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.
For the occasion we speak with 12 scientists about the most remarkable developments in robotics over the last 50 years and their prediction for the next half-century. This 50th special is split into two episodes with the second half airing in two weeks.
We’ve also upgraded our website so that you can easily browse through episodes by topic, interviewee, tag or just listen to one of our favorites, so have a look!
You can interact with the ROBOTS community by leaving comments directly under episode posts or on our new sleek forum. To do both, just log-in once in the top bar of the website.
Rolf Pfeifer is Professor at the University of Zurich where he directs the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. He pioneered a new approach to artificial intelligence (“New AI”), which emphasizes the role of embodiment and argues that thought is not independent of the body, but tightly constrained, and at the same time enabled by it.
Mark Tilden is a famous robot inventor who builds new robots on a daily basis. He pioneered a philosophy for making simple and reactive robots and tagged it BEAM robotics (which stands for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics). Lately, Tilden has been making famous products such as the Robosapien and Femisapien robots at WowWee.
Schofield is an expert in underwater robots, taking part in recent projects such as the Scarlet Knight glider which crossed the Atlantic Ocean fully autonomously while dodging fishing nets, strong currents and even the occasional shark.
As director of the Center for Engineering Education Outreach, Rogers tours the elementary schools of the world trying to bring engineering and robotics to young children. He has also worked with LEGO to develop ROBOLAB, a robotic approach to learning science and math.
Today we speak about two incredible missions conducted with Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (or AUVs). We first speak with Oscar Schofield from Rutgers University in the US about his fleet of gliders that can spend months at a time at sea, and some of their amazing achievements like crossing the Atlantic ocean. Our second guest is Mark Moline from the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences at Cal Poly State in California. He just came back from an expedition in the arctic where he used AUVs to discover that there are some agitated forms of life, in the deep cold.
Oscar Schofield is Professor of Bio-Optical Oceanography at the Rutgers Coastal Ocean Observation Lab or COOL lab at Rutgers University. Schofield tells us about the autonomous underwater gliders that the COOL lab uses to explore the depths of the ocean for months at a time, mapping currents and collecting valuable data on our oceans. These masters of efficiency cruise the oceans by taking advantage of small changes in buoyancy, gliding through the water in a saw-tooth pattern by pumping small amounts of water in and out of their torpedo-like bodies.
Schofield focuses on the specific case of the Scarlet Knight, a fantastic little glider that managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean fully autonomously while dodging fishing nets, strong currents and even the occasional shark. This resilient little glider’s mission was meant to inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists to take advantage of the power of robotics to take care of our planet and help preserve its wealth.
He just came home from a month-long expedition in the arctic with a team of 17 people and different types of exploration robots. In particular, he tells us about the work done with his AUVs in observing life under the icy arctic surface. To his surprise, the organisms and life forms he found there were well awake, courting and moving instead of the cold winter stupor which was expected. Moline also discusses challenges which arise when using robots in freezing conditions, such as ice accumulating on the robot when it is at the surface or having to find holes in the ice to emerge. Interestingly, the technology used to scan the ice could prove useful to effectively monitor global warming. Finally, he tells us about other missions he’s planning with AUVs to monitor penguins and discusses the use of underwater robots to study biology in the future.
Mark Moline and Chris Clark with the IVER2 AUV
What is a Robot?
This week’s definition of a robot comes from Kevin Makice who is doing a PhD at Indiana University:
A robot is a physical machine manipulated to
automatically perform an undesirable work function that supports a
desired human outcome.
While the definition does fit many robots out there, we were able to find, as promised, a couple counter examples. For example, artistic robots, entertainment robots and useless robots, don’t necessary fit the bill. We’ll be continuing the discussion until we get our holy grail definition so keep them coming at email@example.com.
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
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.
In this episode we look at how FESTO, a worldwide leader in automation technology, has been copying nature to design bionic robots such as artificial penguins, manta-rays or jellyfish. Our first guest, Markus Fischer, is head of Corporate Design at FESTO and expert in transferring technology from biomimetic research to actual products such as grippers. Our second guest, Victor Zykov, finished his PhD and PostDoc at Cornell University in NY on modular robotics. His favorite modules, the Molecubes, are another example of transfer from a bio-inspired systems to FESTO.
Markus Fischer is the head of the Bionic Learning Network project at FESTO, one of the world’s leaders in automation, with thousands of employees around the world and products ranging from solenoids, valves, and cylinders to integrated automation solutions. Recently, FESTO has been exploring the world of mobile robotics, with stunning demonstrators such as the AquaPenguin, AquaRay, AirJelly and many more.
However, creating artificial systems is not the final goal, and Fischer has been looking to identify bionic principles which can be applied to the world of automation in new-generation products. A fulfillment of this endeavor can be found in thier Bionic Tripod which has grippers functioning following the same principles as the AquaPenguins. The concept is based on the Fin Ray® effect by which a fin, when pressed, actually wraps around the point of pressure rather than the intuitive opposite.
Finally, FESTO is also looking at collective robotic systems for inspiration in creating adaptable, robust and flexible systems for the industry.
Zykov explains the principles of modular robotics and presents one of his favorite building blocks, the Molecube. Molecubes are cubic like modules that are cheap to fabricate and easy to use for newbie roboticists with an online framework at www.molecubes.org. From the labs at Cornell, the Molecubes found their way to FESTO as educational robots. He tells us why modular robotics is of interest to FESTO in building up adaptable factories of the future.
Victor Zykov is now On-Deck Systems Head at the Kite Assist Institute in California.