Anthropomorphism and AI; Have We Built The Robots Too Much Like Us?

When we talk about AI, we think a purely rational and reasoned approach to a problem (think Spock) but some machines seem to exhibit distinct personalities. More than one ‘bot has blithely navigated the lined travel avenue only to panic at the first obstruction, turn tail, and run back from whence it came. The leading team’s unit swept past barrel after barrel with aplomb only to loose its composure on a bridge as if it were afraid of heights. And some entries look at the barrels as a chance to go bowling and charge through with reckless and fun-filled abandon. S&T’s youthful “triMAXion” is no exception as it rocked a barrel with a good (?) solid hit.

When clouds block the sun, the quick changes in ground contrast seem to confuse some machines. And somewhat lower on the food chain are the machines that think it is Groundhog Day; they see their own shadow and run back into their burrows.

What Did We Do On Our Summer Vacation? If We Told You We’d Have To Kill You!

Two S&T grad students working Boeing’s Phantom Works this summer have flown in to help Aluminator figure out its coding issues. Ryan Meuth and Paul Robinette, ‘bot team veterans both, took the overnight flight from Seattle to help work out some stubborn electronic issues. Both are working on a program that will allow perhaps hundreds of robots to “swarm” an objective without the help of an on-the-ground operator used on the Predator-style drones. It is kinda hush-hush, but we can let on that it involves programming toy helicopters to do things the manufacturer never intended.
There’s just no telling where a S&T education will take you.

S&T’s Rookie Robot Team Makes The Design Finals!

Day three near Detroit sees only about one third of the teams have qualified for tomorrow’s race, and one of those teams is from S&T (of course)! Out of about 40 teams the upstart IDE team’s triMAXion joined Princeton U as one of only six teams in the design finals, and will get a chance to move even higher in the rankings when they repeat their presentation to a tougher set of judges.

They spent all their efforts (and miniscule budget) on using an existing commercial mobility platform (electric wheelchair) to which they mounted a high performance (Mac) processor, devised a simple but elegant (Mac) modular control system, and mounted a single stylish (Mac) iSight camera that costs about 1/10th the price of most other visual systems in use at the event. They clearly designed to the objective with a simple, effective and reliable machine, and to save cost they even made the upper section out of scrap lumber, but it looks pretty sharp anyway. Smart, too (Mac). **No disclaimer needed to figure out what platform THIS is written on.**

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Artificial Intelligence And The OS Struggle

The core concept of the IGVC event is to wed mechanical systems that DO the work, with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs that CONTROL the process, just as our brains control our muscles. A stroll through the "pit" area this weekend reveals a dazzling array of machines, programs, and design approaches that serve as the cerebral part of the process. Advances in AI (with an emphasis on INTELLIGENCE) seem to parallel the growing number of Mac laptops in heavy use on many teams; a quantum leap in the "I" part of AI in the view of many. We counted at least two dozen Macs up and down pit row, where virtually none existed last year.
In discussing this phenomenon, someone asked if anyone at the event was using Vista, so we searched high and low, and did, in fact find three Vista users, whose images follow:

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Robotics Team Enters Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition

Now that all the fast motion teams (Baja, HPVC, FSAE, AAVG, etc.) have pretty much wrapped up their competitions, the team whose work might actually replace the human operator in future vehicles is taking the field this weekend in suburban Detroit. S&T is fielding two robotics teams in the annual IGVC competition at Oakland University, in the shadow of Chrysler’s world headquarters. One group is the established S&T Robotics Team, and the other is a small new group (only three students) from the Interdisciplinary Engineering Department.
In this event the teams design and build autonomous robots that can haul a 20-lb payload down a narrow path, around obstacles, while surmounting varying terrain challenges, and all against a time limit. As with many other design events, there are written reports to submit, oral presentations to give, and qualifying tests of the machines to determine if the free-willed(?) vehicles can actually move as advertised.

Since yesterday some 40 teams from the U.S., Canada and Japan have filled a nearly 100-yard-long party tent with all manner of computers, mechanical assemblies, test equipment, and perhaps most item important of all, snack food to best fuel all that brain activity.

While writing code seems to be the primary order of the day as teams struggle to work out the last of the bugs, and test, test, and test yet again, there are still a lot of mundane things to do, such as sewing a restraint strap for the required payload.
The Miners’ IDE team with its simple, but rugged wheelchair-based design "triMAXion" was one of the earliest qualifiers, the Robotics Competition Team’s more complex and ambitious "Aluminator" is expected to reach that hurdle today. While the event won’t exactly feature wheel-to-wheel racing that Miner fans have come to expect, we’ll have more news as the event goes on, along with some of our, ahem, commentary on various issues. In the meantime we’ll post a few more images to help you get the flavor of the event

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Robots and stuff

The UMR Robotics Team was in action this past weekend with a new robot called Aluminator. UMR was one of 21 qualifying teams at the IGVC Robotics Competition in Michigan (36 teams entered). But, despite the team’s best efforts, Aluminator didn’t exactly dominate.
The robots have to navigate a course using artificial intelligence. According to UMR team spokesperson Paul Robinette, UMR team members stayed up all night one night making sure Aluminator really turned left when it was supposed to turn left, making sure the GPS worked, and so on. But Robinette says this year’s course was extra long (900 feet if we heard Paul right) and extra difficult. Aluminator made it 24 feet before short-circuiting (well, it didn’t really short circuit, but that kind of terminology comes to mind for some reason.) Anyway, our good friends from Virginia Tech have apparently won the competition. Their robot reportedly made it to within 20 feet of the end of the course — No robots that we know of made it all the way to the end. Paul says the official results won’t be announced for a month or two.
P.S. Bob has added some more photos to the flickr feature on the right side of the page. This time, he captured images of UMR’s National Championship Solar Car from 2003 making a recent appearance in the Rolla Sesquicentennial Parade. At first, we thought it was the Sasquatch Centennial Parade, and we were looking forward to seeing all of the 100-year-old bigfoots. But we were way off on that.

Robo mojo

The Robotics Team has a new toy. Check it out.
Also, don’t forget to vote for Bob’s Best Pic (below). So far, the human power picture has a commanding lead. We’ll post the winning photograph tomorrow.
After the jump: Read a report from Paul Robinette, who is one of the leaders on the robotics team. Paul starts with some stories from last year and then talks about this year’s team members, including Overly Ambitious Freshman Ron, who built his own fire breathing robot.

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