He turns to robotics in his quest to be a Guitar Hero
No matter how hard he tried, Pete Nikrin could not beat his friend when playing the popular music video game known as Guitar Hero. Being a bit competitive, he's done the next best thing. He's built a robot that plays the game and -- he hopes -- w...
No matter how hard he tried, Pete Nikrin could not beat his friend when playing the popular music video game known as Guitar Hero.
Being a bit competitive, he's done the next best thing. He's built a robot that plays the game and -- he hopes -- will someday beat his friend at it for him.
"He thought it was pretty neat,'' said Nikrin of his friend's reaction to the news.
The robot is not yet a match for Nikrin's guitar playing hero, but it's getting there.
Nikrin, 24, of Montevideo, is a recent graduate of the robotics technology program at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College campus in Granite Falls. The robot became his project for the semester, but it's taking him into the summer as well.
At its best, the robot was demonstrating a proficiency of just over 90 percent when playing the "easy'' mode of Guitar Hero. Nikrin's friend is doing better than 90 percent at the "expert'' level of the game.
Why the gap?
It's all in what meets the eyes.
Nikrin said he did lots of searching on the Internet, but could only find examples of Guitar Hero-playing robots that were designed to directly interface with the game.
In one way or another, they were responding to direct signals from the game's software.
He wanted a robot that played like a human. His robot uses its own electronic eye to see the colored notes as they flash on the Play Station's screen. The robot relies on what it sees to trigger its mechanical finger movements on the game controller's fret buttons.
There is a 60-millisecond gap between the appearance of the note on the screen and the movement of the robot's mechanical fingers in response. Nikrin and his instructor Bill Manor said they are making changes that will shrink the gap to 50 milliseconds, which is truly eye-blink speed.
Nikrin is also working on a system to give his robot the "swagger" of a rock star.
The mechanical aspect of the robot -- building fingers to tap the fret buttons and control the strummer -- was easy stuff, according to Nikrin.
Adapting an electronic visual system that uses a gray scale to interpret the color notes proved to be an altogether different matter. The robot has trouble with the long notes, and there remain inconsistencies that are difficult to solve, said Nikrin.
Both he and his instructor are confident they can solve them, however.
Nikrin said the experience of building the robot has greatly increased his enthusiasm for the Guitar Hero game, and made him a better player to boot.
Manor said they were able to salvage classroom equipment to build the robot. He only raised an eyebrow or two in the school's accounting office when he ordered the game and Play Station for it.
Nikrin estimates that his robot would cost about $5,000 to build on its own, so his advice to other Guitar Hero players is to keep practicing.
He's headed back to school next semester at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, where he will study for a degree in mechanical engineering. The robot is staying behind. It will be placed in a glass-enclosed display booth. Manor has devised a fiber-optic system that will allow visitors to turn on the robot and watch it perform.