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Robotic Autonomy

Speakers Institution

#1: Tom Hsiu

Robotic Autonomy's first speaker worked with course instructor, Illah Nourbakhsh, to design the TrikeBot. His speech, however, concentrated on his years of experience designing robots for Hollywood films such as Free Willy 2 and Anaconda. He also talked about his later work as a consultant and inventor.

Videos he brought along demonstrated the mechanical innards and function of the giant robots he helped to build. For instance, Hsiu described the challenges in making a swimming robot or a giant snake 'bot move realistically using hydraulic pressure lines.

#2: Tom Lauwers

Currently co-president of the CMU Robotics Club, Lauwers visited the class to discuss his experience with the club. He talked about what it's like to come together with students from a variety of disciplines and work together on robotics-related projects.

Lauwers described working on both large and small robots to compete in contests. He also explained some of the supporting systems the club is building to make future CMU robots outperform contest rivals. The club leader helpfully provided a list of links for Robotic Autonomy students to explore.

#3: Anthony Rowe

One of the inventors of CMUcam came to tell the story of its capability to the robonauts during the week they attached it to their trikebots. Rowe helped initiate the students into the world of machine vision and visual tracking by demonstrating appropriate objects with which to test the camera and the camera's corresponding output.

Rowe also told the students about his use of the CMUcam on “Barney,” his winning entry in last year's Mobot competition at CMU. Rowe and his teammate, Alok Ladsariya, used the camera and hardware processors of their own design to negotiate the challenging line-following course. They won a $1,000 prize for their efforts.

#4: Salvatore Desiano


Robotic Autonomy's first guest speaker from NASA provided an inside view to robotics research at the space agency. Desiano's description of his work environment focussed mostly on the development of the Personal Satellite Assistant. The PSA is designed to float autonomously aboard the International Space Station. It's mission is to provide a communications and monitoring portal for both astronauts and ground-based NASA staff. The PSA is scheduled for it's first space flight in five years.

An illuminating aspect of Desiano's talk was the similarity of components between the PSA and the robonaut's TrikeBots. They share wireless networking, IR rangefinders, and a serial interface between components. He told the students that having entered the world of robotics, they'll encounter similar problems and be able to use the knowledge they've gained in Robotic Autonomy.

#5: Liam Pedersen


Regaling the students with tales of adventure and exploration, the NASA contractor described his work on two robotics projects, Nomad and K9. Pedersen received his doctorate at CMU working on Nomad, a large robot designed to traverse the icy landscape of Antarctica, hunting for meteorites.

After describing Nomad's and his antarctic exploits, Pedersen described the K9 project to the class. K9 is a NASA Ames testbed, created to explore how best to conduct experiments with an autonomous robot and explore the surface of Mars. Pedersen demonstrated how K9 uses vision to scope out interesting Martian rocks and can then negotiate the terrain to analyze them.