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Our first meetup last night after a two-month break.

Introduction to Drupal
Given by one of the contributors himself, this was a short intro to the content management system/platform. Most readers probably know what it is already – open source, completely modular, scalable, highly configurable. All that’s needed is a server with PHP 5 and SQL, so it’s a decent alternative to building a site from scratch.

Swam Intelligence
This was a particularly interesting one from Nick – self organising collectives of robots (also called agents) and emergent behaviour. A single robot is perhaps not intelligent enough to meet a given objective on its own, but a swarm of them would collectively be smarter. There are several reasons for this: they are distributed, so it takes a shorter time to test a range of possibilities and determine the correct course of action. A swarm has wider coverage. They would also share some form of ‘knowledge base’ that contains more data than they would have gathered individualy.
All this relies on some method of communication that propagates a message throughout the swarm, perhaps indicating the shortest path to a given location. That’s basically the long and short of the presentation, but we were pointed to the Swarmanoid project, which produced an autonomous system based on a similar concept. It consists of three robots collaborating to meet an objective, which in this case was retrieving an object.

Monitoring a Construction Site with Arduino-Based Cameras
Hamish Harvey’s talk was about his high-tech solution to an old civil engineering problem of detecting structural changes during the construction of an underground arch. The theory was simple – install a few cameras and point lasers at them. Images taken at set intervals would reveal any minor changes in position. Harvey explained the logistic and data management problems he encountered in transferring the images from a site without a fixed broadband connection to the company office, which was solved using Arduino boards as controllers, wireless broadband and online storage. Unfortunately he didn’t go into the programming much.