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← My seven species of robot | Dennis Hong | TEDxNASA

At TEDxNASA, Dennis Hong introduces seven award-winning, all-terrain robots - like the humanoid, soccer-playing DARwIn and the cliff-gripping CLIMBeR - all built by his team at RoMeLa, Virginia Tech. Watch to the end to hear the five creative secrets to his lab's incredible technical success.

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Showing Revision 12 created 02/24/2015 by Ivana Korom.

  1. Thanks for having me.
  2. We have too many really exciting
    robotics works that I want to show you
  3. but we only have 18 minutes,
  4. so I really had a hard time
    trying to cut down the slides.
  5. But let's see how it goes,
    we have 18 minutes
  6. and an apology in advance,
    I'm probably going to speak really fast.
  7. So, the first robot I'll talk about
    is called STriDER.
  8. It stands for Self-excited
    Tripedal Dynamic Experimental Robot.
  9. It's a robot that has three legs,
  10. which is inspired by nature.
  11. But have you seen anything in nature,
  12. an animal that has three legs?
  13. Probably not.
  14. So, why do I call this
    a biologically inspired robot?
  15. How would it work?
  16. But before that,
    let's look at pop culture.
  17. So, you know H.G. Wells'
    "War of the Worlds," novel and movie.
  18. And what you see over here
  19. is a very popular video game,
  20. and in this fiction they describe
    these alien creatures
  21. and robots that have three legs
    that terrorize Earth.
  22. But my robot, STriDER,
    does not move like this.
  23. So, how does it work?
  24. So, this is an actual
    dynamic simulation animation.
  25. I'm just going to show you
    how the robot works.
  26. So when I go to robotics conferences,
  27. I show this video to some of my colleagues
  28. and everybody goes, wow, this is cool.
  29. So when I click this,
    it's going to show an animation,
  30. so everybody say "Ooh" and "Aah".
  31. Ooh.
  32. Aah. Isn't that cool?
  33. It flips its body 180 degrees
  34. and it swings its leg between
    the two legs and catches the fall.
  35. So, that's how it walks.
  36. If you think about it, it looks
    very complicated, almost organic.
  37. But why are we trying to do this?
  38. How is this biologically inspired?
  39. Let me talk about it a little bit.
  40. So, when you look at us
    human beings, bipedal walking,
  41. what you're doing is
    you're not really using a muscle
  42. to lift your leg and walk like a robot.
  43. What you're doing is you really swing
    your leg and catch the fall,
  44. stand up again,
    swing your leg and catch the fall.
  45. You're using your built-in dynamics,
    the physics of your body,
  46. just like a pendulum.
  47. We call that the concept
    of passive dynamic locomotion.
  48. What you're doing is, when you stand up,
  49. potential energy to kinetic energy,
  50. potential energy to kinetic energy.
  51. It's a constantly falling process.
  52. So, even though there is nothing
    in nature that looks like this,
  53. really, we were inspired by biology
  54. and applying the principles of walking
    to this robot.
  55. Thus it's a biologically inspired robot.
  56. What you see over here,
    this is what we want to do next.
  57. We want to fold up the legs
    and shoot it up for long-range motion.
  58. And it deploys legs -
    it looks almost like "Star Wars" -
  59. when it lands, it absorbs
    the shock and starts walking.
  60. What you see over here, this yellow thing,
    this is not a death ray. (Laughter)
  61. This is just to show you
    that if you have cameras
  62. or different types of sensors -
  63. because it is tall, it's 1.8 meters tall -
  64. you can see over obstacles like bushes
    and those kinds of things.
  65. So we have two prototypes.
  66. The first version, in the back,
    that's STriDER I.
  67. One of the problems
    that we had with STriDER I -
  68. The one in front, the smaller,
    is STriDER II.
  69. The problem that we had
    with STriDER I is
  70. it was just too heavy in the body.
  71. We had so many motors,
    you know, aligning the joints,
  72. and those kinds of things.
  73. So, we decided to synthesize
    a mechanical mechanism
  74. so we could get rid of all the motors,
    and with a single motor
  75. we can coordinate all the motions.
  76. It's a mechanical solution to a problem,
    instead of using mechatronics.
  77. So, with this now the top body
    is light enough.
  78. So, it's walking in our lab;
    this was the very first successful step.
  79. It's still not perfected -
    its coffee falls down -
  80. so we still have a lot of work to do.
  81. The second robot I want to talk about
    is called IMPASS.
  82. It stands for
  83. Intelligent Mobility Platform
    with Actuated Spoke System.
  84. So, it's a wheel-leg hybrid robot.
  85. So, think of a rimless wheel
  86. or a spoke wheel,
  87. but the spokes individually
    move in and out of the hub;
  88. so, it's a wheel-leg hybrid.
  89. We are literally re-inventing
    the wheel here.
  90. Let me demonstrate how it works.
  91. So, in this video we're using an approach
  92. called the reactive approach.
  93. Just simply using the tactile sensors
    on the feet,
  94. it's trying to walk over
    a changing terrain,
  95. a soft terrain
    where it pushes down and changes.
  96. And just by the tactile information,
  97. it successfully crosses over
    these type of terrain.
  98. But, when it encounters
    a very extreme terrain,
  99. in this case, this obstacle
    is more than three times
  100. the height of the robot,
  101. Then it switches to a deliberate mode,
  102. where it uses a laser range finder,
  103. and camera systems,
    to identify the obstacle and the size,
  104. and it plans, carefully plans
    the motion of the spokes
  105. and coordinates it
    so that it can show this
  106. kind of very very impressive mobility.
  107. You probably haven't seen
    anything like this out there.
  108. This is a very high mobility robot
  109. that we developed called IMPASS.
  110. When you drive your car,
    when you steer it,
  111. you use a method called
    Ackermann steering,
  112. the front wheels rotate like this.
  113. But most of the small wheeled robots
    use a method called differential steering
  114. where the left and right wheel
    turn in opposite directions.
  115. For IMPASS, we can do many,
    many different types of motion.
  116. For example, in this case, even though
    the left and right wheel is connected
  117. with a single axle rotating
    at the same angle of velocity,
  118. we just simply change
    the length of the spoke.
  119. It affects the diameter and then
    can turn to the left and to the right.
  120. These are just some examples
  121. of the neat things
    that we can do with IMPASS.
  122. This robot is called CLIMBeR:
  123. Cable-suspended Limbed Intelligent
    Matching Behavior Robot.
  124. So, I've been talking to a lot
    of NASA JPL scientists -
  125. at JPL they are famous
    for the Mars rovers -
  126. and the scientists,
    geologists always tell me
  127. that the real interesting science,
  128. the science-rich sites,
    are always at the cliffs.
  129. But the current rovers cannot get there.
  130. So, inspired by that
    we wanted to build a robot
  131. that can climb a structured
    cliff environment.
  132. So, this is CLIMBeR.
  133. So, what it does, it has three legs.
    It's difficult to see,
  134. but it has a winch
    and a cable at the top -
  135. and it tries to figure out
    the best place to put its foot.
  136. And then once it figures that out
  137. in real time, it calculates
    the force distribution:
  138. how much force it needs
    to exert to the surface
  139. so it doesn't tip and doesn't slip.
  140. Once it stabilizes that, it lifts a foot,
  141. and then with the winch
    it can climb up these kinds of thing.
  142. Also for search and rescue
    applications as well.
  143. This robot is called MARS:
    Multi-Appendage Robotic System.
  144. Five years ago I actually
    worked at NASA JPL
  145. during the summer as a faculty fellow.
  146. And they already had
    a six legged robot called LEMUR.
  147. So, this is actually based on that.
  148. So, it's a hexapod robot.
  149. We developed our adaptive gait planner.
  150. We actually have a very interesting
    payload on there.
  151. The students like to have fun.
  152. It shows very interesting mobility,
  153. and here you can see that it's walking
    over a structured terrain.
  154. It's little bit difficult to see,
    in the videos over here,
  155. it's trying to walk
    on the coastal terrain, sandy area,
  156. but depending on the moisture content
    or the grain size of the sand
  157. the foot's soil sinkage model changes.
  158. So, it tries to adapt its gait
  159. to successfully cross over
    these kind of things.
  160. It also does some fun stuff,
    as you can imagine.
  161. We get so many visitors visiting our lab.
  162. So, when the visitors come,
    MARS walks up to the computer,
  163. starts typing "Hello, my name is MARS.
  164. Welcome to RoMeLa,
  165. the Robotics Mechanisms Laboratory
    at Virginia Tech."
  166. This robot is an amoeba robot.
  167. Now, we don't have enough time
    to go into technical details,
  168. I'll just show you some
    of the experiments.
  169. So, this is some of the early
    feasibility experiments.
  170. We store potential energy
    to the elastic skin to make it move.
  171. Or use active tension cords
    to make it move forward and backward.
  172. We've also been working with scientists
    and engineers from UPenn
  173. to come up with a chemically
    actuated version of this Amoeba robot.
  174. We do something to something,
  175. and just like magic, it moves. The blob.
  176. It's called ChIMERA.
  177. This robot is a very recent project.
  178. It's called RAPHaEL.
  179. Robotic Air Powered Hand
    with Elastic Ligaments.
  180. There are a lot of really neat, very good
    robotic hands out there in the market.
  181. The problem is they're just too expensive,
    tens of thousands of dollars.
  182. So, for prosthesis applications
    it's probably not too practical,
  183. because it's not affordable.
  184. We wanted to go tackle this problem
    in a very different direction.
  185. Instead of using electrical motors,
    electromechanical actuators,
  186. we're using compressed air.
  187. We developed these
    novel actuators for joints.
  188. It is compliant.
    You can actually change the force,
  189. simply just changing the air pressure.
  190. And it can actually crush
    an empty soda can.
  191. It can pick up very delicate objects
    like a raw egg,
  192. or in this case, a lightbulb.
  193. The best part, it took only $200 dollars
    to make the first prototype.
  194. This robot is actually
    a family of snake robots
  195. that we call HyDRAS,
  196. Hyper Degrees-of-freedom
    Robotic Articulated Serpentine.
  197. The one that you see over here -
    you can see it outdoors in the lobby
  198. we actually have a demo,
    please stop by during the break time.
  199. This is a robot that can climb structures.
  200. This is a HyDRAS's arm.
  201. It's a 12 degrees of freedom robotic arm.
  202. But the cool part is the user interface.
  203. The cable over there,
    that's an optical fiber.
  204. And this student,
    probably the first time using it,
  205. but she can articulate
    it many different ways.
  206. So, for example in Iraq,
    you know, the war zone,
  207. there is roadside bombs.
  208. Currently you send these remotely
    controlled vehicles that are armed.
  209. It takes really a lot of time
    and it's expensive
  210. to train the operator
    to operate this complex arm.
  211. In this case it's very intuitive;
  212. this student, probably
    his first time using it,
  213. doing very complex manipulation tasks,
  214. picking up objects and doing manipulation,
    just like that.
  215. Very intuitive.
  216. Now, this robot is currently
    our star robot.
  217. We actually have a fan club
    for the robot, DARwIn:
  218. Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot
    with Intelligence.
  219. As you know, we are very interested
    in human walking,
  220. so we decided to build
    a small humanoid robot.
  221. This was in 2004; at that time,
  222. this was something really revolutionary.
  223. This was more of a feasibility study:
  224. What kind of motors should we use?
  225. Is it even possible?
    What kinds of controls should we do?
  226. So, this does not have any sensors.
  227. So, it's an open loop control.
  228. For those who probably know,
    if you don't have any sensors
  229. and there are any disturbances,
    you know what happens.
  230. (Laughter)
  231. So, based on that success,
    the following year
  232. we did the proper mechanical design
  233. starting from kinematics.
  234. And thus, DARwIn I was born in 2005.
  235. It stands up, it walks - very impressive.
  236. However, still, as you can see,
    it has a cord, umbilical cord.
  237. So, we're still using
    an external power source
  238. and external computation.
  239. So, in 2006, now it's really
    time to have fun.
  240. Let's give it intelligence.
  241. We give it all the computing power
    it needs:
  242. a 1.5 gigahertz Pentium M chip,
  243. two FireWire cameras,
    rate gyros, accelerometers,
  244. four force sensors on the foot,
    lithium polymer batteries.
  245. And now DARwIn II
    is completely autonomous.
  246. It is not remote controlled.
  247. There are no tethers. It looks around,
    searches for the ball,
  248. looks around, searches for the ball,
    and it tries to play a game of soccer,
  249. autonomously: artificial intelligence.
  250. Let's see how it does.
    This was our very first trial, and...
  251. (Video): Spectators: Goal!
  252. Dennis Hong: So, there is actually
    a competition called RoboCup.
  253. I don't know how many of you
    have heard about RoboCup.
  254. It's an international autonomous
    robot soccer competition.
  255. And the goal of RoboCup,
    the actual goal is,
  256. by the year 2050
  257. we want to have full size,
    autonomous humanoid robots
  258. play soccer against
    the human World Cup champions
  259. and win.
  260. It's a true actual goal.
    It's a very ambitious goal,
  261. but we truly believe that we can do it.
  262. So, this is last year in China.
  263. We were the very first team
    in the United States that qualified
  264. in the humanoid RoboCup competition.
  265. This is this year in Austria.
  266. You're going to see the action,
    three against three,
  267. completely autonomous.
  268. There you go. Yes!
  269. The robots track and they
  270. team play amongst themselves.
  271. It's very impressive.
    It's really a research event
  272. packaged in a more exciting
    competition event.
  273. What you see over here,
    this is the beautiful
  274. Louis Vuitton Cup trophy.
  275. So, this is for the best humanoid,
  276. and we would like to bring this
    for the very first time,
  277. to the United States next year,
    so wish us luck.
  278. (Applause)
  279. Thank you.
  280. DARwIn also has a lot of other talents.
  281. Last year it actually conducted
    the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra
  282. for the holiday concert.
  283. This is the next generation robot,
    DARwIn IV,
  284. but smarter, faster, stronger.
  285. And it's trying to show off its ability:
  286. "I'm macho, I'm strong.
  287. I can also do some Jackie Chan-motion,
  288. martial art movements."
  289. (Laughter)
  290. And it walks away.
    So, this is DARwIn IV.
  291. And again, you'll be able
    to see it in the lobby.
  292. We truly believe this is going to be
    the very first
  293. running humanoid robot
    in the United States, so, stay tuned.
  294. All right. So I showed you some
    of our exciting robots at work.
  295. So, what is the secret of our success?
  296. Where do we come up with these ideas?
  297. How do we develop these kinds of ideas?
  298. We win awards after awards,
    year after year.
  299. We're actually running out of wall space
    to put these plaques,
  300. they're staring to accumulate on the floor
    hopefully we didn't loose any.
  301. These are just the awards
    that we won in 2007 fall
  302. from robotics competitions
    and those kinds of things.
  303. So, really, we have five secrets.
  304. First is: Where do we get inspiration?
  305. Where do we get this spark of imagination?
  306. This is a true story, my personal story.
  307. At night when I go to bed, 3 - 4 a.m.
  308. I lie down, close my eyes,
    and I see these lines and circles
  309. and different shapes floating around.
  310. And they assemble, and they form
    these kinds of mechanisms.
  311. And then I think, "Ah this is cool."
  312. So, right next to my bed
    I keep a notebook,
  313. a journal, with a special pen
    that has a light on it, LED light,
  314. because I don't want to turn on
    the light and wake up my wife.
  315. So, I see this, scribble everything down,
    draw things, and I go to bed.
  316. Every day in the morning,
  317. the first thing I do
    before my first cup of coffee,
  318. before I brush my teeth,
    I open my notebook.
  319. Many times it's empty,
  320. sometimes I have something there -
    sometimes it's junk
  321. but most of the time
    I can't even read my handwriting.
  322. And so, 4 in the morning,
    what do you expect, right?
  323. So, I need to decipher what I wrote.
  324. But sometimes I see
    this ingenious idea in there,
  325. and I have this eureka moment.
  326. I directly run to my home office,
    sit at my computer,
  327. I type in the ideas, I sketch things out
  328. and I keep a database of ideas.
  329. So, when we have these
    calls for proposals,
  330. I try to find a match between
    my potential ideas and the problem.
  331. If there is a match
    we write a research proposal,
  332. get the research funding in, and that's
    how we start our research programs.
  333. But just a spark of imagination
    is not good enough.
  334. How do we develop these kinds of ideas?
  335. At our lab RoMeLa, the Robotics
    and Mechanisms Laboratory,
  336. we have these fantastic
    brainstorming sessions.
  337. So, we gather around,
    we discuss about problems
  338. and solutions to the problems
    and talk about it.
  339. But before we start
    we set this golden rule.
  340. The rule is:
  341. Nobody criticizes anybody's ideas.
  342. Nobody criticizes any opinion.
  343. This is important, because many times
    students, they fear
  344. or they feel uncomfortable
    how others might think
  345. about their opinions and thoughts.
  346. So, once you do this, it is amazing
  347. how the students open up.
  348. They have these wacky, cool,
    crazy, brilliant ideas,
  349. and the whole room is just electrified
    with creative energy.
  350. And this is how we develop our ideas.
  351. Well, we're running out of time.
  352. One more thing I want to talk about is,
  353. you know, just a spark of idea
    and development is not good enough.
  354. There was a great TED moment,
  355. I think it was Sir Ken Robinson, was it?
  356. He gave a talk about how education
  357. and school kills creativity.
  358. Well, actually, there are
    two sides to the story.
  359. So, there is only so much one can do
  360. with just ingenious ideas
  361. and creativity and good
    engineering intuition.
  362. If you want to go beyond a tinkering,
  363. if you want to go beyond
    a hobby of robotics
  364. and really tackle the grand challenges
    of robotics
  365. through rigorous research
    we need more than that.
  366. This is where school comes in.
  367. Batman, fighting against bad guys,
  368. he has his utility belt,
    he has his grappling hook,
  369. he has all different kinds of gadgets.
  370. For us roboticists,
    engineers and scientists,
  371. these tools, these are the courses
    and classes you take in class.
  372. Math, differential equations.
  373. I have linear algebra, science, physics,
  374. even nowadays, chemistry
    and biology, as you've seen.
  375. These are all the tools that we need.
  376. So, the more tools you have, for Batman,
  377. more effective at fighting the bad guys,
  378. for us, more tools to attack
    these kinds of big problems.
  379. So, education is very important.
  380. Also, it's not about that,
    only about that.
  381. You also have to work really, really hard.
  382. So, I always tell my students,
  383. "Work smart, then work hard."
  384. This picture in the back
    this is 3 in the morning.
  385. I guarantee if you come
    to your lab at 3 - 4 am
  386. we have students working there,
  387. not because I tell them to,
    but because we are having too much fun.
  388. Which leads to the last topic:
  389. Do not forget to have fun.
  390. That's really the secret of our success,
    we're having too much fun.
  391. I truly believe that highest productivity
    comes when you're having fun,
  392. and that's what we're doing.
  393. Again, we're running out of time.
  394. Hopefully I'll have another chance
    to talk to you about and introduce
  395. some other exciting robotics projects
    that we didn't have time to talk about.
  396. We have a fully autonomous vehicle
  397. that can drive into urban environments.
  398. We won a half a million dollars
    in the DARPA Urban Challenge.
  399. We also have the world's very first
  400. vehicle that can be driven by the blind.
  401. We call it the Blind Driver Challenge,
    very exciting.
  402. And many, many other robotics projects
    I want to talk about.
  403. There you go.
    Go out there, read a great book.
  404. Get inspired, invent, work really hard.
  405. Stay in school.
  406. Come up with cool ideas,
    I'll be happy to learn more about [them].
  407. Shoot me an email, let's talk about it.
  408. There you go. Thank you so much.
  409. (Applause)