NEWSLETTER - June 2012

Bedford, MA

iRobot Corp.
received a $13M order from the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Warren, Michigan for the company’s Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle (SUGV) robots and spare kits.  The iRobot 310 SUGV is a man-portable robot with dexterous manipulator and wearable controller. It can enter areas that are inaccessible or too dangerous for people, providing state-of-the-art technology for infantry troops, combat engineers, mobile EOD technicians and other personnel. The robot can be outfitted with a wide range of payloads and sensors, allowing warfighters and public safety professionals to stay out of harm’s way while gathering situational awareness in a variety of missions. iRobot has delivered more than 4,500 unmanned ground vehicles to military and civil defense forces worldwide.

Cambridge, MA

All in a day’s work: Design and print your own robot -
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab’s (CSAIL’s) Project could transform robotic design and production. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is leading an ambitious new project to reinvent how robots are designed and produced. Funded by a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s “Expeditions in Computing” program, the project will aim to develop a desktop technology that would make it possible for the average person to design, customize and print a specialized robot in a matter of hours.

The five-year project, called “An Expedition in Computing for Compiling Printable Programmable Machines,” brings together a team of researchers from MIT, the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. It currently takes years to produce, program and design a functioning robot, and is an extremely expensive process, involving hardware and software design, machine learning and vision, and advanced programming techniques. The new project would automate the process of producing functional 3-D devices and allow individuals to design and build functional robots from materials as easily accessible as a sheet of paper.

Their vision is to develop an end-to-end process; specifically, a compiler for building physical machines that starts with a high level of specification of function, and delivers a programmable machine for that function using simple printing processes.

Researchers hope to create a platform that would allow an individual to identify a household problem that needs assistance; then head to a local printing store to select a blueprint, from a library of robotic designs; and then customize an easy-to-use robotic device that could solve the problem. Within 24 hours, the robot would be printed, assembled, fully programmed and ready for action.

College Station,TX

Roboticists Return for Tohoku Tsunami Memorial
- Dr. Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M, returned to Minamisanriku, Japan, to participate in the memorial service for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami.  CRASAR had supplied robots and experts at no-cost to the Japanese through a National Science Foundation grant. This was the 15th deployment of rescue robots by CRASAR, whose prior work includes the 9/11 World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina. Services were held throughout Japan on March 11, 2012, the one-year anniversary. The services began with a simulcast of the Emperor and Prime Minister laying flowers at a memorial in Tokyo, then each region continued with a local service with local dignitaries and representatives of response agencies.

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Figure 1 Memorial at Minamisanriku consisting of thousands of white chrysanthemums in the shape of a bird ascending to heaven with lupines representing the sea.

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Figure 2 Views of the city and the remaining rubble.

US underwater robots had been used by CRASAR in cooperation with the Japanese International Rescue Systems Institute (IRS) to reopen ports, search for bodies, and help find pollution and debris that was threatening fishing.  Minamisanriku was one of the hardest hit regions north of Sendai, and embraced the new technology.  CRASAR was recognized for its assistance, only one of two non-Japanese groups at the ceremony.

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Figure 3 SeaBotix ROV and YSI Ecomapper UUV at Minamisanriku: lightweight and easy to use.

CRASAR brought SeaBotix, Seamor, and Access small remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) as soon as Fukushima subsided and travel was permitted. The SeaBotix and Seamor vehicles were about the size of a suitcase and carried cameras and state of the art imaging sonars, while the Access ROV was the size of a camcorder and only had a camera. The companies participated through the Roboticists Without Borders program, providing equipment and experts at no cost for 10 days.

The joint Japanese-US effort was highlighted in a recent visit by National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Dr. Subra Suresh to Japan, which has led to a joint statement with Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), Mr. Hirofumi Hirano, that “U.S.-Japan collaboration in disaster research would yield important mutual advantages, leveraging our respective experiences and expertise to reduce vulnerability and enhance resilience in our societies.

We agreed in principle to support broad-based research collaborations among computer scientists, engineers, social scientists, biologists, geoscientists, physical scientists and mathematicians that strengthen our understanding of disaster robustness and resilience through big data.”

CRASAR identified new basic research challenges in coordinating the use of multiple underwater robots, creating smarter image processing and better displays, and environmental attributes that should be captured in future disaster simulations. It also provided practical feedback to the ROV companies.

Detroit, MI

 

Automakers, roboticists, government, and academia gather to make intelligent vehicles a reality - More than 200 people gathered in Detroit this month for the first ever Driverless Car Summit, organized by AUVSI and the Connected Vehicle Proving Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Dedicated to understanding the myriad issues present in making driverless vehicles a reality by 2022, the day kicked of with a speech by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who discussed technology, capital and culture in the driverless car world.

Ithaca, NY

Cornell University’s IEEE student member earns one of the New Faces of Engineering award for several efforts including Machine Metabolism. The effort involves a small programmable device that can move along scaffolding girders, bend in half to climb at right angles, then detach and reassemble girders. The robot mimics the metabolic process of an enzyme latching onto and reconfiguring a protein into a different shape and function. Future possible applications include international space station repair, improved construction safety, and autonomous skyscraper building.

New Haven, CT

On April 3rd, NSF awarded a $10 million research grant though its Expeditions in Computing program to four universities -- Yale, Stanford, MIT & the University of Southern California -- to create complex robots that readily adapt to the changing needs, abilities, interests and idiosyncrasies of children.

A Yale-led research team will spend the next five years developing a new breed of sophisticated “socially assistive” robots for helping young children learn to read, appreciate physical fitness, overcome cognitive disabilities, and perform physical exercises. The four university researchers represent a diverse group of intellectual disciplines, including computer science, robotics, educational theory, and developmental psychology.

The purpose of the $10 million, federally funded effort, is to create self-adapting machines capable of cultivating long-term interpersonal relationships and assisting pre-school-age children with educational and therapeutic goals. At the end of five years the team would like to have robots that can guide a child toward long-term educational goals, be customized for the particular needs of that child, and basically grow and develop with the child. Essentially, the robot will be a good personal trainer.

The robots would supplement, not replace, human teachers and caregivers, and would work both with regularly developing children and those with social or cognitive deficits. The interrelated technical, social and pedagogical challenges are daunting. Yale's scientists will attempt to model the dynamic nature of social interaction and develop novel algorithms that endow the robots with a vast array of behavioral options, and the researchers intend to build a healthy relationship of trust and respect between the child and the robot so that the child will work hard to achieve the goals set by a teacher or clinician.

New York, NY


The 2nd Annual Robot Film Festival takes place July 14, 2012 in New York City. This year’s theme: "Are Robots Man’s New Best Friend?" Human soldiers have literally braved gunfire to protect machines on the frontline that had saved their lives dozens of times. Elderly people may gain back late-life autonomy and independence because of the services robots can provide. Where do these new friendships live up to expectation? Where do they fall short? 

If last year's video gallery is anything to go by, this year's collection of short films will be outstanding, dazzling, hilarious and thought-provoking! Whether real or fictional, all submissions feature robots as one of the main characters or framing devices of the narrative. Founded by Heather Knight of Marilyn Monrobot & Carnegie Mellon University and co-organized by Marek Michalowski of Beatbots, the festival's goal is to "highlight innovation, explore frontiers before technically feasible and investigate the impact of humanity and machinery interrelations."

After a full day of juried film screenings interspersed with live performances, the finale is a red carpet Botskers Award ceremony (think Robot Oscars). It is here that films will be in the running for a coveted Botsker, 3D printed robot statuettes whose titles have been robotically milled carved out by a robot. Prepare yourselves for a dazzling 100-foot red carpet, specially concocted cocktails and a diverse and interdisciplinary community that lives beyond the event.

Pittsburgh, PA


CMU prepares to launch an undergraduate major in robotics
- Robotics, as a field, has evolved to the point where it has its own substantive body of knowledge and skills that are likely to remain relevant and useful over time. One of the central intellectual themes of robotics is that it is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. This means that it draws from many fields, such as Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and it also integrates these fields in a novel manner. Moreover, companies, such as Qinetiq, iRobot and Boston Dynamics, are continuing to hire robotics engineers with no hiring freeze in sight. In addition, competitions like US FIRST have seen substantial growth in enrollment and such growth is only accelerating. Finally, robotics is an ideal vehicle for education. Students are naturally mesmerized by robots, and to make them work, students must master fundamentals.

Carnegie Mellon believes there is a strong need for Robotics education at the undergraduate level. Therefore, they have decided to build upon its experience in robotics research and education to create a major for undergraduates in robotics. Already, Carnegie Mellon is the first university to house a PhD, MS, and undergraduate minor in Robotics. The Robotics major is a second major meaning that students have a primary major, e.g., Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering, and they fulfill requirements for both their primary and Robotics majors. The base of this program lies in the belief that robotics can be broken down into perception, cognition and action, and therefore students will be required to take courses in each of these areas. Since robotics is a "hands-on" discipline, there is also a hands-on requirement. Finally, the Robotics Major will offer a new course on Systems Engineering, specifically tailored to Robotics.

...and...

RE2 Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, U.S. Army, Retired, joined RE2 as a strategic consultant and member of their Advisory Board to provide guidance regarding robotic defense technologies, market strategy, leadership, and organizational development. “RE2 is touching lives and making a difference with the unmanned systems technologies that they've created for our armed forces," stated Lt. Gen. Lynch. "The talented team at RE2 is only limited by their imagination. I believe that I can contribute to the company's product strategy and help the Company reach its goals for 2012 and beyond." Lynch graduated from the United States Military academy in 1977 and was commissioned as a Regular Army engineer officer. Lynch attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he obtained a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Robotics.

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Questions or comments, please contact Patti Rote or Erica Wissolik.

 

Last Updated: 20 June 2012

 

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