April 4th, 2014

Robots: Termite-Inspired Construction

In this episode, we talk to Justin Werfel from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University about their latest paper published in Science on “Designing Collective Behavior in a Termite-Inspired Robot Construction Team”. This work was done with Kirstin Petersen and Radhika Nagpal, director of the Self-Organizing Systems Research Group.

Termites provide a beautiful example of how simple agents, using only local information, can build complex structures such as termite mounds. Taking inspiration from these swarm systems in nature, Werfel and colleagues have created TERMES robots that build three-dimensional structures without the need for any leader or prescribed roles. Such systems are typically scalable (i.e. you can add as many robots as you’d like) and robust to the failure of individual robots, making them ideal candidates for high-risk missions in space or disaster scenarios. The beetle-looking robots are able to carry and deposit blocks and navigate a structure. The challenge is to determine the simple rules the robots need to follow and that will give rise to the desired structure. To decide what rule to apply at a given time, the robots simply observe their local environment, checking if there is a block or not in front of them, and determining if they should add one as a result. This form of communication through the environment is called stigmergy and is an important concept in swarm systems. In the future, the authors hope to use their expertise to learn more about how termites are able to build their mounds.

Justin Werfel
justinJustin Werfel is a research scientist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. His research interests are in the understanding and design of complex and emergent systems. He is currently working on the development of robotic systems motivated by biological collectives, such as ant colonies, termites, and cellular slime molds, with Wyss faculty including Radhika Nagpal and Rob Wood. He completed his Ph.D. at MIT in 2006, developing algorithms to allow swarms of simple robots to autonomously build user-specified structures. His postdoctoral research at Harvard included further exploration of collective construction, work on the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors at the New England Complex Systems Institute, and cancer modeling at Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston.

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March 21st, 2014

Robots: EU Robotics Week

The European Robotics Week 2013 featured 334 robotics related events in 24 countries and attracted more than 55’000 participants spanning all ages. To give us a snapshot of the event, we talk to three organizers of robotics activities including Fiorella Operto in Italy, Roko Tschakarow in Germany, and Douwe Dresscher in the Netherlands.




Fiorella Operto
Fiorealla Operto is National Coordinator of the European Robotics Week in Italy and president of the School of Robotics. As an expert in science dissemination and popularization, she tells us about using robots to get kids excited about engineering, their ability to address questions in roboethics, the impact of creativity and theater, and programs such as “Roberta, Girls Discover Robots”.

Douwe Dresscher
Douwe Dresscher is a graduate student at the University of Twente in Robotics and Mechatronics. He tells us about the “kids corner” he organized during the EU robotics week that involved parking parents in a waiting room while their children were allowed to play and interact with a range of robots from his laboratory, including a Nao, a spider robot and a robot arm. He also tells us what inspires him to communicate about robotics and his research on dike inspection robots.

Roko Tschakarow
Roko Tschakarow is Business Director of Mobile Gripping Systems at SCHUNK, one of the largest manufacturers for automation components, toolholders and workholding equipment. SCHUNK organized a robotics challenge for local high-school students during the EU Robotics week. The goal was to design a LEGO robot that could localize and navigate towards a goal, or pick-up and transport an object. He tells us about the excitement generated, and their hope to inspire future generations of roboticists.

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March 7th, 2014

Robots: Privacy, Google, and Big Deals

What does it mean to have giants like Google, Apple and Amazon investing in robotics? Since last December, Google alone has acquired a handful of companies in robotics, home automation and artificial intelligence. This can be pretty exciting for robotics. But what exactly is the internet giant planning to do with this technology? Is there something we should be worried about? If there is, what can we do about it?

Experts have been actively talking about this in the media, including through Robohub’s recent focus series on Big Deals in Robotics.

In today’s episode, AJung talks with Avner Levin, a privacy and cybercrime expert, about Google’s recent acquisition of companies. Levin sheds light on why we should be concerned about the recent series of acquisitions by the big companies from privacy and cybercrime perspective. He also discusses whether the existing privacy policies are ready to handle what may lie shortly ahead of us in the future — the future of the Internet of Things, or perhaps Google branded robots.

Avner Levin

Avner Levin is the Chair of the Law & Business Department, as well as the Director of the Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute at Ryerson Universityin Toronto, Canada. His research interest is in regulation and protection of privacy with respect to technology within Canada and worldwide. In the interview, he advocates for more discussion of privacy issues to take place, not just within the companies that (do/will) hold our data, but by governing bodies.

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February 21st, 2014

Robots: 150th Episode Special

To celebrate our 150th episode, we take you back to our very beginnings. Some of our most loyal listeners might know that before the Robots Podcast launched in 2008, there was another podcast called Talking Robots. Talking Robots launched in 2006 and was the brain child of Dario Floreano from EPFL and his then PhD students. Those students then went on to found the Robots Podcast and the accompanying Robots Association, a non-profit dedicated to providing free high-quality information about the robotics to the public. After nearly a decade dedicated to spreading the word about robotics, we’ve grown to include members from around the world, we’ve launched new projects like Robohub which now includes of 35’000 unique monthly visitors and half a million followers on G+, and we’ve continued to produce bi-weekly interviews with leaders in robotics. None of this would be possible without our loyal listeners, and we thank you for tuning in for all these years!

Talking Robots Team in 2008 (from left to right: Dario, Peter, Markus and Sabine)

In homage to our very first episode with Talking Robots, we’ve brought together the original team. Markus, who’s now a senior researcher at ETHZ interviews Dario Floreano, Director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL and head of the Swiss NCCR Robotics. Should be fun to see how robotics has progressed over the past 8 years! And we look forward to the future with our growing team of podcasters.

Dario Floreano
Dario Floreano is the director of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL and director of the Swiss National Center of Competence in Robotics. He is member of the Global Agenda Council on Robotics and Smart Devices of the World Economic Forum, is co-founder of the company senseFly S.A., of the International Society for Artificial Life, and founder of the popular robotics podcast series Talking Robots.

Floreano has been on Talking Robots and the Robots Podcast several times in the past:
Swiss Robotics
New Years Special 2008
Evolutionary Robotics
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

In this episode, he tells us about the latest activities of the Swiss NCCR Robotics, including a robotic prosthetic which can interface with the human nervous system to give users a sense of touch, and work by his lab in adaptive morphologies (DALER) and flying robots (Gimball).

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February 7th, 2014

Robots: Industry and Society

In today’s episode Per Sjöborg speaks with Rezia Molfino from the PMAR group at University of Genova about how all robots are service robots, it’s just that they serve people in different ways in different situations. We hear about some of the many interesting projects she is working on, ranging from challenging manufacturing problems in thin sheet machining (SwarmItFIX) and the textile industry (clopema), to assisted-living vehicles for use in an urban environment (Picav) and do-it-yourself, practical equipment for demining war zones (Locastra).

SwarmItFIX

CloPeMa

Picav

Locostra

Rezia Maria Molfino
Rezia Maria Molfino is Professor at the University of Genova, where she specializes in robot mechanics, industrial and service robotics, control of mechanical systems, flexible automation, and methods in mechanical design and programming for robotics.

Among her many advisory roles, she serves as an expert for LEIT-NMP’s Advisory Group (Horizon 2020), as President of the Italian Association of Robotics and Automation, and as National Coordinator at the International Federation of Robotics.

She has authored some 200 publications in the areas of robotics, intelligent manufacturing systems and automation, holds several patents on robotic equipment, and is involved in numerous robotics research projects, including: PRIDE, MiniPKM, Roboclimber, SBC, Smartwire, EUROShoE, SAFERDRILL, LEAPFROG, AUTORECON, SwarmItFIX (coord), PICAV (coord), FURBOT (coord) and Networks like OSNET, EURON, CLAWAR.
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