September 6th, 2013

Robots: Construction with Amorphous Materials - Transcript

In this episode we speak with Nils Napp from the Self-organizing Systems Research Group at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Napp tells us about his project to create robots that can reliably build structures in uncertain, unstructured terrain. Like termites that can build complex structures using shapeless materials like mud, his robots build structures out of foam, toothpicks or bags of sand. As a first example, he’s been working on ramp building in chaotic environments remnant of disaster scenarios. Focus is given to designing algorithms that allow the robot to build up the ramp using only local information and without any preplanning. These features allow his algorithms to be scaled to multiple robots, thereby speeding up the process. Finally, Napp tells us about the challenges he faces when working with such materials, the steps needed to bring these robots out of the lab and tradeoffs with classical construction techniques. He also introduces us to his latest work in synthetic biology.


And here’s an example of another SSR robot using amorphous material by Christian Ahler.

Nils Napp
Nils Napp is a postdoctoral fellow at Radhika Nagpal’s Self-organizing Systems Research Group at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. Before coming to Harvard, Nils Napp received his Master and PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington where he worked at the Klavins lab on Robotic Chemistry and Programmable Parts.

His main research focus is on control strategies for groups of robots and other distributed systems. Ultimately, he hopes to make self-organized systems that like biological systems are able to reliably work in random, unstructured, and fluctuating environments.

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August 23rd, 2013

Robots: Venture Capital in Robotics - Transcript

Diana Saraceni is a Venture Capitalist at 360 Capital Partners. In this interview, she tells us about her first investment in robotics 3 years ago with Invendo Medical, and her views on how the market has changed since then. Hardware is now perceived as less risky, even though it is more challenging to scale than software. Recent success stories have further helped promote VC funding in robotics.

Saraceni discusses the importance of the founding team, as well as their advisors, for the success of a company. Finally, she shares her view on open source vs. proprietary technology from a venture capitalist’s perspective.

Diana Saraceni
Diana Saraceni is a partner at 360 Capital Partners, a Pan-European Venture Capital firm. Before becoming a Venture Capitalist in 2001, she was Senior Advisor at Lazard Investment Banking. At Lazard she was part of the Technology Team and primarily worked on M&A transactions and IPOs. Prior to Lazard, Saraceni spent several years as strategic consultant with A.T.Kearney in Milan and London. She was/is part of several national and international start-up selection committees and holds a degree in Engineering from the University of Rome and an MBA from LUISS.

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August 9th, 2013

Robots: Drone Journalism - Transcript

In this episode, we speak with Matthew Schroyer, founder of DroneJournalism.org, co-founder of Drones for Good, and developer of the “Drones for Schools” program which teaches students to design, fabricate and program unmanned aerial systems to monitor the environment.

Matthew Schroyer
Matthew Schroyer has a Master’s in journalism from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he works on the National Science Foundation grant EnLiST, which offers entrepreneurial leadership training and professional development for K-12 STEM teachers. At EnLiST he uses drones to motivate students to pursue STEM careers.

Driven by the maker movement, safety concerns for journalists, and the promise of cutting edge information, Schroyer founded the Professional Society of Drone Journalists (PSDJ). His drones are used for the common good and a clear code of ethics was written to avoid privacy and safety concerns. Along the same lines, Schroyer cofounded Drones for Good, which aims to show the positive side of drone technology through public engagement and the advancement of positive drone projects.

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July 26th, 2013

Robots: Outdoor Autonomous Systems

In this episode, we speak with Jonathan Roberts, research director of the Autonomous Systems Lab at the CSIRO ICT Centre in Brisbane Australia. Roberts leads a team of more than 45 scientists and engineers in wide variety of robotics and automation projects that feature flying, ground and underwater robots.

Jonathan Roberts
Jonathan Roberts is research director of Autonomous Systems Lab at CSIRO ICT Centre in Brisbane Outside CSIRO. His laboratory is developing automation technologies for applications in environmental monitoring, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and for the energy sector. With research in field robotics and wireless sensor networks, his laboratory has produced new techniques for the autonomous control of machines, 3D perception and localisation, and for the setup and operation of large scale outdoor wireless sensor networks. These techniques are combined to produce novel solutions for industry.

In today’s episode we will touch on the following topics:

  • UAV Outback Challenge – an Australian UAV competition that features delivery and search and rescue missions.
  • Telepresence Robot – to help connect school kids and visitors in regional areas to the National Museum of Australia.
  • The Stealth Robot – for observing animals in their natural habitat.
  • StarBug AUV – an inexpensive, miniature autonomous underwater vehicle ideal for data collection and ecosystem surveys.
  • Robot Helicopter – an unmanned automatic helicopter designed to remotely inspect dangerous or hard to get to infrastructure such as powerlines, buildings and bridges.
  • Hexapod Robot – a multi-legged robot that can be used for monitoring and mapping uneven and unstructured terrain which can be difficult to navigate with wheeled robots.
  • Redirecting Manufacturing – a discussion on the future of manufacturing.

Jonathan Roberts is also Deputy Director of the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA), Video Editor for the IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine and a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Field Robotics.

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July 12th, 2013

Robots: Mining Automation

In today’s episode we speak with Martin Adams from the University of Chile about using robots in the mining industry. Mining is a dangerous job that would strongly benefit from robotic helpers. To drive this effort, the mining industry funded the Advanced Mining Technology Centre (AMTC). As the principal investigator there, Adams explores the use of robotic technologies such as mapping and SLAM that would be essential in mining automation. He also tells us why he chose to do robotics in South America.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams is the principle investigator in the industrially sponsored Advanced Mining Technology Centre (AMTC). He is also Professor of Electrical Engineering at the Dept. of Electrical Engineering, University of Chile. In, 1988, he obtained his first degree in Engineering Science at the University of Oxford, U.K and continued to study for a D.Phil. at the Robotics Research Group, University of Oxford, which he received in 1992. He continued his research in autonomous robot navigation as a project leader and part time lecturer at the Institute of Robotics, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland. From 1996 to 2000, he served as a senior research scientist in robotics and control, in the field of semiconductor assembly automation, at the European Semiconductor Equipment Centre (ESEC), Switzerland. From 2000 to 2010, he was Associate Professor at the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

His research work focuses on autonomous robot navigation, sensing, sensor data interpretation and control, and he has published many technical papers in these fields. He has been the principle investigator and leader of many robotics projects, coordinating researchers from local industries and local and overseas universities and has served as associate editor on various journal and conference editorial boards.

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