Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

February 24th, 2012

Robots: Self-Organizing Systems

In today’s episode we focus on self-organizing systems in modular and swarm robotics with Radhika Nagpal, director of the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.

Radhika Nagpal

Whether you’re looking at multicellular organisms or social insects such as ants and termites, nature has found powerful ways to make systems self-organize. In these collectives, individuals that are typically simple, unreliable, and limited, cooperate through local interactions to achieve complex behaviors.

Radhika Nagpal has been building on these principles to make modular and swarm robots that are able to work together in a decentralized manner. She tells us about a self-balancing modular table that is able to adapt to terrain while balancing your cup of coffee. In the TERMES project, robots work together to build the environment in which they evolve, creating the very staircase that will allow them to build a structure. We also look at how her group has made large-scale swarm robotics a reality with the kilobot project and its 1024 quarter-sized robots previously featured on our podcast.

Finally, Nagpal tells us about how her insights in mathematics and the theory of self-organization can also help us learn something about biological systems.

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November 18th, 2011

Robots: Connectors & Modular Robots

In today’s show we hear from our new collaborator, Per Sjoborg who is the founder of Flexibility Envelope, a blog on self-reconfiguring modular robotics. He speaks to Martin Nilsson from the Swedish Institute of Computer Science about his experience in making snake robots and connectors for modular robots.

Martin Nilsson

Martin Nilsson is Associate Professor at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science.

He presents his work on self-reconfigurable modular robots done as part of the DRAGON (Distributed Real-time Autonomously Guided OrgaNisms) project. His snake inspired robot is composed of a set of modules and DRAGON joints that enable the robot to physically connect and disconnect, share energy and communicate. He tells us about challenges in building such a robot, including making smart mechanical docking systems, integrating all the functional requirements of a joint in a single mobile structure, and using Model Predictive Control to generate robot motion.

In his current work, Nilsson is focussing on integration sensor readings to obtain precise motor control. As inspiration, and in collaboration with Neurophysiologists, he looks at how the cerebellum is able to fuse proprioceptive sensing and touch to achieve precise motions in humans.

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June 18th, 2010

Robots: Modeling Biology

In today’s episode we speak about modeling biology using robots and how lessons learned through this process can feedback into robotics. Our first guest, Barbara Webb, is a world renowned expert in the field with several seminal papers on the subject such as “Using robots to understand animal behavior.” This interview follows up on her previous interview with Talking Robots. Our second guest, Steffen Wischmann, from the EPFL and University of Lausanne gives us his in-depth overview of the cross-fertilization between biology and robotics and tells us about his interest in artificial evolution.

Barbara Webb

Barbara Webb is director of the Insect Robotics Group at the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour at the University of Edinburgh.

Her group researches and models the sensorimotor capabilities of insects ranging from simple reflexive behaviours such as the phonotaxis of crickets, to more complex capabilities such as multimodal integration, navigation and learning.

While her group carries out behavioural experiments on insects, they principally work on computational models of the underlying neural mechanisms, which are often embedded on robot hardware. We’ll be talking to her about insect inspired robotics as a control system design approach.

Steffen Wischmann

Steffen Wischmann is a Postdoctoral researcher based at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the EPFL and at the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne. His current research investigates the evolution and the neural mechanisms of cooperation and communication in biological systems using robotic models. After years of reading about the close interaction between robotics and biology, he gives us his opinion on when robotic models are interesting for biology, to what depth the models should replicate biology and the use of artificial evolution.

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Latest News:
For more information and a video on the Ballbot as well as this year’s robot novelties at the Automatica trade fair, visit the Robots Forum!

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March 26th, 2010

Robots: Chaos Control

In this episode we focus on chaos control and ways to generate unpredictable behaviour. Our first guess, Poramate Manoonpong is a research associate at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Göttingen, Germany where he studies ways to make an insect like robot get out of tricky situations by generating chaotic input to a central pattern generator (CPG) in charge of the robot’s gait. We then speak with Alex Pitti from the University of Tokyo about chaos controllers that can synchronise to the dynamics of the body they are controlling, thus creating more complex behaviours while at the same time simplifying the controller.

Poramate Manoonpong

Poramate Manoonpong is a Thai research associate who works at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, University of Goettingen, Germany. He is currently doing a JSPS Postdoc fellowship at the Department of Brain Robot Interface in Kyoto before returning to the University of Goettingen.

His recent work on Self-organized adaptation of a simple neural circuit enables complex robot behaviour was recently published in Nature Physics. In this work, he explains choas control, CPGs and learning applied to one of his insect-like robots. The CPG composed of only two neurons is used to control the walking gait of the robot that is packed with actuators. By peppering the CPG input with a bit of chaos, the robot is able to get itself out of tricky situations by randomly trying out different walking gaits. Learning is then used to help the robot adapt its gait to save energy depending on the inclination of the slope it is walking up. Interestingly, his work can even contribute to biology.

Manoonpong has one of the nicest personal websites in the roboticist community so make sure to have a look around to see some of the insect-like, running or modular robots he’s worked on.

Alex Pitti

Alex Pitti is a researcher at the Intelligent Systems and Informatics Lab at the University of Tokyo in Japan. He’s currently working on the JST Erato Asada Project, the goal of which is to study how infants, one of the world’s most complex learning systems, learn to control the dynamics of their body. The lessons learned from infants are then applied to the control of complex robots with many non-linear actuators.

Pitti’s recent work has focused on the interaction between an oscillating controller and the morphology and dynamics of the body it is controlling. He tells us how we can create controllers that can synchronise to the material properties of the body to create much more dynamic motions while at the same time reducing the complexity of the controller. A few simple global parameters can then be used to control highly complex synchronised motions such as dynamic hopping or running of a robotic leg.

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Latest News:

The Robots Forum has more information on this episode’s news, including a video of RoboSoft’s new care robot, farewell pictures of one of the first AUVs, Woods Hole’s Autonomous Benthic Explorer ABE, and some background information on the robotic arm support.

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October 23rd, 2009

Robots: Slithering Creatures

In this episode we’ll be speaking about snake robots slithering through pipes, disaster areas and even your body. We first speak with expert Howie Choset from Carnegie Mellon University about the big-picture concerning these reptile-like machines. We then turn to Erik Kyrkjebø from SINTEF Applied Cybernetic in Norway for an in depth coverage of their pipe inspection snake robots.

Howie Choset

Howie Choset is an associate professor and the director of the BioRobotics Lab at Carnegie Mellon University where his research in path planning, motion planning and estimation have been used to control a range of snake-inspired robots. Choset tells us how snake robots can slither, slide, squeeze or climb into places that people, or even other types of robots can’t reach. He explains the basics of snake robot design and the mechanical challenges faced by robots that have so many degrees of freedom. He also talks about the multitude of different gaits a snake robot can use and how they are particularly suited for search and rescue, industrial inspection and even minimally-invasive surgery.

Choset and his robots are regularly featured in the media, such as the CNet report below:




Erik Kyrkjebø

Erik Kyrkjebø is Senior Researcher at the Applied Cybernetic departement at SINTEF in Norway which is the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia. SINTEF is focused on bridging the gap between academia and industry through very down to earth projects.

From the multi-robot coordination he studied during his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, he’s now gone to multi-link snake robots. The resulting PiKo robot developed at SINTEF is intended for pipe inspection tasks and can move up and down vertical pipes and negotiate corners.



Kyrkjebø discusses the specific technical details and challenges regarding the autonomy and locomotion of his slithering machines including batteries, wet environments, sensors and control. He also presents another snake robot developed at SINTEF that can fight fire. This Anna Konda is propelled using water and at the same can use the water to calm the flames.

So, will we soon be seeing snake robots climb into our bathroom?

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Latest News:

For an excellent video explaining the workings of the Chembot as well as more information on Panasonic’s and Honda’s latest robotic creations, visit the Robots Forum!

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