How One NVIDIAN Built a Jetson-Powered Laser ‘Ant Annoyer’ for His Grandkids

by Brian Caulfield

Call it the ultimate debugging project.

When ants invaded NVIDIA engineer Robert Bond’s pantry, the Tegra engineer and tinkerer bought one of our Jetson TK1 development kits. Then he got to work.

The result is a precision, Tegra-powered “ant annoyer” that uses the deep learning capabilities of the Jetson TK1 development kit to pinpoint ants scuttling across Robert’s kitchen floor and target them with a 5 milliwatt laser beam.

Now — just in time to protect your holiday gatherings from marauding pests — Robert is sharing his plans. After testing his device in his own home, and demonstrating how it can target the tiny insects, Robert has published a post detailing exactly how he built his contraption.

NVIDIA engineer Robert Bond is using Jetson TK1 to track the ants that have invaded his kitchen.

Like just about every male of his generation, Robert admits to chasing ants around with a magnifying glass as a boy. But his device is more about delighting his nine grandchildren than eliminating pests. “It actually doesn’t really hurt ants,” he admits. “It just kind of annoys them.”

Robert, 64, has been working on his project for more than a year. He started last December, with Jetson TK1, which puts unprecedented computing performance in a low-power, portable and fully programmable package. In addition to his laser — about as powerful as the ones you’ll find in handheld laser pointers — he used mirrors scavenged from a laser printer. He fabricated a motor adapter and bearing assemblies in his home workshop to precisely aim the mirrors.

Using Deep Learning to Amuse Your Grandchildren

Perhaps the hardest part: creating software that could describe ants accurately enough for his device to recognize them. But thanks to Jetson’s support for the Caffe deep-learning software development framework, Robert didn’t have to tackle this onerous chore. Instead he used a Bond-family home video of the ants to train his software to recognize the insects.

The result is a gadget worthy of another Bond, James Bond, even if Robert hasn’t given himself a license to kill his pesky six-legged guests. “I didn’t want a high-powered laser because I’d have to put safety glasses on my grandkids, and convince my daughter they weren’t going to take them off,” says the seven-year NVIDIA veteran. “They think it’s great fun.”

Robert sees a lot of potential for projects around the home with Jetson. Over the years, he’s built fountains equipped with robotic frogs for the amusement of his grandchildren and a Raspberry Pi-powered weather station. But Jetson let him take his latest project to another level.

“Deep learning has a lot of potential,” Robert says. “And I was really impressed that the Jetson had the horsepower to do all the processing needed to do this in real time.”

Check out Robert’s blog and get inspired.