On November 23, President Obama announced the Educate to Innovate campaign, to improve the participation and performance of Americaâ€™s students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The campaign will include efforts not only from the Federal Government but also from leading companies, foundations, non-profits, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across America to excel in science and math.
“As president, I believe robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering,” says Mr. Obama.
Robotics is challenging, at times frustrating, for many reasons. As Dr. Ben Black had put it: “A roboticist has to have at minimum a working knowledge of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science / engineering and controls engineering.”
So it’s hard, to say the least. But it’s also really cool. And any young kid interested in robotics is going to get a taste of several different engineering disciplines. What better way to bring the U.S. to the top of the world-wide list in science and math education, than with robotics?
I’m obviously not the only one on this bandwagon. National Instruments invests a lot in STEM education. And so has Dean Kamen’s foundation, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology ( FIRST). FIRST has been a driving force in changing the perception of science and technology in highschool students, using robotics design competitions as a lure. NI has partnered with FIRST to provide the FIRST Robotics Compeition (FRC) control system, which includes a high-performance, industrial-grade real-time controller (NI donated CompactRIOs for the FRC Kit of Parts).
With the mission and success of FRC, it is no surprise that Mr. Obama introduced the Cougar Cannon, an FRC robot from Oakton Highschool. Students provided a demonstration of their robot in action, the flickering sounds of camera flashes almost deafening. Even The MythBusters crew was there, as onlookers to the Lunacy competition robot. Booya!
“I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything, ” said Obama.
Ok, so now things are getting really interesting. I mentioned last week that there are rumors of a Robot Revolution happening sometime soon. Well, check out this surprise visitor who came by Building C the other day, just to chat it up with some of our employees in the lobby:
His name is Millennia. If he looks familiar, it’s because he’s cousins with a somewhat-famous robot: Paulie’s Robot, from Rocky IV. Can you see the likeness?:
He’s real name is Sico and both Sico and Millennia were created by Robert Doornick, CEO of International Robotics, Inc. He came by NI the other day to show off his latest addition to his robot family. I am told Millennia is quite the ladies man; he was a total flirt with the women who came to his visit.
But these robots do more than make surprise guest appearances in campy, 80’s movies and the lobbies of Austin tech companies. Here’s what Robert Doornick had to say about his company, International Robotics:
Our 35 year old research group has been involved in the pioneering science of Technology-to-People Behavioral Psychology. This represents the study of the interrelationships between humans and machines. Our mission as technology psychologists is to assist the robotic industry in the development of various protocols for how future intelligent machines will need to be programmed, designed and engineered in order to gain long term acceptance as they cohabit with humankind.
Interesting. Robots aiming to coexist with NI employees. I believe my suspicions are being confirmed….
So if you’ve been following the phenomenal DIY application that has made it to sites like Gizmodo and Cars.com, you might be interested in the detailed How-To docs that the guys behind this wicked-awesome app created. Just in case you haven’t checked out their blog ( which you should!), here’s some of the technical materials they’ve shared with us:
Mainstream television and film have given robots a bad rep. Many people carry the stigma that robots could turn against us, when really, they are performing tasks that are too dull, dirty and/or dangerous for humans to do on their own.
An interesting study was cited today on msnbc.com, where scientists at University of Washington warn consumers about the vulnerabilities our household robots may suffer and what kind of situations that might pose to their masters (think iRobot). I was contacted by the article’s author, Diane Mapes, to discuss the likelyhood of our household robots revolting against us. I tend to think that it’s highly doubtful you’d find yourself being vacuumed to death by your Roomba.
But what our conversation did entertain was the idea that one could take control and/or reprogram your vacuuming robot with a malicious content. It was quite an interesting and enjoyable conversation; there’s a spectrum of motives and possibilities.Â Take a closer look here.
So what do you think? Any Roomba or Spykee owners feeling a little exposed? Is it really something we should be concerned about? Or shall we continue opening up our families to robotic additions?
This tasty chunk of code comes from the RoboSavvy Forum, a great place for hobbyist and robotics enthusiasts to find low-cost robotics kits, materials and information.
Mr. Richard van der Wolf from the Netherlands created his own open-source RoBoIO library in LabVIEW, which allows you to communicate with and control the Roboard RB-100. This board is compatible with several robot kits that are already out there, including the Kondo Humanoid Robot ( KHR), Hitec’s Robonova, the Robotis Bioloid and Robobuilder. In addition, if you build your own hardware platform from scratch, you have plenty of communication standard options to choose from. You can find all the info you would need on the board’s hardware here, on the RoboSavvy site.
Measuring with electrical sensors is so… passe! The new kids on the block: optical sensors. These come in many forms, shapes and form factors, and are mostly derived from the telecom boom in the late nineties. There is more and more interest for this type of sensor, especially in the area of structural monitoring.
There are two groups of optical sensors: instrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic optical sensors change the property of light within the fiber itself, while extrinsic optical sensors change the property of light outside the fiber. An example of extrinsic optical sensor is a simple on/off light detector, which outputs a digital ‘1′ when there is light and a ‘0′ when light is not present. Extrinsic sensors are often used in security systems, toys and more.
Intrinsic optical sensors are not quite as common as extrinsic sensors. An example is Fiber Bragg grating (FBG) sensors. FBG sensors are created by “etching” periodic variation of refractive index to create a mirror that only reflects a certain frequency of light, or commonly known as color. As the fiber expands/contracts due to strain or temperature variations, the color reflected by the FBG changes.
The optical fiber with embedded sensors can be seen mounted on the wing.
Optical strain gauges are being evaluated and used by NASA, and you can see them mounted on an aircraft wing. They are also used by civil engineers in structural monitoring for buildings and bridges.
Engineers and scientists are now starting to see value in optical sensing and instead of adapting telecom technologies for sensing, are designing new innovative products and solutions tailored for measurement applications.
What are the advantages over electrical sensors you ask? It’s immune to corrosion, electro-magnetic inteference and lightning, it allows for many sensors on one single fiber, and requires no calibration. It’s a dream come true! – Nathan
Okay, this is one is a little crazy: these guys are playing Half-Life, with real guns. Is it necessary? No. Is it cool? Hell yeah! This is how they did it: they projected a first person shooter (FPS) game on a dry wall with 4 mounted accelerometers. Using the vibration measurements and graphical software, they were able to determine where exactly the bullet landed, and feed the coordinates to the host PC, where it converts it into a shot in the videogame. The key DAQ ingredient for this? Tightly synchronized, simultaneous 24-bit ADCs.
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