Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

October 9th, 2009

Robots: Active Touch

In today’s show we’ll be dabbing at the subject of active touch. Our first guest, Tony Prescott from the University of Sheffield in the UK has been looking at how rats actively use their whiskers to sense their environment and how this can be used in robotics or to help understand the brain. Our second guest, Elio Tuci, evolved a robot arm to touch an object and then figure out what the object is as a first step towards understanding language in humans.

Tony Prescott

Tony Prescott is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, co-director of the University’s Adaptive Behaviour Research Group and Director of the Active Touch Laboratory. In the scope of several large European projects, such as BIOTACT and ICEA, he’s been frisking the whiskers of rats to study how they can be used to actively interact with their environments and how the signals from these sensors tap into the brain. To test models he’s inferred from high-speed images of real rats, Prescott has been working with a rat-like robot called SCRATCHbot developed in collaboration with the Bristol Robotics Lab. SCRATCHbot is equipped with an active 18-whisker array and a non-actuated micro-vibrissae array located on the “nose”. Its head is connected to the body by a 3 degrees of freedom neck, and the body is driven by 3 independently-steerable motor drive units.




More generally, whiskers have a real potential in robotics applications for their ability to detect and categorize objects and surface textures while only lightly touching the objects they interact with. Touch is still a widely untapped sensor modality that could be strapped to robot arms, cleaning robots and maybe your LEGO robot. For this purpose, Prescott is looking at creating an off-the-shelf version of the rat’s whisker system.

Elio Tuci

Elio Tuci is a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council, member of the Laboratory of Autonomous Robotics and Artificial Life. Tuci is currently working on the ITALK Project which is studying the various aspects of language and how humans learn to speak. He tells us about how active perception is an integral part of how we learn to categorize objects, a necessary prerequisite to developing language. He speaks in particular about his recent work on a robot arm that evolved to discriminate between different objects such as ellipses and circles using active touch.

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August 14th, 2009

Robots: Brain-Machine Interfaces

In today’s show we’ll be speaking with two experts in the field of brain-machine interfaces. Our first guest, Charles Higgins from the University of Arizona tells us how he uses insects to control robot motion and how they might be used in the future to develop new biological sensors for artificial systems.
We then speak with Steve Potter from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Instead of taking a fully developed brain and connecting it to a robot, he grows neural circuitry in a Petri-dish and interfaces it with robots, with the ambition to discover how we learn and memorize.

Charles Higgins

Charles Higgins is associate professor and leader of the Higgins Lab at the University of Arizona. Though he started as an electrical engineer, his fascination with the natural world has led him to study insect vision and visual processing, and to try to meld together the worlds of robotics and biology. This fascination and his interest to share it with others brings him every year to the Neuromorphic Engineering Workshop in Telluride, Colorado, where he met our interviewer Adam and took him dragonfly-hunting!

Higgins first tells us about his experiments with natural systems such as dragonflies, and how he’s learning about how their brains work in the hope of applying some of the concepts of neurobiology to engineering systems. He then talks about his most recent work in trying to use the amazing visual system of a dragonfly as a sensor to control a robot, and in turn to provide motion stimulus back to the dragonfly in a closed-loop system. He finishes by telling us a bit about the future in which we will design insect-inspired robots, or even have insects built-in to them directly!

Steve Potter

Steve Potter is the Director of the Potter Group which is part of the Laboratory for NeuroEngineering, a collective research unit shared between Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. To understand how the neurocircuitry in the brain can lead to learning and memory, he’s been growing neural circuits in Petri-dishes and hooking them up to the sensors and actuators of robots. The embodiment provides the stimulus needed for the brain to develop. Because the neurons are in a dish, they can easily be monitored over time, providing a close-up sneak peak into the brain activity.

Robots that have been hooked up to this system include the Koala and Khepera wheeled robots from K-team and a robot artist named MEART (Multi-Electrode Array Art). MEART was built in collaboration with the SymbioticA Research Group and went on tour around the world, drawing pictures based on stimulation from its in-vitro brain and feeding back camera images of its art. After weeks of stimulation, the brain actually calms down, providing insight into the possible treatment of epilepsy.



MEART Robotic Arm

Finally, Potter gives us his take on whether these hybrid living robots (Hybrots), or Animats are more life or machine?

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July 17th, 2009

Robots: Soft Machines

In this episode we interview Richard Jones, Professor of Physics at the University of Sheffield in the UK, on the future nanorobots inspired from biology: Soft Machines. After listening in, be sure to let us know if you think the frontier between robots and living systems will be inexistent in the future on this week’s poll.

Richard Jones

Richard Jones is the author of the book Soft Machines: nanotechnology and life and a blog on the subject also named Soft Machines. From the University of Sheffield in the UK, where he is Professor of Physics, Jones has been looking at how to make nanoscale robots which can eventually be used in the body for medical applications such as precise drug delivery for cancer patients. But instead of shrinking existent technology like in the Fantastic Voyage, Jones is looking at the completely different phenomenons which take place at the nanoscale, such as Brownian motion, to design devices and systems made on the molecular level. As a result, he’s diving into the world of biology for inspiration in making robots that can move, communicate and self-power. Instead of the more classical actuators, sensors and batteries we’re used to, he’s looking at molecular motors and chemical energy and communication.


Poll

Will the frontier between robots and living systems be inexistent in the future?

Yes
No

View results

More discussions on this topic on our forum.

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Latest News:

For more information and discussion on this week’s news, including pictures and videos of Tokyo’s giant Gundam robot, robot recession in Japan and pictures and videos of Aerovironment’s flapping wing UAV, visit the Robots Forum.

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July 3rd, 2009

Robots: From Animals to Automation

In this episode we look at how FESTO, a worldwide leader in automation technology, has been copying nature to design bionic robots such as artificial penguins, manta-rays or jellyfish. Our first guest, Markus Fischer, is head of Corporate Design at FESTO and expert in transferring technology from biomimetic research to actual products such as grippers. Our second guest, Victor Zykov, finished his PhD and PostDoc at Cornell University in NY on modular robotics. His favorite modules, the Molecubes, are another example of transfer from a bio-inspired systems to FESTO.

Markus Fischer

Markus Fischer is the head of the Bionic Learning Network project at FESTO, one of the world’s leaders in automation, with thousands of employees around the world and products ranging from solenoids, valves, and cylinders to integrated automation solutions. Recently, FESTO has been exploring the world of mobile robotics, with stunning demonstrators such as the AquaPenguin, AquaRay, AirJelly and many more.

However, creating artificial systems is not the final goal, and Fischer has been looking to identify bionic principles which can be applied to the world of automation in new-generation products. A fulfillment of this endeavor can be found in thier Bionic Tripod which has grippers functioning following the same principles as the AquaPenguins. The concept is based on the Fin Ray® effect by which a fin, when pressed, actually wraps around the point of pressure rather than the intuitive opposite.

Finally, FESTO is also looking at collective robotic systems for inspiration in creating adaptable, robust and flexible systems for the industry.



Victor Zykov

Victor Zykov completed his PhD and PostDoc at Cornell University in NY under the supervision of Hod Lipson. Over the years, he’s been looking to create self-repairing and self-reproducing robots resulting in publications in Science and Nature.

Zykov explains the principles of modular robotics and presents one of his favorite building blocks, the Molecube. Molecubes are cubic like modules that are cheap to fabricate and easy to use for newbie roboticists with an online framework at www.molecubes.org. From the labs at Cornell, the Molecubes found their way to FESTO as educational robots. He tells us why modular robotics is of interest to FESTO in building up adaptable factories of the future.

Victor Zykov is now On-Deck Systems Head at the Kite Assist Institute in California.



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Latest News:

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May 8th, 2009

Robots: Collective Coverage and Self-Assembly

In this episode we look in depth at two shades of robot coordination, multi-robot area coverage and self-assembling robots.

Our first guest, Nikolaus Correll, is a postdoc at MIT in the US. He presents his past research on swarms of minuscule robots to inspect reactor turbines and his latest research on cooperating networks.

Our second guest, Rodrich Gross, will be speaking about his slightly larger swarming robots, or swarm-bots, which are able to join forces to achieve tasks which require strength or large size, by creating a multi-robot organism.

Nikolaus Correll

Nikolaus Correll is a post-doctoral associate at the Distributed Robotics Lab, MIT CSAIL, where he works with Daniela Rus on a wide variety of multi-robot systems. His latest work includes distributed robotic gardens and mobile wireless ad-hoc networks. Besides creating multi-robot systems, Correll has been looking to monitor and control groups of animals such as cow herds and cockroaches in nature.

In this episode, we’ll be looking in depth at the conclusions of his PhD thesis at the EPFL under the supervision of Alcherio Martinoli on how a group of tiny sugar-cube size robots could be used to inspect a jet turbine engine (see video below). Correll will present the trade-offs between having purely reactive robot controllers or robots that plan and how collaboration between the robots affects the performance of the system.



Roderich Gross

Roderich Gross is currently a postdoc at the EPFL. His research interests span computational biology, robotics, and swarm intelligence. His current work, continuing from previous work at the Free Brussels University, focuses on self-assembling robots such as the Swarm-Bots which can attach to each other to form larger robotic systems. This can allow them for example to cross a large gap, go over hills or carry heavy objects in a manner similar to ants (see video below). In this interview Gross describes his research and talks about cooperation, self-assembly and division of labor in robot teams and the potential emergence of artificial life.



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Latest News:

For more information on this week’s news, including Festo’s Robot Penguins, robot theater actors and the interactive disc jockey robot visit the Robots Forum.

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