Thoughts on DeMineCraft

A short post reflecting the past, present, and envisioned future for DeMineCraft (DMC).

Where we came from

Initially the concept for DMC came from demining of minefields, which has generally been a labour-intensive and risky task. But more generally, how do we take a dangerous, back-breaking task and make it fun and enjoyable, or at least, less dangerous and back-breaking for its workers.

This goal kickstarted the idea for an open innovation ecosystem focused on digital twin-based games with real world impact, which we call DMC World. DMC World is a mirror world based on peace, wellness and environment. As a physical embodiment of this concept, the goal for DMC World is to build a robotic deminer that would enable people to control robots to clear landmines, all while in the comfort of their homes.

Breaking down the problem further, robotic demining has several key steps: The first step is to map the terrain, followed by detecting the mines, and finally, detonating the mines. For the first phase of the project, we decided to break this complicated task down into simpler steps that are more easily manageable. On the other hand, we do not want prototypes for the sake of prototypes, so we needed a meaningful subdivision of tasks that can be repurposed for other use cases.

One such example which we have selected for the first phase of the project is a farming robot, specifically a sweet potato harvesting robot. This incorporates similar steps as demining, including mapping of the terrain and detection of the sweet potatoes, while mitigating the risk of robots getting destroyed.

Where we are

Currently, we have completed the first phase for our robot. The current design is based on a mothership concept: A single large robot that handles locomotion and storage with smaller babybots that handle the digging and harvesting functions. The current design of the mothership uses a ferris wheel to make better use of vertical space and increase the babybot capacity of the mothership.

The current user interface of the robot is via text-based messages on Telegram, a popular messaging app. This is a good first iteration for our concept of a digital world. Computers started out using punched cards and command line interfaces too!

Where we hope to go/Future ideas

After our current first phase, we hope to improve on several aspects of our current prototype. One key aspect we hope to improve is the user interface for the game. Some ideas that we have thought of include a Farmville-like interface where users can tap general areas on the farm where they would like the robot to move towards. From there, the user would be able to view the plot and harvest the sweet potatoes from there. Another idea was an Virtual/Augmented Reality set up where the user can view the farm from the perspective of the mothership and control the babybots using gestures.

Another aspect that we hope to improve is the digging and harvesting mechanisms of the robot as well. While the mothership concept was built, we were not able to nail the digging and harvesting functions for the babybots in time for our initial demo. As such, for future stages, the goal is to work on improving these and testing the complete system on a farm.

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