Douglas L. Vail

I just (as in spring '08) completed my Ph.D. under the guidance of Manuela Veloso and John Lafferty. Starting in the summer of 2008, I will be working as a software engineer for Google at their Pittsburgh location.


I am an interested in machine learning both in general and in the specific case of how ML can be applied to problems, such as activity recognition, in robotics.  I work with undirected graphical models called conditional random fields. Specifically, I am looking at methods for efficiently training CRFs as well as methods for efficient feature selection in CRFs.

These days, my research is a little bit removed from working on actual robots (although most of my data comes from real robots), but in the past I have worked on developing behaviors, coordination algorithms, and vision for our robot soccer team that competes in the AIBO league of RoboCup. (Here are some photos from the first time I was involved in 2002)


Douglas L. Vail. Conditional Random Fields for Activity Recognition. Ph.D. Thesis. April, 2008. [PDF]

Douglas L. Vail and Manuela M. Veloso. Feature Selection for Activity Recognition in Multi-Robot Domains. AAAI 2008. [PDF]

Douglas L. Vail, John D. Lafferty, and Manuela M. Veloso. Feature Selection in Conditional Random Fields for Activity Recognition. IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) 2007. [PDF]

Noah A. Smith, Douglas L. Vail, and John D. Lafferty. Computationally Efficient M-Estimation of Log-Linear Structure Models. ACL 2007. [PDF]

Douglas L. Vail, Manuela M. Veloso, and John D. Lafferty. Conditional Random Fields for Activity Recognition. International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multi-agent Systems (AAMAS), 2007. [PDF]

Manuela M. Veloso, Nicholas Armstrong-Crews, Sonia Chernova, Elisabeth Crawford, Colin McMillen, Maayan Roth, and Douglas Vail. A Team of Humanoid Game Commentators. In Proceedings of Humanoids 2006. [PDF]

Douglas Vail and Manuela Veloso. Learning from accelerometer data on a legged robot. In Proceedings of the 5th IFAC/EURON Symposium on Intelligent Autonomous Vehicles (IAV2004), Lisbon, Portugal, July 2004. [PDF]

Manuela Veloso, Scott Lenser, Douglas Vail, Paul E. Rybski, Nick Aiwazian, and Sonia Chernova. CMRoboBits: Creating and Intelligent AIBO Robot. In Proceedings of the AAAI Spring Symposium on Accessible Hands-on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Education, Stanford, March 2004. [PDF]

Maayan Roth, Douglas Vail, and Manuela Veloso. A world model for multi-robot teams with communication. In Proceedings of IROS'03, October 2003. [PDF]

Douglas Vail and Manuela Veloso. Dynamic multi-robot coordination. In Multi-Robot Systems: From Swarms to Intelligent Automata, A. Schultz, L. Parker, and F. Schneider (eds.), Volume II, pages 87--100. Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003. [PDF]


If you have difficulty playing the following movies, they are known to work with recent versions of VLC, which is a great (and free) cross-platform media player.

CRFs for Robot Activity Recognition

robot tagI am interested in applying conditional random fields to activity recognition problems that involve robots. This video shows a simple tag domain where one of the robots is "it" and tries to tag (approach within 4 cm) of another robot in order to transfer the "it" role to the tagged robot. The robots are observed by two overhead cameras and their positions are determined by detecting the colored markers on the robot tops. The position information is fed into a conditional random field which uses features (selected via L1 regularization) to determine which of the robots is currently executing the "it" role - the CRF answers the question: "Who is it?". In this case, I also wrote the controller that is driving the three robots, so ground truth is readily available and the robot who is truly "it" is indicated by the red circle in the video. The robot identified by the CRF as being it is indicated by the blue circle.

Robot Soccer

robot soccerI was a member of CMU's robot soccer team from 2002 through 2005. This video shows a clip from RoboCup 2005, which was held in Osaka, Japan.

Robot Soccer Commentator

commentator Rather than working on robot soccer in 2006,  I helped develop a pair of robot commentators that watched other robots play soccer. The robots in this case were two Sony QRIO robots, which we had on loan from Sony Research. They used a combination of local vision and information from a referee's laptop to provide commentary during Aibo games at RoboCup 2006. Here are some highlights from one of those games. (It would have been a very natural fit, but I did not have a chance to apply CRFs to the problem of detecting what was going on in the game. Instead, I worked on the vision system for the robot)

Contact Information

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