Last week the Compare the Cloud team were invited to the IBM Mad Scientists event at IBM Southbank to experience some of the more “out there” technology projects currently being explored by the company’s developers, members of the LJC and University researchers. Promising IoT, AI and robotics, the event was unashamedly one that valued innovation over functionality, which helped to explain some of the stranger projects on show. Still, with the human imagination providing the only limit to the creations on offer, we’ve highlighted some of the most noteworthy proposals below.

Twitter-controlled drones were for entertainment rather than social media-based warfareClick To Tweet

How emotional do we need robots to be?

One of the earliest talking points of the night came from a talk by developer Dave Snowdon about why emotions are playing an increasingly large role in robotic development. With Aldebaran’s Nao robot offering support in the form of unintelligible noises, Mr Snowdon explained that giving a non-human object a personality is a difficult balancing act.

When it comes to personal assistants and avatars, for example, a lack of emotion can come across as cold and unengaging, but misguided attempts at giving robots emotions can also lead to a feeling of unease – the disconnect between the human and inhuman leads observers to experience a sense of the “uncanny.” Robot personalities will continue to progress, but it may be a while before we experience one that is convincing without being creepy.

Twitter-controlled drones

While the words “Twitter-controlled drones” could conjure images of social media-based warfare, the devices we saw were purely for entertainment purposes. By tweeting a variety of commands like “take off,” “turn left,” and “flip forward,” we were able to make the quadcopters perform aerial acrobatics at the touch of a button.

Promising IoT, AI and robotics, the event was unashamedly one that valued innovation over functionality, which helped to explain some of the stranger projects on show

LED disco

It was time to watch out for the dad dancing as we made our way to the LED disco, where Twitter messages could be displayed on a Saturday Night Fever-esque dance floor. Our own Neil Cattermull was throwing all manner of shapes as the lights beneath him spelt out his Twitter handle. It’s not yet known what happened to the footage of this amazing spectacle.

Gaming on the cheap

The event also showcased a couple of homemade gaming efforts by IBM DevOps specialist Paul Mandell. The first saw a £5 IKEA table, an old LCD screen, some broken PC speakers, and a Raspberry Pi turned into a retro gaming fan’s dream. Pac-Man, Space Invaders and a host of other classics were available without you having to dip into your spare change.

Also on display was a “Zombie Bunnies” video game, which saw you charging around the IBM Hursley data centre collecting coins while avoiding hordes of the undead. The most impressive thing about this game is that it was created from start to finish in just 24 days.

IoT innovations

Given the promise surrounding the Internet of Things, it was hardly surprising that connected devices played a sizeable role at the Mad Scientists event. There was a kettle that tweeted your mum to tell her you were having a cup of tea, a soil monitor that lets you know when your plants need watering and IoT soap dispensers that inform you when they’re in need of a refill. The latter idea, in particular, could prove useful in a host of other areas – essentially making sure that everything from vending machines to medical supplies are kept stocked up.

The projects on display were about #innovation, experimentation and imaginationClick To Tweet

It remains to be seen whether any of the innovations on show at the Mad Scientists event will ever become commercial products or services, but to worry about that would be to miss the point entirely. The projects on display were about innovation, experimentation and imagination, all of which must be in place long before the moneymen get involved.