“You got permission to bring a blowtorch in here?”
Lifting up his facemask, Kawhi Leonard regarded his teammate Paul George with a blank expression. “You think Ballmer’s gonna say no when I ask him for something?”
“I guess not,” Paul replied. He looked around the Clippers’ weight room, which had had all its weight machines pushed to the walls to create a large open space in the middle. “You gonna be done soon? I wanted to use some of these machines.”
Kawhi felt a minor twinge of annoyance. He had picked this spot to be his workshop because he knew the pandemic would preclude other people needing to use the weight room to actually lift weights. “No, it’s gonna be a while.” He grabbed one of the prefabricated metal pieces off the pile next to him and held it up, trying to remember what its purpose was in the grand scheme of his construction.
“You building a robot or something?”
“Kinda. Yeah,” Kawhi replied. Paul’s simplistic overview of the project was sufficient; any additional explanations would overwhelm the limited information-processing faculties of Paul’s brain.
“I didn’t know you were into robots.”
Kawhi hadn’t, in fact, known anything about robotics until two months prior. But the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted his normally basketball-centric daily schedule, and he had wanted something meaningful to fill the time. Enter many days (and nights) poring over online resources for programming languages, automation technologies, 3D-printing techniques, and more. “Yeah. It’s cool.”
Paul pointed to a small circuit board that was on the floor next to Kawhi’s feet. “What’s that?”
“It’s a Raspberry Pi.”
“It’s a miniature computer that runs a full version of Linux. They’re super cheap so if I wanted to make a cluster I could. The I/O pins let you do some really cool stuff.” Kawhi was about to explain more, but could see that his teammate’s attention was fading as the terminology had gotten more unfamiliar. It was another reminder that attempting to talk about his passions with others was futile.
“Neat,” Paul said with a clear lack of interest before perking up with a sudden idea. “Hey, you know what would be cool? If you put a big claw on your robot so it could kill people and stuff. You could call it ‘the Klaw’.”
“This isn’t for BattleBots,” Kawhi replied, citing the name of a popular robot combat series on TV which featured weaponized robots as Paul was envisioning. “It doesn’t even move yet.”
Paul put down his gym bag on one of the machines. “Anyway, they just announced that the season is starting up again, so we’re gonna need the weight room. Find another place to work on your little hobby thing.”
What had once been his living room was now more like a combination metalworking shop/programming den. Squinting into his triple-monitor programming setup, Kawhi scanned his Python code looking for bugs. His phone, which lay on the desk next to him, buzzed with incoming notifications, but he ignored it. It had been a week since his last meaningful contact with another human being. Behind him, a four-foot-tall metal box on wheels sat in a state of partial deconstruction, waiting for Kawhi to fix the errors in its artificial intelligence routines.
The goal was simple: to have a robot that could take out the trash. Kawhi hated picking up the smelly bag of refuse, tying it up, and lugging it out to the city-provided trash bin, which then had to be put at the end of his driveway. But the realization of that goal was anything but simple: his robot needed visual processing, pathfinding, and enough mechanical independence to pick things up and put them down. Not to mention a unifying software “brain” to coordinate all those actions.
Borrowing code libraries from the internet had only gotten him so far, and the past week had been a crash course in machine learning concepts as well as the fundamentals of software architecture. The goal was not to give his creation a specific definition of what a trash can looked like or what the visual difference was between a wall and open space; the goal was to create something that could learn those things for itself through trial and error.
He was lucky he had decided to splurge on a standalone house rather than a condo. His neighbors were far enough away that they were unlikely to be bothered by an autonomous robot acting as his butler. And their houses were all stuffed to the gills with invasive Amazon- or Google-based automation, so what was the problem with doing his own automation, anyway? At least his privacy wasn’t being breached by a botnet of internet-connected devices. And he knew that his robot would never be allowed to use the Raspberry Pi’s built-in WiFi to contact the outside world.
Writing one final line of code and hitting “save”, Kawhi pushed the code to his robot and hoped for the best.