Today David Lane from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh talks about his journey from research to business and back. He talks about how he got started in offshore work and robotics research and how that led him to develop new smarts for existing hardware. David shares his personal view on how the Thunderbirds, diving and the space race contributed to his focus on underwater technology. He also discusses his research on autonomous underwater vehicles, involving software architecture for decision making as well as complex sensors for understanding the world around you and underwater communication.
Further, David shares his experience of starting the company SeeByte, including the important first customer acquisition. In developing a working commercial solution, bridging the gap between where the university stops and industry starts, was an essential component.
David in the Ocean Systems Laboratory
David Lane graduated in 1980 with a BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, and again in 1986 with a PhD in Underwater Robotics. In 1979 he worked offshore in the North Sea as diver/maintainer for British Oceanics Ltd, and from 1980-82 as a Development Engineer at Ferranti Ltd. From 1982 he held a series of research and academic appointments, culminating in a Professorial Chair at Heriot-Watt University in 1998. In 2001 he founded SeeByte Ltd and as CEO until 2010 led the company’s organic evolution from startup to a multi-million dollar organization. He is now at the Ocean Systems Laboratory.
His technical interests are in autonomous systems, sensor processing and underwater robotics. Over a 30 year period he has published widely in the scientific literature, making contributions in underwater vehicle control, servoing, docking and obstacle avoidance. He has developed flexible actuator sensing and control technology for novel robot gripper and biomimetic underwater propulsion applications. In sensor processing, he has led projects applying novel signal processing and data fusion methods using sonar and video systems to marine science and mine countermeasures detection and visualization. He has also led work on robot architecture, autonomous planning and SLAM navigation, culminating in practical automated systems working offshore performing inspection, repair and maintenance.
This interview focuses a lot on the business side of robotics and Davids journey from research to industry and back.
In today’s episode we look at robots made by Adept Technology Inc. with Product Marketing Manager, Erin Rapacki. She tells us about what it takes to make robots a product.
Erin Rapacki has had a dream career, setting foot in many top robotics companies, including DEKA, iRobot, Anybots and now Adept Technolog Inc. where she is Product Manager.
Adept has been around for 28 years and is mostly known for its robot arms. She tells us about the future of manufacturing and current developments in soft manipulators.
Beyond the industrial world, Adept has been building expertise in mobile robotics. Their main platform, the Adept MT series, is able to autonomously navigate in human environments. The idea is to provide partners with a platform that solves core navigation challenges and can be extended with specialized payload. Example applications include transporting samples in hospitals, providing telepresence for specialists, and industrial scenarios.
Finally, Rapacki develops on her recent article on the Automaton blog entitled Dear Reader, I Have News for You: Robots Are Boring. In particular, she discusses the media hype surrounding robotics and the need to give people respect for robotics by showing them useful “boring” systems. We’ll also be thinking about the need for researchers to ask real world questions and the potential for cloud robotics.
Like last year, we ask our listeners to submit videos or audio related to robotics and the holidays! Content can be fictional, scientific or business oriented. We’ll be posting the material on our dedicated YouTube channel and select segments will be featured in the episodes until the end of the year. To submit material, simply go to www.robotspodcast.com/christmas or send us your material by email to email@example.com.
In today’s episode we look at a new market in robotics with huge potential, agriculture. With us, Joe Jones, co-founder of Harvest Automation and father of the Roomba.
In addition, you might have noted that we’re starting the new year with an upgrade to our website. Our partner, robots.net, will now provide us with news. You can access each episode’s news items, along with many others, via the website’s new NEWS tab, which replaces the former Forum. We think that this will increase both the quality and accessibility of our news content, and look forward to your comments in the improved comments section under each post.
Joe Jones is a robotics visionary with 24 years in the field. As proof, he was the first employee of iRobot, where he invented the Roomba that has sold over 3 million units. He also spent 9 years in robotic research at the MIT AI Lab, authored three books on robotics, and holds 15 patents. Today we have him on our show to talk about Harvest Automation, company that he co-founded with a team of robotics experts and ex-iRobot employees. Tapping into the huge agriculture market, Harvest will start by deploying thousands of robots to nurse potted plants. To give you an idea, here’s a short video.
The nice thing with agriculture robots is that incremental improvements to the robot can open a huge range of new applications. With that in mind, Harvest hopes to eventually deploy robots in real fields, doing all the large-scale dirty work challenging today’s farmers.
Finally, Jones also gives us a glimpse at the market and some of his secrets to bridge the gap between academia and business.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with your phone number so that we can call you and ask you directly on the air!
With the holiday season ahead of us and Christmas dinners already started, many of us are starting to feel the pinch at our waistlines and are planning some ambitious weight-loss goals as New Year’s resolutions. To help with those resolutions, today’s show will focus on robotic help for losing weight! We speak with Cory Kidd from Intuitive Automata about his robotic weight-loss coach that can help you take those pounds off and keep them off, and may take your Roomba‘s place as your new robotic best friend.
We’ll also be holding a Christmas contest for a chance to win two kits to build tiny hyperactive bug-like robots offered by Didel SA. For a chance to win, just tell us “who created the giant 6-legged robot” featured in one of our episodes this year at email@example.com.
Photo: Sam Ogden
Cory Kidd is a recent Ph.D graduate from the Personal Robotics Group at MIT’s Media Lab, where he studied human-robot social interaction and the use of robotic interfaces to help people lose weight. He tells us about how his prototype robotic weight-loss coach drastically improved the chance of success of weight loss, as well as his new company Intuitive Automata that will be commercializing the product.
During his Ph.D studies Kidd designed Autom, a sociable robot who’s sole purpose is to help you keep track of your diet, stay motivated and achieve your personal weight-loss goals. Autom is embedded with learning algorithms that adapt to your personality and your progress, as well as years of research in human-machine interaction to help you connect with the robot and take it seriously when it recommends your daily diet!
Kidd tells us about how people react to inanimate objects as soon as you put a set of eyes on them and which aspects of embodiment are important in creating a true bond between a human and a robot which ultimately aids the robot in succeeding in its task. He also speaks about a study he conducted using a prototype version of Autom and how it performed compared to traditional weight-loss techniques such as pen-and-paper or a virtual avatar on a computer screen.
Don’t miss our Christmas contest for a chance to win two robot Kits offered by Didel SA.
With the first kit, you’ll make a tiny “Bimo” robot that runs around like a hyperactive bug using two motors. The kit contains a radio controller and all the electronic components which you’ll need to build your robot. You’ll need your own soldering iron so make sure you have that handy. Once you’ve built your robot, you can reprogram its microcontroller if you’re unhappy with its original behavior.
In the second kit, you’ll be designing legs for a vibrating robot called the Milpat Veloce. Think out of the box and you might be strapping all types of slippery or hairy surfaces under the robot for maximum speed, climbing or hopping.
Two win these two kits just answer to the following question by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be randomly picking a contestant with the correct answer on the 1st of January.