Carnegie Mellon University celebrates 25 years of field robotics with fascinating video lectures, freely available to the public via webcast.
Field robotics are for many reasons quite interesting, not the least of which because they must be practical! Don’t know which videos you might be interested in watching? Here’s a handy list describing their subjects. The presentations are streamable or downloadable from CMU’s website (files are between 150-250 MB each, and will require a flash player to view).
Perspectives on Space Robotics
This lecture focuses on modular robotic moon colonies, in which we get a glimpse of how and why space colonization will be portable and robotized. There’s some cool conceptual animations which show what the new moon mission might look like, including the daily operations of astronauts who live there for months at a time. Also some fun speculation as to when robots will match human brain power (if not intelligence).
Agricultural Robotics: Creating A Revolution
Unlike space exploration or military robots, agricultural robots (while decidedly less sexy) have the potential to dramatically improve the human condition in the next 20-50 years, and the foreseeable future thereafter. Besides modifying standard farming equipment to include some degree of autonomy, we also see robots built specifically for harvesting fruits from trees as examples of automating a complex process.
Discovery & Exploration of Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents using an Autonomous Robot
While human-operated deep sea vehicles are cool, and allow us to visit otherwise inaccessible areas of the earth’s ocean, there are limitations to their use that autonomous robots can solve. This lecture focuses on the problems of deep sea navigation and mapping, giving a nice overview of the techniques involved, while also providing tangible results (the discovery of hydrothermal vents, as well as the Titanic). Damned interesting stuff.
BigDog: The Rough-Terrain Robot
Most of you have probably seen videos on Youtube of Boston Dynamics’ incredible quadrupedal robotic pack mule, BigDog. Watching this robot in action is simply mesmerizing, but besides cool demonstration clips, you’ll also get an in-depth look at the history of its development as well as conceptual images of how it may be used in the future. If you’re only going to watch one of these lectures, make it this one.
Sun, Surf, & Automation: A Decade of Field Robotics in Australia
As we all know, Australia is a big open place that is largely unpopulated, and as such it is the perfect place to employ field robotics. In this lecture we learn the importance of the systems that govern the behavior of autonomous robots, so that an entire job site works without human input. 100% autonomous cargo bay operations, UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles), and mining operations are discussed. Of particular interest to me is how many lives robotic technology can save in these dangerous work places. This is the future, people!
Case Studies in Space Robotics Development
Exploring other planets in person, such as Mars, would be extremely cool – but sending robots there first certainly makes sense. This is a pretty inspirational presentation with some funny personal stories thrown in for good measure. If you’re interested in the Mars Sojourner, or NASA’s operations in general, this is a great companion to the first lecture in the series. Really great stuff.
Rescue Robots have only been in development since about 1995, after the Kobe earthquakes and the Oklahoma city bombing underlined the need for faster response to areas that are inaccessible to human rescue workers. This lecture focuses on the unexpected issues that arise during real disasters including the WTC attack on 9/11, hurricanes, and mine collapses. Though none of the footage is graphic, be warned that this lecture is a bit disturbing in some cases as it highlights the human cost and the dire need for solutions in these disasters.
It definitely makes you wonder why huge military budgets aren’t being spent on life-saving robots instead of UAV predators.
The Intersection of Humans and Robots
This lecture focuses on the difficulties that astronauts have working in space using standard spacesuits, which are much more cumbersome than one might imagine, and how robotics might improve those working conditions or replace humans entirely. Unfortunately, the lecturer isn’t courageous enough to just advocate the inevitable: Gundams!
Robotic Cars: Are we done yet?
This is the last lecture and possibly the best one, definitely my favorite of the bunch. The idea is that cars and roads as they exist today are terribly inefficient. From the fuels we use, to the number of deaths from accidents (about 40,000 annually), to the congested freeways, there’s a lot of problems with this terribly out-dated mode of transportation. But Mr. Thrun (injecting much humor into his presentation) argues that just as print was revolutionized by the internet, so too can the automobile undergo a similar transformation through robotics. The caveat is that despite success stories from the DARPA Grand Challenge, there is an enormous amount of work left to be done before we can take our hands off the wheel.