Robots of AAAI-98


This year's participants.

Sections

Background
Robot Competition
Commercial Robot Platforms
Animal Robots
Robot Building Lab
Other Robots
Do It Yourself
Links

Last Update: February 17, 1999.

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This material is Copyright 1998-1999 Craig Buchanan. All rights reserved. This page may be freely linked to.
Please send comments or questions to mailto: buchananc@acm.org.


Background

The 15th National Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AAAI-98) and the Tenth Conference on Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence (IAAI-98) was held July 26-30, 1998, at the Monoa Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference is sponsored by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence.

I videotaped some of the robots in the exhibition hall at the conference so that I could show them to my son. I've always been keenly interested in robotics and autonomous vehicles and I hoped to instill that interest in my son. He was fascinated by all the robots. I created this page to share my enthusiasm for robotics.

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Robot Competition

This was the seventh Annual Mobile Robot Competition and Exhibition at AAAI. The competition consisted of two events: Find Life on Mars, and Hors d'Oeuvers Anyone, the robot interaction event. The goal of the first event, Find Life on Mars, was to seek out new life forms, collect them, and return them back safely to the Mars lander. The pictures below are from the first event. The robots had to detect the aliens, coloured blocks and balls, while navigating around the rocks and acid pools (yellow floor markings).

In the second event the robots had to display human interaction while distributing hor d'oeuvers at dinner and flyers between lectures.

One of the amazing aspects of the robot competitors was how much of the hardware was "off the shelf". The platforms are available from a variety of manufacturers, and many robots employed consumer microwave video links and video camera pan/tilt controls.

The McGill robot. (30K)

A robot at the landing module. (28K)

Team robot grasping an alien. (26K)

Team robots placing blocks in front of the lander. A "sweeper" robot waits to move the blocks into the lander. (29K)

Competition cochair and friend from grad school days at the University of Toronto, Greg Dudek, filming the competition. (25K)

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Commercial Robot Platforms

Several commercial robot platform manufacturers had booths at AAAI-98. A few of the platforms are shown below. The first two pictures are platforms from Real World Interface. The third picture is a platform from ActivMedia Robotics.

Other robot vendors included Applied AI Systems who displayed OCT-1c, a robot lobster, the Khepera Micro Robot and many Robot platforms.

A pair of robot platforms from RWI. Computer systems install inside. ATRV and micro-ATRV pictured. (26K)

A quad tracked robot from RWI.
(29K)

The Pioneer from ActivMedia. A notebook computer can ride on the back. (26K)

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Animal Robots

There were two animal robots demonstrated at AAAI-98, neither is available commercially. The two animals were very different; one was a furry cat which responded to touch and sound and could move but not walk, the other was a dog without fur or tactile sensors (as far as I could see) which had amazing movement and an optical system. The combination of both of these feature sets which produce a stunning robotic pet.

The first picture shows the Cat Robot from OMRON Corporation. The cat responded to touch and sound using an emotion model. You could pet it, tickle under its chin and call its name. It responded by mewing, opening and closing its eyes, turning its head and by adopting different postures. It was very cute and exhibited life-like behavior.

The second animal robot was an amazing robot dog from Sony. Sony donated a number of these robots to various university research departments. The university researchers then programmed the robots to compete in a robot soccer competition. The winning robot was demonstrated at AAAI-98. The researcher demonstrating the robot said that one of their robots biggest advantages in the competition was that they had fully implemented the get-back-up-after-falling routines. The movements of the robot dog were very impressive as was its ability to track, approach and kick the ball.

Several software only autonomous beings were also shown at the conference.

A Cat robot being scratched. (13K)

The Sony robot dog playing soccer. (28 K)

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Robot Building Lab

The participants of the Robot Building Lab (RBL) were organized into teams and a contest was described. In this case it was a game involving moving ping pong balls on a field with points awarded for movement into an end zone and into a goal. Each team is given a set of LEGO technic parts, motors, sensors and a computer controller board (an MIT Handy Board). The team must design, construct and program their robot for competition in only 1 day. The KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) ran the RBL and Dr. David Miller was the instructor. The competitors I spoke with had a great time developing and competing their robots. KIPR also conducts RBLs for businesses as a team building exercise. (See site for more details.)

This contestant used a fan as well as a ram to push the ping pong balls. (27K)

This contestant deployed a long LEGO wall to keep the opposition from scoring and also used a spinning arm to attempt field goals. (30K)

These two contestants merely captured each other. (27K)

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Other Robots

A couple of the other robots shown at AAAI-98 are shown below. The first is Min-DART - Minnesota Distributed Autonomous Robotics Team. The Min-Dart demonstration involved five identical robots built from LEGO technic blocks and employing a Handy Board. The robots located targets, picked up the targets, and brought them back to a central location (a bright light source). Also shown was TBMin - The Trailer Backing Mini-Robot. The TBMin was a tractor and trailer which employed a neural network to learn how to back the trailer up to a light source.

The second robot shown below was an experiment in office art. The robotic flower could rise up and down, open and close its petals, move it's small arms and produce sound. Designed to be unobtrusive in an office environment it operated very slowly, not drawing attention to itself. In the experiment the robot monitored incoming email and adjusted its actions on the type of email being received. The office plant was developed by Michael Mateas and Marc Boehlen of Carnegie Mellon University.

Min-Dart. (33K)

Email Flower. (24K)

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Do it Yourself

Many of the small robot experiments such as the University of Minnesota robots and the robots from the Robot Building Lab are built with a combination of an MIT Handy Board and LEGO Technic parts. An exciting development is the introduction by LEGO of LEGO Mindstorms. The product includes a controller, sensors, motors and other parts. Programs are developed on a PC and then downloaded into the controller using an infra-red link. (The infra-red link is apparently capable of communicating between controllers as well.) According to the press release the product was developed with MIT.

Unfortunately the product descriptions give no indication as to the limits of the software development. The screen shots imply a simple visual programming interface. The MIT Handy Board on the other hand is programmed in Objective-C. Hopefully it's possible to program down to the metal on the MindStorms controller.

Update 7-Oct-1998: The Web search engines now return many Mindstorms links. There are web pages devoted to the internals of the Mindstorm units and its software. A good pair of links is Larry Pieniazers Mindstorm Links and Lego Mindstorms Internals. The MindStorm computer or "RCX" appears to be a very capable eight-bit processor running at 16Mhz. Its capabilities fall between those of an MIT Programmable Brick and an MIT Cricket.

LEGO Mindstorms.

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Links

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This material is Copyright 1998-1999 Craig Buchanan. All rights reserved. This page may be freely linked to.
Please send comments or questions to mailto: buchananc@acm.org.