Boy am I glad I stumbled on Aleister Kronos’s Ambling in Second Life blog today, since Aleister himself stumbled on IBM CODESTATION island in the virtual world of Second Life a couple of weeks ago. I just had a visit, and I’m happy to say it includes one of the coolest projects I’ve seen in a while: an »open-API mazebot« that users are invited to take and modify in various ways. This is something I’ve wanted to see in Second Life for a while (and was hoping for in the Lego Mindstorms project), and while any full-perm item you get in SL is of course modifiable, IBM has done a nice thing here by defining some parameters and setting out a task for users to work on.
The demo mazebot is controlled by the user via a dialogue box, and runs around the maze trying to get from one end to the other and eating bugs along the way (in an attempt to “debug” the maze). Interestingly, this is the same control scheme I used on a bathysphere I built more than a year ago for Prokofy Neva — although of course IBM’s works far better than mine ever did. Theirs even comes with a “radar” function so that the bot can look around itself and gather data in case you want to make one that navigates the maze on its own. (It’s also physical, though I’m not entirely sure why.)
Bugs ph34r my mazebot
The maze even comes with a leaderboard that tracks your time through the maze and how many bugs your bot ate along the way. I’m not sure if the sim has formally launched yet (the maze is flagged as “beta”), but presumably IBM will hold events testing modded bots against each other. At the moment, I seem to be the only one with patience enough to make it all the way through:
(Sadly, the board doesn’t retain your results if you later rez another robot at the maze. It’s also a bit hard at first to tell where the entrance and exit is.)
I’m not entirely sure what IBM is hoping for with this project (none of my IBM friends were on when I was), but it’s all looking very cool to me. This should be an excellent way to get a certain kind of user engaged in Second Life, but it also seems like it could teach some Web 2.0 principles, since the mazebot code runs via an API that is provided with the mazebot package.
What I love about this is that it provides people with tools they can use to make their own nifty things. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing in Second Life, after the fashion of the real Lego Mindstorms kits, which let you build and program robots modularly to do a whole range of things. I’d pay good Lindens for a set of modular scripts and bits that could be plugged together in interesting ways. Are there any already out there? [UPDATE: Wait! I now see that there is indeed something very akin to this on the island itself. Leave it to me to be so wrapped up in mazebots that I didn’t look much at the rest of the sim. I’ve posted some more information.]
Me and my bot pose for the paparazzi after our victorious run of the IBM maze