The EducatorPR blog today reports on a Society for New Communications Research study that shows that communicators are choosing to use social networking.

“Twenty-seven percent of respondents reported that social media is a core element of their communications strategy. Only 3 percent stated that social media have little or no value to their communications initiatives. Respondents believe that social media is most effective for the following sectors: arts, entertainment and recreation; communications; computer hardware; and education.”

AP is reporting on Honda’s violin-playing robot today.   Honda argues that robots will become an important player in Japanese society in the future because of Japan’s aging population (30,000 people over 100 years old).

“Now we want to accelerate the development of robots that make a contribution to society, drawing on our knowledge and innovation in the field of automobiles.”

Honda is also interested in partnering with Universities to continue to improve robotics.

I didn’t want to keep clogging up the lab webpage with book reports, so I started my own blog: Geb’s world.   I’m going to experiment with putting more of my thoughts out there and devote more time to reading my students ideas on their blogs, if they are interested in participating in the game.

I just finished Cat’s Cradle (again, I hadn’t read it since I was a kid). It’s hard to get over just how clever a writer Kurt Vonnegut is. I happened to pick up the soft cover version last week because it was on the banned books list at the library. I suppose the Bokonon religion stuff may offend some who dislike alternative religious views.

I’m not good at literary criticism, but I think it is safe to say that the book deals with the limitations of pursuing scientific thought and scientific questions for their own sake, and that real wisdom is more likely to come from a more humanitarian view of the world. Basically, the book wonders what the point of scientific truth is, if it doesn’t really improve the human condition. A damn good question.
It also has a few witty things to say about human nature. Here’s a few more snippets that caught my fancy this time:
(more…)

I’ve ignored this blog too long.   I’m reading Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle.”   So far a couple of quotes have struck me as worth remembering:

“All of the true things that I’m about to tell you are shameless lies.”

and

“‘Dr. Breed keeps telling me the main thing with Dr. Hoenikker was truth.’

‘You don’t seem to agree.’

‘I don’t know whether I agree or not.   I just have trouble understanding how truth, all by itself, could be enough for a person.’”

and

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

and

“There was a sign hung around my dead cat’s neck.   It said, ‘meow.’ …. Somebody or something did not wish me to be a nihilist.   It was Krebb’s mission, whether he knew it or not, to disenchant me with that philosophy.   Well, done, Mr. Krebbs, welll done.”

Good stuff, even if it is a bunch of shameless lies.

Welcome to the new semester.   We’ve got a lot of things planned this year.   We’re going to build the USAR Sim Team, develop the solar bike project, move everyone a step closer to graduation and get some of those paper out the door.

I can’t wait to get started!

Updated the GROK Codex to the latest version of Mediawiki, not without some gnashing of teeth.

Also, installed a CAPTCHA service to hopefully reduce the amount of spam.

Just got word that Gray’s team from West High won a national Engineering competition. Congratulations to you, Gray!

Apparently groklab.org is a target for spammers.   I have deleted roughly 30 spam comments/day for the last week from this blog.

I’m turning off comments on new posts.   This setting can be overwritten on individual posts. We’ve only had 1 ‘real’ comment on this blog (thanks Will), so it doesn’t appear that anyone will miss this functionality.

The Semantic Robot Vision Challenge is a new research
competition that is designed to push the state of the art in image
understanding and automatic acquisition of knowledge from large
unstructured databases of images (such as those generally found on the
web).

In this competition, teams will be required to demonstrate a robot
that has the ability to:

  1. Autonomously connect to the Internet and build an object
    classification database sufficient to identify a number of objects
    found on a textual list.
  2. Use this classification database to autonomously search an indoor
    environment for the objects in its list.

Integrating a mobile robot with the vision research adds another
interesting layer of complexity that would not ordinarily be available
in a purely computer vision competition. Semantic understanding of
the objects could also be expanded to scene understanding as well.
Thus, scene context can be used to guide the search for objects in
areas which make the most sense for them to be found (e.g. a stapler
is usually found on a desk rather than on the floor or on a wall).

The Semantic Robotic Vision Challenge

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(reprinted from http://jerryandsarasteele.typepad.com/deez_steeles/2007/03/hri_2007_confer.html)
I attended the 2nd Annual International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) this weekend in Arlington, VA. I presented a poster titled Directed Stigmergy Control of Multi Robot Systems. This is the first academic conference I have attended in about 7 years, and I think it was a nice conference to get back into the mix. I met a lot of (sometimes intimidatingly) smart people, both faculty and fellow students.

  • I was really struck by the diverse interests of the conference patrons. I think this diversity reflects the wide range of disciplines that makes up human-robotic interface research. There were people with psychology and social psychology backgrounds, people with music backgrounds, and of course computer science and engineering. I enjoyed the diversity because it challenged me to think of robotics and the impact of robotics on society much more broadly than I had. In our research we had focused on scientific robots, particularly mobile robots used to explore Mars. This conference brought to my attention many more kinds of robots: robots to assist the elderly and blind, robotic shopping carts, robots that interact with children and give guided tours of museums, that play drums interactively with other drummers, robots that act as proxies for individuals physically located elsewhere.
  • Much of robotics research is taking place in Japan, and there were a lot of Japanese attendees. Some of their presentations blew me away. Japan seems to be making a national investment in using robotics to change society, both as an assistive technology for the disabled and elderly. One of the keynote speakers from Japan, Hiroshi Ishiguro, had a really interesting perspective on robotics. He believes that the study of robotics is the search for deeper understanding of human behavior. His goal is to understand how humans behave and interact with each other to such a detailed level that he can create robots that behave like humans, and allow humans to interact naturally with the robots he creates.
  • One of the recurring conversations at the conference was trying to understand exactly what is Human-Robot Interaction as a scientific discipline? Certainly we draw from engineering, computer science and computer vision. As we seek to make interactions between robots and humans more natural, we draw from more social sciences like psychology, social psychology, even neurobiology. But it appears that HRI has yet to really crystalize or formalize as a discipline in and of itself, in that there are no central theories or agreed upon principles that we all agree upon. It may be difficult to come to that kind of consensus, since right now we build robots with particular traits to solve particular problems…its hard to generalize techniques for a Mars robot to techniques for a robotic shopping cart. At any rate, it is kind of exciting to be working in such a young field. Lots of opportunity, even if there is some risk that in 5 or 10 years it may not exist.
  • I thought it was even more fun to ask the question, “What exactly is a robot?” One definition is that a robot is a collection of automation that senses the environment and can take action on behalf of the operator. So is the automatic flushing toilet a robotic toilet? I think if you asked 50 roboticists, you’d get 50 different answers.
  • Central issues in HRI: People tend to anthropromorphize (treat as though it were human, with human intelligence and motivations) robots. This is a problem because we don’t yet have the artificial intelligence to make the robot behave completely natural, so people get confused. So a lot of the papers were sort of demos of making robots interact with people in different ways and different situations, and seeing how they react. One paper made people play with a little robot, then asked them to kill it by smashing it with a hammer. People said things like, “poor little guy, ” or “that’s so inhumane.”

One thing that you have to consider as a budding academic is which societies and associations you want to align yourself with — whose papers will you read and who do you want to read your papers. I think I will continue to be involved with the HRI crowd because I feel its diversity is a strength. Robotics can take you into so many fields like space exploration, medicine, and in the home. That gives you a lot of opportunity to collaborate with different people in different fields, and extend your own research in lots of different ways.

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Welcome to the GROK Lab. This is the new webpage for the lab. From here you can explore our podcasts and our wiki as well as blogs devoted to individual projects.

The Phoenix Mars lander will be landing on Mars on Sunday, 5/25.  This is a lander, not a rover; it’ll stay in one spot and dig for water and signs of life. 

They’re using the same entry/descent/landing system as the Mars Surveyer that failed spectacularly in 2001 (stupid metric system), as well as parts from the Mars Polar Lander.

Minor correction:  Mars Polar Lander was in failed in Dec 1999 and it probably failed  due early to  engine shutdown in the  last little bit of landing.  Mars Climate Orbiter has the honor of the unit conversion  issues.  Thanks Kurt Schwehr, from Tucson Science Operations Center.

Like the Phoenix bird of ancient mythology, the Phoenix Mars Mission is reborn out of fire; this new mission was created from the embers of previous Mars endeavors. Phoenix will use many components of two unsuccessful Mars missions, MPL and MSP ‘01. Using lessons learned and an extensive testing program, scientists and engineers are confident that Phoenix will rise from the ashes revealing clues in the martian arctic soils about the history of water and potential for biology.

 I thought it was interesting that the project site mentions a number of times that Lockheed Martin is responsible for the spacecraft engineering.

Anyway…have a look.

Phoenix Mars Mission – Home

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The Phoenix Mars lander will be landing on Mars on Sunday, 5/25.  This is a lander, not a rover; it’ll stay in one spot and dig for water and signs of life. 

They’re using the same entry/descent/landing system as the Mars Surveyer that failed spectacularly in 2001 (stupid metric system), as well as parts from the Mars Polar Lander.

Like the Phoenix bird of ancient mythology, the Phoenix Mars Mission is reborn out of fire; this new mission was created from the embers of previous Mars endeavors. Phoenix will use many components of two unsuccessful Mars missions, MPL and MSP ‘01. Using lessons learned and an extensive testing program, scientists and engineers are confident that Phoenix will rise from the ashes revealing
clues in the martian arctic soils about the history of water and potential for biology.

 I thought it was interesting that the project site mentions a number of times that Lockheed Martin is responsible for the spacecraft engineering.

Anyway…have a look.

Phoenix Mars Mission – Home

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Today I attended the 4Cast Conference on Social Networking and Campus Impact.  The purpose of the conference is to get people from around UIowa that are interested in social networking together in one place to discuss how to use social networking on campus.  I’ll try to blog about it as things go along.


9:00: Conference start.  Jon Winet gives an overview of social networking, web2.0, collaboration tools.  Gives examples of weblogs, facebook/myspace, Google docs, flickr, twitter.  Issues about privacy and data mining/aggregation.

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