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So, how was the meeting?

Proceedings of the San Francisco

Robotics Society of America (SFRSA)

Monthly Meeting at the Exploratorium

Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception


By Cliff Thompson

7 - May - 1997

This is the way to the main entrance of the Exploratorium, located at the site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

You can still see a dome and columns, examples of some original Expo architecture.

Announcements

SFRSA Vice President Ed Severinghaus noted he is filling roughly dozen new orders for his "Body Synth" musical performance suit. Featured on the television series "NEXT STEP" and in numerous public performances, a dancer wearing the suit can generate the musical output of a multitude of musicians. Sensors on the suit detect various aspects of body movement and transmit the parameters to a bank of MIDI based music synthesizers. The Synth utilizes an EMG-Driven MIDI Controller and reads input data over 12 channels to keep up with human response time. Ed also noted that he is working up a toy version of the Synth and that he is in discussion with a number of Toy manufacturers to produce the system. If negotiations are successful, the system could start showing up on toy store shelves by year end. This new Synth is wireless and features a strap-on speaker to handle music output.

Past SFRSA President Brad Smallridge mentioned that DEXTER, his Sign Language Robot Hand prototype for the deaf and blind, is finished. Though grant funding has run out and not been renewed, Brad needs additional funding to evolve the system through one or two more incarnations to convert it into a commercial product. This suggests an investment opportunity for a hot and useful technology. While waiting to see what develops, Brad has shifted attention and resources to his 2nd robot company venture, his SIGHTech EYEBOT real-time 2&3D Robot Vision System. SIGHTech may be reached at (415) 661-8068.

SFRSA Newsletter Editor Winthrop Williams announced a catch-up issue of this Newsletter had been completed. Win brought the final production master of the Newsletter to the meeting and handed it over to SFRSA Treasurer Robert McAdams, who will be sending it to the printer forthwith. The jumbo issue, some 80 pages, covers the missing issues for the 1st 97 stories. The issue also contains the story on the Exploratorium-SFRSA Annual Robotics Competition and Exhibition as well as the 1st issues of a new column I’ve started writing this year entitled ROBOTICS ON THE INTERNET.

SFRSA President Kevin Fahl had several items:

SRS Web Site

SFRSA members David Ruben and Jan Arnold mentioned a tip from a friend of theirs who is a member of the late Dr. Carl Sagan’s  PLANETARY SOCIETY (TPS). Readers of this column may recall that the Society offers the Robotics system called RED ROVER. Following are some quotes describing the system, from Red Rover Web Site at http://planetary.org/explorers-red-rover.html:

"Students design and build robotic vehicles from LEGO Dacta kits (educational division of LEGO) and operate the rovers via sophisticated computer software that mimics the control programs used by planetary scientists to explore other worlds. Each Red Rover, Red Rover team also creates a Marscape at their site so that the rovers may operate in an "alien" terrain of miniature volcanoes, impact craters, canyons and starry skies".

"Remote rover control on Red Rover, Red Rover Link-up Days is enabled by a computer communications program developed by the Center for Intelligent Systems at Utah State University. The program uses a modem and regular telephone lines or the Internet to send to any location in the world images seen by a small camera mounted on the rover. Student operators study the images to determine the best direction in which to move the rover. The program then relays the student commands back to the rover, and the vehicle moves across the simulated surface of Mars".

TPS Red Rover Web Site

In addition to Red Rover, the Society is planning "something wonderful". The Society is putting on an event o celebrate the July 4 1997 landing of the Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner robotic rover on Mars. The event will also celebrate other on-going space robotics exploration missions including the Galileo probe at Jupiter and the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous fly by of asteroid 253 Mathilde in June. The Society will be putting on a special 4 day Exposition called PLANETFEST 97 at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 East Green Street, Pasadena, California from July 3-6, 1997. The highlight of the event for attendees will be the Society’s displaying, on a giant 42 foot IMAX screen, the live NASA TV feed from the PATHFINDER Robotic Rover. The transmission will begin from the Rover’s landing site, a gigantic canyon called "Ares Vallis", and continue as the Rover traverses Mars. Included below are some quotes describing the various events offered at Planetfest 97 from the Society’s Planetfest Web Site for at http://planetary.org/hot-top-planetfest.html:

Interested parties may pre-register for the event on the Society’s Web Site via the "Planetfest '97 Pre-Registration" link. Pricing for the event is located at the "Planetfest '97 Merchandise" link, from which I’ve reproduced below the admission pricing and contact information:

-------------------------------------------------------------

EVENT PRICES:

Children 3 years and under are free; 4-16 years, child price; 17+ years, adult price. Senior price for those 60+. Prices listed here are advance purchase only. These prices expire June 15, 1997. Tickets and T-shirts will be sold at the event at a higher rate.

Date

Event

Adult Price

Child Price

Senior Price

7/3/97

Symposium

$5.00

$3.00

$4.00

7/4/97

to

7/6/97

Festival - single day

Festival - two day

Festival - three day

$20.00

$25.00

$30.00

$8.00

$12.00

$15.00

$10.00

$15.00

$20.00

CONTACT INFORMATION:

The Planetary Society

65 North Catalina Avenue

Pasadena, California 91106-2301

Phone: (818) 793-5100

Fax: (818) 793-5528

Electronic Mail: tps@mars.planetary.org

For Planetfest, fax: 818-793-5528, Attention: Stephanie Lam.

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(Note: For Bay Area residents unable to attend Planetfest, the Exploratorium will also be displaying the NASA TV PATHFINDER transmissions for general public viewing).

TPS Planetfest Web Site

Presentations

Kevin brought in the following:

SLIDER

Winthrop had a couple of items:

Win’s power sparks interest

Win’s flex circuit

Both SFRSA Treasurer and I brought in a video of the PBS Channel SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS series 1 hour special entitled ROBOTS ALIVE!. The show is reviewed below in the Special Report section.

New Attendee Round Table Introductions

Bob Thille, a retired engineer and robot enthusiast, is planning to build a robot later this year. Bob is also a regular at HOME BREW ROBOTICS CLUB (HBRC), which meets monthly on the last Wednesday in the Cupertino Library. Members there are working up designs for a general club robot and have formed a Special Interest Group (SIG) for building autonomous robots. The club is run by SFRSA member Chuck McManis, a regular Exploratorium-SFRSA Annual Robot Competition & Exhibition competitor. Chuck may be reached at (408) 245-9652 & emailed at cmcmanis@netcom.com. HBRC runs a Web Site at http://www.augiedoggie.com/HBRC/index.html. HBRC also maintains an Internet List Server to which interested parties may subscribe to receive club email. To subscribe, visit the club’s List Server Site at http://www.wildrice.com/HTTPserver/HBRobotics/HBListserv.html.

HBRC Web Site

HBRC Listserv Web Site

Rich Jesch works at a motion control company, designs electric scooters and is a member of the Electric Automobile Assoc. The group meets in Alameda at Hangar 20 and recently held a Shopping Cart Racing Event.

Jack Buffington is interested in electronics and is currently building an Animatronic Head. The system is Basic Stamp based and utilizes a joystick to route behaviors through a 486 PC to storage on an EPROM used as input to a Controller.

The family of David (dad), Elisabeth (mom), Marisa (daughter), and Steven (son) Hall described their interests in robotics. Steven (age 9) described his plans for a ROBOT WARS entry and noted several useful robotics Web Sites he’s visited. One of Steven’s favorites, at http://www.robotics.com, is ARRICK ROBOTICS, a robotics supplier who’s products including stepper motors, grippers and kits.

ARRICK ROBOTICS Web Site

(Note: While typing in the Internet address on the meeting room computer, I thought I had heard Steven say "robots", not "robotics", so I initially typed in the address as http://www.robots.com. A most fortunate error, for as it turned out, this produced the Web Site for NOMADIC TECHNOLOGIES INC. Some years ago a meeting guest brought in some literature describing Nomadic’s amazing NOMAD line of advanced robots featuring Sonar, Infrared, Laser Ranging and High Speed Color Vision Systems. Some models boast an architecture utilizing multi-processor Pentium Pro CPU’s and networking using TCP/IP. Thanks, Steven, for acquainting us with the ARRICK Site and accidentally helping us re-discover the long-lost NOMAD Robots!).

NOMADIC Web Site

SPECIAL REPORT

The PBS Channel SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS series recently aired a 1 hour special entitled ROBOTS ALIVE!, hosted by Alan Alda. Alan started the show with a visit to the 5th Annual ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CONVENTION (AIC) in Portland, Oregon. In the 1st Event, robots compete to show how they can recognize and manipulate things and find their way around a maze of office corridors and rooms. Specifically, the robots must start from a Director’s Office, find which of 2 Conference rooms are empty, set a meeting time, invite 2 professors to the meeting, then return to summon the Director 1 minute before the meeting. The robots are given only the rough layout but no the exact dimensions of the maze, and must find rooms and doorways on their own and avoid getting trapped in a Foyer. All of the robots utilized sonar range finding and most robots were single machines. Some used video frame difference comparison to detect room inhabitants. One system from SRI used a pair of blue and red robots operated by a central computer that communicated instructions to the pair over the Internet. The SRI system proved the fastest by sending the blue robot to the 1st Conference room while sending the red to the 2nd. Status reporting was done simultaneously to the central computer, which then concurrently routed the 1st robot to the 1st professor and the 2nd machine to the 2nd professor. Alan was particularly taken with a machine named YODA, which he thought had multiple personality disorder. Every time YODA spoke via it’s speech synthesizer, it used a different voice. Among the contestants, SLICK WILLIE also turned in a good time, but AMELIA got trapped in the Foyer.

AIC Maze layout, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

AMELIA makes the rounds, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

SLICK moves, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

YODA taunts a 2nd time, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

SRI’s Multi ‘bots RED & BLUE, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

The next contest tested "hand-eye coordination" and involved finding 10 stationary tennis balls and a couple of moving "squiggle" balls, all scattered across a court. The balls must be picked up and delivered to a corner coop within a time limit. Of the contestants, LOLA was slow but sure-handed. WALLEYE put on a deft performance, while IGOR used a carrying platform. JEEVES utilized a Video search pattern backed by a Ball-Spotting algorithm. VISION CAR was very impressive in its use of a fast color vision system, combined with scanning and wall following. The machine’s intelligence enabled it to go after higher score squiggle balls 1st, before sweeping up the tennis balls. Alan wrapped up the segment with a visit to CYBOT, a robot bartender that spoke and mixed and served drinks.

LOLA’s gripping experience, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

WALLEYE has a ball, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

IGOR does tray bien, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

JEEVES expels collected balls into the coop by

running off at the mouth, achieved by reversing the direction of his ball-collecting

vacuum-cleaner rotary sweep-up brush, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

VISION CAR is on the ball, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

CYBOT serves Alan Alda in the Post-Competition

imbibing ritual, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

The succeeding segment took a look at progress on Autonomous Driver-less Vehicle work going on at Carnegie-Mellon. After 10 years and 5 generations, the latest system is a car that uses a trunk-mounted PC, a radar range finder and a single mini-TV camera. A dashboard laptop displays video of the road ahead while software identifies markers in the scene such as lane dividers and boundary edges. The system is adaptive and looks for any structure it can lock on to, including road cracks and oil spots. The system superimposes a grid of ever-changing graphic lines over the video and works to keep the graphics aligned with the video. The system can keep the car moving at highway speed, take turns and sound a warning beep if a manual override causes the car to drift beyond the lane boundary. The designers hope to eventually have the whole system packaged in a matchbox mounted behind the read-view mirror. The designers also offered the observation that our concept of robotics is changing, from the paradigm of a single anthropomorphic home robot housekeeper, to a series of relatively invisible embedded robotic subsystems scattered about the environment.

Autonomous Vehicle dashboard laptop (center)

allows Alan to proclaim "Look Ma, no hands!",

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Autonomous Vehicle dashboard laptop screen

shows object recognition graphics overlay

following lane divider line while taking a curve,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Alan next took a look at Robot Movement, starting with the historic work of Ralph Mosher from 30 years ago. Without computers, Mosher’s heavy metal elephant-sized machines translated hand and foot motion into hydraulic power motor movements. By the mid ‘80’s machines appeared weighing only 4 tons and using 16 on-board PC’s to maintain center of gravity. Shortly thereafter, at Carnegie-Mellon, new light-weight machines appeared using a new approach. The machines were freed from center of gravity restraints and instead utilized Active Balancing, implemented by 1 and 2-legged "Hopping".

One of the two-legged hoppers is so deft it can leap into the air, perform a somersault, land back on it’s feet and keep on hopping along. Currently, the University of New Hampshire’s Tom Miller is developing anthropomorphic TODDLER. The machine’s pair of feet and legs are modeled after the human design. The feet contain Force Sensors and the legs have Balance and Movement Sensors. The frame has front and side Accelerometers and Gyroscopes to provide information on orientation in the world.

Tom aims to have TODDLER learn how to walk the same way a human baby learns. When TOBBLER starts up, it crouches, leans and rocks back and forth. After each test, movement stability is evaluated and primitive actions are modifying accordingly. The process is repeated until the greatest improvement is gradually achieved. This is essentially an application of the Artificial Intelligence Genetic Algorithm in which generations of trial-and-error tests and natural selection of best results evolves the most successful survivors.

Mosher goes for mighty Walkies, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

16 computer 4 ton stroller, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

One-legged Hopper, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

2-legged Hopper flips-out for somersaults, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

TODDLER, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

TODDLER steps out, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Alan subsequently visited MIT Professor Rodney Brooks and was introduced to IT, a Robot with facial features capable of responding to events with appropriate expressions. Approach too close to IT’s infrared sensors and IT responds with an annoyed expression of opened mouth and raised eyebrows. IT has microphones in it’s head and motion detectors in it’s eyes that allow it to follow a conversation and respond with a full range of expressions.

Rather than install a monolithic learning program, Rodney’s machines instead use layers of simple programs. Rodney has also built a variety of Insect Robots, some designed for NASA’s Mars Rover. Each insect leg has it’s own computer which individually senses and lifts over obstacles. Another of Rodney’s robots, named COG, may well be the most advanced robot on the planet. Rodney’s aim is to get COG to learn about the world as a child does, to eventually reach the intelligence, dexterity and understanding of a real human, and to be able to operate like a human in the real world. COG’s brain mimics the human in that it utilizes distributed multiprocessors.

For example, there are computers for the eyes, others for the neck and still others to communicate between eye and neck to enable turning the head in the direction of observation. For each of a pair of eyes, COG has 2 cameras, one Wide Angle for motion detection and one Close-up "Fovea" camera for object detection. COG’s arm has an elbow, shoulder and wrist, as well as pressure-sensitive strips between joints to enable COG to vary the resistance depending on the type of load.

Wrapped around one of the fingers of COG’s hand is a touch-sensitive material that detects touch-pressure. When touched by an object, the hand closes and tries to grasp the object, as directed by an on-board computer in the hand. To demonstrate COG’s overall learning and functioning ability, Rodney reset COG’s memory to 0 and started the machine. At this point COG didn’t even know how to operate its arm.

Rodney started waving a hockey puck in front of COG, with the intention that COG should eventually recognize the puck and reach for it. COG’s Wide Angle Motion Detection cameras detected the motion which in turn triggered the Close-up cameras to work on detecting the object. Once detected, COG started a trial-and-error process of repeatedly launching his arm in the general direction of the puck, measuring the shortfall or overshoot, and modifying the behavior in the direction of best results, until finally grasping the puck. Though human babies take several months to learn this skill, COG mastered it in a few hours, in another striking demonstration of the Genetic Algorithm.

IT, face-to-face with Alan, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

A Rodney Insect ‘bot,

from PBS Channel SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

COG reaches out, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

COG’s wide angle & close-up vision system, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Getting COG’s attention with the hockey puck,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Looking through COG’s eyes as his object recognition system kicks in with graphical overlays

over the video scene, while the system endeavors to spot the puck,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

After recognizing the object and learning how to work his arm over several trial-and-error runs,

COG successfully snatches the puck from his Master’s hand. Perhaps the

sentiment runs through Rodney’s mind, "Grasshopper, it is time to leave the Temple",

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Alan last stop was a visit to Georgia Tech.’s Autonomous AERIAL ROBOT COMPETITION (ARC) in Atlanta, Georgia. The Contest challenges a flying robot to take off from the corner of a 60’ X 120’ field, fly to a rink containing 6 metal disks, pick up the disks one at a time, then fly over a 3 foot fence and drop the disks off into a 2nd rink. In the 5 years the Competition has been running, no robots have yet successfully completed the task. Many machines end up being blown off course by winds, while others often crack-up on landing. Such was the case this year for several contestants.

A Blimp from the Tech. University of Berlin, Germany, equipped with 6 variously oriented propellers, was unable to maintain course and drifted off the field. A Flying Propeller from the University of Texas, guided by scanning laser beams, fared somewhat better by being able to lift off, navigate & land without crashing. A University of British Columbia Blimp, using a video camera to search for objects, got confused by a glint of sunlight. New this year was a homemade blimp from students at Maryland’s Thomas Wooton High School.

The student’s ingenious design for a device, utilizing a cylinder and magnet to pick up and drop off the metal disks, prompted event organizers to consider adding a High School Category to future Competitions. Wooton’s design was just what was needed by the Stanford team, who hadn’t had time to complete the release mechanism of their entry, a Helicopter. Stanford’s Helicopter dangled a rope, at the end of which was a small robot vehicle. The vehicle would navigate the rink, use a search pattern object recognition algorithm to troll for objects, and employ a magnet to scoop up the disks.

The ‘copter also utilized a sophisticated Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) System consisting of a Ground Station Antennae that can see satellites and communicate to 4 additional GPS antennas on-board the ‘copter. Using a new GPS technology, the system can determine position information to within a centimeter. On it’s final run, the Stanford ‘copter took off, hovered over the rink, maneuvered the dangling scooper vehicle into picking up some disks, then took off over the field, surmounted the fence, and reached and hovered over the 2nd rink. There, without a release mechanism, the ‘copter was unable to drop off the disks, but still, it was the 1st time in 5 years a nearly perfect run had been achieved.

Computer model simulation of ARC objective, for flying robot to pick up disks from source rink,

then fly over & drop off disks in destination rink on other side of barrier wall,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

German robotic Hindenburg’s multi-axis props struggle against the wind currents,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

British Columbia Blimp confused by glint,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

A Robocopter prepares to launch, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Texas Robocopter nears a perfect touch-down,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

Stanford GPS Robocopter speeds to near victory,

from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series episode ROBOTS ALIVE!

To keep in touch with the Robotics profiled on the show, the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Series maintains a Web Site at http://www.pbs.org/saf/. The Site maintains a list of links to related Web Sites for each show, which you can get to by clicking the "Related Links" link, then the particular "(Show Title)" link. The "Robots Alive" Show link provides links to the various Robot resources profiled in the Show, such as Web Sites for the Competitions. Also included are links to Web Sites for 2 advanced Robots, COG, profiled in the ROBOTS ALIVE! episode, and FLAKEY, who appeared in an earlier season premier.

COG’s Web Site is at http://www.ai.mit.edu/projects/cog and FLAKEY’S is at http:// www.ai.sri.com/people/flakey. FLAKEY uses speech synthesis to communicate and can understand natural language conversational English. Additionally, FLAKEY runs dynamic mapping software to navigate an office in pursuit of secretarial tasks. FLAKEY also utilizes object recognition and artificial intelligence to determine if workers are in their offices and where to look next if they are not. Some quotes below, from FLAKEY’S Web Site, further describe FLAKEY’S capabilities:

"SRI's mobile robot, Flakey, is a custom-built platform approximately 3 feet high and 2 feet in diameter operating within SRI's own office environment. Two independently driven wheels provide a maximum velocity of about 2 feet per second. Sensors include a ring of 12 sonar range finders, wheel encoders, and a video camera used in combination with a laser to provide dense depth information over a small area in front of the vehicle. Flakey's on-board computers include a workstation and a number of other processors dedicated to sensor interpretation, motor control, and radio communications."

"A production team from the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers visited SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center, May 4, 1994, to film Flakey, the AIC's mobile robot. Alan Alda, host of the series, was on hand. He and Flakey starred in a script in which Alda first shows Flakey around the halls, identifying various offices along the way, including those of two employees, John and Karen. He also tells him that John knows where Karen is. Later, Alda asks Flakey to go fetch a file from Karen. Flakey troops off to Karen's office, asks if she's there, and hearing no answer, trundles off to John's office. ``John, are you there?,'' Flakey asks. ``Yes,'' replies John. ``Where is Karen?,'' Flakey continues. ``Flakey, she's in the front office.'' Flakey then heads for the front office, but finds an obstacle in its way. He get around the obstacle, completes his trip to the office, finds Karen, asks her for the file, gets it from her, and takes it back to Alda".

"In two weeks before the shooting day, Flakey had been taught new tricks. Real-time stereo algorithms were adapted so that Flakey could distinguish and follow people. The DECIPHER speech recognition system was used to give Flakey the ability to respond to spoken commands. These were rapidly integrated with Flakey's established navigational and control techniques via its agent architecture based upon PRS-Lite."

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS Web Site

COG’s Web Site

FLAKEY’s Web Site