The researchers at Keio University here do some surprising work. They're breaking new ground with user interfaces and communication, both between man and machines, and between people. Their projects usually involve the application of readily available technology in new and different ways.
A good example is the PYGMY robot ring project presented by Masayasu Ogata (Anzai Imai Lab) at the Interaction 2012 Conference held last week in Tokyo.
DARPA, the same folks that brought us, or at least funded, the development of the Internet and several autonomous robotic vehicles, has a new challenge. If you like puzzles, mental gymnastics, and extremely short deadlines, you're going to love this one.
It turns out that the US military frequently takes over the headquarters of hostile forces, but all too often all the critical paperwork containing precious clues and insights has been shredded before they can get their hands on it. That's where the DARPA challenge comes in. They're putting up a $50,000 prize for the team that can come up with the best solution for putting all the shredded information back together again.
Rather than just present one puzzle, which might be too difficult for any team to solve, DARPA has posted five puzzles with increasing levels of complexity. The puzzles are already up on the challenge website, and can be downloaded by anyone, even if they decide not to enter the competition.
To keep things even more interesting and exciting, they have a Leaderboard on the website that is updated regularly. The winning team will be announced on December 5, 2011.
(Via DARPA Shredder Challenge.)
I'm so incredibly jealous. Lady Ada over at AdaFruit Industries has all these great toys to play and experiment with, and she's figured out how to do it while enriching all of our hacker lives and making a little money to find more great stuff.
The 'toy' that triggered this post for me is some conductive rubber stretch cord that acts as a sensor. It's like being able to pull on the end of a resistor and have it's characteristics change linearly as it gets longer and shorter. Way cool! And it is incredibly cheap. She's priced it at less than ten dollars for a full meter and even includes a pair of alligator clips and a 10k resistor. Science teachers, for example, could dice it up and have enough for each student to have a piece for experiments.
The only drawback that I can see is that the sensor takes a little while to recover after being stretched, though I guess that could be compensated for in some applications by using two sensors in opposition.
As usual, the AdaFruit website has a great related tutorial page so you can learn while having fun.
Basic assumptions, whether explicitly defined or not, often determine the eventual success, or failure, of all research and design projects. It's all too easy for an engineer to make assumptions that don't bear out in the real world. It's also very common for corporate management to dedicate huge budgets to projects built on faulty logic.
After watching, and thinking about, some of the patient assistance robotic technology showcased yesterday by Toyota, I really have to wonder what their original design assumptions were. A good example is the Toyota Patient Transfer Assist Robot.
If you want to get a broad overview and understanding of sensor technologies you might as well learn from the best. Luckily, the MIT OpenCourseWare program is dedicated to making the same educational material, including course outlines, readings, lectures, assignments, and often videos, that are used to teach MIT students both at undergraduate and graduate levels.
For example, one of the program's current offerings is "MAS.836 Sensor Technologies for Interactive Environments:
"This course is a broad introduction to a host of sensor technologies, illustrated by applications drawn from human-computer interfaces and ubiquitous computing. After extensively reviewing electronics for sensor signal conditioning, the lectures cover the principles and operation of a variety of sensor architectures and modalities, including pressure, strain, displacement, proximity, thermal, electric and magnetic field, optical, acoustic, RF, inertial, and bioelectric. Simple sensor processing algorithms and wired and wireless network standards are also discussed. "
The MIT OpenCourseWare program material is covered by their Creative Commons License, and the best part is that it's absolutely free. All you have to do is bring your own intelligence, curiosity, and dedication. You can't beat that.
The original Keepon robot, developed by Hideki Kozima at Miyagi University in Japan, was incredibly cute and engaging, to the point that people just couldn't help smiling, laughing, and moving in sync while the robot danced to music or used it's built-in sensors to interact realistically with them.
The Keepon design concept was intended to explore the possibility that a simple emotive robot could help autistic children with communication and learning challenges. Most autistic children tend to be completely overwhelmed by the volume of input and sensory data involved in even the most basic social interactions. It's kind of like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hose. Kozima's insight, which turned out to be right on the money, was to reduce the flood of inputs to a minimum while packaging the robot in an appealing, friendly body.