Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

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.
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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.


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


View results

More discussions on this topic on our forum.


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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October 24th, 2008

Robots: Jumping and Crawling in Millirobots

This episode concentrates on how to scale down robots to the size of our creepy crawly friends, insects. Sarah Bergbreiter tells us about the micromachining techniques required to build jumping robots at this small scale and the applications in sensor networks. Aaron Hoover then talks about his 6-legged crawling robot that is slowly approaching the cockroach in size and locomotion capability.

Sarah Bergbreiter

Sarah Bergbreiter is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland where she directs the Micro Robotics Lab.

With her vision of mobile sensor networks composed of large numbers of autonomous robots, Bergbreiter first started designing the CotsBots, built entirely from commercial off-the-shelf components. She then went to micro-sized robots which could be used in a non-invasive manner in their deploying environment. As a first step in her endeavor she contributed to Seth Hollar and Anita Flynn‘s walking microrobot and then went on to her own tiny jumping robots to achieve better mobility. To enable jumping, she demonstrated the quick release of a mechanical leg based on a silicon micro rubber band (see video here).

Finally, to avoid spending hours in a clean room, Bergbreiter is looking to develop fabrication techniques for the fast prototyping of novel robots, in particular with respect to challenges in scaling down robotic components for energy storage, actuation, power, sensing and control.

Aaron Hoover

Aaron Hoover is a research assistant in Prof. Ron Fearing’s lab at the University of California at Berkeley. His expertise lies in the use of novel manufacturing techniques based on smart composites, flexure joints and folding structures. Hoover’s efforts to mimic complex biological systems such as beetles that can run over a myriad of surfaces has culminated in the 2.4g RoACH hexapod robot. The RoACH is capable of crawling autonomously at 1 body length per second and can last for almost 10 minutes on a single charge. Check out a video of the RoACH in action!


In the third quarter of the science fiction story “Selkies” by author Jack Graham, we meet researcher Sylvia Ochoa from the UN Marine Fisheries and follow Mangan in his endeavor to shark-proof his robot-seals. Don’t miss his other SciFi stories straight out of Cambridge MA on, such as “arm” and “posthuman playground“.


Latest News:

Visit the Robots forum for links, videos and discussions
about the wirelessly-powered robot swarm, the new robotic instrument which allows surgery on a beating heart and the iPhone’s robotic legs.

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August 29th, 2008

Robots: Bacteria-Propelled Microrobots

In this episode we look at bacteria-propelled microrobots which, in the future, could be used for sensing or drug delivery inside the liquid environments of the human body, such as the urinary tract, eyeball cavity, ear and cerebrospinal fluid. With Prof. Metin Sitti from Carnegie Mellon University, we’ll be hearing about the science and challenges behind harnessing living organisms to robots at the microscale. Gastroenterologist Dr. Mark Schattner then gives us his medical view on in-body robots and how they could by useful in his day-in, day-out tasks.

Metin Sitti

Prof. Metin Sitti is the director of the Nanorobotics Laboratory at the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, USA.

With all the micro and nano scale technologies swimming, crawling, running and climbing out of his lab, he’s become an expert at mimicking the physics of the tiny exhibited by natural systems such as climbing geckos, water-running lizards or water striders. Previously featured in a Talking Robots interview, these bio-inspired technologies have pushed the limits of today’s robot locomotion.

One of Sitti’s aims is now to miniaturize a robot to the microscale, so that it can in the future navigate in the human body for directed drug-delivery and sensing. However, instead of building the locomotion in hardware, he decided to attach a robot to an organism, which was already perfectly capable of flagellating through liquid: bacteria. In this episode we concentrate on Sitti’s latest developments in bacteria-propelled micro-robots and how they can be controlled by changing their chemical environment (see video1 and video2) .

In other related projects, Sitti is currently developing an endoscopic microcapsule which will be able to stick to a patient’s intestine on demand.

Mark Schattner

Dr. Mark Schattner is a gastroenterologist with a special interest in therapeutic endoscopy and specialized nutrition support for cancer patients at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

He gives us his medical view on how robots could in the future be useful to ensure non-invasive diagnosis and treatment for his patients with concrete applications and examples. Interestingly, the barriers in getting these robots out of the labs and into the clinics are not so much ethical, but just like any other new medical technology, the lengthy pipeline to prove its safeness and usefulness in human beings.


Latest News:

Check out the Robots Forum for pictures, links, videos and some ongoing discussion for this episode’s news, including the first rat-brain robot, the flying and ground based robot teams in the UK’s Grand Challenge as well as the ESA’s new Mars rover.

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June 20th, 2008

Robots: A Robot Fly at Harvard and at the MoMA - Transcript

This episode features an interview with Robert Wood about his micro-robotic fly, as well as a talk with the curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

Rob Wood

Rob Wood's Robot fly

Professor Robert Wood is the founder and director of the Harvard Microrobotics Lab at Harvard University. He initially started out at Ron Fearing‘s Biomimetic Lab at Berkley working on the Micromechanical Flying Insect (MFI) project (see Talking Robots interview). Strong of his experience with designing the tiny, he went on to build his own microscale robots for aerial, terrestrial, and aquatic environments. His recent article in IEEE Spectrum Magazine, “Fly, Robot Fly” describes the first flight of his tethered fly:

« It began when I took a stick-thin winged robot, not much larger than a fingertip, and anchored it between two taut wires, rather like a miniature space shuttle tethered to a launchpad. Next I switched on the external power supply. Within milliseconds the carbon-fiber wings, 15 millimeters long, began to whip forward and back 120 times per second, flapping and twisting just like an actual insect’s wings. The fly shot straight upward on the track laid out by the wires. As far as I know, this was the first flight of an insect-size robot. »

Now that the micromechanical structure has proven it has sufficient thrust to actually lift the robot off the ground, the questions focus on how to power the robot insect and what sensors and control could allow it to perform its intended long term applications, namely search and rescue, hazardous environment exploration, environmental monitoring, and reconnaissance.

Wood also gives us some insight on how Biology has been driving his research and how he hopes to be able to return the favor by using his platform to study flies in nature.

Chaotic flight controlled, robot insect swarms, tech-driving miniaturization… let’s wait and see.

Paola Antonelli

Rob Wood’s robotic fly was featured as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City entitled Design and the Elastic Mind. We had a talk with Paola Antonelli, the curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, about the role of design in helping people cope with momentous changes in science and technology. How will designers help people adapt as robots become ubiquitous in our daily lives? How does our experience in nature affect the design of future robotic systems? Paola takes us through a brief tour of a designer’s perspective of science and technology.


Latest News:

Visit the Robots Forum for links and discussions about
iRobot’s “Seaglider” underwater robot, the DARPA contract awarded to iRobot for the Chembot, the sale of the autonomous car “Odin” and EMA the robotic girlfriend mentioned in the podcast.

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