Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

May 7th, 2010

Robots: 50 Years of Robotics (Part 2)

Welcome to the second part of our 50th episode special! To celebrate 50 episodes of Robots, we’re doing a review of some of the greatest advances in robotics during the last 50 years, and predictions on what we can hope to see in the next half century. In last week’s episode we covered embodied AI, robot toys, androids, underwater robots, education robots and brain-machine interfaces.

In today’s episode we speak with Jean-Christophe Zufferey on flying robots, Dan Kara on the robotics market, Kristinn Thórisson on AI, Andrea Thomaz on human robot interactions, Terry Fong on space robotics and Richard Jones on nano robots.

Finally, don’t forget to check out all the new features of our website including episode browsing by topic, interviewee and tag or leaving comments under our blog posts or in the forum.

Jean-Christophe Zufferey

Jean-Christophe Zufferey is a researcher at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he works on cutting-edge research in Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs). His latest advances have led him to create the startup SenseFly that specializes in small and safe autonomous flying systems for applications such as environmental monitoring and aerial photography.

Dan Kara

Dan Kara is President of Robotics Trends and the Robotics Business Review, which are web-portals and research firms specialized in the robotics markets. He’ll be telling us about the past products which have marked the minds and the future developments that will be gathering the buck in the future.

Kristinn R. Thórisson

Kristinn Thórisson is Associate Professor at the School of Computer Science, Reykjavik University in Iceland.  Active in the field of Artificial Intelligence for a couple decades, Thórisson is pioneering new approaches such as constructivist AI which he hopes will bring us towards more adaptive and complex artificial systems.

Andrea Thomaz

Andrea Thomaz is professor at Georgia Tech and the director of the Socially Intelligent Machines Research Laboratory. Lately, she’s been seen with her new humanoid Simon and his expressive traits. We were able to catch her at this year’s ICRA conference for a little chat on the past and future of human robot interactions.

Terry Fong

Terry Fong is the Director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center. As an expert in space robotics, he’ll be telling us about robots leaving the solar system to explore our universe and how humans and robots will work together towards this endeavor.

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.


Latest News:

For more information on this episode’s news, including a video of Kumagai’s balancing BallIP robots, McGill’s rapid ice sculpture prototyping system, and Stanford’s perching UAV as well as more coverage from the ICRA 2010 conference, visit the Robots Forum.

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January 29th, 2010

Robots: Quadrotors

Today’s show is centered around robots in the air, and more specifically on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) of the quadrotor variety. We chat with Joshua Portlock from Cyber Technology about their portfolio of different-sized UAVs with special emphasis on the CyberQuad, a four-rotor helicopter with advanced autonomous capabilities. Near the end of the show we also start what will hopefully be an animated debate on what exactly is the definition of a Robot, so join in the discussion!

Joshua Portlock

Joshua Portlock is the project manager of the CyberQuad project at Cyber Technology out of Perth, Australia. Portlock tells us about his company’s fleet of UAVs and their increasingly broad range of applications in the civil market. He then gets into the nitty gritty on his own creation, the CyberQuad, a four-rotor autonomous aircraft that’s the final result of years of research started while he was still an engineering student at the Curtin University of Technology.

The CyberQuad is a highly-optimized quadrotor that uses ducted fans to increase the efficiency of the drivetrain and provide protection from obstacles. Recently featured in Wired magazine, the platform can fly and hover in constrained environments and has already been used to visually survey oil platforms, bridges or search for bushfires in the Australian outback before they go out of control.

What is a Robot?

Have you ever wondered what a robot really is? Over coffee the other day we were trying to find a sleek and simple one size fits all definition for all the robots we’ve covered on the show from molecular robots to smart houses, humanoids or flying crawling and jumping robots. However, for every definition we came up with there was a counter example that either didn’t fit the definition or did although it wasn’t really what we think of as a robot! For example, the definition “A robot is a machine with inputs and outputs” was not satisfying because a calculator fits that definition although it is not a robot. Therefore, every episode from now on will explore a new or modified definition and submit it to the “counter-example” test until we are satisfied with the result. We’ll be asking our friends, colleagues and you our listeners for your best answer to the question “What is a robot?”. If you think that you have a good answer, email us your short definition at with your phone number so that we can call you and ask you directly on the air!


Latest News:

For more information on the future of the Spirit Mars Rover, the plans for a fuel-cell powered exoskeleton and Korea’s Mahru-Z robot, visit the Robots Forum.

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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?


Latest News:

For more information on the LEGO Moonbots challenge, the AUVSI conference and the Evolta robot, visit the Robots Forum.
View and post comments on this episode in the 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 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.


Latest News:

To learn more about the autonomous shrapnel removing robot, prediction for the personal robotics market and for the most eery version of “Happy Birthday” you’ve ever heard, have a look at the Robots Forum.

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August 15th, 2008

Robots: DelFly and Europe’s Micro Air Vehicle Competition

In this episode we talk about two major events in aerial robotics in the last few weeks: the announcement of the Delfly Micro and the 2008 European Micro Air Vehicle (EMAV) Competition. We first speak with Christophe de Wagter, a member of the Dutch team that’s been churning out amazing flapping-wing robots in the last few years. Our second interview features Peter Vörsmann, chair of this year’s EMAV competition, to explain the latest advances in autonomous flying vehicles.

Christophe de Wagter

In a recent press release a Dutch team of researchers from the Delft University of Technology announced the DelFly Micro, the latest and smallest member of the DelFly family, achieving flight at a very impressive 3g. Not only can this robot fly for 3 minutes, it actually carries a camera, and thus can sense its environment and is already capable of some basic autonomous flight.

De Wagter is one of the main developers of the DelFly family of ornithopters and tells us about the new platform’s capabilities, as well as the motivations of the project. He also tells us about the recent EMAV’08 competition in Germany and the impressive results of the DelFly II, the precursor to the DelFly Micro.

Peter Vörsmann

With its third edition in Braunschweig, Germany, the European Micro Air Vehicle competition (EMAV) reunited the MAV family of flapping, rotary and flying wing robots. The indoor and outdoor competitions were focussed on advancing the state-of-the art in aircraft maneuverability and autonomy while minimizing the size of the MAVs (see the mission description and rules). The 14 outdoor teams and 9 indoor teams showed off their platforms as they swooped over forests through arches and up a chimney, a hand-full of the MAVs performing autonomously.

The chair of the competition, Prof. Peter Vörsmann from the TU Braunschweig and Director of the Institute of Aerospace Systems, tells us about his view on the event, its challenges and impact. He also presents his Institute’s work on MAVs with autopilot technologies, meteorological MAVs and his future aerobatic robots.


Latest News:

Visit the Robots Forum for links and discussions about the
RED teaching robot, Hanson and Byrne’s singing robot and the iRobot Negotiator presented in the podcast.

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