Astronomer's Assistant Answered
My next submission for the Create Scholarship is an outdoor one. And a night. I'm an astronomy student by education and I have had the opportunity to teach both students and the general public. One of the most frustrating aspects of showing folks where particular objects or constellations are located. Just pointing at it doesn't cut it. Unless you get real intimate in their personal space, they have no idea what you are pointing at. Informing them that, "Betelgeuse is the reddish-orange star right there" quickly results in, "they have colors?" I've used a green laser at star parties in the past with much satisfaction however, a shivering hand or a need for both hands for demonstration quickly makes it a hinderance. I would like to build a robot that continuously points at a selected object in the sky and follows it through the sky. The software would convert right ascension and declination and factor in date and time to provide the robot with the proper azimuth (compass direction) and altitude (angle above horizon) to aim with. The Roomba is great at rotating, so I would refine it and add a stepper motor with encoders for the laser arm. It would also have a tilt sensor to compensate for uneven ground. A red-lcd (for happy dilated pupils) display of all the pertinent information as well as object name would also be displayed. The hardware requirements are minimal as the database for popular objects would fit on most any memory stick. A remote control (wireless PDA or the like) for easy navigation and manual override would be also be included. I think most any amateur astronomer or educator would find such a robotic assistant indispensable. I for one can't wait to build it!