Rescue Robots

This week I traveled to Texas A&M's DISASTER CITY to participate in a robot search and rescue exercise. While I'll have more on this later, I wanted to give a link to Dr. Robin Murphy's Blog at Rescue Robots. Dr. Murphy is the founder of CRASAR - Committee for Robot Assisted Search and Rescue, and one of the pioneers in our field. She also wrote the excellent book Introduction to AI Robotics, which I highly recommend -- in fact I make all my robot lab team read it.
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Getting Started

I'm often asked what robot to choose in order to get started in robotics as a hobby. There are two very good choices. I started with the OOPIC, a robot microcontroller, and scratch-built two small robots with that. They now make a more complete kit called an "OOBUG". You can find it here. This kit concetrates on the programming end of robotics, and does not require much in the way of building skills.
My second choice would be the fully programmable version of the VEX robotics system. It takes more of an "erector set" approach to robots, and encourages tinkering and making different things, as it has lots of cool metal parts, wheels, and gears. I think it is only available now by mail order. You don't want the "explorer" or Vex Red system because it is not programmable and you are quite limited in what you can do. The Vex systm is easy to experiment with and can be reconfigured in lots of ways. I've had great success adding different sensors to it, like IRPD's (infrared proximity sensors), or bumper switches.

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Brain - Machine Interface

Honda and Advanced Telecomunications Research Institute demonstrate their latest version of Brain Machine Interface- taking thoughts directly from a user and making a robot move. This test showed a success rate of over 90% with a small sample set (the system only could discriminate between a set of 4 commands). Certainly the most direct application of this technology would be in prosthetics, replacing a lost limb with a mechanical one and directing it as you did before. It is amazing to see people actually working on this technology and making it function. Are mind-reading robots far off? What do you think?
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Vintage Flying Museum

I'm now a member of the Vintage Flying Museum, of Fort Worth Texas. This excellent flying museum preserves vintage and antique aircraft of several eras. The pride of the exhibit is "Chuckie", a B-17G Flying Fortress. My favorite is the Piaggio "Royal Gull", a flying boat with two pusher propellers. The museum is located at Mecham Field in Fort Worth, off loop 820 on the north side of town (just west of I-35).
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Robots Podcast: Red Whittaker

Just finished listening to the excellent Robot Podcast interview with Dr. Red Whittaker, of DARPA Grand Challenge fame, discussing his latest project, putting an unmanned rover on the moon. The latest design is much improved from the "scarab" looking dune buggy they had before. An excellent podcast. Red talks about his approach to robot design. I think he left out his critical factor for success -- testing, testing, testing.
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FCS MULE Article

My first article for Robot Magazine was on the FCS MULE (multi-purpose logistics equipment), a six wheel drive vehicle I worked on for the US Army. I did the artwork as well, which I am particularly proud of. I served as the Deputy Chief Engineer for Unmanned Ground Vehicles for the Army Future Combat Systems Program while I was employed at SAIC. You can read the full article (and see bigger artwork) at FCS MULE
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ROBOT Magazine for June/July

Now on store shelves! The June/July Issue of Robot Magazine. My article on the ARCHER Hybrid gas/electric robot is featured. The Archer is a joint project between myself and Reflexx Robotics. It's a medium sized robot (300 lbs) that has both gas and electric power systems and had the potential to run for over 40 hours on a tank of gas.

Also this month, my artwork is featured in Unmanned Systems Magazine, the publication of AUVSI, in the article on the DARPA EATR Project, which is to create a ground vehicle that makes its own fuel. Both articles are robots for our modern times. I drew the silly "dog" cartoon at the top of the article.
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My Interests

Things you will find on this blog:
Robots (of course)
Unmanned Ground Vehicles - Self Driving Cars
Artificial Intelligence
3D Art, modeling and rendering - Lightwave3D, E-On Vue, Hexagon are a few favorites.
Hobby type robots, esp. VEX Robotics
Flying and Aviation - Civil Air Patrol, war birds, the occasional UAV
Traveling, mostly to Europe
Scuba Diving (from time to time)
Space and NASA
Science Fiction
Book Reviews (fiction and non-fiction)
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Cool Robot Video: Layered-X

Cool Robot Video: One of the most impressive robot videos I've seen lately is the "LAYERED-X" robot that was created from the basic robot servos found in Robo-One contests. These robots combine many hobby servo-type motors into some amazing articulations. Watch this robot go from a starfish to a spider to a humanoid robot all out of the same parts. Wow...

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Memorial Day

I'm sitting here composing this on Memorial Day. I'm in the office trying to get our robots ready for a busy couple of weeks. We'll be traveling to the SOFIC (Special Operaitons Forces Conference) in Tampa next week. I just finished listening to a special on NPR about WWII and our men and women who "saved the world" by defending us during the Great War.

My heart goes out to the service people who today wear our countries uniform in foreign lands and hope that know how much they mean to us back here. With the news today out of North Korea (atomic bomb testing) there look to be many more challenges ahead of us.

My quote for today is from a report in Defense News: "Save a soldier -- Send in a robot".
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