In today’s episode we speak with Chris Chesher about how he views the emergence of robotics. He brings a new and interesting perspective as his approach mixes science and technology studies, media studies and ethnography in an effort to understand robotic technologies and everyday-life.
Dr Chris Chesher is Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures working with cultures of contemporary robotics, in association with the Center for Social Robotics at the Australian Center for Field Robotics, University of Sydney Australia. His background is in studies on Media, communications, and interdisciplinary studies. His research interests center around the disruptive effects of technology, such as robotics, on society.
In today’s episode we speak with Mark Tilden, about the history before WowWee‘s RoboSapien and FemiSapien and about his belief that bottom up BEAM robotics (which stands for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics) is essential in creating low cost, competent, robust and flexible robots.
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, 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. We covered his work at WowWee in a previous version of the podcast about Robot Toys.
In this episode, Tilden gives us an intriguing glimpse into the future. He is currently working on taking the basic BEAM technology in his toy robots and adapting them to perform useful tasks. Using flexible robots, rather than many dedicated systems, is a powerful concept but it also brings with it some tough requirements ranging from look and feel to battery life and safety. He sums up the requirements nicely when saying “your robot has to perform its task quietly, elegantly and in conjunction with you”.
And if you are into picking things apart and building new things, the BEAM technology and RoboSapien and FemiSapien are definitely your thing. They are actually meant to be disassembled and the components are all labeled and documented so that you can use them for many things.
In today’s episode we look at some of the work done by the Senseable City Lab. We’ll be talking to Carlo Ratti, the director of the Lab, about two of the Lab’s many projects – namely Flyfire and Seaswarm.
As well as being a regular contributor to the architecture magazine Domus and the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, Carlo has written for the BBC, La Stampa, Scientific American and The New York Times. His work has been exhibited worldwide at venues such as the Venice Biennale, the Design Museum Barcelona, the Science Museum in London, GAFTA in San Francisco and The Museum of Modern Art in New York. His Digital Water Pavilion at the 2008 World Expo was hailed by Time Magazine as one of the ‘Best Inventions of the Year’. Carlo was recently a presenter at TED 2011 and is serving as a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council for Urban Management. He is also a program director at the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow and a curator of the 2012 BMW Guggenheim Pavilion in Berlin.
Carlo founded the Senseable City Lab in 2004 within the City Design and Development group at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab. The Lab’s mission is to creatively intervene and investigate the interface between people, technologies and the city. Whilst fostering interdisciplinary, the Lab’s work draws on diverse fields such as urban planning, architecture, design, engineering, computer science, natural sciences and economics to capture the full nature of urban problems and deliver research and applications that empower citizens to make choices that result in a more liveable urban condition.
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 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.
Today we’ll be speaking about art, engineering and freedom with two robot-artists building gigantic robots. Our first guest is Theo Jansen, a physics major turned artist out of the Netherlands, about his walking beach creatures and how artists perceive robotics and build sculptures that can walk and sense their environments in a very different way than the robots we are used to. We then speak to Jaimie Mantzel who is an inventor in Vermont. Throughout his life, he’s been literally building his dreams with his own two hands, be it a home in the mountains or a giant 6-legged robot he plans to use to take him around.
Theo Jansen is a “kinetic artist” best known for his Strandbeest, or beach animals, a new form of life that he is creating out of plastic yellow tubes. From their humble beginning as simple walking creatures with an ingenious leg system, Jansen has added an energy storage system made of plastic bottles, stakes that are hammered into the ground to protect them from the wind, and rudimentary water level sensors to protect the beach creatures from the sea. Jansen’s ultimate goal is to release his creations into the wild, to have them roam the beaches of his native Netherlands in herds and lead their own type of mechanical lives.
Words cannot describe Jansen’s work however, it is better to see it and experience it. Have a look at Loek van der Klis’s gallery of the beach animals or Jansen’s work featured in a BMW ad, shown below:
Jaimie Mantzel’s adventures about building a giant 6-legged robot have been followed by the thousands on his website and youtube channel. He’s been building since he was a child, bringing his wildest inventions and dreams to life. Inspired by his talent, Mantzel started engineering at Brown University only to discover that math and physics were the rule rather than putting parts together. Instead of engineering, he diverted to art and unleashed his creativity. After university and years of work, he pursued his original vocation, building things. As a first step, he bought a piece of mountain in Vermont, USA and built a 4 story dome, his home. However, making small robots, and homes wasn’t enough and Mantzel is now building a giant spider-like robot which he can ride. Building this robot however seems to be a recursive process, since it requires building a workshop, which in turn brought him to dig a road. With all this finished, the robot is now 80% complete with an estimated finalization this summer. However, this interview is not only about making robots, but rather a different philosophy of life, freedom and art.