Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

May 22nd, 2009

Robots: Robot Actors at the Theater

In this week’s show we take a closer look at Robots, not the podcast but the play that has been playing to sold-out audiences in Switzerland over the last 3 weeks. We first speak with Christian Denisart, the director of the play, who describes what inspired him to do a play featuring robot actors. We then speak with Nicola Tomatis from Bluebotics, the company responsible for the robots themselves, who describes the technical challenges involved in creating 3 very different robot actors.

Christian Denisart

Christian Denisart is a Swiss theatre director who is very active in the french-speaking Swiss theatre scene. Born in France but with roots in Switzerland, Denisart’s career included singing and acting before he started directing his own plays. In 2001 Denisart founded a theatrical company named Les Voyages Extraordinaires to act as an umbrella under which he creates theatrical pieces.

Denisart’s most recent play, called Robots, has just finished a widely-successful three-week showing at the Barnabé Theatre. What makes Robots special and interesting to us is that 3 of the 5 main characters are mobile robots! It’s the story of a man so scared of human contact that he surrounds himself with robots, including Igor, a metallic butler, Bruno, a state-of-the art robotic dog, and Leila, a robotic recreation of a dancer. The man is in love with a woman, but discovers throughout the play that real relationships don’t quite work in the same way as his relations with his robots.

Robots has been widely covered in the press, including SwissInfo and Engadget. Plans are in the works to take the show on tour, so keep an eye out on your local theatre listings!

Nicola Tomatis

Nicola Tomatis is the CEO of the spin-off company Bluebotics SA based in Lausanne Switzerland. Their area of expertise includes ANT®, an innovative navigation solution based on laser scanners for mapping and moving an autonomous robot in its environment. Their portfolio includes tour guide robots, entertainment robots, robot butlers for parties, space robots and even robots that can bring you your coffee when you’re working hard at your desk. Their latest brainchildren are three robots developed for the play ROBOTS, an obedient robot dog, a distinguished servant and a sensual female. The robots are the result of a 10 year collaboration with the designers at the ECAL, automaton artist François Junod and Christian Denisart.

Nicolas Tomatis completed his PhD under the supervision of Roland Siegwart at the EPFL on “Hybrid, Metric – Topological, Mobile Robot Navigation”. He joined BlueBotics in 2001 and is CEO since year 2003.


Latest News:

For more information on this week’s news, including Kawada Human Interactive Robot HIRO, as well as videos of ACE asking for directions to get around Munich and Metin Sitti’s micro-robots micro-robots playing soccer visit the Robots Forum.

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March 13th, 2009

Robots: The REEM-B and HUBO Humanoids

In this episode we talk about humanoid robots, or robots that resemble me and you, at least in some shape or form. We first speak with Davide Faconti, leader of the REEM project, one of the few European contenders in this field. We then speak with Jun Ho Oh from Korea who was the general chair of the last International Conference on Humanoid Robots for his snapshot view of the field. We then look at the HUBO humanoids developed in his lab.

Davide Faconti

Davide Faconti is a devoted robotics passionate and the leader of the REEM humanoid robot project. Having built his first humanoids when competing in the Robocup 2002 and 2003 championships, Faconti quickly moved on to bigger and better robots. Over the last 3 years he has been working with his team of engineers and researchers to build a new breed of humanoid robot from scratch. Sponsored by PAL Technology out of the United Arab Emirates but based in an office in Barcelona, the REEM lab has managed to produce two fully-functional prototypes, the REEM-A and REEM-B.

Even though 3 years of development by a small team is not much compared to some of the major humanoid projects such as the Honda ASIMO, the latest-version REEM-B robot sports some impressive and innovative features. Laser range finders integrated into the feet of the robot allow it to map its environment while walking. It’s payload is an impressive 12kg, while its battery life when unloaded is a full 2hrs. These functions were recently presented in a press conference in Abu Dhabi to a huge reception of journalists and VIPs including his Highness Sheik Tahnoun, and proved that humanoid robots are becoming mainstream worldwide. Check out the video below:

Jun Ho Oh

Jun Ho Oh is the director of the HUBO Lab and Professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) where he’s developed several versions of the HUBO humanoid, named by the general public. The latest version weighs 56kg and measures 125cm, has 10 independent fingers, 2 eyes (vision camera), and 41 degrees of freedom which allow it to walk and move its body parts. However, uncontent with being able to move on their own two legs, his robots can also hop-on a Segway-like vehicle and drive around. His latest robot, the HUBO-FX1 has even raised the bar in bipedal locomotion, by being able to transport people. By compensating for our human uneasiness and motion, the HUBO-FX1 turns out to be a large chair with human-like legs, capable of beating the best elephant rides.

His expertise with humanoids lead him to chair last year’s IEEE-RAS International Conference on Humanoid Robots (Humanoids08), strong of 200+ visitors, international exhibits and demonstrations. Based on this experience, we will be asking for his snapshot view on the state-of-the-art in humanoid robotics.


Latest News:

For more information and discussion on this week’s Robots news, including the new rescue robot enlisted at Yokohama fire department and Astrobotic’s lunar robot visit the Robots forum!

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January 2nd, 2009

Robots: 2008 New Year’s Special

For our New Year’s episode, we’ll be giving you an overview of the trends in robotics for 2008 and an insight into next year’s developments with five experts in robotics from different backgrounds and continents. We speak with Dan Kara from Robotics Trends about the robot marketplace, Terry Fong from the NASA Ames Research Center, Dario Floreano from the EPFL, Steve Rainwater from and Minoru Asada from Osaka University.

Dan Kara

Dan Kara is the president and co-founder of Robotics Trends, a US based company specialized in the burgeoning personal, service and mobile robotics market. His company has been working over the years to compile a business image of robotics and inform through their webportal.

Terry Fong

Terry Fong is the Director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center. 2008 was a busy year in space robotics with several missions sending back loads of scientific data from Mars.

Dario Floreano

Dario Floreano is the director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the EPFL in Lausanne Switzerland where he focuses on taking inspiration from biology to design swarming, evolving and flying robots as well as researching how biological societies can evolve to communicate and cooperate.

Steven Rainwater

Steven Rainwater is one of the founding editors of, and was previously featured in a Robots episode on the robot blogosphere. His specialty is hobbyist robotics, and he tells us about the latest products that you can find in your local hobby shop.

Minoru Asada

Minoru Asada is the director of the Asada Lab at Osaka University and the director of the Asada Synergistic Intelligence Project. He is also greatly involved in the Robotcup Federation.

Christmas Contest Winner

In our last episode, we asked you to guess what our WowWee Femisapien did on her first weekend in Switzerland for a chance to win one. Well, you most likely won’t be surprised to learn that she took advantage of the excellent snow in December to go down a few slopes with her newly learned ski moves and her personal coaches here at ROBOTS (video coming soon).

Congratulations to Erin at for her excellent animation and correct guess!


Latest News:

Instead of our traditional news item we made a short year-end review of the biggest news items of 2008 in our forum. Let us know what was your biggest news of 2008!

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December 19th, 2008

Robots: Robot Toys

In the spirit of the holiday season, today’s episode is all about robots as toys. We speak to Mark Tilden, robot designer at WowWee Robotics, about designing robots for children, and what he thinks that scientists and researchers can learn from the toy industry. We are also holding a contest to give away his latest creation, the Femisapien, to one of our listeners, so read all about it below.

Mark Tilden

Mark Tilden is a true robotics lover, having built thousands of robots of all shapes and sizes in the last few decades. During the first part of his career he pioneered BEAM robotics (which stands for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics), a philosophy of building robots based on simple analog circuits and control instead of highly-complex systems, leading to low-cost and efficient systems. His bio-inspired bots manage to walk, crawl, roll or shake in complex environments using only a few transistors and basic sensors.

After working at the University of Waterloo in Canada and subsequently at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Tilden’s research eventually evolved into toy design when he was hired as a consultant for WowWee robotics in Hong Kong. His RoboSapien humanoid robot was controlled using only 28 transistors, and has sold in the millions. In our interview Tilden tells us about the difference between robotics in scientific research and in the toy industry. He also speaks about his latest creation, the Femisapien, and how he hopes to interest young girls in the field of robotics.

Christmas Contest: Win a WowWee FemiSapien

Guess what our Femisapien did on her first weekend in Switzerland for a chance to win one! Answers can be posted on our forum as a description, video, drawing or picture until Thursday the 1st of January noon (GMT). The closest guess wins and the most creative posts will be encouraged. A short video will be posted on the 2nd of January to reveal the winner and the correct answer.


Further reading:

Latest News:

Further information on the robots mentioned in this episode on the Robots robot forum, including robot actors, dancers and performers around the world, a web version of the “Japan: Robot Nation” show, and a list of our favorite last minute robot Christmas presents as well as other recommendations for the holiday season around the web.

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November 7th, 2008

Robots: Androids, Human Presence and the Uncanny Valley

This episode covers android science and human-robot interactions with expert Hiroshi Ishiguro from Osaka. After the interview we feature the last installment of Jack Graham’s Selkies story, as well as a poll on the future of Androids.

Hiroshi Ishiguro

Hiroshi Ishiguro is Professor of the Department of Adaptive Machine Systems, and the group leader of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University.

If you’ve ever seen an Android robot in the news, it probably came out of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory. Starting from the robotic replicate of his then 5 year old daughter, Prof. Ishiguro then went on to model a female android after Ayako Fujii, the NHK news announcer. Finally, his latest robot Geminoid, which is a close copy of himself, is able to replace its creator in lectures and interviews.

His robots are highly actuated to give them human like facial expressions and reflexes. However, because the AI needed to interact in a human-like manner is not always advanced enough, Prof. Ishiguro has been looking to partially teleoperate his robots. Another approach investigated is to make his robots autonomous by having them perceive and react to their world thanks to networks of cameras and microphones.

Using these robots as a tool, Prof. Ishiguro has been exploring the field of Android Science, which looks at both the appearance and behavior of humanoid robots and their impact on human robot interactions. In particular, he is looking to verify the existence of the uncanny valley and to explore how to make androids which sufficiently resemble humans to be likable. On the more philosophical side, his androids open the door to understanding what human presence really means.


What is your take on androids? Will androids ever become indistinguishable from humans, both in looks and behaviour? Will they become unrecognizable like the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, or remain awkward like Data from Star Trek? Take the poll on the Robots forum!


In this last installment of the Jack Graham’s Selkies story Mangan sets his Selkies free with a new schooling algorithm in a sea full of sharks. Will this new generation of robotic swimmers escape the jaws of the sharks? Tune in to find out…


Latest News:

As always, you can find more info on the robots mentioned in this episode on the robot forum, including what may be your future robot
, Australia’s anti IED robot SPIKER as well as videos and a slideshow of 25 years of CMU’s Field Robotics Center.

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