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A Brief Q & A with Timothy Payne, ARS Lab

Timothy Payne started the Advanced Robotic Systems Laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia in 2006. Unfortunately due to a general lack of funding he had to disband his team in early 2008, but his passion for robotics didn’t die. On the contrary, he decided to begin anew and has recently built a new bipedal humanoid robot named PROTO-2. ARS Lab is planning to give lectures and workshops, and organize competitions, as part of their Buildingbots Initiatives for Higher Learning. This program will no doubt help to inspire young minds to pursue careers in science.  We did a little interview over email which I’m happy to share with you now.

Plastic Pals: Please introduce yourself to our readers.

Timothy Payne: My name is Timothy J. Payne and I am the executive director of Advanced Robotic Systems Laboratory (ARS Lab). ARS Lab is a startup company focused on robotics research and development.

Plastic Pals: Is the ARS Lab affiliated with any universities? Where are you located?

Timothy Payne: We are working with Georgia Tech – Division of Professional Practice – Internship Program. Student’s are able to work for my company in exchange for college credits. I will be interviewing several Computer Science majors over the next few weeks. I am actively seeking grants as well, because I would like to provide them with a monthly stipend. We are currently seeking Computer Science majors, but other majors are welcome to apply. We are located in Atlanta, GA.

Plastic Pals: I noticed you are also looking for RoboCup sponsorship.  Are there any other kinds of partnerships you are looking to make?

Timothy Payne: Currently we are seeking partnerships in education and entertainment.

Plastic Pals: What drew you to robotics, and how did you become involved in humanoid robotics?

Timothy Payne: I have been fascinated with robotics all of my life. As a child, I would attempt to build a robot out of anything that would come apart with a screw driver. As an adult, I am interested in helping to change negative stigmas associated with robots in western culture.

Plastic Pals: That’s what this site is all about, educating people about robots.  Your robot PROTO-2 features a toe joint that most bipedal robots do not have, but which seems like an important feature for walking. The website mentions that this has to do with possible uses in prostheses. Could you expand on this?

Timothy Payne: Walking is a state of controlled falling forward. Humans use very little energy while walking because we allow gravity to pull us forward (while we simply put one foot in front of the other). Humanoid robots which use a bent-knee stance to lower their center of balance waste energy unnecessarily.

Plastic Pals: Ok, so you’ll be looking at using a limit-cycle form of control as opposed to the ZMP method.  Any thoughts on Waseda University’s Wabian-2?  It is a full-sized humanoid with a similar toe joint and is being used to study walking gaits evolved using genetic algorithms (for rehabilitation purposes).

Timothy Payne: Waseda University has incredible humanoid projects and their Wabian-2 has a very natural gait. I look forward to when ARS Lab has the budget to incorporate Harmonic gear drives in our designs.

Plastic Pals: It seems like all the larger bipeds use harmonic gears.  I didn’t realize they were so expensive.  I noticed there are designs for fingers and hands, will these be added to PROTO-2 at some point in the future, or are these prosthetic designs?  Does it have functional grippers?

Timothy Payne: PROTO-2 does have functional grippers. The design for the Linear-Actuator Driven Finger is for a full-size humanoid robot (currently being designed). The Tendon-Driven Robot Hand will be incorporated in PROTO-3.

Plastic Pals: I look forward to seeing it completed, the CAD shots at your website look pretty slick.  How long has PROTO-2 been in development?

Timothy Payne: PROTO-2 took three months to design and construct (a lot of that time was waiting for shipping).

Plastic Pals: It appears to be covered in a polyester fiber suit which nicely conceals the internal mechanisms.  Have you run into any problems such as over-heating?

Timothy Payne: We have not run into any heat issues yet, but at the same time we have not had the chance to do extensive testing. The suit is made of a plastic mesh, which allows ventilation. PROTO-3 has a cooling system incorporated in its design.

Plastic Pals: The form-fitting suit is a good way to prevent the usual reaction that so many people have when they see the exposed guts of a robot.  It seems like something other robots could maybe learn from.  So what’s next for PROTO-2 and ARS Lab?

Timothy Payne: We are going to use PROTO-2 as a platform for implementing new robot simulation software. I am very excited about the new approaches which we are taking with Artificial Intelligence. I would like to go into more detail about this; however, we (my technical director and I) are still working out the details. Research from PROTO-2 will be used in the construction of PROTO-3. I would like to market PROTO-3 as platform for researchers, universities and hobbyists.

Plastic Pals: Interesting.  I’m glad to see a U.S.-based robotics company that is interested in developing bipedal technology since so often they only focus on the upper torso.  Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to seeing PROTO-2 and the Tendon-Driven Robot Hand in action on video soon!

For more information, please visit ARS Lab.