December 13th, 2014

Robots: Robotics in Theatre, Film and Television - Transcript

In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Mythbusters Grant Imahara, and Richard McKenna from The Creature Technology Company about robotics in the Film, Television and Theatre industries.

Grant Imahara

Ron Vanderkley talking with Grant Imahara at SupaNova 2014

Ron Vanderkley talking with Grant Imahara at SupaNova 2014

Grant Imahara graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in electrical engineering. It was shortly after that Imahara was hired as an engineer at LucasFilms and Industrial Light & Magic, building and operating a number of visual effects, models and robots for popular films/film series (such as Star Wars, Galaxy Quest, Jurassic Park, Terminator, The Matrix and AI: Artificial Intelligence). Imahara also built the Energizer Bunny, for the battery company’s commercials, Deadblow robot on BattleBots and Jeff Peterson from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Imahara is perhaps best known as a presenter on Discovery Channel’s MythBusters, and is often seen making robots or robotic rigs needed to aid in the testing of various myths. Imahara appeared at Supanova 2014 promoting his casting as Mr. Sulu in the popular professional web-series Star Trek: Continues.

Richard McKenna
Richard-McKenna_220x220Richard McKenna is Chief Engineer at The Creature Technology Company. He joined CTC in 2010 and has worked on all of the major projects since that time, including How to Train Your Dragon; King Kong and the Sochi Olympic Mascots.  He has a Bachelor of Engineering (Hons) in Mechatronics, Robotics and Automation Engineering from Swinburne University and is certified as a “Chartered Professional Engineer” by Engineers Australia, registered on the National Professional Engineers Register (NPER). Prior to joining CTC, the majority of Richard’s time was spent in the defence industry, and he has also worked in special effects for film and television.

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November 29th, 2014

Robots: Mobility Transformation Facility

In this episode, Audrow Nash speaks with Edwin Olson, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan, about the University’s 32-acre testing environment for autonomous cars and the future of driverless vehicles.

The testing environment, called the “Mobility Transformation Facility,” has been designed to provide a simulation of circumstances that an autonomous car would experience driving on real-world streets. The Transformation Facility features “one of everything,” says Edwin Olson, including a four-lane highway, road signs, stoplights, intersections, roundabouts, a railroad crossing, building facades, and even, mechanical cyclists and pedestrians.

Edwin Olson
Edwin OlsonEdwin Olson is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and the University of Michigan. He is the director of the APRIL robotics lab, which studies Autonomy, Perception, Robotics, Interfaces, and Learning. His active research projects include applications to explosive ordinance disposal, search and rescue, multi-robot communication, railway safety, and automobile autonomy and safety.

In 2010, he led the winning team in the MAGIC 2010 competition by developing a collective of 14 robots that semi-autonomously explored and mapped a large-scale urban environment. For winning, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded him $750,000. He was named one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant Ten” in September, 2012. In 2013, he was awarded a DARPA Young Faculty Award.

He received a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008 for his work in robust robot mapping. During his time as a PhD student, he was a core member of their DARPA Urban Challenge Team which finished the race in 4th place. His work on autonomous cars continues in cooperation with Ford Motor Company on the Next Generation Vehicle project.

 

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November 15th, 2014

Robots: Finding Objects Using RFID - Transcript

In this episode, Sabine Hauert speaks with Travis Deyle, about his IROS-nominated work on RFID tags, his blog Hizook, and the career path that brought him from academia, to founding his own start-up, and finally working for Google[x].

For his PhD at Georgia Tech with Dr. Charles C. Kemp, Deyle helped robots find household objects by tagging them with small Band-Aid-like Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) labels. The tags allowed robots to precisely identify tagged objects. Once identified, the robots would follow a series of simple behaviors to navigate up to the objects and orient towards them.

Compared to vision and lasers, RFID can detect objects that are hidden while providing precise information and identification. This could allow a robot to find a bottle of medication in a cupboard, and make sure it’s the correct medication, before bringing it to a person. Furthermore, the technology can scale to large numbers of objects, and be used to map their location in the environment.

In the future, such tags augmented with better energy, sensing and computation capabilities could form the basis of the Internet of Things and provide a smart environment for robots to interact with.

uhf-rfid-robot-medication-delivery

Travis Deyle
tdeyle-242x300Travis Deyle earned a PhD in Fall 2011 from Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). His PhD with Dr. Charles C. Kemp at the at Healthcare Robotics Lab was entitled, “Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) for Robot Perception and Mobile Manipulation.”

After his PhD, Deyle worked with Dr. Matt Reynolds as a postdoc researcher at Duke University where he focused on a software-defined radio receiver to decode (in real-time) the high-speed biotelemetry signals reflected by a custom neuro-telemetry chip. This system was designed to capture high-fidelity neural signals from a dragonfly in flight — aka, a “cyborg dragonfly”.

He then co-founded the successful company Lollipuff.com: an online auction site dedicated exclusively to women’s designer clothes and accessories.

Deyle currently works at Google[x] where he was part of the team that made the “smart contact lense” to measure tear glucose levels which was recently licensed to Novartis.

He also founded the well know blog Hizook.com, a robotics website for academic and professional roboticists.
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October 31st, 2014

Robots: Nylon Fishing Line Actuator

In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Professor Geoffrey Spinks from University of Wollongong about his team’s work on artificial muscles.

Professor Spinks‘ Australian led team are able to produce artificial muscles from nylon fishing line that can contract by about 50% of their original length, can generate forces that are over 100 times larger than our own muscles, and produce a mechanical power output of over five kilowatts, per kilogram – similar to a jet engine. Professor Spinks explains the advantages of using a material as cheap and readily available as fishing line,  as well as detailing the process and the limited tools required to produce the fishing line muscles - fishing line, a hair dryer, and an electric drill.

The process is simply to attach one end of a piece of fishing line to an electric drill and the other end to a weight so that it provides a bit of tension. As the drill is switched on and starts rotating, the weight end of the fishing line is impaired from twisting, and eventually this leads to a phase called over-twisting, where the fishing line forms a coil. Finally, a blast of heat sets the shape and it is left to cool. To make the coil work as an artificial muscle, a little bit of tension is applied again, and then some more heat. The polymer fibers can be made very thin or very thick, with the amount of force generated increasing as the fibers get thicker.

The lifespan of the polymer cord muscles has been tested for one million cycles, and there was no degradation in performance.

Possible uses include artificial muscles for prosthetics, and the design of light weight humanoid robots. In development is a new lymphoedema compression sleeve, which will use these muscle fibres to gently massage the arm. The garment may prevent the build-up of lymphatic fluid and the discomfort that it causes. Woven into clothing fabric, this could create smart garments that are powered by body heat. If the wearer gets too hot, the muscles expand, the weave opens up and that releases some heat until the body has cooled down again. Similar concepts could be used to regulate the temperature in a building or greenhouse.

 

Geoff Spinks

image2Professor Geoff Spinks is an Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow. His research interests focus on new materials and nanotechnology and he specialises in the development and application of materials for artificial muscles.

Spinks has published over 160 journal articles, including 4 co-authored articles in Science magazine. He is the co-recipient of in excess of $35m in grant funding.

Spinks has worked closely with industry including a sabbatical leave with BHP Research and Allied Signal Inc. (USA) and collaborative projects funded through the ARC Linkage and CRC schemes. His current interests include new product development (such as the “Lymph Sleeve”) and new manufacturing methods (such as 3D printing) that use his artificial muscle materials.

Spinks has had a strong engagement with teaching across all levels of engineering materials and was co-founder of UoW’s bachelor degrees in Nanotechnology. He has supervised 22 PhD, 7 Masters and over 50 final year / honours students to completion.

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October 17th, 2014

Robots: Getting Girls Engaged in Robotics

Earlier this year, the Robots Podcast team came across a story about two 17 year old twin sisters who started their own robotics outreach group. The story about the Tipperman sisters got us curious. What kind of robotics outreach activities are out there to inspire children? Do any of these activities make a difference in getting more girls interested in robotics?

In this episode, AJung conducted a series of three interviews. She spoke to the Tipperman sisters to find out more about their activities, and with Ross Mead, a PhD student who has years of experience organizing robotics events and inspiring young minds. She then talks with Professor Elizabeth Croft, a roboticist who also studies the topic of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Hannah and Rachael Tipperman

DSC_0090Hannah and Rachael Tipperman are high school seniors. They became interested in robotics almost “accidentally” when Hannah participated in a one-time robotics workshop for middle school girls. Since then, they have participated in the FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST Robotics Challenge, and they founded and captain their school’s Vex Robotics Team. They developed Robot Springboard in the summer between 9th and 10th grade as a way of “paying it forward” and helping other children and communities learn more about, and become involved in, robotics. They run week-long programs in robotics and computing for communities as diverse as Homer, Alaska and Monteverde, Costa Rica. They have also run a week-long “Robot Springboard Technology Camp @ Drexel University” for middle school girls with the help and support of the National Center for Women and Information Technology and Drexel University.

This past year, they launched BrightStart Robotics, a program tailored to younger children (kindergarten through 3rd grade) and their parents. The BrightStart program has been remarkably successful and has hosted over 100 parents and 100 children in the past year. They are presently training other high school students to help run these programs. Hannah and Rachael Tipperman plan to pursue studies in Computer Science in college.

Ross Mead

r-meadRoss Mead is a Computer Science PhD student, former NSF Graduate Research Fellow, and former fellow of the USC Body Engineering Los Angeles program (part of the NSF GK-12 initiative). His research focuses on the principled design and modeling of fundamental social behaviors (such as social spacing, eye gaze, gesturing, turn-taking, and other nonverbal social cues) that serve as building blocks to facilitate natural face-to-face human-robot interactions. For over a decade, Ross has been involved with robotics outreach programs, such as Botball and FIRST, serving as an international program instructor, regional coordinator, competition designer, event host, technical mentor, and seasoned competitor. His Master Thesis was designed and implemented using hardware and software platforms used in these outreach programs, demonstrating the applicability of inexpensive and accessible technologies in real-world scenarios. Over the years, Ross has worked directly with thousands of K-12 and higher-education students, in an effort to improve the understanding of STEM principles and promote the pursuit of STEM studies and careers. Ross is the first to have formally introduced sociable robotics into the standard K-12 curriculum; this distinguishes itself from traditional robotics activities, which tend to focus on tasks that are “dirty, dangerous, and dull” for a human to perform. His goal is to use sociable robotics topics to increase interest and self-efficacy of K-12 students underrepresented in STEM, such as females, African-Americans, Latinos/Latinas, and Native Americans.

Elizabeth Croft

Elizabeth A. Croft

Elizabeth A. Croft is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Associate Dean, Education and Professional Development for the Faculty of Applied Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She holds the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, BC/Yukon at UBC and leads the Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology (WWEST) program.

Elizabeth founded WWEST in order to attract, recruit, and retain women in engineering and science careers. WWEST works at national, regional, and local levels with organizations engaged in increasing the number of women in science, engineering, and technology (SET) disciplines through multilateral partnerships spanning community, academic, and private sector partners. Elizabeth frequently gives talks and runs educational sessions to promote women in engineering from elementary school through graduate studies, academe and industry careers. She has received numerous awards for her activities promoting women in engineering.

She is also the director of the Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems Laboratory at UBC. Her research investigates how robotic systems interact with people, and be perceived to behave, in a safe, predictable, and helpful manner.

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