Monday, August 04, 2008

New Podcast

Check out Robots, the new podcast for news and views on robotics.



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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Talking Robots - Final Episode

Talking Robots: Robots and You With 45 interviews with high profile people in robotics, nearly 200'000 downloads and a good insight on today's and tomorrow's robotics,here we are now with the final episode of Talking Robots dedicated to what the general public thinks about robots.

"Hey, do you have 2 minutes to talk about robots?"

Whether in Boston or in Lausanne, the result was the same: worn out shoes and a pocket recorder with no more memory. Four interviews were finally selected, between enthusiasm for the Roomba, skepticism toward intelligent robots and a bit of a gap between roboticists' and the public perception. Interviewees include an army recruitment sergeant of the US military, a science fiction writer, a Boston tour guide and finally an employee in a retirement home. While the interviews are not intended to represent the general opinion, they provide another source of information, next to the papers, scientists and the industry as to how robots will be affecting our future

In addition we speak with Dario Floreano, the initiator and director of the Talking Robots podcast and the director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, at the EPFL in Switzerland. He concludes this series with a retrospective on these two past years and a note on the future.

Future which will include Robots, the podcast for news, interviews and discussions on all aspects of robotics. In addition to insights from high-profile professionals, Robots will take you for a ride through the world's research labs, robotics companies and their latest innovations. You can directly subscribe to the feed through iTunes or any other podcatcher by clicking on the following links:

New Robots Podcast in iTunesRobots Podcast feed-me New Robots RSS feedRobots Podcast feed-me

Finally, a special thanks to all our listeners and interviewees which have made this podcast possible. Special thanks to Dario Floreano (left in picture) for initiating and directing Talking Robots. A round of applause for Peter Dürr (center) who has been doing all the magic behind the scene, with the recording, editing and jingles. Markus Waibel (right) has also been there from the start with the interviews and helping with getting the word out. And finally thanks to Daniel Marbach for the web design.

Hope to see you in two weeks.




  • Congratulations for the great job you did since the first podcast!

    I really hope to find - on the new Robots - the same quality of the contributions that I got used to listen here.

  • Anonymous Anonymous said on 5/28/2008 12:29 PM  

    -yup congrats too- I hope your new endeavors will be as good as the past shows.

    all the best from Germany.

  • I was so disappointed that the Talking Robots podcast was coming to an end. Now I am immensely relieved & delighted that the new Robots podcast will emerge from the ashes and carry on. And I'm glad the existing run of podcasts remain available online -- they are a tremendous resource. I hope the new Robots podcast will continue to deal with the topic in the same broad way, including discussions of Artificial Intelligence, Language Acquisition, etc., that the original Talking Robots podcast did so well.

  • Congratulations! I really enjoyed these podcasts. They have been very inspiring. I was in shock when I looked for an update and it said FINAL. aaaarrgggg!! ....oh, what? robots? oh, wow, thats even better, more official sounding than talking robots which is sort of "nitch market" sounding. (but I love the nitch) hurray!

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Henry Markram - Blue Brain Robotics

Talking Robots: Henry Markram - The Blue Brain Project In this episode of Talking Robots we speak with Henry Markram who is the director of the Blue Brain Project, director of the Center for Neuroscience & Technology and co-director of EPFL's Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland.

While most roboticists have been working on abstracting the brain, the Blue Brain project has been painting the whole picture of a rat neocortical column (NCC) from the bottom up; starting with the cells, neurons, and finally pulling the connections which generate the jungle of the mind (see video below).

Thanks to their collaboration with IBM and the resulting Blue Gene supercomputer, their simulations of a 10'000 neuron NCC have been shown to correctly reproduce in-vivo experiments on the rat. Markram's team is now digging deeper in to the molecular level and will eventually build up an entirely reverse-engineered model of the human brain (aimed for 2015). Because the functioning of the brain is a result of more than just the sum of its parts, it seems that modeling our grey matter as a whole might result in emergent features such as consciousness or self representation and provide necessary tools for the study of brain disorders such as Alzheimer's or Autism.

Finally, robots embedded with an in-silico replication of the brain might not only be more efficient in communicating, showing emotions and planning, they will also serve as essential testbeds to better understand what's happening in our head.




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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Yoky Matsuoka - Neurobotic Prosthetics

Talking Robots: Yoky Matsuoka - Neurobotic Prosthetics In this episode of Talking Robots we speak with Yoky Matsuoka who is the director of the Neurobotics Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA.

Boosted by her nomination as MacArthur Fellow she has been recognized as a leader in the emerging field of neurobotics.

With her team, she's been focusing on understanding how the central nervous system coordinates musculoskeletal action and how robotic technology can enhance the mobility of people with manipulation disabilities. Closely mimicking the neuromusculoskeletal aspects of the anatomy of the human hand, her Anatomically Correct Testbed hand (ACT) provides a robotic platform which can eventually be used as a prosthetic device or an experimentation platform for neuro- and plastic-surgeons investigating the secrets of dexterous manipulation (video below). Applications also include teleoperating a robotic hand in space operations, or maybe just shaking hands with a colleague on the other side of the world (as proposed by Cynthia Breazeal). To have the ACT hand actually act like a real one, signals emitted by the human muscles or brain are rewired to the robot and control its movements, in a natural manner.

Similar signals can also be used to control a hand exoskeleton for upper spinal cord patients suffering from a loss of precise control in the upper limbs and hands, and has even allowed a disabled student to eat... a twinkie. While most of today's neurobotics projects yet strive to come out of the lab, they hold a life-changing potential for those suffering from strokes and reduced mobility. Yoky Matsuoka also discusses the need for "rules" on how these technologies should be used in the future (see Sarcos's Military Exoskeleton).

Finally, the Neurobotics Lab is also involved in the use of virtual environments and visual feedback to improve recovering stroke patients' perceptions of tasks they perform during therapy.




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Friday, April 11, 2008

Cynthia Breazeal - Personal Robots

Talking Robots: Cynthia Breazeal - Personal Robots In this episode of Talking Robots we interview Cynthia Breazeal who is an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA, where she founded and directs the Personal Robots Group at the Media Lab.

With her creaturoids, animoids, humanoids and robotized objects, Breazeal has been working to make robots and humans team up in a human-centric way, work together as peers, and learn from one another.

Hollywood understood a long while back that for robots such as those in I, Robot, Star Wars or A.I. to be compelling and understandable to the public, robots had to interact with humans in a way which produces behaviors, feeling and expressions intuitive for the everyday movie monger. The step from "shedding a tear" for A.I.'s robot boy to genuinely connecting to a real autonomous robot is finally being made thanks to Breazeal's work on personal robots such as the very expressive Kismet humanoid (video below), the Huggable™ robot teddy and Leonardo the social creature.

In the end, designing robots which can socially interact with humans will most likely result in the better understanding of what it is to be human. And, until personal robots are ready to enter our homes and assist us in our everyday tasks, maybe we can start by being friends with the MDS humanoid (video below)?




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Friday, March 28, 2008

Kerstin Dautenhahn - Therapy Robots for Autism

Talking Robots: Kerstin Dautenhahn - Therapy Robots for Autism In this episode we interview Kerstin Dautenhahn who is Research Professor in the School of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences at University of Hertfordshire in the UK, where she is a coordinator of the Adaptive Systems Research Group.

Autism is a developmental disorder affecting around 91 people in every 10,000, mainly causing difficulties in social interactions, communication and imagination. Using therapy robots in the AuRoRA project, Dautenhahn has been pushing autistic children to learn essential social skills such as turn taking, joint attention and imitation. Armed with a lot of patience and zeal, her team has been adapting their robots and therapy sessions to each individual child, whether it's about playing with Takashi Gomi's wheeled robots, imitating Aude Billard's Robota doll or drumming with Dautenhahn's toddler-sized Kaspar humanoid.

Kasper Humanoid

While simplifying the desired human-human interactions to a more predictable human-robot interaction seems to encourage the development of social behaviors, one can wonder how this translates up to the child's interactions with humans. To investigate this, the Interactive RObotic social MEdiators as Companions (IROMEC) project has been looking at how autistic children can learn to cooperate and interact with each other through the introduction of a robotic mediator.

Kerstin Dautenhahn is also active in several other areas of Human Robot Interactions with the Cognitive Robot Companion (Cogniron) project or the ROBotic Open-architecture Technology for Cognition, Understanding and Behavior (Robot-Cub) project.




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Friday, March 14, 2008

Frédéric Kaplan - Curious Interactive Robots

Talking Robots: Frédéric Kaplan - Curious Interactive Robots In this episode we interview Frederic Kaplan. After ten years of research at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, he is now researcher at the CRAFT at the EPFL in Lausanne Switzerland where he supervises a new team focusing on interactive furniture and robotic objects.

Curiosity is usually seen as a quality in humans, a learning driver. When a 1 month old puppy looks frightened and hesitant before a bright yellow tennis ball and finally jumps on it, shakes it in his jaw, throws it away and runs after it again, then curiosity becomes entertaining. Curious robots, however, are only starting to surprise us with their child-like open-ended learning abilities and lovability. Kaplan's curious AIBO is for example capable of learning how to interact with the toys on its play mat, first learning the simple behaviors before getting bored and moving on to more appealing ones. You can find the latest paper on the subject here or watch the video below.

Obviously challenges arise when your curious AIBO masters all the objects in its environment and reaches boredom. Problem solved with the new toys rich in learning opportunities developed through the close interaction between designers at the ECAL in Lausanne and Kaplan's team.

Rich of this collaboration with the artistic world, Kaplan and designer Martino d'Esposito have now created a robotic computer named the wizkid capable of interacting with people in its environment in a natural keyboard-free and mouse-free manner (see video below). Currently presented at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New-York, the wizkid has been playing around with the public, curious to know who it is interacting with. While this robot's debut was in the artistic spot light, its real application is thought to be in our everyday homes where it will take care of playing music, videos and of course entertaining us.

Finally, Kaplan has also recently been working on interactive furniture such as the reflect table which can visually pin-point the person who is monopolizing the conversation.




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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bradley Nelson - BioMicroRobotics

Talking Robots: Brad Nelson - BioMicroRobotics In this episode we interview Brad Nelson who is the Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at ETH Zürich.


Try to imagine designing a robot the size of the circle placed above. To put it simply, building a complete sub-mm robotic system capable of sensing, actuation and computation in an autonomous manner creates challenges which are several orders of magnitude greater than the envisioned robot size. Not to mention energy issues when the smallest batteries in the world are around 10 times bigger than the desired robot.

At the root of BioMicroRobotics, Nelson has taken the leap from imagination to reality with his microrobot for retinal surgery. Pushing the principle of "embodiment" to the extreme, he's by embedding the intelligence of his robot within their physical body. In the end, their shape, material and physical properties allow them to interact with the environment and subsequently harvest energy, perform sensing, and navigate through the human body.

Using similar principles, Nelson's lab won the 2007 RoboCup Nanogram Competition, the first year the event was held. The goal was to use autonomous microrobots smaller than 300μm to perform a series of soccer related tasks (a video of a microrobot dribbling a gold disk can be seen below).

So, just how far are we from the movie "Fantastic Voyage" and its miniature submarine and on-board crew, shrunken to microscopic size to navigate the blood stream of an endangered diplomat?




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Friday, February 15, 2008

Inman Harvey - Philosophy & Robotics

Talking Robots: Inman Harvey - Philosophy & Robotics In this episode we interview Inman Harvey who is researcher at the Center for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at the University of Sussex and faculty of the Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems Group at the same university.

With his background in Philosophy and Robotics, he has been tackling fundamental questions on how not to design Good Old Fashion Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (GOFAIR), addressing issues such as the need for representation or embodiment. The final choice of how an autonomous robot is implemented, relies on the roboticists philosophical understanding of cognition. Because we all do Philosophy of Mind using a Screwdriver, two robots with the same purpose (i.e. bipedal walking) might end up being fundamentally different, (Asimo VS. Harvey's passive dynamic walker).

However, is it enough to have a robot which acts intelligently, or is the "The Juice" still missing (term coined by Rodney Brooks)? Stated otherwise, how can a robot achieve meaning in its world or the necessary motivation to survive? Finally, he presents artificial evolution as an approach to the design of complex systems following his own philosophy of the mind and defends it's potential to surpass GOFAI and answer the "juice question".

Another of Harvey's areas of interest not presented in this interview concerns Gaia theory and its applicability to robot control.




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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Robin Murphy - Search and Rescue Robots

Talking Robots: Robin Murphy - Search and Rescue Robots In this podcast we interview Robin Murphy who is a founder and international leader in both rescue robotics and human-robot interaction, and was recognized by TIME Magazine in 2004 as an innovator in artificial intelligence. Her work in rescue robotics began in 1995, investigating artificially intelligent robots and new concepts of cooperative teams such as marsupial and heterogeneous teams, while also working directly with responders to establish the domain theory. As the Director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at the University of South Florida she was the first to introduce ground, air, and sea robots to disaster response, participating in the World Trade Center disaster (2001), La Conchita, CA, mudslides (2005), Hurricanes Charley (2004), Dennis (2005), Katrina (2005), and Wilma (2005), and the Newmont Midas (2007) and Crandall Canyon (2007) mine disasters.

In order to facilitate the transfer of research to industry and the emergency response community, in 2003 she established in partnership with the University of Minnesota the NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center on Safety, Security, and Rescue Technology, which she directed from 2003 to 2006.

Rescue robot WTC

From the RobocupRescue Competition to an actual disaster site the step is immense and the path is scattered with unthought-of challenges. Unless your robot robustly fits the terrain or is one-size fits all (i.e. it can fly, slither, jump, and swim) and you've done the training (Murphy is technical search specialist, Florida Task Force 3 regional urban search and rescue team), it might not make the cut. Further challenges are rescuer-robot interactions, victim-robot interactions and the logistics involved in moving quickly to the disaster area. In the end, search and rescue robots need to become a priority on the shopping-list of disaster relief agencies to be efficient. The market, however, is not quite ready.




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