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Rich's Robot Musings

April 12, 2014

Q: Dear Dr. Hooper:  I have been very interested in robotics which attach too humans and seem to work breath takingly well. I am interested in this field as a possible career path, I am currently doing my final year of schooling before university and I am curious to what subjects are most suitable to give me the skills to perhaps get me into robotics?

A. The obvious answer to your question is to take engineering courses. Take a broad spectrum of courses and see what you like best.

There may be other careers in the robotics field that are more focused on the interaction between robotics and humans. The lead protagonist in Asimov's I Robot series is a woman named Susan Calvin. She is a robot psychologist.

Q: Dear Dr. Hooper:  Do robots fart?

A. I suppose I'm becoming the Dear Abby of kids asking questions about robotics, so I'll go ahead and answer this one,  even though I don't find scatological humor funny,

You might like to read the play Rossum's Universal Robots. That's where the word "robot" comes from. Rossum's robots  were biological creations that ran on chemical reactions (like us humans), so there were likely some residual gaseous byproducts of those reactions.

Q: Dr Hooper:  Dan built an amazing robot for the the Northern Kentucky Has Talent Contest in the Science and Technology category. Please take a look and vote on facebook.

A. I support the students and parents in Northern Kentucky. I know from experience how hard Daniel worked on his project and wish him the best of luck.  Here's a link to the youtube video of his latest creation.

I remember a flight I took on a small plane to visit a company in Kentucky called Robotics Research Corporation in the 1980s. They were making state-of-the-art robotic manipulators. There  were a bunch of us at the time  making really cool robots. I've made three humanoids since and have brought them into society as responsible adults. I'm very proud of the robots and the humanoids. Here's a snap of me from the late eighties.

 

November 2, 2013 Important Question

Q: Dr Hooper:  I'm leaving the Air Force after 7 sevens years and am considering going to college in engineering using the GI Bill. Here are my questions: should I go to college in engineering, what should I study, and where should I go to school?

A.  Thanks for note. I definitely recommend going to college. As for what course of study, I recommend a broad science and engineering curriculum your first year and then decide what discipline to pursue. As for job prospects, the software engineers have the easiest time finding jobs, then computer/electrical and then mechanical. You can get a good engineering education at a lot of schools. Apply to the schools that you think best, but don't go somewhere that is going to get you into debt. With your GI Bill you should be able to get out of school with an engineering degree debt-free.

October 5, 2013 Important Question

Q: Hello Rich:  I didn't make it through college, I have a low paying job, I have a family, I can't just quit the paycheck and go back to school. I'm trying to decide what to do. I would love to get into bionics.

A.  First of all, great job  working and supporting you family,  If I were you, I would teach myself to write software and go find a job as a computer programmer. Look at the software job postings in your area and see which languages are the most sought after. For some reason the popularity of different languages varies by geographic location. You could also just go with C# and Microsoft .net. It seems like those guys are always in demand these days. The key is that you really have to become an expert. Read some books, program some projects of your own; and be able to answer questions like, "what makes object oriented languages object oriented?" I always ask that question when I am interviewing job candidates. Before you go on any job  interviews do a Google search of "software interview questions" and be able to really answer those questions well.

Since you don't have a degree or work experience in the field, you will need to find a way to get your foot in the door. Microsoft has a bunch of certification exams that could help your resume. You could also attend user group meetings and network with people that might be able to help you find work. Contract work would be another way to get some experience for your resume.

It won't be easy. If you really apply yourself, I bet you could get there in a year while still keeping a day-job to feed your family.

All the best of luck to you,

-Rich

April 7, 2013 Flying Life Preserver

An organization called RTS labs is making something that I can best describe as a flying life preserver. They are working on a number of advanced technologies, but I really like the basic idea. Instead of swimming out to bring a life preserver to someone struggling in the water, just fly it out. Even without the advanced technology, a simple remote controlled helicopter could be used. This seems like a really good idea.

April 3, 2013 Fritz!

I'm always getting emails from students, parents, inventors, etc. asking about how to "get into robotics." I think Fritz would be a great way to get started. One of the really difficult realities of deploying robots is mechanical interaction between the robot and the outside world. Gravity, force control, grasping, etc. are all really hard. These are interesting problems, but can be discouraging to the young (and not so young) scientists and engineers. Fritz doesn't have to deal with that. A student can learn programming, artificial intelligence,  have fun and be encouraged by working with Fritz. I would love to see this project succeed.

March 31, 2013 Builders Wanted

EMMY award winning producers are searching for Men and Women to be part of an elite build team on a new series for a Major Cable Network. We are searching for the nation's most skilled TECHIES, MAKERS, MACHINISTS, INVENTORS, SPECIAL FX EXPERTS, TINKERERS, MACGYVERS, MECHANICS, ROBOTICS EXPERTS, GADGETEERS, PROTO-TYPERS, and ENGINEERS. Are you a life-long tinkerer or inventor? Are you a well rounded builder and designer? Does your life revolve around robotics? Have you built the ultimate Rube Goldberg machine? We want to hear from you! To be considered, you MUST have strong skills in one or more of the following areas:
• Electrical Engineering or Electronics
• Mechanical Engineering or Auto mechanics
• Design (CAD, Blueprinting, 3D Modeling, etc.)
• Fabrication, Metal/Blacksmithing, Machining
• Special FX, Animatronics, Pyrotechnics, Prop Builders
To submit yourself send an email to CastingBuilders@gmail.com with:
! Name
! Contact info (phone/email)
! Tell us about yourself & your careers (clarify your areas of expertise)
! Please include 2 or more photos of yourself & links to anything you've built

February 17, 2013 Prosthetics Experts and Machinists

Pilgrim Studios, the producers of "Dirty Jobs" is now seeking engineers, prosthetic specialists and machinists to become part of an on-camera team of experts for a brand new unscripted TV series about the creation of extreme prosthetics. If you, yourself, are interested, please see this below and feel free to pass this on to anyone who may be interested. Or print out flyer and post in your shop, if you want!

Please check out the link for more info, ill also attach the casting flyer of what we are looking for.

WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY.

CAN YOU REBUILD THEM?

THE PRODUCERS OF "DIRTY JOBS" NOW CASTING ENGINEERS, PROSTHETICS EXPERTS AND MACHINISTS FOR NEW TV SERIES !!!

Pilgrim Studios is now seeking engineers, prosthetics specialists and machinists to become part of an on-camera team of experts for a brand new unscripted TV series about the creation of extreme prosthetics.

Producers are creating a dream team of outgoing, creative and skilled professionals to design and build the world's most awe-inspiring prosthetic limbs. In each episode of this major cable network show, you will hear the compelling stories of amputees and have an opportunity to drastically change their lives.
Maybe you're a prosthetist with wild, out-of-the-box ideas. Maybe you're a mechanical engineer, electrical engineer or roboticist whose wide range of skills would be perfect for the creation of new, extreme limbs (even if you've never done it before). Or maybe you're a top machinist who can fabricate anything our designers throw at you.
A long as you're interesting, outspoken and great at what you do, then you could be featured in your own TV series!

CONTACT PRODUCERS TODAY!

Email PilgrimCasting@gmail.com with your name, a recent photo, phone number, location and a brief explanation of why you would be great for this team.

January 26, 2013 Rise of the Drones

Greetings and happy new year! PBS has a documentary out called "Rise of the Drones" that is super interesting. I enjoyed watching it. I thought it was interesting the show said that it is easier to teach UAV pilots to fly if they had never been trained as a "real" pilot. I guess the pilots need to be "untrained" and then "retrained."

November 11, 2012, Robotics Job Opportunity for a Software Engineer

Neato Robotics is developing technology at the forefront of robotics & artificial intelligence.
Our products are designed to free people from household chores and will change how we all look at housekeeping tasks.

Neato is a fast growing developer and manufacturer of intelligent autonomous robotic floor cleaning products for the consumer market. Neato has a world-wide customer base, and global partners. Our robots will continue to improve people’s lives through increasingly sophisticated versions of the platform as well as variations on the functionality that will be designed to penetrate a number of potential markets.
Our team consists of roboticists, mechanical, electrical and software engineering and product professionals who have launched brands that are now familiar names in consumer electronics. Our management team is seasoned in taking startups from early start up to multinational enterprises. 

We are looking for a talented Robotics Software Engineer to join our growing Newark, California based team. Please forward resumes to john.zwieg@neatorobotics.com

Position Description:
As part of Neato’s Software development team, The Robotics Software Engineer will be working on Neato’s next generation product. This position has an emphasis on GUI development. The Robotics Software Engineer will also need to be flexible enough to work on the other components of the robot software, test software and possibly web software. He /She must have a strong background in robotics.

Responsibilities:
The Robotics Software Engineer will be pivotal in the development of a new GUI for the robot. He/She will be developing advanced remote controls for interfacing to the robot. Following this development, the Software Engineer will move on to other advanced feature developments for the next generation. The Robotics Software Engineer will report to the Director of Software Engineering, and will work closely with the marketing and QA engineering teams.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities: 
• Design and develop remote control GUI for next generation of robot
• Conduct usability analysis
• Develop and Improve Robotic algorithms
• Develop Digital Signal Processing algorithms 

Education and/or Experience:
The ideal candidate must have a high degree of independence, strong software skills, and excellent diagnostic skills. A candidate for this position must have excellent math skills and experience in robotics.
• BS or MS in computer science with relevant experience in robotics
• 4+ years experience in writing C and C++ applications
• Experience with at least one design with localization algorithms and Path Planning algorithms
• 2+ Experience in structured software development process
• 2+ years experience in developing real time systems, or gaming software
• 2+ years experience with hardware and software issues
• Experience in Swarm theory is desirable
• Experience with optics is desirable

Other Requirements:
• Excellent communication (oral and written), and interpersonal skills.
• Excellent software coding and debug skills
• Able to work independently and efficiently to meet deadlines.
• Self motivated, detail-oriented and organized.
• Familiarity with boundary following algorithms and obstacle avoidance
• Familiarity with PID controls

Please Note:

• Please be eligible to work in the United States without sponsorship. We are not able to provide work-visa sponsorships at this time, and will not consider candidates who will require H1-B or continuation of student visas. 

October 22, 2012, Software or Mechanical Engineering?

Hello Dr. Hooper,

I am 28 years old and have done IT work for most of my adult life, but the area of software/mechanical engineering has always been an area of interest for me.

I am very much interested into going to school to start training in this field, but our financial situation only allows for online or community college schooling. I need to know where to start so I can get into this exciting career field.

Greetings:

If it is a toss-up between software and mechanical engineering, I'd go with software. Programmers have a much easier time finding work than mechanical engineers.

I'm sure you will find programming courses online or at your local community college. Either is fine, but keep in mind that you will be a little behind in the "credentials" department. You will need to become a super strong programmer, either through excelling in your courses, or studying on your own, or both. In your job interviews you will need to wow them with your understanding of the programming language, its data structures, the theories behind it, etc. You might also look into becoming a data base administrator. I find data bases very interesting. My same comments about becoming a super strong programmer apply to becoming a data base administrator.

Good luck,
Rich

September 22, 2012, Physics Major or Engineering Major?

Hello Dr. Hooper,

My son is applying to college and is making the decision between a physics major and an engineering major. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Greetings Parent:

I don't know of any differences in the university curriculum between a first year physics major and a first year engineering major. I advise to let your son go into the university with whatever major he prefers and then encourage him to let his experience with that guide him as to which degree to pursue. He shouldn't feel that one degree is better than another. The degree that is best for him is what he enjoys most and is best at. 30 years ago I went into the university as a physics major and ended-up graduating with an electrical engineering degree. I found that I preferred the more practical aspects of engineering to the more theoretical aspects of physics.

If your son does go the physics degree route and wants to keep his options open as far as a job as an engineer, then he needs to keep in mind that he will need to convince an employer that he can work as an engineer. To this end he could perhaps add an electrical circuits course to his study, or do extra-curricular activities on the solar car team, or robotics club, or ...

People working as engineers typically have engineering degrees, but over the years I've worked with a few engineers that had physics degrees. I've also worked with a few engineers that didn't have college degrees at all.

Best of luck to you and your son!

-Rich

May 22, 2012, Social Robotics

I received the email below from a company called International Robotics. Take a look at their website. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

BACKGROUND
Our 35 year old purpose-driven company is the pioneer of Social Robotics & global leader in Communication Robotics, producing state-of-the-art psychologically designed adult-size Robotic personalities which act as Surrogate Communications tools with the Learning Disabled, Autistic, ADHD, Handicapped and other Special Needs individuals. These programmable & remotely controllable Robots also deliver Motivational Presentations in Schools on the subjects of Science & Technology. Entitled "If You Can Dream", these presentations are designed to inspire and empower the Students, placing emphasis on wisdom & the creation of fresh solutions for a healthier & more harmonious planet Earth!

MISSION:
Our dual mission is to encourage students in becoming architects for a better future and to help develop new protocols for programming/infusing future intelligent machines with more human-like idiosyncratic, emotional, compassionate, humorous, philosophical & ethical mannerism so as to ensure their long-term acceptance and more successful cohabitation with humankind.

THE BUSINESS END:
We support our work by providing these Robotic personalities to leading corporations, agencies & government groups throughout the world who leverage this unique communication psychology into a number of Corporate Social Responsibility, Event/Exhibit Marketing/PR/Sales & Branding strategies as well as Cause-Marketing programs. From the White House, to Ford, Microsoft, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Motorola, IBM, The Olympics Committee & countless others, our Clients give much praise to the Social Robot's unprecedented ability to increase business activities, sales leads, brand awareness, and the quality of B2B as well as B2C social interaction . We're proud to say that we have had Clients remain loyal to our services for more than 20 years in a row!

May 22, 2012, Robot Cars

Google's robot cars have been in the press recently. The latest news was that Nevada became the first state to issue a license for these self-driven cars. It is going to be many years before robot cars are common place on the public roadways, but I applaud the effort. This is because robot cars will be much safer than human-driven cars. Cars are incredibly dangerous. Being in a moving car is the most dangerous thing just about any of us do. Last year 32,788 people were killed in car accidents in the US. That's the equivalent of  more than 100 jumbo jetliners crashing and killing all onboard. We would never tolerate that, but we tolerate the automobile fatalities.  In contrast 711 coalition soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last year. It is unbelievable to me that we accept the carnage associated with automobiles. It is a crazy, American Graffiti culture of fast cars and reckless driving. Though purely robotic cars on the public roads are many years away, there are readily available technologies today that could slash the number of car-related fatalities. Let's start with the two biggest hitters - alcohol and speeding. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that 39% of fatal crashes are related to alcohol and 30% of fatal accidents are related to speeding. The alcohol part is easy. Just put sensors in the car that can determine if the driver is drunk. These could be perspiration sensors in the steering wheel, vapor sensors for breath. Heck, I'm fine with putting a breathalyzer in every car in the country. It would like save 10,000 lives every year! Then we focus on speeding by starting with requiring that all cars sold to the public in the US have a governor that limits the speed to 80 mph. It is crazy that my Honda will go 130 mph. It's not legal to drive that fast any where in this country. We should enforce the speed laws electronically. If you are driving in a 25 mph zone, then your car should not be able to go faster than 25 mph. This is easily doable using existing radio communications and GPS technology. Once the mind set is shifted away from cars being speed machines, then the paradigm can move to cars being safe machines. Since they don't need to go so fast, they can be made lighter, with safer materials and smaller, more efficient engines. Aggressive driving will also be greatly reduced since drivers won't be tempted to speed.

April 18, 2012, Cool robot video

This video is really cool. The electrical, mechanical and software engineering challenges that had to be solved to make this happen were enormous. Ever time I see a video like this, though, it makes me think just how far away we really are from having robots that even approach human's mental and physical capabilities. To me, even a fruit fly is more sophisticated than these robots. Fruit flies fly around on their own, find food, mate and reproduce. That's way more than even the most sophisticated robot can do.

I've written before about IBM's Watson computer that competed on Jeopardy. Most folks commenting on the show fell all over themselves marveling at the accomplishment, but frankly I wasn't impressed. It's true that Jeopardy questions are often nuanced and contain subtle hints, but when the computer has encyclopedic knowledge, the nuance and subtleties don’t matter. The computer just looks up the answers. IBM spent a reported $1 billion developing a huge encyclopedia that could do speech recognition? Really? This is nowhere near human intelligence and aptly demonstrates how far away we are from developing artificial intelligence. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe there is a path from digital computers to human intelligence and here’s why. Watson had 90 processors with about 1.2 billion electrical connections per processor. That gives a total of 108 billion connections. The human brain has about 100 trillion connections. While it is possible, and even likely, that computers with 100 trillion connections will be developed during the next decade; that doesn’t mean that these computers will have the capabilities of the human brain. This is because connections in digital computers are binary, ones and zeros. The connections in the human brain are more like analog signals. They are electro-chemical and involve firing rates. If we assume the resolution of a connection in a human brain is 10 bits, then we would need a computer with ten to the power of ninety transistors to even come close! The sun is going to burn out before that happens.

March 18, 2012 Here I go again...

A military engineer (Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician) wrote me a question about robotics and it made me think, some about robotics and some about how great our men and women in the military are.

Hey Soldier:

Robotics is an extremely broad field. By definition it encompasses the work of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software engineers and computer scientists. If you go just a bit further it gets into social systems, sociologists and the humanities. I always find it interesting that the lead character in Asimov’s books on robots is a psychologist named Susan Calvin.

You might like to read the play “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” That’s where the word “robot” first entered our lexicon. Before that there is a history of robotics (at least thinking about robotics) that goes back beyond the Old Testament. Do a little searching on the word “golem” and you will see what I mean. I could go on about humans creating humans in their own image, but that probably isn’t why you wrote.

You asked about your first job after “retiring” from the military. You like electro-mechanical systems, so pick something in electrical, mechanical or software engineering. Of those, software engineers have the easiest time finding jobs, then electrical and then mechanical. I think the biggest advances in robotics will come in the area of computer science. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe there is a path to human (or even dog) level intelligence in digital computers. Work on what you like though, that’s what where you will be the most successful.

Take care,
Rich 

Feb 11, 2012 This looks amazingly fun. I may have to apply...

The Discovery Channel is looking for America's most creative and daring techies, machinists, inventors and engineers to design, build, and BLAST their way to a Grand Prize on their new competition TV show TOP ENGINEERS.

January 14, 2012, I can't believe it is 2012!

Here are some job opportunities. Shoot Brent an email if you are interested. 


Major Duties and Responsibilities (Robot Programmer):

· Create new robot path programs using the robot teach pendant. 
· Touch up and teach others how to touch up robot programs using the robot teach pendant. 
· Download offline robot programs. 
· Assist in robot dressing. 
· Assist in robot interface debug. 

Major Duties and Responsibilities (Simulator):

· Operate Deneb IGRIP simulation tools. 
· Build geometric models. 
· Perform robot reach studies. 
· Perform robot collision studies. 
· Create off-line robot programs 

Skills and Abilities:

· Demonstrated ability to solve engineering problems. 
· Ability to teach others. 
· Proficient at supervising diverse people. 
· Proficient at robot programming or robot simulation.
Qualifications 
· Bachelors degree in an engineering field or equivalent years of direct experience with a automotive manufacture or supplier.
· Previous GM certification preferred but not required

December 18, 2011, A student looking for an internship

I received an email from a student at the University of Cape Town. He writes well, seems genuine and is looking for an internship. His CV is strong. I'm sure he'll be happy to send it to you. Here's what he wrote.

"My fields of interest include, amongst other things, automation, CIM systems, complex digital systems, Artificial and Computational Intelligence, automotive control technologies and general data planning and co-ordination of complex systems. My degree programme is in Mechatronics – it's a hybrid branch of engineering, a mix between electrical and mechanical engineering. It differs from the Electro-mechanical degree by focusing more on the electronic control, design and automation of systems."

November 20, 2011, A nice site with information about robotics

Here is a permanent, updatable repository and invaluable resource for all robotics enthusiasts. It includes information from labs at MIT, Oxford, ANU, Cambridge, and many German, Canadian and Asian Universities. You could spend some very-interesting months going through the site. It's called expo21xx. I suppose that's because it will be beyond the year 2100 before we have robots anywhere near the intelligence of humans.

I looked at the page from Osaka University. It talks about the "uncanny valley." My son first told me about this concept. We are all fine with automation, until it gets too human-like. I've asked the question many times: why build an artificial human? There are plenty of humans around.

October 29, 2011, I love questions from kids

Hello Dr. Hooper!

Obviously I am planning on being a robotic engineer. I know you get many emails on this subject so I hope I won't trouble you by asking some questions. Because I am in 6th grade some of my peers think that it is a far-fetched idea, however they don't doubt I could do it since me along with my best rival are in gifted and talented. I at first wanted to be a scientist, than I read about robotic engineering, I just would like to know how much of a difference is there between a robotic engineer and a scientist? And also what subjects must I major in besides math and science? Can I study to be both? 
Thanks for your time and I hope I hear back from you soon!

Hello young student whose name has been redacted:

I would say the greatest difference between engineers and scientists is that engineers are working on problems that need to be solved in the next year or two and scientists are working on problems to be solved in the next decade or two (or maybe century or two).

As far as choices of classes, study what you enjoy and let the rest take care of itself.

Good luck,
Rich

October 25, 2011, IBM's Watson

I've been meaning to write about the Watson computer on Jeopardy ever since I watched the shows, but am just now getting to it. Most folks commenting on the show fell all over themselves marveling at the accomplishment, but frankly I wasn't impressed. It's true that Jeopardy questions are often nuanced and contain subtle hints, but when the computer has encyclopedic knowledge, the nuance and subtleties don’t matter. The computer just looks up the answers. Really? IBM spent a reported $1 billion developing a huge encyclopedia that could understand English? This is nowhere near human intelligence and really demonstrates how far away we are from developing artificial intelligence. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe there is a path from digital computers to human intelligence and here’s why. Watson had 90 processors with about 1.2 billion electrical connections per processor. That gives a total of 108 billion connections and the human brain has about 100 trillion connections. While it is possible, and even likely, that computers with 100 trillion connections will be developed during the next decade; that doesn’t mean that these computers will have the capabilities of the human brain. This is because connections in digital computers are binary. The connections in the human brain are more like analog signals. They are electro-chemical and involve firing rate. If we assume the resolution of a connection in a human brain is 10 bits, then we would need a computer with ten to the power of ninety transistors! The sun is going to burn out before that happens.

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