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Linux robot site launches with user-controllable robot

Jan 11, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 6 views

A Linux hacker with an electrical engineering background and experience creating robots for the legendary performance art troupe Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) has created a website devoted to… Linux robots. Michael Shiloh's website hosts a live robot that users can ssh into and program.

On a recent LinuxDevices forum post inviting our readers to try out his robot, Shiloh wrote, “My dog is getting used to the robot running around the house at all hours.”


SRL is an organization founded by legendary pyromaniac Mark Pauline sometime during the 1980s in San Francisco. The group would find vacant urban facilities in the Bay Area, such as abandoned factory buildings, where they would stage apocalyptic wars between large, deafening robots armed with flamethrowers, high-speed rotational saws, pincers, and in some cases, rotting dairy and other animal products. The shows would be advertised hours before they started through a secret email list, and would often attract several thousand people. They would continue for several hours, until only one robot remained operative, or until the San Francisco fire department arrived, whichever came first.

The SRL's glory days ended when it got in trouble for burning a permanent black scar onto the San Francisco anchorage of the Bay Bridge, which before South Beach developments began to take over the area, was surrounded by more-or-less vacant stretches of urban blight. After that, the SRL tended to stage its shows in far away places, such as Holland.

One unique aspect of the SRL was that it paid homeless people to work on the robots and help run the shows, and it salvaged much of the paint, fuel, and other materials used in its shows from the San Francisco dump's public drop-off sites. And, its record of safety was rather remarkable, considering the nature of its activities, in that no one ever died attending or working on an SRL show, as far as we are aware.

Shiloh notes that when launched, he was surprised to find that the URL was still available. His interest in Linux Robots is apparently recent.

Notwithstanding, Shiloh has created an impressive publicity stunt to attract visitors to His “Michael's Robot” is based on a 600 MHz Via mini-ITX board, along with Gentoo Linux (the kernel, at least, appears to be 2.6.12-gentoo-r10).

Michael's Robot has a pair of motors and a webcam
Photo courtesy of Scott Beale (Laughing Squid)

Users can ssh into the robot by pointing their client at [email protected] (the password is… you guessed it, “robot”). From there, they can cd into a /src directory, where they will find a number of C program files ready to be modified and recompiled, such as “SeekTheLight.c” and “SeekLightAvoidObstacles.c”. Alternatively, visitors can write their own programs from scratch, either using vi or nano locally, or by scp'ing code to the robot for compilation. The environment includes a “librobot” library, with documentation and other programming instructions available here.

Shiloh recommends that users visit the robot's webcam page, here, when executing their program, in order to monitor the effects of their work.

“The robot is online and powered up all the time. Log in and make it do something. Impress me, scare my dog, have fun!” he adds.

Additional details about Michael's Robot can be found on a Wiki at, here.

For a listing of Linux-powered robots and robot projects covered over the years on, visit our Linux-powered robots showcase.

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