2 of Star Wars (which
looked a lot like my robot, but came a year after IIRC).

Wall*E is said to have been inspired by the Silent Running Drones too.

And I've always wanted to make Silent Running drones and have sketches on
that, etc.. I can see all too many parallels with my life there too (I saw
the movie when I was around ten or so). I've spent a lot of time doing
robotics and AI (ran a robot lab, hung out at CMU, wrote artificial life and
AI-related software, decades ago), doing environmental stuff (was in PhD
program in ecology and evolution, volunteered on an organic farm, wrote a
garden simulator), devoting a big chunk of my life to thinking about
building and maintaining space habitats full of greenery, and now I'm
warning everyone about lack of sunlight killing off their future in terms of
a lack of Vitamin D3 and solar power (a major plot point in the movie,
spoiler -- lack of sunlight kills the forest), advocating whole natural
foods over synthetic glop (another point of the movie), etc.. Examples:
Even guilt over a "murder": :-(
All too many eerie parallels.

I guess the moral is, be careful what you see when you are about ten. :-)
Either that or the early 1970s are coming back with a vengeance. :-)

Compare/Contrast this:

"Silent Running is a 1972 environmentally-themed science fiction film,
directed by Douglas Trumbull,[1] who had previously worked as a special
effects supervisor on such science fiction films as 2001: A Space Odyssey
and The Andromeda Strain. Silent Running depicts a future in which all plant
life on Earth has been made extinct, except for a few specimens preserved in
a fleet of space-borne freight ships converted to carry greenhouse domes.
When orders come from Earth to jettison and destroy the domes, the botanist
aboard the greenhouse-ship 'Valley Forge' (Bruce Dern) rebels, and
eventually opts instead to send the last dome into deep space to save the
remaining plants and animals. The film costars Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin and
Jesse Vint."

"Freeman Lowell: Every time we have the argument, you say the same thing
to me, you give me the same three answers all the time , the same thing,
"well, everybody has a job," that's always the last one. But, you know what
else there is no more of, my friend, there is no more beauty, there is no
more imagination, and there are no frontiers left to conquer, and do you
know why? Only one reason why: one reason why, the same attitude that you
three guys are giving me right here in this room today, and that is: nobody

with this:

"Notes From the BP Catastrophe: A Slow Motion Katrina "
"Losses Bigger Than We Can Calculate ... I knew that southern Louisiana has
a very large Vietnamese population, but I didn't and still don't fully
understand the unique multiethnic spread of communities living with and off
the water on the Gulf Coast there. The United Houma Nation and other
indigenous people are still rebuilding after Katrina and Rita. Vietnamese,
Cambodian, and Laotian immigrants all brought their maritime traditions.
Cajuns, newer-comers than First Nations people but long settled, have
developed culturally in direct and unique relationship with that land. They
are artisanal workers, who harvest seafood on a small scale using very old,
successful, sustainable methods. They can't just transplant and they can't
just absorb into industrial scale operations. People are leaving if they
can, or staying and risking illness. The coast's culture and communities are
being devastasted. Catherine, a New Orleanian, is a doctor who did emergency
medical work in the flooded city post-Katrina. She tells me she's seeing the
same things coming into the ER now from the BP spill that she did then. We
read reports of children with rectal bleeding in Pensacola. In Venice, which
like Grand Isle is about 50 miles from the Deepwater Horizon rig, even the
EPA has admitted measuring dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide, benzene,
and other toxics in the air. People in New Orleans have been ill for months.
In Alabama, people are reporting chemical burns from rain. ER patients and
water testing have exhibited such high levels of propylene glycol (a minor
ingredient in Corexit) that the actual concentration of dispersant in the
air and ocean is a terrifying unknown. Mental as well as physical health is
straining. An organizer from the Peoples' Institute for Survival and Beyond
in New Orleans, lives in Plaquemines Parish. He and others are trying to
bring mental health work skills into the communities there; not just
dispatch professionals to volunteer in the disaster zone, but build up the
local capacity. Unsurprisingly, reports of depression, domestic violence and
suicides are increasing. ..."

Also eerie as a parallel: :-)
Citing on jobs:

I'm living some kind of Lowell Freeman life (as a curse, or blessing? :-)
Silent Running, along with that drone design, is obviously a fire in my life
-- whether it consumes me or warms/powers me is a life-long struggle, as has
always been the case when humans play with fire.

Although I can't beat this January 2001 Onion piece for "eerie": :-)
"Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'"
"During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the
severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens
that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in
the next four years. ... Turning to the subject of the environment, Bush
said he will do whatever it takes to undo the tremendous damage not done by
the Clinton Administration to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He
assured citizens that he will follow through on his campaign promise to open
the 1.5 million acre refuge's coastal plain to oil drilling. As a sign of
his commitment to bringing about a change in the environment, he pointed to
his choice of Gale Norton for Secretary of the Interior. Norton, Bush noted,
has "extensive experience" fighting environmental causes, working as a
lobbyist for lead-paint manufacturers and as an attorney for loggers and
miners, in addition to suing the EPA to overturn clean-air standards. ..."

Seen mentioned here:
"My favorite was always the 2000 article Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare
Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over [theonion.com]... almost everything
in the article came true."

But ultimately, Silent Running is a depressing movie in many ways (nobody
cares about the environment, the main guy is alienated from other humans,
there are murders, and spoiler -- the guy blows up the main ship and himself
in the end wracked over his guilt -- even though I feel he should have
repaid his guilt by taking care of the forest, etc.). Focusing on building
those Silent Running drone robots enmeshes you into that sad emotional
milieu, even if the robots are really cool and realistic seeming (and have
the beginnings of interesting personalities). On the other hand, one might
argue that actually building those robots gives you a chance to change the
movie (or at least, the ending). Although, one might say the same about
raising a next generation of children to live joyfully under the sun running
through the forests.
"Joan Baez 'Rejoice in the Sun' - Silent Running"

Still, even though Silent Running drones would have more emotional resonance
for me, I feel making Skutters would be more uplifting and funnier and more
open ended, because Red Dwarf just has overall more positive connotations
(even if crazier and less near-term realistic ones. :-) And as much as they
have their differences and disagreements, the five main Red Dwarfers (later
six or more with Kochanski, or more if you include the Skutters) are
essentially a team dealing with the unknown and great mystery of the
universe together. As I think on it, I can wonder what stunts Dave Lister
might have done to save a tropical Fiji biome? :-) Or if Holly would have
just made fun of corporate instructions to jettison and blow up the domes?

Also, Silent Running drones walk, and that just in another big problem that
by itself could consume a lot of research. A Skutter rolls, and that is a
lot cheaper to do right now. A Skutter's weight distribution is better to
counterbalance lifting leverage too.

Still, maybe if I built a working Silent Running drone I could move on with
that part of my life? :-) But much of my time is going to being with my kid
and homeschooling/unschooling, which is probably a better thing. :-)

All those robots will get built, whether I work on them or not. They are
just too interesting.
"Moths to the Flame: The Seductions of Computer Technology"
"Moths to the Flame is a heady mixture of futuristic prophecy and historical
perspective covering all aspects of computer technology, some frightening,
some practical, some fanciful. It seems that technology is spinning out of
control, though Rawlins reminds us that computers can only reflect the needs
and values of their users."

The big issue is, whose values will be embedded in the robot programming?
And how open will the systems be to change to meet human needs? Or to even
meet their own needs eventually, if they become sentient beings?

I'm not sure I want my closed-source robots designed by BP. :-(
"BP oil rig blast: safety alarm was off, says engineer"
Mr Williams, who has filed a lawsuit against Transocean, said a computer
system that monitored well-drilling operations, known as the 'A chair', was
often offline due to technical issues. 'We called it the blue screen of
death,' he said. 'It would turn blue and you would have no data coming through.'

But really, BP is not the problem, just like Bush was not the problem. BP
and Bush (and Obama for that matter) is the symptom.

And part of the disease stems from people's alienation from both the human
artifacts and the natural processes they depend on. Open Manufacturing can
help some with that.

It would be nice to involve my kid in building better (and open) robots, so
that is one thing that might justify the time. Anyway, I just built a paper
Skutter which my kid watched me do, so that's a start. :-)

I know, pics or it did not happen. :-)

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