Antipods practice in the pit.

Antipods practice in the pit.

Like to build things with kids? Architect Ken Filar ’81 does and he is one of many alumni who coach FIRST robotics teams worldwide. And his team is cooking! The Antipodes, his all-girl FIRST Lego League team from Pacifica CA, will represent Northern California in the European Lego Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, April 22-24.

The For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) robotics competitions were founded in 1989 by Segway inventor Dean Kamen with the help of MIT’s mechanical engineering professor emeritus Woodie Flowers SM ’68, ME ’71, PhD ’73. The mission is very MIT: “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.” One of Flowers contributions was the concept of Gracious Professionals who “learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process.”

Alumni can get involved as mentors and coaches through the MIT Alumni Association’s new collaboration with FIRST. If you are already involved and your team is heading to the world robotics championships in Atlanta, April 14-17, come to the MIT day-long event there for alumni, parents, students, coaches, and mentors with speakers including Flowers. Email the Association’s K12 team to find out more.

And how about those Antipods? Filar says there is lots of work to be done. “We now have three tasks ahead of us: 1) to improve our robots reliability, primarily through programming, 2) to improve our maglev train model, and 3) to fundraise for the trip.” To check out the team, go the Antipods Web site, see their work, watch their videos, and feel free to donate to tournament and travel costs.

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Firefly creates 3-D digital images in the air.

Firefly creates 3-D digital images in the air.

Swarm robots are lighting up the sky! Firefly, an MIT SENSEable City Laboratory project developed in collaboration with ARES Lab (Aerospace Robotics and Embedded Systems Laboratory), is launching a swarm of tiny helicopters embedded with sparkling LED lights. The swarm, on command, can render an uncanny representation of the Mona Lisa, then reform into complex 3-D shapes such as a moving face or the ocean’s surface alive with waves.

These fireflies act as ‘smart pixels’ soaring through the air and working in concert to produce digital displays with animated color and free-form images that are still or in motion and viewable from any angle. Though SENSEable has only a handful now in flight, the group wants to scale up the project quickly.

A fabulous video shows Firefly’s potential.

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Though it comes as no surprise, Leg Lab spinoff Boston Dynamics (of BigDog and PETMAN fame) announced earlier this month that it has been awarded a contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the first ever “Legged Squad Support System.”

The legged robot, called the LS3, will be designed to lighten warfighters’ load by carrying over 400 lbs of gear and enough fuel for missions covering 20 miles and lasting 24 hours. Development of LS3 will take 30 months at a cost of $32M, with first walk out scheduled for 2012.

In a press release, Boston Dynamics president Marc Raibert PhD ’77 said, “If LS3 can offload 50 lbs from the back of each solider in a squad, it will reduce warfighter injuries and fatigue and increase the combat effectiveness of our troops.”

Learn more about BigDog, PETMAN, the LS3 program, and the Waltham-based company, Boston Dynamics.

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Researchers in CSAIL’s Robust Robotics Group have developed a robotic helicopter with an on-board camera and laser scanner that is capable of flying inside buildings or other GPS-denied environments to map the local environment.

Although the video of the helicopter (below) talks about search-and-rescue and civil engineering applications, some people have been skeptical. A commenter on Slashdot noted, “It brings somewhat scary reminders of Minority Report to my head. How long till I see one of these chasing me down a dark alley?” Yet another commenter on TechTV wondered, “Cool, but can it kill zombies?”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “range robot“, posted with vodpod
Photo: Sandia National Laboratories

Photo: Sandia National Laboratories

Boston Dynamics, the MIT spinoff now famous for its quadruped robots, is working on a new urban-surveillance robot that is capable of launching itself more than 25 feet in the air.

The Precision Urban Hopper is semi-autonomous and about the size of a shoe box. It typically relies on four wheels to get around, but a piston-actuated leg that has been likened to an explosive pogo stick allows it to hop over obstacles 40-60 times its own height.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico originally designed the hopper, which is being funded through the military’s research wing, DARPA. Waltham-based Boston Dynamics was recently awarded the contract for producing the next generation of robots. Delivery is planned for late 2010.

Watch a video of the Precision Urban Hopper:

When Missy Cummings, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and her students at MIT’s Humans and Automation Lab—HAL for short—discussed designing a new robot controller to streamline the interaction between humans and computers, the ever-practical MIT students suggested an iPhone app, because, well, they could all score free iPhones.

Six weeks later, Cummings and a team of 30 debuted the app in a test flight to control an airborne drone via the iPhone’s accelerometer. Watch the flight below.

The app sends GPS coordinates to the robot—commercially available, I might add—which it uses to navigate. All the user has to do is tap new waypoints onto the map display. The robot, or micro aerial vehicle (MAV), also contains a collision avoidance system and can stream video or photos back to the iPhone.

One application for what’s dubbed MAV-VUE (visualization of unexplored environments) is a lightweight way for soldiers to control unmanned aerial vehicles. Professor Cummings has another idea for how civilians could benefit. Find out what it is in this Wired article.

A glimpse of the 2.007 course. Photo: 2.007 Web site

A glimpse of the 2.007 course. Photo: 2.007 Web site

The annual 2.007 Design and Manufacturing I competition kicks off tonight with a contest amongst 150 robots  to see which can collect the most soda cans and simulated bags of trash and return them to a designated recycling facility (read: milk crate). The robots have one minute to complete the exercise.

As the MIT news office reports, “The matchups are the culmination of 2.007… and it’s an MIT tradition that goes back more than two decades. The popular contest has spawned a host of imitators over the years, including the very popular FIRST competition for teams of high school students.”

A preliminary elimination round takes place tonight; finals are held tomorrow (Thursday) evening at 7 pm in the Johnson Atheletic Center’s ice rink.

Interested in watching online? Use this link for live viewing on Wednesday, May 6th: http://amps-web.mit.edu/public/courses/2/2.007/2008-2009/preliminary/

Use this link to view the finals on Thursday, May 7th: http://amps-web.mit.edu/public/courses/2/2.007/2008-2009/finals/

May the best robot win!