I'm a huge fan of themed entertainment, especially the Disney parks. Theme park rides are some of the most interesting engineering marvels out there and the best part is - you can visit them! For me, the enjoyment of a trip to Walt Disney World comes as much from appreciating the technology and systems used to create rides as it does from the theming and story. A core part of many theme park rides are the animatronic characters that bring the experiences to life. I was recently gifted a Meccano Meccasaur - a toy with some limited "smart" functionality. I wanted to see how much I could augment this functionality if I added a new brain and some more points of articulation.
I recently replayed the excellent Portal 2 by Valve. One of my favorite things in the game are the automatic robotic sentry turrets. The contrast of their cutesy voices with the fact that they fire machine guns at you on sight makes them a core part of the gallows humor present in the Portal series of games. As I played through the game, I realized that a lot of the voice cues trigger on events that are similar to another robot closer to home - the iRobot Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. I decided I had to find a way to combine these two things!
Recently, I've been itching for a fun hardware project to work on. Part of that spark came when I was looking through some of my old college projects, in particular the Track Independent Train Mapping and Identification project that was the focus of the Embedded System Design course I took at Virginia Tech.