May 17th, 2014

Robots: RoboRoach

In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Bill Reith, an engineer at Backyard Brains. The company develops RoboRoach, the world’s first commercially available “cyborg”, which was successfully backed on KickStarter. Using their kit, you can briefly control the left/right movement of a cockroach from a smart phone using microstimulation of the antenna nerves. The RoboRoach is one of the many tools that Backyard Brains uses to teach students about neuroscience. Aware of the ethical questions their work raises, the company has put out a set of Ethical Statements. To explore the ethics further, AJung Moon speaks with Prof. Oliver Bendel, at the School of Business in Basel.

Bill Reith
Bill Reith is Engineer at Backyard Brains were he works on RoboRoach. He also uses the companies products as an educator at Maker Fairs, university workshops, high school events, local bars, and TED talks.

Reith has a Bachelors degree in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan where he worked at the Neural Engineering Laboratory. He also worked at Maker Works, helping customers with their projects at Ann Arbor’s makerspace.

Oliver Bendel
OBE_WEB2Oliver Bendel is Professor of Information Systems and Ethics at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland, where he is active in the areas of e-learning, knowledge management, social media, mobile business, avatars and agents, information ethics, and machine ethics (http://www.maschinenethik.net/). His current areas of focus in machine ethics are chat bots, medical and care robots, advanced driver assistance systems and the combination of machine ethics and animal ethics.

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May 2nd, 2014

Robots: Zero Tillage Robotics

In this episode, Ron Vanderkley speaks with Professor Peter Corke from Queensland University of Technology, about the fast-tracking research that will see robots planting, weeding, maintaining and harvesting crops. The AgBot is a light-weight, golf buggy-sized robot that has been specifically designed to reduce the environmental impact of weeding. It can navigate wheat farms of around 4000 hectares using low-cost sensors, targeting weeds with spray while they are still very young plants. The Chief Investigators are Peter Corke, Ben Upcroft, Gordon Wyeth and Salah Sukkarieh (ACFR) with Partner Investigator Andrew Bate from SwarmFarm.

Peter Corke
petercorke1-tnPeter Corke joined Queensland University of Technology at the start of 2010 and is known for his research in vision-based robot control, field robotics and wireless sensor networks. He received a B.Eng and M.Eng.Sc. degrees, both in Electrical Engineering, and a PhD in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, all from the University of Melbourne. Prior to QUT he was a senior principal research scientist at CSIRO where he founded the Autonomous Systems Laboratory, a 50-person team undertaking research in mining, ground, aerial and underwater robotics, as well as sensor networks. He subsequently led a major cross-organizational “capability platform” in wireless sensor networks.

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April 19th, 2014

Robots: Schunk Manipulators

In this episode Per Sjoborg speaks with Henrik Schunk about his company’s work in gripping technology, modular robotics and dexterous manipulation. They then look at service robotics, which was the subject of this year’s SCHUNK Expert Days in Hausen, Germany.



Henrik A. Schunk
HenrikAfter his studies at the Technical Universities in Kaiserslautern and Dresden, Henrik A. Schunk joined the company SCHUNK GmbH & Co. As Managing Partner since 2001, he was initially responsible for the German Sales area, and then became the Head of the Business Developments worldwide.

Today, he is responsible in the management for the business area gripping systems, auto-mated solutions, and mobile gripping systems. Since July 2010, he is also the chairman of the European Robotics Association EUnited Robotics.

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April 4th, 2014

Robots: Termite-Inspired Construction

In this episode, we talk to Justin Werfel from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University about their latest paper published in Science on “Designing Collective Behavior in a Termite-Inspired Robot Construction Team”. This work was done with Kirstin Petersen and Radhika Nagpal, director of the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group.

Termites provide a beautiful example of how simple agents, using only local information, can build complex structures such as termite mounds. Taking inspiration from these swarm systems in nature, Werfel and colleagues have created TERMES robots that build three-dimensional structures without the need for any leader or prescribed roles. Such systems are typically scalable (i.e. you can add as many robots as you’d like) and robust to the failure of individual robots, making them ideal candidates for high-risk missions in space or disaster scenarios. The beetle-looking robots are able to carry and deposit blocks and navigate a structure. The challenge is to determine the simple rules the robots need to follow and that will give rise to the desired structure. To decide what rule to apply at a given time, the robots simply observe their local environment, checking if there is a block or not in front of them, and determining if they should add one as a result. This form of communication through the environment is called stigmergy and is an important concept in swarm systems. In the future, the authors hope to use their expertise to learn more about how termites are able to build their mounds.

Justin Werfel
justinJustin Werfel is a research scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His research interests are in the understanding and design of complex and emergent systems. He is currently working on the development of robotic systems motivated by biological collectives, such as ant colonies, termites, and cellular slime molds, with Wyss faculty including Radhika Nagpal and Rob Wood. He completed his Ph.D. at MIT in 2006, developing algorithms to allow swarms of simple robots to autonomously build user-specified structures. His postdoctoral research at Harvard included further exploration of collective construction, work on the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and cancer modeling at Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston.

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March 21st, 2014

Robots: EU Robotics Week

The European Robotics Week 2013 featured 334 robotics related events in 24 countries and attracted more than 55’000 participants spanning all ages. To give us a snapshot of the event, we talk to three organizers of robotics activities including Fiorella Operto in Italy, Roko Tschakarow in Germany, and Douwe Dresscher in the Netherlands.




Fiorella Operto
Fiorealla Operto is National Coordinator of the European Robotics Week in Italy and president of the School of Robotics. As an expert in science dissemination and popularization, she tells us about using robots to get kids excited about engineering, their ability to address questions in roboethics, the impact of creativity and theater, and programs such as “Roberta, Girls Discover Robots”.

Douwe Dresscher
Douwe Dresscher is a graduate student at the University of Twente in Robotics and Mechatronics. He tells us about the “kids corner” he organized during the EU robotics week that involved parking parents in a waiting room while their children were allowed to play and interact with a range of robots from his laboratory, including a Nao, a spider robot and a robot arm. He also tells us what inspires him to communicate about robotics and his research on dike inspection robots.

Roko Tschakarow
Roko Tschakarow is Business Director of Mobile Gripping Systems at SCHUNK, one of the largest manufacturers for automation components, toolholders and workholding equipment. SCHUNK organized a robotics challenge for local high-school students during the EU Robotics week. The goal was to design a LEGO robot that could localize and navigate towards a goal, or pick-up and transport an object. He tells us about the excitement generated, and their hope to inspire future generations of roboticists.

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