Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

January 15th, 2010

Robots: Deep-Sea Exploration

In today’s show we focus on the great depths of our ocean and robotic vehicles capable of taking us deeper than we ever imagined. Alberto Collasius Jr. tells us about his institute’s highly-advanced remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, capable of bringing high-definition video from over 5km underwater. We then announce the winner of our Christmas contest and proud owner of two Didel SA robot kits.

Alberto Collasius Jr.

Alberto Collasius Jr., or Tito to those who know him, is part of the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts in the US. Collasius spends much of his time at sea as expedition leader with the JASON ROV which is used throughout the world’s oceans to search for old shipwrecks, underwater volcanoes or deep-sea natural environments that are inaccessible to human-operated vehicles. He tells us about the particular difficulties involved in operating at depths beyond 5000m and the sophisticated sensors and control systems present on their advanced ROV and base station.


Click to see a video of the underwater volcanic eruption

(photo courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Contest

Before Christmas, we asked you “who made the giant six legged robot?” for a chance to win the two robot kits offered by Didel SA. Turns out there were actually two answers to this question any of which qualified our many participants for the lottery. The first possible answer was Julie Townsend from the NASA and her Athlete robot for Lunar missions which was featured on a recent episode. The second giant six legged robot was actually called “the giant six legged robot” by its creator Jaimie Mantzel who was featured in April of last year.




The lucky winner of our competition is Will Preston who will be receiving his prize shortly.

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For more information on this episode’s news, including some first robotics milestones for 2010, videos of ROV Justin’s close encounter with an underwater volcano and this year’s robot novelties at the CES 2010, visit the Robots forum!

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December 4th, 2009

Robots: Planetary Exploration

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Today’s show is a special episode on space robots. We start by speaking with Julie Townsend from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology and her work with NASA‘s Mars Exploration Rovers and the lunar ATHLETE robot. We then speak with Sebastian Gautsch from the SAMLAB in Neuchatel, Switzerland, who tells us about his Atomic Force Microscope that was sent to Mars aboard the Pheonix lander in the Spring of 2008.

Julie Townsend

Julie Townsend completed her Bachelor in Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and then went on to Stanford for her Master’s degree. She’s now continuing a PhD there while working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which she joined in 2001. The JPL exists as a NASA laboratory and has been involved in missions relating to the exploration of Earth and space with plans to send robots and humans to explore the moon, Mars and beyond.

As a robotics engineer at the JLP, Townsend has been working on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. After touching on the development, integration, and testing of the rovers earlier in her career, she then became a Rover Planner, creating command sequences to drive the robots and move their arms on Mars. Townsend tells us what it is like to be the one behind the wheel of a robot on another planet, with all the mind boggling details that make space robots seem so improbable. She also gives us her insider’s view on efforts to get Spirit out of its sand trap on Mars.

In the second part of the interview, Townsend presents the prototype of the All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) robot which will be used as part of the Human Lunar Return campaign to help load, transport, manipulate, and deposit payloads to any desired site of interest. In particular, she speaks about its six legs capable of rolling or walking over extremely rough or steep terrain. After some redesigns, the ATHLETE is now onto its second prototype, getting ready for its mission to the moon.

Sebastian Gautsch

Sebastian Gautsch recently completed his PhD at the SAMLAB, part of the Institute of Microtechnology in Neuchatel, Switzerland, the goal of which was to design an miniature Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) destined to analyze dust particles on the martian surface. It is hoped that by analyzing the surface of the red planet in minute detail we can gain some insight into the geologic history and potential for biology on the planet.

Gautsch tells us about the difficulties in creating sensors for space, especially the limited payload and autonomy constraints of such a system. He then describes the impressive results they achieved with their sensor which was sent to Mars on the Phoenix lander mission in the spring of 2008, where they took the first ever atomic force microscope image on another planet (see below)!


An AFM calibration image taken on Mars

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For more information on the robots demonstrated at Japan’s IREX, retiree robot Charlie and the Mobile Manipulation Challenge visit the Robots forum!

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October 9th, 2009

Robots: Active Touch

In today’s show we’ll be dabbing at the subject of active touch. Our first guest, Tony Prescott from the University of Sheffield in the UK has been looking at how rats actively use their whiskers to sense their environment and how this can be used in robotics or to help understand the brain. Our second guest, Elio Tuci, evolved a robot arm to touch an object and then figure out what the object is as a first step towards understanding language in humans.

Tony Prescott

Tony Prescott is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, co-director of the University’s Adaptive Behaviour Research Group and Director of the Active Touch Laboratory. In the scope of several large European projects, such as BIOTACT and ICEA, he’s been frisking the whiskers of rats to study how they can be used to actively interact with their environments and how the signals from these sensors tap into the brain. To test models he’s inferred from high-speed images of real rats, Prescott has been working with a rat-like robot called SCRATCHbot developed in collaboration with the Bristol Robotics Lab. SCRATCHbot is equipped with an active 18-whisker array and a non-actuated micro-vibrissae array located on the “nose”. Its head is connected to the body by a 3 degrees of freedom neck, and the body is driven by 3 independently-steerable motor drive units.




More generally, whiskers have a real potential in robotics applications for their ability to detect and categorize objects and surface textures while only lightly touching the objects they interact with. Touch is still a widely untapped sensor modality that could be strapped to robot arms, cleaning robots and maybe your LEGO robot. For this purpose, Prescott is looking at creating an off-the-shelf version of the rat’s whisker system.

Elio Tuci

Elio Tuci is a researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the Italian National Research Council, member of the Laboratory of Autonomous Robotics and Artificial Life. Tuci is currently working on the ITALK Project which is studying the various aspects of language and how humans learn to speak. He tells us about how active perception is an integral part of how we learn to categorize objects, a necessary prerequisite to developing language. He speaks in particular about his recent work on a robot arm that evolved to discriminate between different objects such as ellipses and circles using active touch.

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For videos of Japan’s new Gigantor robot statue, Nissan’s EPORO car robots and Panasonic’s new Power Loader exoskeleton visit the Robots forum!

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June 6th, 2008

Robots: Cornell Racing Team and Velodyne’s LIDAR Sensor - Transcript

Our inaugural episode centers on the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, featuring interviews with professor Daniel Huttenlocher from Team Cornell and Rick Yoder from Velodyne, a producer of LIDAR sensors used by several teams in the robot car race.

Dan Huttenlocher

Team Cornell's Robot Racing TeamDan Huttenlocher is professor of Computing, Information Science and Business at Cornell University in Ithaca New York. As the co-leader of Cornell’s racing team for the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, he spent countless hours testing the autonomous car which finally finished among the six final automobiles capable of following California’s road code over 56 miles of a mock urban environment. With design in mind, his team of 13 students managed to discretely embed a slick black 2007 Chevy Tahoe with a Velodyne LIDAR, three IBEO 1.5D LIDARs, five 1D SICK LIDARs, five millimeter-wave radars, and four cameras. Of course, millions of data points per second don’t come for free and Cornell’s trunk is the home of 17 dual core processors.

Since a pile of impressive hardware and CPU is not enough, Team Cornell developed the artificial intelligence and control software needed to allow their robot to locally represent its location on the road and further figure out, on a more global scale, where it really was in the world. Moreover, the Cornell car also needed to localize and track other objects in the environment and ideally reason about their next moves. So, what went wrong in this little fender bender with MIT’s car (see video below)? I guess the professional human drivers during the challenge weren’t wrong, when they said that Cornell’s car drove like a human.



Velodyne LIDAR

Velodyne's LIDAR robot sensorRick Yoder is an employee at Velodyne, a new-comer in the field of LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors. The HDL-64E LIDAR uses an impressive 64 stationary lasers on a base rotating at 900rpm. This sensor was specifically designed for the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, and was used by around a third of the participating teams, although some other teams may have been turned away by the hefty $75,000USD price tag! Though not yet destined for the consumer market, Rick hints at a new series of sensors that may soon find their way into your car.

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Latest News:

Visit the Robots Forum for links and discussions about the IEEE Spectrum Magazine’s Singularity, Robin Murphy’s Survivor Buddy, Georgia Tech’s Sandbot, the rapid-prototyper robot “RepRap” and the Japanese Navirobo teddybear mentioned in the podcast.

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