Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ideas swim like fish

I think the creative flow that an idea takes as it develops is interesting. Usually I'm not too aware of the process, but today I am looking back on an idea that developed in fits and starts.


It was about 1:00AM. This is when the idea started. I wouldn't have known it then. It is only clear looking back on it now. I couldn't sleep, so I went downstairs and started cleaning my work area a bit. That led to a surprise, which led to me writing this email to a friend.


I was just cleaning up my work area (long overdue) and I came across the
box with your turtle bot all nicely packaged and ready to go. Opps!

I'm really sorry about that. I sort of lost track. At this point, I'm just feeling bad
to have forgotten your little robot and the Propeller Head Geek plaque you
sent for Maker Faire for so long.

I also realized I never wrote up a robot page or a review of the tank kit
you sent me, which I had always intended to do.

I'll send it to you.
Or words to that effect. I packed up Doug's stuff, but then...


I said to myself, I really should write that review of Doug's Little Tank kit. WAIT! I've got his other robot sitting right here, ready to ship back to him. I might as well review that one too.

So I unpacked it (again) and took pictures and such. Then wrote the review in my last post. I also posted the tank robot I made on LetsMakeRobots as a robot page.

The kit was fun to put together, but I wanted somthing to customize it and make it special. A GREAT IDEA!

That's what I needed, a great idea... but I didn't have one. So I turned to Google and searched for 'crystal tank', since the clear acrylic of the tank reminded me of crystal. I tried an image search and came up with this:

How cool! A fish in a clear tank. That would be fun to make.


The idea languished in the back of my head for a bit. I tried to come up with a way to integrate a fish tank. Maybe something like this?

That's a very crude mock up with a toy fish bowl on the back of the tank. All done in simple graphic programs. The fish would swim around inside, which might look neat. However, I really wanted some microprocessor control over the fish, not just fish having a piggy-back ride. (Too many animals in that description.)

Here's where a spark happened. I had sort of named the robot Crystal Tank, but I really didn't like it.

Then, later that day...

Of course the name should be "Fish Tank"! Nothing else would do! And if it is a fish tank, it doesn't actually need a bowl. It's a mechanized pun! So I could eliminate the bowl and use a larger fish that could fit some servos inside to make it move around a bit. I searched for some appropriate toy I could use.

I saw a few different ones. Then I saw one of those 'Swimaround' toys, and I knew I had it.

I mean, even the color scheme matches! It's perfect. I can use a servo to turn the whole fish, with the distance sensor mounted inside. And the tail can wag.

Later again...

I was attending one of RobotGrrl's Robot Parties, where she hosts a few geeky friends on a Google Hangout, and we all show off our latest project. Robot dancing often features prominently. As I explained my plans for the Fish Tank, I got another lightning strike from above.

The Fish Tank had to play music, and the fish has to dance to it. It would be a one-fish homage to the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir. If you haven't experience that, you should definitely check it out.

OK. So now the idea is nearly fully formed. I think it is time to go build this thing.

Ideas can be elusive things. Creativity isn't always easy. But some of my best ideas just seem to flow... like fish in the sea. (Sorry, I had to say it.)

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