Archive for the ‘Podcast’ Category

April 23rd, 2010

Robots: 50 Years of Robotics (Part 1)

Today we celebrate the 50th episode of ROBOTS!

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.

Today we’ll be talking to Rolf Pfeifer on robotics in general, Mark Tilden robot toys, Hiroshi Ishiguro on androids, Oscar Schofield on underwater robots, Steve  Potter on brain machine interfaces and Chris Rogers on eduction robots. Our next episode will give you a snapshot view on nano robots, AI, flying robots, human robot interactions, robot business, and space robots.

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

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

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.

Hiroshi Ishiguro

Hiroshi Ishiguro is professor at Osaka University in Japan where he directs the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory. Ishiguro is most know for his near-real Androids which closely resemble human models, including himself, his daughter and a famous news anchor. Geminoid F, his latest model, was recently featured in the blogosphere.

Oscar Schofield

Oscar Schofield is Professor of Bio-Optical Oceanography at the Rutgers Coastal Ocean Observation Lab or COOL lab at Rutgers University.

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.

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.

Having interfaced robots to in-vitro neurons, Potter talks about the field of brain-machine interfaces and its potential impact in medicine and neuroscience

Chris Rogers

Chris Rogers is a professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University in the US.

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.


Latest News:

For more information on this episode’s news, including videos of the PR2 robot folding towels and Honda’s U3-X robot and links to the MIT Personal Robotics group’s Mars Escape game, have a look at the Robots Forum.

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February 12th, 2010

Robots: AUV Missions

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

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.

Mark Moline

Mark Moline is Professor at the Biological Sciences Department and part of the Center for Coastal Marine Sciences at Cal Poly State in California.

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


Latest News:

For more information on the Willow Garage’s free PR2 robots, lateral sense organs for robots and the two innovative Taiwanese burglars misusing a low-noise surveillance helicopter, visit the Robots Forum.

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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)


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.


Latest News:

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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July 3rd, 2009

Robots: From Animals to Automation

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

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.

Victor Zykov

Victor Zykov completed his PhD and PostDoc at Cornell University in NY under the supervision of Hod Lipson. Over the years, he’s been looking to create self-repairing and self-reproducing robots resulting in publications in Science and Nature.

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 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.


Latest News:

To learn more about the autonomous shrapnel removing robot, prediction for the personal robotics market and for the most eery version of “Happy Birthday” you’ve ever heard, have a look at the Robots Forum.

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September 26th, 2008

Robots: Swarming Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

In this show we dive into the world of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) with an emphasis on the challenges when having to localize and communicate in the deep blue. While Navinda Kottege at the Australian National University has been looking at how swarms of small Serafina AUVs can determine their range, bearing and posture with respect to neighboring robots, Marc Sherman from Teledyne RD Instruments tells us how his Doppler Velocity Log systems are used to provide positioning for slightly larger beasts.

For a more futuristic view on underwater swarms, we present the first episode of our Science Fiction Special written by Jack Graham in Cambridge, MA. The “Selkies” will be following us over the next four episodes so don’t miss today’s debut.

Finally, if you’re curious about last week’s Uncertain Roomba Competition, check our forum for the winner and the actual solution.

Navinda Kottege

Navinda Kottege is a research assistant at the Australian National University, and has spent the last few years working on an underwater localisation system for swarms of AUVs, in particular the Serafina Robot.

Navigating and communicating with neighbors underwater is a difficult task (unless you’re a fish), since there is no GPS, radio communication is very limited, and vision is essentially useless. Kottege explains the challenges they had to overcome to build swarms of Serafina robots, and some of the possible applications of their swarm once they’re roaming our oceans.

Also, don’t miss a past interview on Talking Robots with Uwe Zimmer who is at the head of the Serafina project.

Marc Sherman

Marc Sherman is the sales manager for navigation products at Teledyne RD Instruments, a big league supplier of Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCPs), Waves Measurement Products, Doppler Velocity Logs (DVLs), and Flow Measurement Products for offshore vehicles. He presents the DVLs used for underwater localization of anything from divers to ships, with an emphasis on the smaller Explorer system. While not yet small enough to suit Kottege’s Sarafina AUVs, there is a clear interest to scale down, for shallow water applications in security and defense.


Our special guest, science fiction writer Jack Graham in Cambridge MA, tells us about the “Selkies”, seal-like robots which in a world of waste, strive to clean up the oceans. With a unique view on robotics and the world, he’s been writing away on with stories such as “arm” and “posthuman playground“. The future will tell, how SciFi will continue to nourish engineers and vice-versa.


Latest News:

Visit the Robots Forum for links and discussions about
Singapore’s TechX Challenge, Stanford’s free robotics and AI courses and the Mars Rover’s new 2-year trek presented in the podcast.

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