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Netbook-Run Dice Robot Can Rack Up 1.3 Million Rolls a Day 280

Posted by timothy
from the internet-worth-something-after-all dept.
stevel writes "The owner of games site GamesByEmail.com created Dice-O-Matic, 'a machine that can belch a continuous river of dice down a spiraling ramp, then elevate, photograph, process and upload almost a million and a half rolls to the server a day. ... The Dice-O-Matic is 7 feet tall, 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep. It has an aluminum frame covered with Plexiglas panels. A 6x4 inch square Plexiglas tube runs vertically up the middle almost the entire height. Inside this tube a bucket elevator carries dice from a hopper at the bottom, past a camera, and tosses them onto a ramp at the top. The ramp spirals down between the tube and the outer walls. The camera and synchronizing disk are near the top, the computer, relay board, elevator motor and power supplies are at the bottom.' While not called out in the article, the pictures clearly show a Dell Mini 9 running the show (and performing the optical recognition of the dice values.) No, it's not running Linux."
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Netbook-Run Dice Robot Can Rack Up 1.3 Million Rolls a Day

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:51AM (#28096139) Journal

    While not called out in the article, the pictures clearly show a Dell Mini 9 running the show (and performing the optical recognition of the dice values.)

    Yes but there's not a lot of "optical recognition" going on. From the article:

    The dice are "Michigan Red Eyes", which have different colored pips for each value. The different colors make it pretty easy to count rolls. For example, if 6 yellow dots are found in the image, there were three 2s rolled, no need to worry about determining the proper grouping or orientation of pips.

    If you control the background as being black or shades of grey (which is what it appears on that dirty dirty Windows XP screen) then your task is a lot easier and less error prone. Well done on the designer's part but surely reduces the computational work load.

    • by SQLGuru (980662) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:24PM (#28096609) Journal

      In the "good old days," we called that a clever hack. Solving a problem is about simplifying the problem space in any and every way possible. I've made similar "OCR" hacks when everything was going to be in a known font and size.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Patch86 (1465427)

        Why bother with numerical "dots" at all?

        If it can do colour recognition (obviously it can) why not just have a single coloured circle on each side of the dice. When it's a blue circle, it's a "1". A yellow circle, it's a "2". Two yellows and three blues, 7 total.

        Surely the need for a symbolic representation of the number is only necessary for us feeble humans, with our tendency to forget abstractions. For a computer, which need never forget that green means "6", actually drawing a picture or making a patter

        • by cecille (583022) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @05:44PM (#28101301)
          That's actually a clever idea. The only real problem I can see with it is that real dice are correctly balanced so that every side has an equal chance of coming up (or they are supposed to be - real ones are). Well balanced generic cubes without the dots or with single colour dots are probably pretty hard to find, and probably more expensive given the relative cheapness of generic dice.
    • by HEbGb (6544)

      So what's your problem with this? It sounds like you think he didn't make the problem hard enough for your taste.

  • by ben0207 (845105) <ben...burton@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:52AM (#28096145) Homepage

    Finally a sensible way to play a 3000 pt Imperial Guard list!

    • by corbettw (214229)
      Or just use one Baneblade and *bam!* you have half the number of figs you did before.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:53AM (#28096149) Homepage

    What's its AC and THAC0? :)

  • ... you can program in what you want the dice to come up with - and get it into a Vegas casino
  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:55AM (#28096175)
    Now that we've built a dice-rolling gambling robot, we just need to create a leg-breaking loanshark bookie-bot and we'll be all set to fully automize Vegas!
    • by N3Roaster (888781)

      Yes, I saw that episode of Lost in Space. The robot self-destructed (or something like that) after losing at the cup game [kongregate.com].

      • by rishistar (662278)

        Yes, I saw that episode of Lost in Space. The robot self-destructed (or something like that) after losing at the cup game [kongregate.com].

        Did that involve Judy and Maureen Robinson?!!!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by SQLGuru (980662)

        Are you sure it wasn't the two girls one cup game?

    • Now that we've built a dice-rolling gambling robot...

      You just need some hookerbots and a casino for blackjack.
    • by sheetsda (230887) <doug.sheetsNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:39PM (#28096821)

      fully automize Vegas!

      Someone already tried this. The machine took your debit card number, and generated a random number: if (N <= 45) { card->cash *= 2; } else { card->cash *= 0.5; }. The end result was the same, but for some reason it just didn't have the same appeal. My theory is it has something to do with the tangible dice.

      • Assuming your number was 1 to 100,

        I think best odds you can get in craps is a little over .48 so that would be one reason people wouldn't accept it.
        This seems to support that: http://scoblete.casinocitytimes.com/articles/30.html [casinocitytimes.com]

        From my two experiences actually playing (i.e. "throwing money into a hole"), some of the "good odds" bets are apparently socially unpopular. There is a social aspect to the table where you join a shared unreality where dice have memory and so on. I didn't totally get it but my EQ

        • Re:A good first step (Score:4, Interesting)

          by LandDolphin (1202876) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @04:25PM (#28100223)
          They are socially unpopular because yo uare betting against everyone. Craps, unlike poker, you are all on the same if. If one win, you al lwin type situation. You all want the roller to keep rolling and winning. When someone comes and bets the rolelr will lose, he is at odds with the interests of everyone else at the table.

          That beign said, I love craps. It's a lot of fun. Do I play to win money? No, but it is nice when it happens. I play for the entertainment value. The excitement of when the dice hit my number, the cheering and yelling. What other game at the casino can I stand around with complete strangers (and friends) and yell and scream and generally make an ass of myself? Sure, you get the occational noise from a winnign group at another game, but if you spend any time in a casino you will soon find out that all the noise is coming from the craps table.

          Also, if you bet wise and dont get carried away its pretty easy to play for a long while and break even. But its hard not to get swept up in the game and start betting all crazy. Dont win big if you dont bet big.

          And as for "throwing money into a hole", most entertainment is just that. You spend money on thigns that are enjoyable: A meal, a concert, camping, hookers coke and craps. At the end of each you've lost your money and gained entertment (and possibly a rash)
  • Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Publikwerks (885730)
    Why would you need this? And how is this better than a RNG?
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Domint (1111399) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:58AM (#28096229) Homepage Journal
      Because any developer worth their weight in salt will tell you that RNGs are not truly random.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gnick (1211984)

        That's true RNGs are not truly random. But, then again, neither is anything else. Just sufficiently random to be indistinguishable from an actual random event.

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Funny)

          by aurb (674003) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:09PM (#28096387)
          ...neither is anything else. (random), ...an actual random event..

          It's a good thing I have my paradox absorbing crumple zones installed...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Domint (1111399)
          True. I'd like to see someone put this machine up against a currently accepted RNG routines and see which one produces more 'believably random' results.
        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by wjousts (1529427) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:49PM (#28096963)

          That's true RNGs are not truly random. But, then again, neither is anything else. Just sufficiently random to be indistinguishable from an actual random event.

          You fail at Quantum Mechanics.

          Hardware random number generators [wikipedia.org]

          • "God does not play dice with the Universe"
            - Albert Einstein


            "Albert, stop telling God what He can do."
            - Neils Bohr


            "God not only plays dice. He sometimes throws them where they can't be seen."
            - Stephen Hawking
          • by gnick (1211984)

            Still not random. Quantum events can be practically unpredictable and appear sufficiently random as to be indistinguishable from something truly random. But they're still not random. From the article you link to:

            These theories suggest that even though macroscopic phenomena are deterministic in theory under Newtonian mechanics, real-world systems evolve in ways that cannot be predicted in practice because one would need to know the micro-details of initial conditions and subsequent manipulation or change.

            There are a lot of examples of things that are 'random enough' (nuclear decay, thermal noise, atmospheric noise, etc) for anything you could need. But I submit that nothing in the world is really random, just unpredictable and close enough to being random for any practical use.

            • by Trinn (523103)

              I hope you enjoy your cold mechanistic universe.

              I, however, choose, however foolishly it may be, to believe in free will, the acausal side of the universe affecting the causal part we normally see by "choosing" how the "random" quantum events collapse (and in other methods, most likely. basically, I believe that the reality rules can be broken)

          • Perhaps it's completely deterministic, but we just don't know how to look at it.
             

        • by RobinH (124750)

          Pseudo Random Number Generators (like linear feedback shift registers) are not truly random, but True Random Number Generators, like a reverse biased PN junction with an amplifier and an appropriate sampling algorithm can be truly random (i.e. unpredictable).

        • by Tweenk (1274968)

          Nuclear decay, as well as some other quantum phenomena, is random in every sense of this word.

          In case you haven't noticed, determinism is long dead. Even though the universe might be deterministic with respect to itself, it is not deterministic with respect to our observations, which is what actually matters.

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:07PM (#28096361) Journal

        Because any developer worth their weight in salt will tell you that RNGs are not truly random.

        No, they are not truly random. Nor is his dice machine, as the dice are possibly imperfect and subject to gravity or the way it reloads them into the hopper. Influences could be anywhere.

        I would be interested in seeing him run this machine for 30 days and then compute the Shannon entropy [wikipedia.org] on the results and then compare this to popular RNGs out there.

        Although I would expect the RNGs (however flawed) to perform better, it would be interesting nonetheless.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by AlecC (512609)

          The developer says that his users have complained that his software RNGs were not random enough. His aim in building this is to build a machine that is as random as if users were throwing their own dice. At the end, he promises (light-heartedly, I presume) to punish the dice if a user shows that they are not random.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by CherniyVolk (513591)

          I would be interested in seeing him run this machine for 30 days and then compute the Shannon entropy [wikipedia.org] on the results and then compare this to popular RNGs out there.

          After reading the article, I think he's less focused on mathematical accuracy and more focused on appeasing customers. He only went to these lengths due to complaints against his RNGs he used to use.

          This way, those wannabe math majors can't so easily complain.

          Oh, and regardless of Shannon entropy, it is a bit more obvious that t

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          No, they are not truly random. Nor is his dice machine, as the dice are possibly imperfect and subject to gravity or the way it reloads them into the hopper. Influences could be anywhere.

          If the influence is consistent across all trials, then isn't the randomness maintained?

        • Well, in real life the dice are imperfect. They have flaws, pips shift the weight. People don't roll dice the same way twice. Gravity bounces the dice.
          .
          On the other hand, RNGs roll 'ideal dice' which in effect remove all these flaws from the rolling and reduce it to the simplest operation.
          .
          So we've got conflicting goals here. This machine reintroduces many of the original random elements of actually rolling dice. The operation may be imperfect, but those imperfections reintroduce the atmosphere of roll

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Khashishi (775369)

          Shannon entropy isn't the same thing as randomness. It's a measure of balance of the distribution. You could have a high entropy generator that is very unrandom, say, one that basically alternates between outputs. Or you could have a truly random distribution that favors some outputs over others, but completely unpredictably.

      • I like the lava lamp rng
        http://www.lavarnd.org/ [lavarnd.org]

        • heh, I actually linked to the wrong lava lamp random number generator, but after clicking around the site, I decided that this one was better, though no actual lava lamps were harmed in the creation of this rng.
          so again: http://www.lavarnd.org/ [lavarnd.org]

      • by goodmanj (234846)

        If you think software RNGs aren't random enough to play board games with, you'd better delete your Webmail accounts and close your online bank account, because Web security absolutely relies on them.

        On the other hand, this machine is frickin' awesome. But I do worry about the fact that it makes die rolls in large batches, and stores them for hours before using them. A fine opportunity for cheating if you can get access to any of the dice-roller's controller software.

        • If you think software RNGs aren't random enough to play board games with, you'd better delete your Webmail accounts and close your online bank account, because Web security absolutely relies on them.

          I thought they used /dev/random and hired people to wiggle the mouse and type random stuff for entropy :(

      • by PMuse (320639)

        To improve the randomness of this robot, it would be useful to identify and remove all those dice that are insufficiently random. For a nominal fee, I am willing to recycle this byproduct . . .

      • a digital camera with the lens cap on. Especially, if you can get the raw pixels, it contains a large component of true quantum randomness. Just run the bits into PRNGD [sourceforge.net] (which runs the bits through a secure hash and adjusts the input/output bit rates according to the estimated randomness of the sources) with a conservative estimate of the percentage of quantum randomness.

      • Because any developer worth their weight in salt will tell you that RNGs are not truly random.

        And neither are robots using RNGs to decide how to throw a die.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gnick (1211984)

      Trust.

      People who know better will trust a good RNG just as well (as long as it's open source) - They're not perfectly random, but probably just as random as the dice roll. But if you're dropping $$ on the roll of a couple of dice (especially if you're remote), people will put more faith in a couple of pieces of bouncing plastic than they will a computer telling you that you just lost your $100 with no explanation.

      Of course, that's purely speculation - Why RTFA when you can just glean through the comments.

      • by canajin56 (660655)
        Ummm, a PRNG in your computer, open source or not, is purely deterministic, and so the complete and polar opposite of "Random." A hardware RNG could have open source drivers or not, but it's a hardware device. They tend to be skewed and also to have some dependence between bits, when what you really want is for each bit to be uniformly and independently random. Either way, even with your own drivers, you have to trust the device. Cue the Dilbert comic: "Seven Seven Seven Seven Seven Seven..." "Are you
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CheddarHead (811916) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:04PM (#28096313)

      From TFA:

      "To generate the dice rolls, I have used Math.random, Random.org and other sources, but have always received numerous complaints that the dice are not random enough. Some players have put more effort into statistical analysis of the rolls than they put into their doctoral dissertation."

      So, basically it was to quiet complaints about the randomness of the computer generated dice rolls. I question whether it's really better, but the players think it's better and in this context I guess that's all that matters.

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        I remember an article many years ago about how dice stack up to being fully random. They had some interesting pictures of the dice in 6 stacks something like 50 high. Each stack with the dice arranged with a different number up. The height of the stacks were different by several inches. There was also several rolls that were then statistically analyzed to find that imperfections in the dice made them favor certain rolls over others.

    • by yuna49 (905461)

      Because people can see dice falling, but they can't see a random-number generating algorithm at work. In cases like this, computers are inherently untrustworthy because they can be programmed to produce a desired result. It's all about credibility, not whether a computer algorithm is better or worse at randomization than this device.

    • by billcopc (196330)

      It's mathematically "better" than the PRNGs used in almost all computers, but really the main reasons why this machine was built are:

      1. Why the hell not, it's geek cool!

      -and-

      2. The guy was being hounded by a bunch of witless nigglers (note the 'L' in that word)

      Myself, I would have built a full-auto dice-gun and shot the whiners in the groin. What's your testicular THAC0, smartass ?

    • if you donate to the site and are unhappy about the rolls, let me know and I will pull a die out of the machine, melt it flat and mail it to you, as an object lesson to the other dice.

      'nuff said

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by asdf7890 (1518587)

      Why would you need this? And how is this better than a RNG?

      Erm, it is an RNG. A proper one at that, not a PRNG.

      OK so there might be a little bias somewhere in the system (a slight manufacturing defect in some of the dice making the chance of getting a six 1 in 5.99999999 instead of 1 in 6, or perhaps some oddity in the optical processing code that makes it fail to recognise the colour representing four more often that it fails to recognise threes) but only a perfect RNG would not have a little bias like this and there is no such thing as a completely perfect RNG. T

  • by Dan East (318230) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @11:57AM (#28096209) Homepage Journal

    "No, it's not running Linux"

    I hate it when people to conclusions. Obviously, it is running linux, just with an XP-themed window manager.

  • From the first picture, all the rolls are 4's, 5's, and 6's! Where's the Yahtzee game that runs off this?

  • I believe you'll find that six photos is really all you require in this situation...
  • In other new: Computer "used for computer type work" shock!

    I mean this is a really neat little hardware project (reminded me a uni hardware project I did), but the bit about the Dell is just fluff. What's so amazing about using a netbook? it's just a small laptop.

    If it was being run off a trinary mechanical computer powered by a hamster then *that* would be quite interesting.

    Actually, I think I have a new project....

  • Accuracy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wangerx (1122027)

    Very cool device! It does lack in accuracy. Pitted dice are off balance and the 1 will land on the bottom more often than not. That is why Vegas does not use that type of die. There is error in the machine; look closely at the video where the dice get stuck at the top.

  • From TFA (Score:2, Informative)

    by neoflame (1375515)
    "To generate the dice rolls, I have used Math.random, Random.org and other sources, but have always received numerous complaints that the dice are not random enough." Math.random is an LCG and so therefore of dubious quality. Random.org, though, is a true RNG (not a PRNG). If random.org is not random enough, either they're doing something quite horribly wrong or (far more likely) players don't actually understand what random means.
  • by tbi (1519213) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:26PM (#28096629)
    ...Imagine a beowulf cluster of those...
  • If I can get my hands on one of these things I can automate the process of rolling all the ones out of my collection of D20's... While an ordinary elimination process might use an average of 400 dice to yield a single die with a 1:8000 chance of rolling another "one" on the next roll, this kind of automation could process thousands of dice in a reasonable amount of time - yielding either a higher volume of dice with a small chance of rolling another one, or producing dice with an even smaller probability o

  • If you build something like this, there's another step needed to get reliably random numbers. Take two successive outputs. If A>B,, output a 1. If A Even radioactive random number generators have to use that step. That was discovered in the 1950s.

    • by Animats (122034)

      (Sorry, HTML escape problem.)

      If A < B, output a 0. If A==B, ignore and try again.

  • Now I can finally realize my dream of a real-time GURPS campaign, where you roll on every single action.
    "Okay, I step forward."
    "Success. You move one hex."
    "I step forward again."
    "Success. You move another hex."
    "I take another step."
    "Oh, critical failure! You actually trip and fall backwards one hex!"
    "I'm going to kill the GM."
    "Failure. You do no damage."
    "No, that wasn't an action, I really am going to come across the table and kill you."
  • by Dan Ost (415913) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @12:55PM (#28097039)

    The article mentioned that the dice get beat up pretty bad at the bottom of the machine. I have three questions:

    1. how long do the dice last before needing to be pulled out of the machine and replaced?

    2. how are damaged dice identified to be removed?

    3. does the software recognize when damaged dice are causing errors (for example, when the paint from a pip has been completely chipped off)?

  • Now finally, we have the technology to experimentally verify the claims made by a certain dice manufacturer! [boardgamegeek.com]
  • On-demand dice roller with multiple numbers of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20. Type in 4d8+1 and see your dice rolled live on streaming video.

  • Gamesbyemail is awesome. I've been playing Axis&Allies on the site for almost 4 years now, and I must say its quite brilliant.

    Great gaming engine, and he has covered all the classic games.

  • Ig Nobel prize! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Megane (129182) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @03:12PM (#28099177) Homepage
    This guy deserves to be nominated for an Ig Nobel prize [wikipedia.org] in statistics!

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