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Category: Robots

May 31, 2012

ROSCon 2012: Lightning Talks

ROSCon 2012 was a blast! Thanks to everyone who attended. It was a bit mindblowing to me to see something I've worked on reach the '-Con' Achievement Unlock.

May 13, 2011

Cloud Robotics

Video from a talk I gave with some Googlers at Google I/O 2011.

October 5, 2010

Hacks with ROS: rosproxy

I've resurrected rosproxy, which is a hack I wrote several months ago to enable access to services and topics within a protected network. It's written in Python, so it's not super efficient, but it's useful when interfacing your robot with an external website or the like.

For example,

Internal network:

rosrun test_ros & 
rosparam set proxy/topics [chatter]
rosparam set proxy/xmlrpc_port 11313
rosrun rosproxy

External network:

rosrun rosproxy pub /chatter std_msgs/String http://externalname:11313
rostopic echo chatter
data: hello world 1286321252.19

Another related hack I did awhile back is ronin, which is a "masterless node". This is useful if you need to keep a node attached to a graph that is going up and down, e.g. if you want to pull data from a robot whenever it is up.

Both of these are "experimental" and will likely never be fully stabilized, but they are fun starting points and show some of the hackability of ROS.

January 24, 2010

ROS 1.0!

I've been working on ROS for two years and change now. I don't think that we thought back then, when it was just three of us, that we would be where we are today -- the community is awesome. So, thank you.

January 16, 2010



We unveiled our robot last night, which we will be sending to ~10 research institutions around the world at no cost. It cleaned up pretty nicely.

January 4, 2010

Happy Twenty Ten

Life's been keeping me too busy to write regularly here (I've been busy keep this site up-to-date, among other things). Above is a month-old video of my trip to the IREX robot exposition in Japan.

Happy 2010!

August 15, 2009

Life is weird

There's a time I would have loved to see my work on Slashdot. Now, in a period of two weeks, the previous project I worked on gets on /. -- I have nothing to do with Siri:

As well as the stuff I'm currently working on:

And, in the weirdest twist, the same article that's referenced also gets posted to BoingBoing:

Really, we're on BoingBoing? That's still cool, right?

July 26, 2009

Front Page


Ok, now my mom can be proud -- NYT front page photo credit (below the fold). Article

June 15, 2009

Best Played Loud

My co-workers fought in the heavyweight division at this weekend's RoboGames. Their robot, Counter Revolution, wields giant, counter-rotating blades made out of tool steel to deliver punishing blows. The blades aren't sharp, but that much tool steel can deliver quite a whack. The damage it was doing to the arena was definitely disconcerting to the organizers.

The design still needs some tweaks -- due to the inherent danger in running the robot, the only 'debugging' they've been able to do is at a filming of Battlebots as well as at RoboGames. What got them this time around were the holes they made in the base plate to lighten the robot. I'm looking forward to the next design iteration. There's too many boring combat robots out there, so I always enjoy a robot that puts even the announcer on edge with the potential for havoc.

You can see more video of them fighting on YouTube. Here's one from Friday where they managed to rip off the top of the other robot (about 2 minutes in):

And even more coverage

It's always amusing to read about your work, especially in blogs you read everyday. Some of the comments make you want to say, "man, their readers are a bunch of idiots." Then you realize you read that site as well ;). But I kid, it's great to see that this Milestone has captured people's imaginations. It gives us motivation to go even bigger.

June 8, 2009

And the New York Times weighs in

To follow up on my previous post, here's John Markoff's take for the New York Times:

Opening Doors on the Way to a Personal Robot

June 4, 2009

Self-Sufficient Robots

I've been relatively incommunicado these past several weeks, but it's been with good reason. After a two-week trip to Japan, I got back in time to witness my company hit its second major milestone: our robot was able to plug itself in at nine different outlets in our building, which required it to navigate around our building as well as open eight different doors along the way. In a separate run, it also managed to do a 26.2-mile marathon, pausing only to be recharged -- that's 30 hours of faultless operation. I have no personal claim to the navigation, plugging, or door success, but I'm amazed that I work with talented people who face difficult goals knowing that we will achieve them.

I don't know if this sounds big to your average non-roboticist, so I'll try and put this in context: our robot is self-sufficient. Most robots have limited battery life and must achieve their tasks within that time. Most research robots are closely followed around by students, who stand ready with an emergency stop button to shut it down when something goes wrong (and it will). We've long since left our wireless emergency stop button hanging from the back of the robot. In order to complete the marathon, we even left the robot running while we went home to get some sleep (I use the royal 'we' here; I was in Japan). We didn't experience a single hardware issue, despite the heavy use required for testing and debugging the milestone. And now, it our robot can take care of itself.

If we are to start thinking about making robots take care of us, this is a crucial first step.

April 8, 2009

No time to write here, so here's some work stuff

I've been pretty busy writing and shooting video for the Willow Garage Web site (in addition to my normal code monkey duties). The stuff we're doing is pretty cool so I thought I'd share some of that here. I didn't write any of the demos you see in the videos -- for stuff that's a bit closer to what I wrote code for, you can read these blog entries:

March 16, 2009


The HRP2 was Gundam toy-like, HRP3 was a little more Gundam threatening, but I had no clue HRP4 would go all Uncanny Valley.

HRP4: World's Robotic Model Star

November 14, 2008

Checkout my company's new site

WG HomepageSorry that this blog has been a bit stale. I've been putting a lot of energy into the cycling photography as well as my real job writing software for robots. I've also been working hard helping put together content for our new Web site: I'm pretty proud of what we're doing -- we're essentially giving away software and robots to help advance the state of autonomous robotics.

I was explaining to my parents tonight a bit about we're doing and the conversation went a little bit like:

"What if someone tries to steal your software and get the jump on you?"

"Well, all of our the source code to our software is on the Internet. They can download it whenever they want."

"But aren't you worried that puts you at a disadvantage?"

"The robotics community keeps on writing the same code over and over again. Our hope is that by giving away all this stuff, we can all get to the cool stuff quicker."

April 9, 2008

New Segway RMP

MAKE @ RobotBusiness 2008 Segway RMP - video powered by Metacafe

The new Segway RMP being demo'd at RoboBusiness looks like a fun exercise in freakiness. It reminds me a bit of the auger-ish snake I saw at IREX 2007.

Make: Segway's new RMP!

April 2, 2008

Humans vs. Robots

Just so we're clear:





The dog is also a Ninja

Left: Human, Right: Robot

Joss Whedon nexi_blocks_image_1_1.jpg

The girl on the shirt on the left is also not a viking.

March 7, 2008

On /.

WG made it to Slashdot the other day based on a Network World article. Predictably, the Slashdot focus is on the open source aspect of what we're doing. As someone who is working on the software, I can be happy with that sort of focus, but it ignores the fact that we have a really cool robot that the software actually runs on. And you can't exactly download a tarball of hardware, either. But feel free to read if you wish to know more about what we're doing.

March 3, 2008

RoboGames 2008


RoboGames: robots attacking robots, bigger and better every year, June 12-15, Fort Mason.

January 11, 2008

Pleo + Aibo

We finally have our Pleo at work, so naturally it met the Aibo. It looks like Pleo already knows the proper way to greet a robotic dog.

December 25, 2007

It floats

ASV Launch

ASV Launch

ASV Launch ASV Launch

We got our boat wet on Christmas Eve and the good news is that our autonomous surface vessel didn't turn into an autonomous underwater vessel. Much remains to be done -- i.e. the 'autonomous' -- and I can take no credit for any of this other than photos, of which I have posted many. My co-workers have worked their butts off to get to this point and it was great to see this first milestone in the bag before the new year.

ASV launch photos

December 18, 2007

IT admin robot

At IREX 2007 I saw many robots, but none as technologically sophisticated as the ITAPPMON 'robot' that Daily WTF describes.

December 7, 2007

IREX 2007 Photos

Photos set (115 Photos)

Subaru Robots (1) Baby I am Robot Herby Dentist Bot Head

Servo bots playing soccer and laser tag:

Robo Soccer Robot Laser Tag

A concierge robots, including one with a virtual robot concierge on its chest:

Aro - Concierge Inside a Concierge Service Robot Enon

Tiny, tiny motors:

Tiny Namiki Motors


Squse Hand (1) Yaskawa Hand Hand with non-functional ultrasonic wrist (1) Hand

Freaky dentist bot and contemplative Rubics cube solver:

Dentist Bot 2 Motoman Rubics Cube Solver

Industrial arms:

Kuka 1000kg arm Fanuc candy packaging (1) Fast Toshiba arm Nachi

And more:

Ladybug (1) Kawasaki balancing bot Hexapod Flexpicker Furo Halluc II Comet IV

Photos set (115 Photos)

December 6, 2007

Bicycling robot - Murata Boy


The engineers at Murata have a bicycling robot, aka "Murata Boy", which combines my love of cycling and robots. From what I can tell from the videos, it can do track stands on a flat floor, pedal forward and in reverse, handle low speed turning, and detect large obstacles. They don't show it on real terrain, but it still seems a fairly impressive feat to balance so well, though a robot can sense imbalances much more quickly than a human. At IREX 2007 I saw a Kawasaki robot that was able to balance two small wooden manikins mounted on metal poles -- I tried myself and it was fairly impossible for a human to do.


December 5, 2007

Pleo abuse

pleo1.jpgWe're awaiting the arrival of our Pleo dinosaurs here at work. After playing with one in Tokyo I really want to see more of what it can do. In the meantime, the folks at dvice have already gone to the trouble of posting video of many forms of Pleo abuse, which at least covers what you shouldn't make it do.

December 3, 2007

IREX Robo-One Grand Championship

I skipped out on the championship to have some delicious teppanyaki. From what I can see of the video of the final battle above, Robo-ONE has really come a long way. I'm not used to the fights actually resembling fights -- this one actually has the feel of an old video game, where your character has a dodge and attack that must be carefully timed to your opponent.

November 19, 2007

Robot-y Tokyo recommendations

We're off on a company field trip to Japan next week. Most of the time will be taken up with a giant robot expo there, but they'll also be time to explore Akihabara and the surrounding Tokyo area. Places that have already caught my interest include:

Any other robot-y places that people can recommend?

November 12, 2007

Robot Guitar

robotguitar.jpgApropos some dinner conversation last night, Gibson launched the "Robot Guitar" today. The name implies a guitar that plays itself -- instead its much simpler and more useful: a guitar that tunes itself. It should help you get up and running from a broken string much quicker, or keep you from having to change guitars between songs with different tunings.

A glowing LED knob lets you set the desired tuning and also illuminates the current setting. Some advanced perks include changing your fundamental frequency, custom tunings -- you store it by strumming the guitar in the desired tuning -- and string winding/unwinding for when you want to change your set of strings. You do have to charge the guitar every 200 tunings or so, but that can be done over your normal guitar cord with a special adapter.

The Web site features a countdown to the 12/7/2007 release of the limited edition first run -- a general release won't be until 2008.

Gibson has previously innovated with an ethernet-capable guitar.


November 10, 2007

More DARPA Grand Challenge Photos

CMU - The Boss Urban Challenge (3)

Cornell Stuck (4) Urban Challenge (9)

I've finished processing my photos from the DARPA Urban Challenge. The latest photos feature a lot more multi-car action, like Cornell blocking Junior and photos from the four-way intersection in Area B.

November 4, 2007

Urban Challenge Bumps and Scrapes 4: Terramax

Terramax (2)

Terramax Crash Sequence (17) Terramax Crash Sequence (19)

Terramax, with its comically ginormous size, was definitely a crowd favorite. Someone even told me that it got the loudest cheer at the start. But as much as we wanted to see Terramax succeed, we also wanted to see Terramax destroy.

I was confronted with a sad sight as I walked past the A-course parking mission. Terramax was stranded in the middle of the lot as VT's Odin breezed through and completed a mission. The engine noise that Terramax made as it sat idling in the middle of the lot was akin to a trapped animal or visually like a beached whale.

After several minutes, the noises changed. Terramax had made a decision: forward. Slowly it rolled over the median. Slowly it crossed the road. Slowly it rolled up the entrance to the Exchange and bonk -- pillar. I'm not sure why the DARPA chase car didn't stop this Fish-Called-Wanda-esque, slow-motion collision, but as a photographer I appreciate it.

The damage to Terramax was minimal -- not even a building is worthy of more than scratched bumper paint.


Terramax Crash Sequence (1) Terramax Crash Sequence (2) Terramax Crash Sequence (3) Terramax Crash Sequence (4) Terramax Crash Sequence (5) Terramax Crash Sequence (6) Terramax Crash Sequence (7) Terramax Crash Sequence (8) Terramax Crash Sequence (9) Terramax Crash Sequence (10) Terramax Crash Sequence (11) Terramax Crash Sequence (12) Terramax Crash Sequence (13) Terramax Crash Sequence (14) Terramax Crash Sequence (15)


Urban Challenge Bumps and Scrapes 3: Cornell vs. MIT

Post MIT Crash Cornell MIT Post Crash

Cornell's SkyNet vehicle started to exhibit a very bad behavior during the finals: when it came to a turn it would stop, wait a minute, move forward a foot, and then stop again. In one of the worse instances of this, it blocked Stanford's Junior for around 20 minutes before team members had to come out and get it moving.

MIT's Talos found itself behind SkyNet during one of its start/stop fits. Talos saw the stopped car and did what it thought was best: it started to pass SkyNet. Unfortunately, Talos' timing was off and SkyNet started to surge forward again just as MIT was completing the pass. Their front sensors interlocked in an expensive embrace.

By the time I arrived the cars had just been pulled apart, but I managed to snap a shot of the left-bumper damage on SkyNet.

Urban Challenge Bumps and Scrapes 2: UCF

UCF - Offcourse (1)I only had time to get a quick snap off before UCF's car disappeared up the front yard of an abandoned house. The car was coming around a bend in the road and confused the dirt yard with actual road.

Unlike the rest of the eliminated vehicles, which were retrieved by team members and taken to elimination row, UCF's was left there for the remainder of the race. I walked around the fences to a different vantage point and was confronted with an anthropomorphically sad sight -- one of the car's SICK scanners was still tilting back and forth, confused, lost, and abandoned.

UCF - Offcourse UCF - Offcourse (2) UCF UCF - Offcourse (3)

Urban Challenge Bumps and Scrapes 1: CarOLO

CarOLO-Post Crash (1)

CarOLO-Post Crash (2) CarOLO-Post Crash

CarOLO (2)CarOLO was one of the last cars to be eliminated from the finals -- I can't remember if they were before or after UCF. I didn't see the crash, which was in off limits B territory, but I did get to see the drive of shame as the car exited under non-autonomous control. Their car and team made a valiant effort and the front bumper more so: it took the brunt of CarOLO's impact and probably saved the expensive IBEO sensor from damage.

CMU wins DARPA Urban Challenge

The Boss (2) Junior VT - Odin - Third Place (3)

Urban Challenge Finals Photos

Winners of the DARPA Urban Challenge have been announced. Congratulations to CMU/Tartan Racing, which takes first place. Second place goes to Stanford and third to Virginia Tech.

Official results haven't been released yet, but CMU's adjusted time was about 20 minutes faster than Stanford and 40 minutes faster than Virginia Tech. Amazingly, none of the teams were penalized for traffic violations and CMU's averaged 14mph over the course.

Copy of IMG_3485 Copy of IMG_3471 VT - Odin - Third Place (4)

November 3, 2007

Back from the Urban Challenge

We drove down to Victorville at 1am and back at 4pm -- needless to say the words are a bit blurry right now and the photos won't get uploaded until tomorrow. Many thanks to my coworker who is a much better no-sleep driver than I.

In eight hours we'll find out who the official Urban Challenge winner is. Right now I'm leaning towards CMU's Boss, though I want it to go to VT for doing so well with far less -- perhaps there should be handicaps based on $value of sensors used.

Stanford's Junior crossed the finish line first, but it barely had time to get off the finish line before Boss crossed. Virginia Tech's Odin was close behind. The fact that those three managed to finish the nearly six hour course within minutes of each other is a sign of how well each ran the course, but reports were that CMU's run was more flawless.

The actual finish time only served as a rough grouping -- Stanford, CMU, and VT were clearly best, UPenn ran a solid conservative approach in the middle, and Cornell and MIT were last (of the finishers). CMU several minutes after Stanford and VT, but I also witnessed Junior stuck behind Cornell's car for 20-or-so minutes and another 10-or-so minutes behind the MIT/Cornell crash. It will be up to the judges to tally up points and minutes and come up with an official score, which is a bit of a flaw in the design of the current challenge -- no one really understands what the scoring system is.

Any of the finishers can lay claim to an impressive feat, so it only with alma mater pride that I take a slight dig at Cornell. Cornell's SkyNet and MIT's Talos were the worst of the best, finishing almost two hours after the top three and forty-five minutes after UPenn's slow-and-steady Little Ben. They seemed doomed to scrap it out after Talos attempted to pass SkyNet and ended up getting rammed -- the teams had to carefully pry the interlocked sensors apart.

It seemed that Cornell had the upper hand over MIT as SkyNet made it to the final traffic circle first. Then it stopped. And sat for minutes. With the finish line in sight. Talos pulled up and turned onto the finishing straight. SkyNet seemed to sense its loss as it promptly unstuck and crossed the finish line last.

November 2, 2007

DARPA Urban Challenge NQE Photos

CMU's Boss

Team Gray's "Autonomous Car in a Box"

Copy of IMG_2565

I've posted my photos from the qualifying round of the DARPA Urban Challenge. As I only got to see 1.5 actual runs that day, most of my photos are from the pits. You can admire the sensory overload of CMU's Boss (above), or the seamless hiding of Team Lux, or the simplicity of Team Gray's "autonomous car in a box" (also above).

NOTE: most of the cars that I photographed in the pit are the teams' backup cars and are not always identical in configuration.

2007 DARPA Urban Challenge NQE Photos

November 1, 2007

DARPA Urban Challenge: 11 enter, 1 leaves

The 11 finalists for the Urban Challenge have been announced: CMU, Stanford, Virginia Tech, MIT, Cornell, UPenn, UCF, AnnieWay, Intelligent Vehicle Systems, CarOLO, and OshKosh. Up to 20 were to be allowed, but DARPA decided that there weren't 20 vehicles that were safe enough to compete in the finals.

The finale will be a 6-hour, 60 mile race. It sounds like this will be the first time that the vehicles will be put on the same course as one another. If it's going to be a demolition derby, Team OshKosh will be able to roll over the competition. DARPA chief Tony Tether has tapped CMU's Boss as the best overall performing thus far and OshKosh as the best on the Course A left-turn-merge course.

DARPA Urban Challenge quals

I flew down to Victorville for the day to watch Wednesday's qualifiers. It probably wasn't the best day to visit as the good teams had already qualified -- CMU, Stanford, Cornell, UPenn, Virginia Tech, and CarOLO -- and the really bad teams (i.e. crash-worthy) had already been disqualified. What were left were the teams that, while not dangerous, didn't have all the bugs shaken out, which meant a lot of delays. In the six hours that I was there, I only saw one run, which occurred after about an hour of delays. The run was by Team Gray on the 'C' course, which seemed to go well enough for three laps before some sort of incident required the team to jump in the golf cart and go service the stopped vehicle. I also saw the comically large OshKosh vehicle get stuck trying to navigate its way to the B course.

The highlight was going through the team pits and getting to peak in everyone's cars. Team Gray's was one of my favorite cars because they've compartmentalized their processing to a small blue box with dual Pentium Ms, which stands in stark contrast the the 10-20 rack Core2Duo units that several other teams are using. MIT's and CMU's cars were covered with every sensor known to man. Hopefully I'll have time to post some photos soon.

Some of my co-workers got to see Stanford's smooth A course run, which was brought to an early close due to its great execution. Apparently it took them two tries to pass the course -- their theory was that DARPA's radios were causing interference with the velodyne. They also saw Caltech's A course run, which was dangerously amusing: the van ran the wrong way on the course, to the terror of the DARPA stunt drivers.

DARPA has hundreds of Ford Taurus' for the event. The cars are pretty cool -- the interiors have been replaced with a roll cage and bucket race seat, and many appear to have wireless cameras attached to the roof. You could easily shoot a Hollywood movie using the Urban Challenge as a backdrop: abandoned, decrepit military housing with identical DARPA vehicles parked in the driveways as robotic cars creep around: a utopian universe gone awry.

October 25, 2007

Robots dance

Robots meet

On of our robots got to meet Anybots' Monty at Robodevelopment. After cordially shaking hands (above) they awkwardly danced liked children at an elementary school dance. The parents had to intervene after a failed pirouette.

Robots dance Robots dance

October 24, 2007

Hitting the press

August 29, 2007

Looj? Really?


Engadget posted about a new iRobot: the Looj, for your gutters. Unlike iRobot's other consumer offerings, it's designed to operate by remote control and you have to carry it from gutter to gutter -- I'm struggling more than usual for an iRobot product to see the point here. But I live in California now, what do I know anymore about rain gutters?

Engadget: iRobot's Looj wants to clean yer damn gutters

June 17, 2007

Robogames 2007 Videos Part II

RoboGames.jpgSome more video from Robogames in San Francisco. This time around there's robot hockey, Crab-Fu's awesome steam robots, and an instance of Uncanny Valley

Continue reading "Robogames 2007 Videos Part II" »

Robogames 2007 Videos Part I: Robot Combat

RoboGames.jpgSparks, shrapnel, robots sent flying, and smoke: keep reading if these interest you. I went to Robogames in San Francisco for the closing day and watched robots all the way from 1 pound up to 340 pounds compete. Robots were knocked out of the ring. One robot had all four of its wheel systematically sliced off. Others just battered each other repeatedly. Great fun.

Continue reading "Robogames 2007 Videos Part I: Robot Combat" »

June 4, 2007

RoboGames: June 15-17, Fort Mason, San Francisco

When: Fri-Sun, June 15-17, 2007, Noon - 10pm
Where: Fort Mason, San Francisco
Cost: $20, $15/kids 7-17

RoboGames is the world's largest open robot competition (even the Guinness Book of World Records says so!) We invite the best minds from around the world to compete in over 70 different events. Combat robots, walking humanoids, soccer bots, sumo bots, and even androids that do kung-fu. Some robots are autonomous, some are remote controlled - but they're all cool!

I went to this event back when it was called Robolympics (the 'Olympics' sued them for a name change, not sure how that works). It was a lot of fun and should offer even more robot-grinding action than Maker Faire. To whet your appetite, here's some old entries from Robolympics days:

May 14, 2007

Robots with medals

At the Yuma Test Grounds in Arizona, the autonomous robot, 5 feet long and modeled on a stick-insect, strutted out for a live-fire test and worked beautifully, he says. Every time it found a mine, blew it up and lost a limb, it picked itself up and readjusted to move forward on its remaining legs, continuing to clear a path through the minefield.

Finally it was down to one leg. Still, it pulled itself forward. Tilden was ecstatic. The machine was working splendidly.

The human in command of the exercise, however -- an Army colonel -- blew a fuse.

The colonel ordered the test stopped.

Why? asked Tilden. What's wrong?

The colonel just could not stand the pathos of watching the burned, scarred and crippled machine drag itself forward on its last leg.

This test, he charged, was inhumane.

The Washington Post has a fascinating article on how robots in the war field are being anthropomorphized. Soldiers show emotional attachments to particular robots, some models are considered to have personality, and some event get medals:

"When we first got there, our robot, his name was Frankenstein" says Sgt. Orlando Nieves, an EOD from Brooklyn. "He'd been in a couple of explosions and he was made of pieces and parts from other robots." Not only did the troops promote him to private first class, they awarded him an EOD badge -- a coveted honor. "It was a big deal. He was part of our team, one of us. He did feel like family."

The gist of the article seems to undercut attempts to actually add emotions and personality to robots: it seems that we as humans are pretty good at attributing those characteristics even when they aren't actually designed in.

I had a brief hint of the anthropomorphic attribution when I attended an iRobot talk a year ago. Some of the robots in the Washington Post article are iRobot's Packbots and the iRobot talk provided this fun factoid:

On April 8, 2004, Packbot 129 became the first packbot to be 'killed in action.' US soldiers managed to retrieve all of its parts and it is now framed for display.

Taking this one step further, the article mentions that UAV operators can now receive the Distinguished Flying Cross.

WashingtonPost: Bots on the Ground

December 30, 2006

Don't believe in Uncanny Valley?


More over at engadget

December 11, 2006

Asimo fall down

littlestar and parakkum got me a great R2-D2 robot that I can send spinning around a table. The trick that gets everyone's applause is when I cause the robot to fall over. For all the chirping and whistling noises it makes, it's the satisfying thunk of falling that convinces everyone that it is real.

Now witness the video above. Brave Asimo robot attempts to climb up stairs. Poor Asimo falls down. Dumb Asimo continues to talk even as it lies on the ground broken and its handlers pull screens around it to hide its pain.


April 23, 2006

Maker Faire

Maker Faire was so much bigger and better than I thought it would be. I thought it would be great, but it was amazing. There were multiple pavilions crammed with eye-catching maker-foo and everywhere inbetween was interestingness as well. It was part Burning Man, part science fair, part RoboOlympics, part Web 2.0 conference, part RoboNexus, part DorkBot, part arts and crafts fair, part who knows. m, d, and I went on Saturday and I couldn't resist going back for Sunday as well. Some highlights:

Maker Faire-07 Maker Faire-10 Maker Faire-17 Maker Faire-13 Maker Faire-06 Maker Faire-15

  • Parallax had some great workshops, great in that you got to walk away with ~$70 worth of hardware for only $15. I made an RFID reader and a ultrasonic range finder. It's a good investment on their part -- I'm very tempted to get into BASIC Stamp programming now and also get one of their boe-bots: they showed off how you can mount the range finder on a swivel to turn it into a short-range (3.3m) radar.
  • I had a great time relearning how to solder while making my own Simon game.
  • The MythBusters were there playing Segway Polo and test driving a Xebra. The parking lot smelled like burning after their test drive.
  • The fine folks of The Crucible had a firetruck flame-shooting apparatus and there was also the flame-shooting SS Alpha Fox. The booms were loud enough that it was shaking the workshop building next door.
  • I absolutely loved the Meccano models of Difference Engine #1 and #2 (photo 1, photo 2).
  • Lego was showing off their next generation of Mindstorms: NXT. I snapped a video of their NXT scorpion 'stinging' my hand. The NXT set should be Mac and PC compatible and will support Bluetooth. I previously abandoned Mindstorms immediately after I discovered the kit I bought required Windows 98.
  • The folks at Amazing Magnets had a about a liter of ferrofluid to play with -- much more than the 30mL I bought.
  • There were plenty of modified bicycles on display, like a lawnmower bike and a chopper bike. My favorite was the Harry Potter broom bike. I failed to tame that unruly broom ride.
  • The cartwheeling robots (video) that I last saw at Robolympics were back.
  • There was a live demonstration of glass-flower making (video)

This entry doesn't begin to cover what was at Maker Faire. If you're interested in finding out more, you can check out the official Maker Faire site, the 3000+ photos on Flickr, or my mediocre photoset.

March 31, 2006

It cleans while it maps

A co-worker of mine strapped a laser on top of a Roomba and turned it into a mapper: Roomba Mapper. For $2000 you could build one of our own :).

March 30, 2006

DARPA Grand Challenge on PBS

NOVA aired a special called The Great Robot Race covering the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. If you missed it, PBS has been kind enough to post the entire program online -- sweet.

NOVA also has one of my favorite video podcasts. Recently, they've been airing amusing mini-programs from the DARPA Grand Challenge. Great stuff for people who short attention spans like me that want our stories in 2-3 minute chunks.

Previously: * Sebastian Thrun's talk on Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge * DARPA Grand Challenge link roundup

February 16, 2006

4th Law of Robotics

  1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
  4. "A robot must activate its red LED when disregarding the First, Second, or Third Law."

irobots.JPG hal.jpg terminator.jpg cylon.JPG

Sony recently cancelled the Qrio, an action that was attributed to cost-cutting and product division reorganization. Closer observers know that Sony was trying to forestall the robot uprising:


See also: RFC 3514 - The Security Flag in the IPv4 Header

December 1, 2005

Talk: iRobot

scoutChris Jones from iRobot gave a talk at SRI. He focused mostly on iRobot's government/industrial robots (the ones with big treads that you can throw through a window) rather than the delicate Roomba and Scooba home appliance robots (FYI: the Scooba was designed to cleanup dried peanut butter from your kitchen floor in one pass).

The main line of iRobot's government/industrial robots is the packbot. I saw one of these at Robonexus awhile back -- they had it continuosly going up a staircase and dropping several feet to the ground. These things are tough (rated to 400Gs) and can handle all sorts of terrain with their tread and flipper design. The idea is that a soldier would throw this robot (e.g. through a window, around a corner, etc...) and then use a laptop to guide the robot around and get back video. You can outfit the packbot with an arm that can hold a camera or 'disruptor' for destroying explosive devices. They've even put a parachute and fan on a packbot to make it fly. A packbot is rugged enough that when it reaches the deployment zone it can just cut its parachute in order to land, or, in the case of one video he showed us, when the packbot gets piloted into a tree.


Some tidbits from the talk:

  • Your home is a dangerous place: the algorithm that the Roomba uses to figure out where to clean is adapted from a minefield coverage algorithm.
  • Leave no robot behind: On April 8, 2004, Packbot 129 became the first packbot to be 'killed in action.' US soldiers managed to retrieve all of its parts and it is now framed for display.
  • Lest they take over: The military doesn't like hearing about robot 'autonomy,' so iRobot markets their robots to the military as being like remote control cars. Now that the military has been using them in combat operations, they are now asking for more autonomous features like "come home so we can get the hell outta here."

Continue reading "Talk: iRobot" »

October 31, 2005

Talk: Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge

I went to go see Sebastian Thrun speak at Stanford about his team's winning effort in the DARPA Grand Challenge. Thrun described the contest as how to stay on the road for a very long time. It was not a general path-finding problem: DARPA gives you the route with a corridor you have to follow, as well as speed limits you have to observe for various parts of the course. Of course, DARPA didn't give perfect data. He showed a video generated from the data of Stanley driving through the most dangerous part of the course: the switchbacks of Beer Bottle Pass with a cliff on one side. DARPA's corridor was overlaid on top of Stanley's sensor data and it was easy to see that much of DARPA's corridor was actually over the cliff.

During training many traffic cones were "frequent victims of computer glitches," but Team Stanley was called "Team Boring" by the cleanup crew for their lack of incidents. The actual challenge was described as getting the data at 4AM, getting Stanley to the starting line at 6AM, and then sitting around drinking beer for several hours. The big moment came when Stanley passed CMU's Highlander as the CMU and Stanford teams listened to race radio. Thrun narrated the exciting finish for us: "[The head of DARPA] is waving his flag as if the car could see it."

Thrun said that they won mostly through luck given how close four of the teams finished. The speed limits set by DARPA for the various parts of the course were too conservative, so the cars were running below their full potential. DARPA also decided to make the course fairly easy. Asked if CMU would have won had they not had engine problems, Thrun answered, "In all likelihood, yes." Also, Team ENSCO had a faster average course time but flatted on "something really big CMU left behind" (the CMU part may have been a joke). Thrun felt that Stanford had better software than CMU and on a tougher course Stanford would have the advantage.

In the future, Thrun wants to try driving 65mph on 280, parking in a garage, convoy driving, and driving assist. Part of his motivation is to reduce traffic deaths, which a driving assist system could help prevent. He also feels that a fully automated system would change society by allowing you to use your commute time productively -- you could even drive to your destination, get out, and then send your car to go park in a parking garage farther away. These are still looking far ahead. In response to someone asking what it would take to drive at human-controlled speeds, Thrun related it to asking the Wright brothers, "If you want to fly over the Atlantic, what's missing?"

Continue reading "Talk: Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge" »

October 11, 2005

DARPA Grand Challenge

This year's DARPA Grand Challenge looks like it was pretty awesome. People from work have been sending links to their photos (see below) and it's amazing to me to think that in the year since the inaugural competition there are already five autonomous robotic vehicles that completed the 130 mile course and the $2M prize has been claimed. I'm also happy to see that students from my high school were on a team (ENSCO) that made it two-thirds of the way through the course and finished sixth (highest of the non-finishers).

Yesterday I got to talk with someone who got to drive a chase car in last year's Grand Challenge. The vehicle he was following had been programmed to avoid obstacles and had a general plan for getting to the destination, but it didn't have much else. What happens when you only teach a vehicle to avoid obstacles? It finds obstacles and then avoids them, so instead of driving along the road, it would find two bushes along the side of the road and drive between them.

October 23, 2004


Posted some photos from Robonexus onto my flickr page. Some samples are below, but there are more. Robonexus was interesting, though I think that for staring at cool robots doing stuff Roboolympics was a bit better, even if it was a bit smaller. Robonexus had better robots, but for the most part they were sitting there doing absolutely nothing (there were scheduled demos, but they were often packed). What Robonexus was good for was finding out where to buy robot parts and other toys from. I really want to get one of the RF-controlled flying saucers that Robot Store was showing off, but it's not listed on their site yet.

SRI's own Centibots looking for the pink box.

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Swarm robots from iRobot

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Flying saucer
Definitely gonna get one of these. I wonder if it's possible to get a very light camera attached?

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October 12, 2004


I'm going to RoboNexus in Santa Clara on Oct. 23 to stare at cool robots. Anybody else interested? Expo passes are $15 free if you contact me early (I should be able to get a couple extras).

September 17, 2004

Mecha Roaches and Geckos

Bob Full gave an interesting forum at PARC almost three years ago to this day, so there was a bit of nostalgia when I came across this press release updating on his progress with his cockroach and gecko.

PARC Forum: Bipedal Bugs, Galloping Ghosts and Gripping Geckos: BioInspired Computer Animation, Robots and Adhesives

August 12, 2004

AAAI Photos: Personal Rover

Although the conference floor was rather sparse with booths, there were two booths that caught my attention: NASA and a Maze of Carnage. The NASA booth had a small playpen with one of their personal rovers that I thought was pretty neat. Its head has a tilting camera that can be programmed to take panoramic photos. Granted, the resulting photo is stitched together horribly, but you forgive the robot for its cuteness.


Continue reading "AAAI Photos: Personal Rover" »

July 27, 2004

Talk: A Multi-Resolution Pyramid for Outdoor Robot Terrain Perception

Michael Montemerlo and Sebastian Thrun, Stanford

Elegant solution for managing short-range and long-range mapping data for robot navigation.

Continue reading "Talk: A Multi-Resolution Pyramid for Outdoor Robot Terrain Perception" »

Talk: Real Robots for the Real World

Sebastian Thrun, Stanford

This talk was mostly over my head in terms of the math, but the work is interesting.

Continue reading "Talk: Real Robots for the Real World" »

Talk: AI and the New Exploration Vision

Dan Clancy, NASA

I enjoyed this talk -- it was a survey of NASA's current AI-based missions, including current and future Mars missions (Sojourner/Spirit/Opportunity). metamanda would have liked at least one point the talk made, which was that NASA is working on a personal rover robot to create/inspire kids, and in particular, girls. They have found in their exhibits that robots are more engaging to girls than boys, who enjoy the embodied interaction, so they see in it an opportunity to bridge a gender gap as well as inspire a future generation in NASA's vision. It was interesting how the Personal Exploration Rover pictures really did look like baby versions of the Spirit/Opportunity rovers, i.e. there was a certain amount of anthropomorphism to the vehicle, and it appeared child-like that could help engender a care-taker relationship between a kid and the robot.

Read on for notes.

Continue reading "Talk: AI and the New Exploration Vision" »

July 21, 2004

I, kwc

I passed up an opportunity to see I, Robot with John McCarthy last night. Not sure if this was a good or a bad thing.

May 6, 2004

Talk: Clearing the building

Clear the building: Pursuit-evasion with limited field of view
Brian Gerkey
Stanford Robotics Laboratory
(with Sebastian Thrun)

Note: most of the notes are copied from the bullets on the presentation slides as the presentation was going very quickly.

Continue reading "Talk: Clearing the building" »

April 29, 2004


Jed sent me this cool-looking video of a robotic policeforce of the future:
The Embassy Visual Effects Inc.

March 22, 2004

Robolympics photos

As promised, photos from the Robolympics. I've posted a couple here, there are more in the extended entry.

photo photo

Continue reading "Robolympics photos" »

March 21, 2004


I made it over to the ROBOlympics for several hours today. It was lots of dorky fun. There were some exciting robots fights, with plenty of sparks and metal flying, much more than I actually expected. I was hoping to capture a photo of sparks flying, but my digital camera couldn't cope with the high-speed action, and I also ran out of batteries.

(I will try to add photos to the descriptions in the entry when I get a chance.)

The coolest robots I thought were the Japanese bipedal robots, which look a lot like Japanime robots (photo). There were the lamest in terms of fighting, as they usually fell over under their own weight, and their punches were more for show than force, but they made up for their lack of fighting ability with style. Imagine one-two foot tall robots fighting it out as in a Japanese anime. There were taunting moves, flexing, 'power-ups,' waves, bows, somersaults, and headstands, and the robots could stand up on their own when they fell (which was pretty frequent). When the fights ended, it was usually a chance for the winning robot would usually do some winning pose/move.

I didn't fully understand how they worked, but each robot had one person with a fairly basic remote control, and it also appeared that there was another person controlling the robot using a laptop. I heard one person quote that they cost $7000 a piece, which sounds right for how much probably goes into those things.

There was also the more traditional battlebots-style contests. The wedge robot contests tended to be more than a bit boring, as it involve one robot driving around with the other on top of it for two minutes, though there were some wedge robots that were capable of flipping the other robot pretty high into the air. There was one robot that I liked, even though it lost, called Cyclone, which was a large spinning disc. When it moved you could see all the dirt/metal dust move away from force of it spinning. Vicious Circle out-manuevered it, though, and managed to dismantle Cyclone with a spinning blade.

The Mike Tyson of the robots had to be The Judge. It took out No Apologies with a single, pnuematic-driven blow. One blow, and No Apologies just sat there with a fist-sized dent in its top.

I also liked the Locust, which is a basically a buzzsaw with wheels. Despite getting thrown up into the lexan glass surrounding the stage, it managed to keep tearing large chunks out of its competitor until it couldn't take anymore.

My only disappointment was not seeing any of the flame-based robots, but there was only so many hours of robot fighting I could watch before I wanted to go home and rest up from last night :).

March 20, 2004


I'm such a dork, but I definitely want to stop by the Robolympics tomorrow. Here are the event listings. They have robosoccer, robot combat, robot sumo, robots fighting with fire, and much more.

August 13, 2003

Uncanny Valley

I found out about the notion of "The Uncanny Valley" while reading this article (popular science) about a guy who built a realistic robotic head as a result of a pickup line for his now girlfriend/fiance ("Can I make you into a robot?").

Uncanny ValleyThe Uncanny Valley was conceptualized by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, who argued that initially, as you make a robot more human-like, the emotional response of humans to it increases. At a certain point, though, if you make the robot more human-like, the emotional response plummets into a sharp negative reaction. Only when the robot approaches nearly perfect simulation does the curve rise once more.
- More on the Uncanny Valley

Update (04/20/04): Uncanny Valley example

June 30, 2003

Rescue Bots

KoKoRo posted links to some videos of some interesting rescue robots with the typical snake- and spider-style. It immediately made me think of PARC's PolyBots. The suprising/cool robot of the bunch was a two-wheelin' jumpin' robot (check out the video): robot

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to kwc blog in the Robots category.

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Current entries can be found on the main page.