News Article | November 28, 2016
Four MIT students — Matthew Cavuto, Zachary Hulcher, Kevin Zhou, and Daniel Zuo — are winners in this year’s prestigious Marshall Scholarship competition. Another student, Charlie Andrews-Jubelt, was named an alternate. The newest Marshall Scholars come from the MIT departments of Mechanical Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Funded by the British government, the Marshall Scholarships provide exceptional young Americans the opportunity for two years of graduate study in any field at a U.K. institution. Up to 40 scholarships are awarded each year in the rigorous nationwide competition. Scholars are selected on the basis of academic merit, leadership potential, and ambassadorial potential. “The Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships is so proud — as am I, personally — to have had the opportunity to help all the nominated MIT students through the Marshall Scholarship process,” says Kim Benard, assistant dean of distinguished fellowships and academic excellence. “Matthew, Zach, Kevin, and Daniel represent the very best of MIT. We have also had the great pleasure to work with students who ultimately didn’t win, but who will have extraordinary careers that will increase the reputation of MIT.” Matthew Cavuto, from Skillman, New Jersey, is an MIT senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in biomechanics and biomedical devices. As a Marshall Scholar, Cavuto will engage in advanced prosthetic and assistive technology research over the course of two years of study in the U.K. at Imperial College London and Cambridge University. In his first year, Cavuto will pursue an MS in biomedical engineering (concentrating in neurotechnology) at Imperial College London, working with Tim Constandinou on the SenseBack Project, an initiative aimed at allowing amputees to feel through their prostheses. In his second year, he will earn an MPhil in Engineering at Cambridge University, under the supervision of Fumiya Iida in the Bio-Inspired Robotics Laboratory, designing assistive technologies and exoskeletons through imitating nature. Cavuto plans to eventually earn a PhD in biomechatronics with the goal of revolutionizing accessible mobility for the paralyzed by designing the world’s first successful robotic exoskeleton. Cavuto became interested in creating the next generation of prostheses and assistive devices while volunteering at New Jersey’s Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, where he observed firsthand the challenges faced by amputees. During a summer internship through MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) at Germany’s Technical University of Berlin, Cavuto investigated the development of a prosthetic exoskeleton to rehabilitate stroke patients. As a researcher at the MIT Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab, Cavuto has investigated and prototyped new designs for prosthetic knees tailored for people living in developing countries. He currently leads a team that, with nongovernmental organizations in India, has developed and field-tested a low-cost device that allows above-knee amputees to cross their legs. With a patent pending, he hopes to soon transition to manufacturing and distribution of the device to the millions of amputees living in the developing world. In extracurricular activities, Cavuto participates in varsity fencing and is an award-winning ballroom dancer and woodworker. Amos Winter, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the director of GEAR, says, “Matt represents the finest of our students at MIT. He has taken just about every hands-on engineering design course offered at MIT, and he is a prolific carpenter, designer, and artist. Matt exemplifies MIT’s motto of ‘mens et manus,’ or, mind and hand.” Zachary Hulcher, from Montgomery, Alabama, is pursuing a dual major in electrical engineering and computer science and physics, with a minor in mathematics. As a Marshall Scholar, he will study and perform research in high-energy physics at Cambridge University, following in the footsteps of such luminary physicists as Newton, Maxwell, and Hawking. Hulcher plans to earn a PhD and, as a professor of physics, make contributions to expand the field of high energy physics. Hulcher spent his sophomore summer conducting research with Professor Yen-Jie Lee at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. He returned to CERN his junior summer to continue with and present on his research. Since the fall of 2015, he has been a research assistant in the group of professor Krishna Rajagopal of MIT's Department of Physics and Center for Theoretical Physics, which is part of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Hulcher has been improving the analysis and modeling of how CMS measurements can be used to probe quark-gluon plasma, a substance connected to the Big Bang that may lead to greater understanding of the formation of the universe. “Zach took on, mastered, and then drove a theoretical physics research project,” observes Rajagopal. “He will be the principal author of a paper describing an important advance, and he showed fearless confidence in giving a talk at an international workshop in which he showed new results (some only hours old) that garnered much attention. All the while, he is both well-grounded and well-rounded.” Hulcher is also motivated by a desire to teach others. He has been a teaching assistant for the physics department at MIT, a grader in the mathematics department, and a tutor for MIT’s chapter of Eta Kappa Nu, the national honor society for electrical engineering and computer science. Through MISTI's Global Teaching Labs, he traveled to Xalapa, Mexico, to assist with courses focused on mobile and internet technologies, and he taught courses on physics to high school students in Italy and Israel. Since his freshman year, Hulcher has been an offensive lineman with MIT’s varsity football team and was named this year to the NEWMAC all-academic team for his outstanding scholarly and athletic performance. Hulcher also serves on the executive board for the MIT chapter of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. Kevin Zhou, from Carlsbad, California, will graduate next June with dual bachelor’s degrees in physics and mathematics. He will then embark on a two-year course of study at Cambridge University and the University of Durham. In his first year, Zhou will acquire an MAst in Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics by completing part III of the Mathematical Tripos course. In his second year, he will earn an MS at Durham’s Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology. When he returns to the U.S., Zhou will pursue a PhD in particle physics. He ultimately plans to be a research professor in theoretical physics and contribute to new methods to teach physics. Zhou is currently involved in two MIT physics research groups. In the Physics of Living Systems Group, led by Jeremy England, the Thomas D. and Virginia W. Cabot Career Development Associate Professor of Physics, Zhou is researching the thermodynamics of DNA damage and repair, and has co-authored a paper on nonequilibrium states that has been submitted to Physical Review Letters. “Kevin has a polyglot sort of fluency in different idea-spaces that makes him able to see where the math might be applicable in ways that very few people can,” says England. Zhou is also working with associate professor Jesse Thaler of MIT's Department of Physics and Center for Theoretical Physics, whose research group uses quantum chromodynamics to analyze the structure of jets, the sprays of particles produced in high-energy collisions. Zhou has been developing cutting-edge analytic techniques for determining the problem of quark/gluon discrimination; his efforts will be applied in the search for new physics at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Zhou received honorable mention at this year’s prestigious Putnam Mathematical Competition for college students. In addition to his passion for pure mathematics, Zhou is intrigued by computer science and has interned as a software engineer at Dropbox and Facebook. Zhou is committed to helping the next generation of physics students and researchers. As vice president of the Society of Physics Students, he directed a summer reading group for his peers on advanced mathematical methods and taught STEM classes to middle school students through the MIT Splash program. He is a junior coach for the U.S. Physics Olympiad where he has developed and taught classes on physics concepts and mentored students at yearly training camps. Zhou also enjoys singing and has performed with the MIT Concert Choir and MIT Centrifugues. Daniel Zuo, from Memphis, Tennessee, is graduating next June with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science, an MEng in electrical engineering and computer science, and a minor in creative writing. At Cambridge University, Zuo will do two consecutive one-year master’s degree programs: an MPhil in advanced computer science and an MPhil in machine learning, speech, and language technology. After completing his studies in the U.K., Zuo will pursue a PhD and hopes to develop a startup venture that will advance internet connectivity in the developing world. He ultimately plans to teach and conduct research as a professor of computer science. Zuo is particularly interested in lossless datacenter architectures and their potential to help people interact more effectively with massive amounts of data. He is currently a research assistant for TIBCO Career Development Assistant Professor Mohammad Alizadeh in the Networks and Mobile Systems group at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Alizadeh’s group works to improve the performance, usability, and robustness of networks and cloud services; Zuo has been investigating algorithms that provide scheduling and congestion control to enhance network performance. “Daniel is brilliant,” Alizadeh says. “It’s been a joy to work with him. He is one of those rare students that can jump into an unfamiliar area and quickly figure out exactly the right way to think about the hard technical problems.” Zuo has also conducted research in Professor Manolis Kellis’ group at CSAIL, which focuses on computational methods for accessing large data sets for the analysis of human disease. He developed “greedy” algorithms to produce a comprehensive set of overlapping enhancers across cell types for a specific gene. He has also worked as a software engineer at several technology and finance companies, including Electronic Arts, Arcadia Funds, and Complete Solar Solutions. Zuo’s own projects include Fold, a mobile payment service to allow easy and secure peer-to-peer Bitcoin transactions over Bluetooth technology. In his freshman year, Zuo helped launch MakeMIT, the largest hardware hackathon in the nation, and has continued his involvement with the project as a committee member with the MIT student organization TechX. Zuo is also active in public service in the Boston community through his leadership roles with the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity.
News Article | April 5, 2016
Professor Wan Kyun Chung of Pohang University of Science and Technology’s Department of Mechanical Engineering — together with PhD student Young Jin Heo, MS student Junsu Kang, and postdoctoral researcher Min Jun Kim in the Robotics Laboratory — has developed a novel control algorithm to resolve critical problems induced from a Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller by automatizing the technical tuning process. Their research was published in Scientific Reports. “Lab-on-a-chip” designates devices that integrate various biochemical functions on a fingernail-sized chip to enable quick and compact biological analysis or medical diagnosis by processing a small volume of biological samples, such as a drop of blood. To operate various functions on a lab-on-a-chip device, the key technology is the precise and rapid manipulation of fluid on a micro-scale. In microfluidic devices, very small and trivial variables can frequently cause a large amount of errors. Up until now, the PID controller has normally been used for the manipulation of fluids in microfluidic chips. To apply the PID controller, a tedious gain-tuning process is required but the gain-tuning is a difficult process for people who are unfamiliar with control theory. In the case of controlling multiple flows, the process is extremely convoluted and frustrating. The developed control algorithm can improve accuracy and stability of flow regulation in a microfluidic network without requiring any tuning process. With this algorithm, microfluidic flows in multiple channels can be controlled in simultaneous and independent way. The team expects that this algorithm has the potential for many applications of lab-on-a-chip devices. For example, cell culture or biological analysis, which are conducted in biology laboratories, can be performed on a microfluidic chip. Physical and chemical responses can be analyzed in the subdivided levels. This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean government (MSIP). Source: Pohang University of Science and Technology
News Article | April 11, 2016
With its newly announced Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to field an on-orbit satellite servicing vehicle that would transform U.S. space operations in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). As the lead payload developer for the program, the Naval Center for Space Technology (NCST) at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) is committed and remains focused on integrating and validating the disparate components required to perform the RSGS mission. "Our engineering team is extremely excited to be leading the government's payload development for this innovative program," said Bill Vincent, program manager for RSGS at NRL. "NRL has a long history of developing revolutionary spacecraft to meet emerging national needs. Just as NRL's past developments led to the Global Positioning System, we look forward to having a similar role for on-orbit robotic servicing by helping develop the necessary high-risk payload technology and transitioning this technology to U.S. industry." RSGS — which would be able to robotically inspect, autonomously grapple, reposition, repair, and upgrade cooperative GEO spacecraft — would be a major step forward in the nation’s ability to manage and maintain GEO spacecraft. RSGS would increase the reliability and resilience of services provided by both commercial and government satellite operations by increasing asset stability and service life. NRL research and development in robotic satellite servicing goes back nearly two decades, beginning with construction of the NRL Space Robotics Laboratory (SRL) in the late 1990s. The SRL is a world-class facility where the space environment can be simulated so that robotic satellite servicing techniques can be researched, developed, tested, and validated. It supports testing of full-scale hardware-in-the-loop rendezvous, docking, and servicing to include robotic arms, tools to support a variety of servicing missions, control schemes, relative navigation sensors, lights, and cameras, all of which must work as a system to accommodate the unique needs of client satellites in the harsh GEO environment. Using the SRL facility and the core strength of the NCST in spacecraft systems engineering, NRL and DARPA began maturing the necessary technologies for on-orbit robotic servicing in 2002. One of the major developments in the 2000s was the Front-end Robotics Enabling Near-term Demonstration (FREND) robotic arm, built to NRL and DARPA specifications specifically for GEO servicing applications. As the FREND robotics hardware was being developed, NRL engineers developed the equally important robotics control software necessary for safe and efficient on-orbit autonomous and ground-controlled robotic operations in space. “I often describe the control software as the invisible half of our program, just as important as the robotic arm,” said Bernie Kelm, deputy program manager for RSGS at NRL. “It takes the hardware, control algorithms, and flight software all working together to make this possible, and developing technologies needed to service satellites that were not originally designed for that purpose was closer to ‘science fiction’ when we started. We’ve now matured that capability to be realistic and ready for spaceflight.” Today, as a result of this investment in robotics hardware, control algorithms, tools, mission concepts, payload electronics, sensors, and flight software, NRL has demonstrated end-to-end robotic servicing tasks using flight-traceable hardware and software. These lab demonstrations include a robotics operator control ground station, spacecraft payload control electronics, and prototype spaceflight robotic arms and tools that have undergone spaceflight qualification testing. The maturity of these component technologies will help ensure that DARPA's RSGS would be able to service spacecraft reliably, efficiently, and effectively. "NRL's expertise in spacecraft systems engineering makes it uniquely qualified to perform this task," Vincent said. "NRL and DARPA are well on the way to having this mission's core technologies validated for spaceflight, and we look forward to working with a commercial partner to fully realize this capability on-orbit." Once deployed, RSGS would provide an unprecedented range of capabilities to meet current needs and provide a robust and flexible foundation for transforming space logistics and operations in GEO for the future. About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country's position of global naval leadership. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to advance research further than you can imagine. For more information, visit the NRL website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
News Article | November 18, 2016
« Hyundai introduces new autonomous IONIQ concept at AutoMobility LA | Main | Trillium and NXP partner on automotive cybersecurity » The University of Michigan is entering two separate agreements with Chinese institutions targeting automated and connected vehicles. Together with a third new agreement focused on clean water, the three agreements add up to more than $54 million to advance research in these key areas. First, a $27-million research agreement with Shenzhen-based investment firm Frontt Capital Management will advance autonomous, connected vehicles and robotic technologies. This agreement puts in place measures that U-M and Frontt agreed to in a memorandum of understanding signed last month in China. It establishes a Joint Research Center for Intelligent Vehicles at U-M. It contributes toward construction of the recently approved Robotics Laboratory and a vehicle garage on U-M’s North Campus near Mcity, the simulated urban-suburban environment for testing connected and automated vehicles. It also provides support for U-M researchers to advise Frontt on design of a unique autonomous vehicle test facility in Shenzhen. The facility will simulate the country’s unique transportation environment. Second, a $2.5-million research agreement with the Chongqing Sokon Industry Group establishes the University of Michigan-Sokon Research Center in the U-M Department of Mechanical Engineering. Sokon will provide funding for the center, which will advance research on connected and automated vehicles through the work of 13 faculty members, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students at both institutions. The Chongqing Sokon Industry Group is a public company that makes and distributes autos and auto parts. It is located in Chongqing in Southwest China. The new center will be led by Huei Peng, the Roger L. McCarthy Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of U-M’s Mobility Transformation Center. Sokon is also establishing an independent tech center in the state of Michigan. Clean water technology. A memorandum of understanding with the Beijing Institute for Collaborative Innovation and the Southern University of Science and Technology aims to establish a Global Collaboratory in Water Technology. Funding for the $25-million, five-year partnership would be provided by the Beijing Institute, an innovation-focused organization founded by 14 Chinese universities. The Collaboratory is slated to have three sites: Ann Arbor, Beijing and Shenzhen. The funding is expected to be divided among those locations. At U-M, the effort will be led by Lutgarde Raskin, the Altarum/ERIM Russell O’Neal Professor of Engineering and professor of civil and environmental engineering. The Collaboratory's goal is to identify technology gaps in water treatment and monitoring and develop solutions to provide clean and safe water to the world’s urban environments. Leaders at the institutions expect to sign a full research agreement in 2017. These three agreements are in addition to a memorandum of understanding on a $25 million Global Collaboratory in Advanced Manufacturing that U-M entered into in October with Beijing Institute of Collaborative Innovation and the Southern University of Science and Technology. The institutions aim to formalize the Global Collaboratory early next year. Also in October, the U-M/Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute approved a program to develop the next generation of leaders for the automotive industry. The two-week Executive Development Program (EDP) launches 28 April 2017 at the Shanghai Auto Show. EDP is designed to equip tomorrow’s C-suite executives in future of the global auto industry. Developed in partnership between Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the Joint Institute, the EDP will include sessions in Shanghai, Ann Arbor and Palo Alto.
News Article | April 4, 2016
Prof. Wan Kyun Chung with PhD student Young Jin Heo, MS student Junsu Kang, and postdoctoral researcher Min Jun Kim in the Robotics Laboratory at POSTECH, Korea, have developed a novel control algorithm to resolve critical problems induced from a Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller by automatizing the technical tuning process. Their research was published in Scientific Reports. Lab-on-a-chip designates devices that integrate various biochemical functions on a fingernail-sized chip to enable quick and compact biological analysis or medical diagnosis by processing a small volume of biological samples, such as a drop of blood. To operate various functions on a lab-on-a-chip device, the key technology is the precise and rapid manipulation of fluid on a micro-scale. In microfluidic devices, very small and trivial variables can frequently cause a large amount of errors. Up until now, Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller has normally been used for the manipulation of fluids in microfluidic chips. To apply the PID controller, a tedious gain-tuning process is required but the gain-tuning is a difficult process for people who are unfamiliar with control theory. Especially, in the case of controlling multiple flows, the process is extremely convoluted and frustrating. The developed control algorithm can improve accuracy and stability of flow regulation in a microfluidic network without requiring any tuning process. With this algorithm, microfluidic flows in multiple channels can be controlled in simultaneous and independent way. The team expects that this algorithm has the potential for many applications of lab-on-a-chip devices. For example, cell culture or biological analysis, which are conducted in biology laboratories, can be performed on a microfluidic chip. Physical and chemical responses can be analyzed in the subdivided levels. Explore further: Microfluidic integrated circuit could help enable home diagnostic tests (w/ Video)
News Article | April 6, 2016
Abstract: Prof. Wan Kyun Chung with PhD student Young Jin Heo, MS student Junsu Kang, and postdoctoral researcher Min Jun Kim in the Robotics Laboratory at POSTECH, Korea, have developed a novel control algorithm to resolve critical problems induced from a Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller by automatizing the technical tuning process. Their research was published in Scientific Reports. Lab-on-a-chip designates devices that integrate various biochemical functions on a fingernail-sized chip to enable quick and compact biological analysis or medical diagnosis by processing a small volume of biological samples, such as a drop of blood. To operate various functions on a lab-on-a-chip device, the key technology is the precise and rapid manipulation of fluid on a micro-scale. In microfluidic devices, very small and trivial variables can frequently cause a large amount of errors. Up until now, Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) controller has normally been used for the manipulation of fluids in microfluidic chips. To apply the PID controller, a tedious gain-tuning process is required but the gain-tuning is a difficult process for people who are unfamiliar with control theory. Especially, in the case of controlling multiple flows, the process is extremely convoluted and frustrating. The developed control algorithm can improve accuracy and stability of flow regulation in a microfluidic network without requiring any tuning process. With this algorithm, microfluidic flows in multiple channels can be controlled in simultaneous and independent way. The team expects that this algorithm has the potential for many applications of lab-on-a-chip devices. For example, cell culture or biological analysis, which are conducted in biology laboratories, can be performed on a microfluidic chip. Physical and chemical responses can be analyzed in the subdivided levels. ### This work was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korean government (MSIP). For more information, please click If you have a comment, please us. Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
News Article | December 16, 2016
In the not so distant future, first responders to a disaster zone may include four-legged, dog-like robots that can bound through a fire or pick their way through a minefield, rising up on their hind legs to turn a hot door handle or punch through a wall. Such robo-rescuers may be ready to deploy in the next five to 10 years, says Sangbae Kim, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. He and his team in the Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory are working toward that goal, borrowing principles from biomechanics, human decision-making, and mechanical design to build a service robot that Kim says will eventually do “real, physical work,” such as opening doors, breaking through walls, or closing valves. “Say there are toxic gases leaking in a building, and you need to close a valve inside, but it’s dangerous to send people in,” Kim says. “Now, there is no single robot that can do this kind of job. I want to create a robotic first responder that can potentially do more than a human and help in our lives.” To do this, Kim, who was awarded tenure this year, is working to fuse the two main projects in his lab: the MIT Cheetah, a four-legged, 70-pound robot that runs and jumps over obstacles autonomously; and HERMES, a two-legged, tele-operated robot, whose movements and balance are controlled remotely by a human operator, much like a marionette or a robotic “Avatar.” “I imagine a robot that can do some physical, dynamic work,” Kim says. “Everybody is trying to find overlapping areas where you’re excited about what you’re working on, and it’s useful. A lot of people are excited to watch sports because when you watch someone moving explosively, it is hypothesized to trigger the brain’s ‘mirror neurons’ and you feel that excitement at the same time. For me, when my robots perform dynamically and balance, I get really excited. And that feeling has encouraged my research.” Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, where he says his mother remembers him as a tinkerer. “Everything with a screw, I would take apart,” Kim says. “And she said the first time, almost everything broke. After that, everything started working again.” He attended Yonsei University in the city, where he studied mechanical engineering. In his second year, as has been mandatory in the country, he and other male students joined the South Korean army, where he served as a drill sergeant for two and a half years. “We taught [new recruits] every single detail about how to be a soldier, like how to wear shirts and pants, buckle your belt, and even how to make a fist when you walk,” Kim recalls. “The day started at 5:30 a.m. and didn’t end until everyone was asleep, around 10:30 p.m., and there were no breaks. Drill sergeants are famous for being mean, and I think there’s a reason for that — they have to keep very tight schedules.” After fulfilling his military duty, Kim returned to Yonsei University, where he gravitated toward robotics, though there was no formal program in the subject. He ended up participating in a class project that challenged students to build robots to perform specific tasks, such as capturing a flag, and then to compete, bot to bot, in a contest that was similar to MIT’s popular Course 2.007 (Design and Manufacturing), which he now co-teaches. “[The class] was a really good motivation in my career and made me anchor on the robotic, mechanistic side,” Kim says. In his last year of college, Kim developed a relatively cheap 3-D scanner, which he and three other students launched commercially through a startup company called Solutionix, which has since expanded on Kim’s design. However, in the early stages of the company’s fundraising efforts, Kim came to a realization. “As soon as it came out, I lost excitement because I was done figuring things out,” Kim says. “I loved the figuring-out part. And I realized after a year of the startup process, I should be working in the beginning process of development, not so much in maturation of products.” After enabling first sales of the product, he left the country and headed for Stanford University, where he enrolled in the mechanical engineering graduate program. There, he experienced his first taste of design freedom. “That was a life-changing experience,” Kim says. “It was a more free, creativity-respecting environment — way more so than Korea, where it’s a very conservative culture. It was quite a culture shock.” Kim joined the lab of Mark Cutkosky, an engineering professor who was looking for ways to design bioinspired robotic machines. In particular, the team was trying to develop a climbing robot that mimicked the gecko, which uses tiny hairs on its feet to help it climb vertical surfaces. Kim adapted this hairy mechanism in a robot and found that it worked. “It was 2:30 a.m. in the lab, and I couldn’t sleep. I had tried many things, and my heart was thumping,” Kim recalls. “On some replacement doors with tall windows, [the robot] climbed up smoothly, using the world’s first directional adhesives, that I invented. I was so excited to show it to the others, I sent them all a video that night.” He and his colleagues launched a startup to develop the gecko robot further, but again, Kim missed the thrill of being in the lab. He left the company soon after, for a postdoc position at Harvard University, where he helped to engineer the Meshworm, a soft, autonomous robot that inched across a surface like an earthworm. But even then, Kim was setting his sights on bigger designs. “I was moving away from small robots, because it’s very difficult for them do to real, physical work,” Kim says. “And so I decided to develop a larger, four-legged robot for human-level physical tasks — a long-term dream.” In 2009, Kim accepted an assistant professorship in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he established his Biomimetic Robotics Lab and set a specific research goal: to design and build a four-legged, cheetah-inspired robot. “We chose the cheetah because it was the fastest of all land animals, so we learned its features the best, but there are many animals with similarities [to cheetahs],” Kim says. “There are some subtle differences, but probably not ones that you can learn the design principles from.” In fact, Kim quickly learned that in some cases, it may not be the best option to recreate certain animal behaviors in a robot. “A good example in our case is the galloping gait,” Kim says. “It’s beautiful, and in a galloping horse, you hear a da-da-rump, da-da-rump. We were obsessed to recreate that. But it turns out galloping has very few advantages in the robotics world.” Animals prefer specific gaits at a given speed due to a complex interaction of muscles, tendons, and bones. However, Kim found that the cheetah robot, powered with electric motors, exhibited very different kinetics from its animal counterpart. For example, with high-power motors, the robot was able to trot at a steady clip of 14 miles per hour — much faster than animals can trot in nature. “We have to understand what is the governing principle that we need, and ask: Is that a constraint in biological systems, or can we realize it in an engineering domain?” Kim says. “There’s a complex process to find out useful principles overarching the differences between animals and machines. Sometimes obsessing over animal features and characteristics can hinder your progress in robotics.” In addition to building bots in the lab, Kim teaches several classes at MIT, including 2.007, which he has co-taught for the past five years. “It’s still my favorite class, where students really get out of this homework-exam mode, and they have this opportunity to throw themselves into the mud and create their own projects,” Kim says. “Students today grew up in the maker movement and with 3-D printing and Legos, and they’ve been waiting for something like 2.007.” Kim also teaches a class he created in 2013 called Bioinspired Robotics, in which 40 students team up in groups of four to design and build a robot inspired by biomechanics and animal motions. This past year, students showcased their designs in Lobby 7, including a throwing machine, a trajectory-optimizing kicking machine, and a kangaroo machine that hopped on a treadmill. Outside of the lab and the classroom, Kim is studying another human motion: the tennis swing, which he has sought to perfect for the past 10 years. “In a lot of human motion, there’s some secret recipe, because muscles have very special properties, and if you don’t know them well, you can perform really poorly and injure yourself,” Kim says. “It’s all based on muscle function, and I’m still figuring out things in that world, and also in the robotics world.”
News Article | April 9, 2016
Alphabet X, the company's experimental technology lab, recently showcased its bipedal robot that has the capability to climb stairs and overcome hurdles. SCHAFT, which is part of Alphabet's X and popular for winning a DARPA robotics challenge, showed off this robot during the keynote speech of former Android head Andy Rubin at the New Economic Summit (NEST) 2016 in Japan. In 2013, the company acquired SCHAFT as part of the company's bid to penetrate the field of robotics. Originated from the University of Tokyo's JSK Robotics Laboratory, SCHAFT is among the robot companies owned by Alphabet. With regard to its capability, this bipedal robot has the capability to climb stairs, balance on a pipe and navigate on challenging terrains, such as rocky areas, snow and more. In a video uploaded by someone in the audience during the said event, and shared by IEEE Spectrum, the robot is seen balancing a load of food while passing through a stadium. It is even captured walking on a pebbly beach. Moreover, this robot can likewise clean the stairs with the use of its spinning brush and its vacuum placed on its feet. What are lacking, though, are the robot's arms to support it once it falls down. An X spokesperson told IEEE Spectrum that the presentation was only a mere technical demonstration and not an official announcement for the product (yet). "[It] wasn't a product announcement or indication of a specific product roadmap," said the spokesperson. "The team was simply delighted to have a chance to show them latest progress." This means that it may still take a while, perhaps a few more years, before this robot officially hits the market. At the moment, not much is known about SCHAFT's robot. It is apparent, though, that the company is trying to address a variety of real-world problems. Just last month, we reported that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, put Boston Dynamics up for sale, suggesting that it is not happy with this robotic subsidiary. Reportedly, the company believes that it will not be capable of producing considerable revenue. Until we learn more about that, hit the play button below to get a glimpse of this SCHAFT bipedal robot. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | November 2, 2016
Prof Hiroshi Ishiguro – director, Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, Japan, and named one of the top 100 living geniuses by Synetics in 2007 – is a very busy man. So busy, he practically needs a clone to keep up with his work schedule, something many of us have wished for in our own lives. But Ishiguro created one – a near-perfect mechanical likeness of silicon skin, actuators, electronics and his own hair – which he operates remotely via the internet. It means Ishiguro can (almost) be in two places at once: he regularly sends his robot to give lectures at conferences around the world. “It’s very convenient,” he deadpans. Of course, his robot can’t answer questions – he has to do that himself – but the lecture is automated. Although his robot remains seated, it speaks in his voice, and his likeness is readily accepted by others – more readily, in fact, than he can accept this simulacrum of himself. It is, he says, like having a twin brother, only odder. Looking at his android, he says, is more like seeing a photograph than his own mirror image. “That is a very strange feeling – I cannot accept the android face as my face. But other people, they completely accept the android face as my face.” Ishiguro, who will be in Melbourne next week for the Creative Innovation 2016 conference, specialises in the study of human-robot interaction, and human-like or social robots are the subject of his experiments which ask deep questions of humanity itself. In other words, by studying robots, we can learn more about ourselves. Social robots, like his own doppelganger, are likely to soon be integrated into both our home and working lives, something that has obvious implications for employment and social welfare. Reports say that within the next 10 to 20 years, up to 40% of the Australian workforce might be replaced by automation. That’s more than five million jobs. Androids could soon be employed as receptionists, tour guides, even surgeons. Despite their oddness, robots could have some advantages in roles normally performed by humans. For example, Ishiguro’s robots may be used to test for autism in children. “Human eye movement is very complicated,” he says. “Kids with autism cannot focus or gaze on the human’s eyes. But they can gaze on the android’s eyes. So this is another form of cognitive science, and maybe neuroscience.” Similarly, experiments show the elderly – particularly those afflicted by dementia – may relate better to robots than to their human caregivers. The inbuilt paranoia of humans means we are hard-wired to danger: “Always, we think about [our] interlocuter’s deeper intentions,” Ishiguro says. Machines are simply easier to trust. I ask if a robotic caregiver might lack, well, a human touch. Ishiguro’s response (which may be somewhat compromised by language barriers and less than perfect phone reception) is unintentionally comical. “Human touch? What do you mean?” When rephrased – isn’t empathy the most difficult human emotion to replicate? – Ishiguro misinterprets it as a technological problem; in particular, the production of robust human-like skin. “People may expect to use the android for more than 10 years, but usually we need to replace our sort of skin made by silicon every three years. So I think that is kind of a bottleneck of android technologies.” But Ishiguro knows perfectly well that for robots to be accepted in human society, particularly in the workforce, we need to be able to get along with them. Empathise with them, even. And that means making them look and behave more like us. In the not too distant future, we may struggle to tell the difference. “Of course, we are improving the android technology every year and we are improving the materials and the facial expressions and features,” he says. He cites an experiment with an android receptionist used in a company in Japan. “Eighty per cent of people couldn’t [tell the difference], they just said hello to the android,” he says. “The other 20% of people, maybe they thought there was something wrong, maybe not human. But the technology can cheat 80% of people if the android behaves like a receptionist. A receptionist is quite simple.” Even emotions, he says, may not be so difficult to replicate eventually, even empathy. “It’s programmable, and the robot can imitate the human feelings. But feelings [are] deep questions for humans … We use so many ambiguous words for humans – consciousness, heart. In order to deeply understand what these words mean, we need a mirror to reflect humanity.” A mirror? Or perhaps the less appealing photographic image like his android clone? “I think it will be very confusing,” he admits. Prof Hiroshi Ishiguro will speak at Creative Innovation 2016, which will be in Melbourne from 7 to 9 November
News Article | August 25, 2016
Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen during a summer visit to ESTEC's Orbital Robotics Laboratory, experiencing weightless motion in 2D – courtesy of a friction-free air-bearing platform combined with a virtual reality headset.