Rescue Robots in the News

This semester my intro programming students are doing a very scaled down model of how search-and-rescue robots might very stupidly explore a space while trying to keep themselves from clumping up with each other. It’s a first programming course for most of them, so have I mentioned that these simulated robots are very stupid. However, since I’ve been playing around with their project, I seem to be seeing interesting content about search and rescue robots cropping up all over the place: Last week (on April 23rd), there was a great NASA JPL livestream of a talk on Rescue Robots focusing … Continue reading Rescue Robots in the News

Machine Learning in Usability Testing

It’s an elegant idea I haven’t run into before: gather data on site preferences by selecting what version to present on the epsilon-greedy solution to the multi-armed bandit problem and just letting it run. You’re looking at a setting where effectiveness can be easily measured, such as by clickthrough, but the contrast is with A/B testing where the effect of a single change is being measured for a time and then a switch is being made, if desirable. Comments suggest tweaks/details like ensuring that a single visitor sees a consistent view of the site, at least for small windows of … Continue reading Machine Learning in Usability Testing

Running Robot

I have been mesmerized by this running robot that tries to replicate human movement. The video illustrates a nice contrast between a stable, carefully calculated technique for motion and a more reckless looking approach. Sure, the robot wipes out at the end, but it looks pretty good until that happens.

Not nearly as cute as Aibo

I defy you to watch this video of a, sort of, robot dog and not be creeped out: I have only heard of the uncanny valley being applied to people, but this has that same feel of being just natural enough as to be disturbing. In the first shot of the thing walking up the hill I wasn’t entirely convinced it wasn’t some poor real dog with a few artificial legs. It’s an impressive feat of engineering though – watch through to where it gets kicked while trying to walk on ice. The recovery it goes through to avoid falling … Continue reading Not nearly as cute as Aibo

Cute little robots….

if you are one of the students who came on the field trip to visit the CMU Robotics Institute two springs ago, you may recognize Dr. Wettergreen in this photo from a story about CMU’s new lunar rover. Can I say first how much it entertains me that the Post-Gazette has to translate “lunar rover” into “moon robot” for a lay audience? The technology is pretty cool though. Scarab is intended to drill into the moon’s surface to collect samples looking for water ice on the moon. This means it has to be designed sufficiently low to the ground and … Continue reading Cute little robots….

I am nothing without a robot car…..

Over the weekend, the DARPA Urban Challenge took place, in which about a dozen autonomous vehicles navigated their way through desert and city landscapes in a timed obstacle race. I was bummed out that I wasn’t able to watch the livecast of the event, but a nice highlight video of the qualified round has been posted at the Urban Challenge page (you can see about two minutes in that at least one car took out a stop sign….) and they’ll be posting a highlight video of the finals soon. In the meantime, there are videos starting to show up on … Continue reading I am nothing without a robot car…..

Road Trip!

Ooooo! Oooooo! Details about the DARPA Urban Challenge are starting to come out, as the list of semifinalists has been announced along with the location: Victorville, CA. Qualifiers are the last week of October with the actual challenge on November 3rd. All of the expected teams seem to have made this cut. The photos of the site seem “urban” in only a loose sense – I pictured a site with tall buildings and less nature. I couldn’t find any indication of whether there would be a webcast of the event – I would love to go watch in person but … Continue reading Road Trip!

I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on the internet…

There are tons of ways in which the law doesn’t keep up with technical developments, but this is an interesting example of technology perhaps pushing too far ahead of the law. A company was found guilty of unauthorized practice of law by virtue of their online legal expert system. The system was focused on bankruptcy law, and the sales pitch used stressed that this was “an expert system and knows the law. Unlike most bankruptcy programs which are little more than customized word processors the Ziinet engine is an expert system.” It seems that this use of “expert system” in … Continue reading I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on the internet…

When at all possible, involve a robot…

Two videos crossed my screen, via T, that represent what happens when students take their classroom experiences into their social world – though I suspect this isn’t precisely what the academic community is looking for when they hold up that goal. Down at Duke, a student modded a refridgerator to install an elevator platform and beer can launching arm that can be aim at, say, one’s sofa. Over at UC Berkeley, some mechanical engineers built a Beirut (Beer Pong) Robot that seems able to beat people, but also seems predicated on a pre-arranged table and cup layout. Both videos are … Continue reading When at all possible, involve a robot…

It probably has better penmanship than me…

Today in class I talked a little about what makes something a robot, or an androiod, or a cyborg, but I didn’t bring up the notion of an automaton. This article has a really nice description of Jaquet-Droz’s writing automaton, including video [via Clicked]. The article points ot that the automaton is really closer to being a precursor of the computer than a precursor of the robot, because it can change what message it writes out based on a “program” on a wheel. Though, the “program” is not truly a program, as it does not change the essential functioning of … Continue reading It probably has better penmanship than me…