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So, how was the meeting?

Proceedings of the San Francisco

Robotics Society of America (SFRSA)

Monthly Meeting at the Exploratorium

Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception

By Cliff Thompson

2 - February - 1997


President Kevin Fahl discussed the following items:


I passed around 2 San Francisco Chronicle Newspaper stories.

SF Chronicle reports Robo-roach

Kevin passed out the following items:

HSC web site


SOLAROBOTICS contact sensor


NEXT STEP interviews Carlo & Biohazard at ROBOT WARS

NEXT STEP captures Biohazard arm wrestling dualdueling opponents at ROBOT WARS

NEXT STEP hosts "Answer Guys" Paul & Phil plug MONDO-TRONICS kits as a place to start for future ROBOT WARS contestant hopefuls

Remotely Operated Bomb Squad Robot equipped with tractor treads, microphone, speaker, 2-way communications, video & infrared cameras, gripper arm, headlights & a laser-sighted rifle. In a riveting segment resembling a real-world case from the files of television’s police action series COPS, the robot was shown aiding the apprehension of a murderer. The criminal had killed his parents & 3 other people & was currently holding another couple hostage in their home while firing at police from a 2nd story window of the couple’s residence.

After negotiating the release of the hostages, the police start the robot rolling up the front walkway towards the house. The robot opens the front door, enters & proceeds to survey the 1st floor &, not finding anyone, starts climbing up the stairs until contacting the felon emerging from a bedroom. As officers speak through the robot’s speakers & entreat the criminal to give himself up, he wields a rifle & opens fire on the robot. One of the shots puts out the robot’s lights, as the robot switches to infrared & continues to relay live sound and video of its battle. As the robot continues its relentless advance, the criminal, unable to repel the mechanical Rambo, eventually despairs of escape & commits suicide.

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING shows the formidable Police Robot

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING films the robot’s laser-sighted rifle being attached

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING reveals the remote video vision system monitor & operator control console used to operate the robot

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING interviews the Officer as he maps out the robot’s plan of attack for entering the hostage’s home

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING captures the robot’s video cameras transmitting live images of its progress up the walkway toward the front door. The front of the robot & its various appendages may just be seen in the bottom of the picture

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING catches the robot opening the door

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING reveals that the robot, not finding the assailant on the 1st floor, utilizes it tractor treads to begin advancing up the stairs

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING transmits the robot’s view of the top of the stairs

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING reveals that at the top of the stairs the rifle-toting criminal leaps up & begins firing at the machine

TLC’S THE FUTURE OF CRIME FIGHTING stunning view of the assailant advancing toward the robot & firing at point blank range

RATTLER, being developed at the ROBOTIC VEHICLE RANGE, SANDIA LABORATORIES, New Mexico. The 4 wheel independent drive vehicle has a split body to allow the wheels to rotate, traverse rough terrain & keep in contact with the ground. To respond to surrounding conditions, an on-board computer & video camera utilize visual feedback to process images in real-time through Neural Network software. One application of the system includes a miniature mobile spy for intelligence gathering. About the size of a thumbnail, the robot could swim through sewer pipes & enter a building through plumbing fixtures. SANDIA run a Web Site at http://www.sandia.gov.



At LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORIES Mark Tilden is developing miniature legged robots whose navigation is modeled after insect movement. The insect-like robots resemble the spider-like MONDO-TRONICS ROBOT STORE Muscle Wires BORIS Walking Robot. The solar-powered machines carry an on-board video camera & mimic insect motion as they traverses the countryside. Intriguingly, the machines do not use a microcomputer or do any "thinking" to handle movement but instead utilize what Mark terms a "Nervous Net" to dictate motor coordination. An on-board computer breaks down tasks into large numbers of Yes/No questions, for example "If this leg is behind the one in front, then keep it still, else move it forward".

Noting that an ant uses much the same system, Mark explains how the Nervous Net operates. The Net determines motor coordination by enabling the machines to figure out where they are, what they have to do & how to move to their destination. The insect-like control mechanism does not "think" but utilizes an inner nervous system to react to things in the world, process the information, then respond both electrically & physically.

As an example of the latter, a machine is walking along on tall, closely spaced legs with a distinctly grasshopper-like gait. Mark then picks up the machine & bends its flexible, pipe-cleaner-like legs into a different, lower & wider stance. When the machine returns to the ground, its behavior changes and it resumes walking in a different way with a gait more like that of a spider. The change to the structure of the machine is a physical change that results in a change to its behavior & not to the actual way that it "thinks."

Mark noted he had successfully applied the Nervous Net technology to various other insect leg arrangements, as well as fin & wing systems. Applications include making the robots resemble real insects to slip undetected through security zones, then using the bugs to sabotage information or relay it back to an agent. In fact, a small "herd" or "swarm" of spy robo-insects of various types could be sent in as a team to explore the various rooms of a building simultaneously. They could then transmit their reports concurrently to a "mother insect!".

TLC’S TECHNOSPY shows Mark Tilden surrounded by bugs

TLC’S TECHNOSPY bug close-up

TLC’S TECHNOSPY shows that altering a bug’s structure by bending its wiry legs alters its behavior

TLC’S TECHNOSPY shows a Nervous Net applied to wings

At MOLLER INTERNATIONAL in Davis, CA, Paul Moller, an Aeronautical Engineer, is combining aeronautics & robotics to build AEROBOT, a fan-driven robot that can hover & dart like a Hummingbird. Carrying a payload of camera, microphone & navigational sensors to enable it to move around in buildings, an AEROBOT requires a large amount of power, typically around 2 HP/lb., in a small package. The ‘bots come in the forms of tethered electric engine devices as well as un-tethered gas engine machines. The gas machines utilize 1.5 HP engines weighing a few ounces. The AEROBOTS can made as small as 6" in diameter at a cost of about $100 each. Paul’s 15 years of past experience includes building prototype "flying saucers" evolved from Hovercraft technology. MOLLER runs a Web Site at http://www.moller.com/~mi/frames.htm

TLC’S TECHNOSPY shows Paul Moller with AEROBOTS

TLC’S TECHNOSPY films AEROBOT taking flight,operated by a waist-mounted control console

TLC’S TECHNOSPY reveals AEROBOT’S tiny gas engine, not much larger than a Silver Dollar


CAL TECH Chemistry Professor Nate Lewis is at work developing an Artificial Nose that utilizes a group of sensors to detect a variety of chemical fingerprints ("smells"). Currently the system is being modeled after the olfactory system of the Locust, in whose brain tiny electrodes measure its neuronal response to smells. As explained by the narrator, "Scientists impregnate the electrical sensors with non-conducting plastics, each one specifically formulated to attract a different chemical. When the molecules of the chemical being smelled bind to the plastics, the sensors swell like a sponge. Each chemical smell can therefore be measured by the change in electrical resistance across the sensors. Experiments with different chemicals determine the minimum number of electronic cells necessary to mimic an animals sense of smell." The researchers are aiming to eventually mimic the olfactory system of a dog & are currently working on a microchip that will boast 255 sensors. Applications include detecting where people are, have been, whom have they been in contact with and can even involve lie-detector capability based on detecting chemicals unique to specific emotional states.

TLC’S TECHNOSPY films Locust olfactory probes relaying responses to Artificial Nose cable connector

TLC’S TECHNOSPY shows Artificial Nose cable connection to test tube bank of smell chemicals

TLC’S TECHNOSPY close-up of current Artificial Nose sensor array

TLC’S TECHNOSPY shot of future microchip containing 255 smell sensors

The SFRSA members, mother & very young son's team of Patty Pink, Hans Barnum & Nils Bailey, passed around the following:

UNMANNED SYSTEMS Magazine, on the cover of which was a picture of DANTE, the Volcano Climbing Robot from NASA-AMES. The magazine was loaded with robust technical articles & described an Aerial Robotics Competition with a related Web Site at http://sun-valley.stanford.EDU/arl.html. The magazine is reachable at (703) 524-6646. Additionally, THE ASSOCIATION FOR UNMANNED VEHICLE SYSTEMS INTERNATIONAL (AUVSI), runs a Web Site with links to various air, ground & undersea competitions at http://http://www.erols.com/auvsicc/index.html, with an dedicated aerial competition Home Page at http://avdil.gtri.gatech.edu/AUVS/IARCLaunchPoint.html.


Aerial Robotics Competition related Web Site

AUVSI Web Site

Dedicated Aerial Competition Home Page

A photo-album of the team’s visit to, & the goings-on at, the ROBOT WARS ’96 Pit Stop area.

Hans & Nils (short longhair pair in

foregrounds) at ROBOTWARS ’96 Pit

Cupcakes & soft drinks for all, to celebrate the boy’s birthdays. The lads opened their presents & receive a pair of HYPER PEPPY Robot Kits.

Birthday ‘bot

Robotics Tech/ Learning

Kevin gave a talk on Robot Mobility. Among issues covered were Low Center of Gravity, Tracks versus Wheels, Speed, Torque & Weight. Kevin went over numerous physics formulas used to determine Acceleration, Torque, Speed & Power. A lively open discussion followed as various members debated their various divergent viewpoints.


As I wrap up this column, SFRSA’s Home Host Organization, The Exploratorium Science & Technology Museum, has begun utilizing it’s Internet links & direct feeds from organizations like THE SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE for a special event. The Exploratorium will be transmitting "streaming" audio & video coverage over the Internet from Space Shuttle astronauts as they repair & upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope over the next few days. The "webcasts" occur daily at 11am & 1pm & may be viewed at the Museum’s Web Site for the event, at http://www.exploratorium.edu/hubble/index.html. A description & some images from the site follow:

"Special Event

Live from the Shuttle! The Hubble service mission. Live video! Feb 11th to the 21st

Welcome to the Exploratorium's webcast studio and our current production, Hubble Servicing Mission: Looking Beyond Boundaries, a ten-day behind the scenes look at NASA's most recent mission to upgrade the Hubble Telescope. Looking Beyond Boundaries is a collaboration between the Exploratorium and the Space Telescope Science Institute, (STScI). 

These images are live video streaming from our production studio on the museum floor and will be your window into the science, technology, and personalities involved in the current mission.

Hear live audio from our studio mix in RealAudio"

Exploratorium’s Live Video Webcast of Hubble Space Telescope Space Shuttle repair crew

After leaving the Exploratorium Web Site I went on to search the Internet for further information on the SOLAROBOTICS contact sensor mentioned above. I found a Site for SOLAROBOTICS at http://www.cuug.ab.ca:8001/~hrynkiwd/index.html. During the search I stumbled upon an awesome Web Site of Robotics resources being run by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) Robotics Special Interest Group (SIG) of Queensland, Australia at http://www-sqi.cit.gu.edu.au/~tracy/robots/resource.html. An image of the SOLAROBOTICS Site, as well as the ACS Site with a listing of their current Links, follow:


"FAQ and Hotlists

*Robotics FAQ

*Yahoo Robotics Resource List

*University of Massachusetts Robotics Resource List

*CERA Robotics Resource List

*Solarobotics BEAM Robotics Resource List

*Euro-Robots: Mobile Robots Archive

*Brat Wizard's Bookmarks

*Jace's Robotics Links

Robot Competitions and Games

*Robot Competition FAQ

*Robot Wars ®

*Australian Robotics Championships 1996

*Connecticut Robotics Society Contest 1996

*Western Canadian Robot Games 1996

*BEAM Robotics Events for 1996

*Australian MicroMouse 1995

*Irish MicroMouse 1995

*Singapore Robotic Games 1995

*University of Queensland Robot Cricket Competition 1995

*UC Davis MicroMouse Homepage

*MicroMouse Competition Rules

*MIT LEGO Robot Design Competition course notes

     (6.270 Robot Builder's Guide)

Robot Research

*Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT

*Robotics Laboratory, University of Maryland

*Robotics at LAMI, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

*Robotics Group, California Institute of Technology

*Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, University of Massachusetts

*Robotic Architecture Lab, NASA

*Mobile Lego Robots

*Grad Student's Who's Who in Robotics

*NavLab (Autonomous Navigation), Carnegie Mellon University

Tele-robots, while not autonomous, are an interesting class of mobile robots.

*A Telerobot On The World Wide Web, University of Western Australia

*Mercury Project, University of Southern California

*Telerobotics Long-Term Research Program 1994 Annual Report

     Hydro-Québec Research Institute

Robot Equipment

Instructional Information

*Information on Building Sensors

*Where Am I? - Sensors and Methods for

     Autonomous Mobile Robot Positioning

Parts and Kits

*The Handy Board

*F1 Controller

*Robix RCS-6 Robot Construction Set


*Lego Technic

*California Cybernetics Home Page

*RWA Robot Features

*Lynxmotion Robotic Arm Kit

Robot Newsgroups



I have a final note relating to the Police Bomb Squad Robot described above. My wife recently informed me that the AMERICAN MOVIE CLASSICS cable channel would be running a Classic Science Fiction THEY CAME FROM THE FIFTY’S Film festival over the next few days. Checking the listing I saw the 1st film to be one that somehow escaped my youth. The film is the 1953 Republic Pictures Production titled TOBOR THE GREAT, accompanied by the description "A robot comes to the rescue when its creator is kidnapped".

Watching the gem together we found ourselves alternately howling & pleasantly impressed by the novelty & ingenuity of the adventures. Tobor is being built to pilot the first space craft in the impending age of stellar travel. The robot receives training in navigation & exercises in manual dexterity (during one such exercise he hunts & pecks out to a teletype the phrase "Tobor is robot spelled backward"). As a finishing touch to his construction, his creator scientists figure out a way to operate him "telepathically". They utilize a head harness to amplify brain waves & send them to a tiny transmitter stored in a writing pen, which in turn transmits the desired commands back to Tobor.

AMC’S THEY CAME FROM THE FIFTIES festival film TOBOR THE GREAT showing young lab assistant downloading Tobor

Russian spies kidnap Tobor’s creator for various secret formulas & the scientist uses the pen to write down the information while the Russians are unaware that the scientist is also secretly controlling the pen to signal Tobor to come to the rescue. During the rescue, rugged terrain poses all the challenges currently being met by advanced cantilevered, multi-wheeled robotics base platform design engineers. No fool Tobor simply bowls over a security guard & trundles off into the wilds by driving a Jeep! Now that’s using the ol’ Neural Net!