“Evolutionary Humanoid Robotics” – Book Review

I had the joy of reading Malachy Eaton’s “Evolutionary Humanoid Robotics” (Springer, 2015, ISBN 978-3-662-44598-3). It sheds light at the intersection of evolutionary search and robotics, with a special focus on humanoid or human-like robots. It is a skill to hit the right spot between introducing newcomers to a concept while also informing researchers already in the field. Eaton manages to do just that by delivering a nice flowing, quick to read book (with its 151 pages).
This review is also published in the Springer “Genetic Programming and Evolvable Machines” Journal.

The reader is given an introduction of the relevant principles and ideas in evolutionary computing and its applications in robotics. I can recommend this book to starting graduate students in the fields of computer science and/or robotics, or researchers looking to get started with evolutionary robotics. With its focus on humanoid robots it might seem like a niche book but the discussion about current evolutionary approaches and their limitations has wider implications.

Eaton asks questions that are interesting for the whole area of robotics not just humanoid robots. Such as how can we close the reality gap? I.e., reduce the difference between simulated robots and real robots. And how can we create, i.e. program, learn or evolve, interesting behaviours for complex robots? And, a question also very important in my research, how can we perform evolution and/or learning on real robots safely? As a researcher in evolutionary humanoid robotics (EHR) I particularly liked these questions and how EHR can make a difference. The book also discusses the different approaches for evolving robotic “brains”. I.e. evolving decision making or control systems for a robot, in contrast to evolving the robot’s body. It also explains different approaches for the evolutionary process when operating in simulation and when dealing with real hardware. For people that are starting in the field Chapters 5 and 6 provide a really nice overview of the foundations of the research in evolutionary humanoid robotics from 1990-2000 (what Eaton refers to as “prehistory”) and the state of the art from 2000-2014. I particularly liked reading the comprehensive tables detailing the published research over the last decade in both simulated and real-world environments.

The book’s gaze is on humanoid robotics and Eaton does a good job at defining the terminology. Such as, describing the various graduations of distinction between evolutionary robotics and evolutionary humanoid robotics. Thus leading the reader to a more fundamental understanding of the levels of humanoid robots. He also discuses ethics in robotics research a few times throughout the book and even dedicates Chapter 8 to philosophical and moral considerations. I think Chapter 8 is relevant to a much broader audience than just colleagues in the EHR field.

My only criticism would be that Eaton missed an opportunity by not provoking a discussion on what currently are the big challenges in EHR and what will they be in future. I would have liked to see him trying to answer the question, what is the next challenge after evolving bipedal walking? For example, important issues such as, the benchmarking of algorithms (beyond the current approach of just creating robotic competitions), the definition of interesting behaviours and the long-term deployment of autonomous robots are only hinted at but no opinion on how to tackle these are provided. To be fair these are fundamental questions for all of robotics, not just evolutionary humanoid robotics.

To conclude, “Evolutionary Humanoid Robotics” is a well-written, thoroughly researched introduction to what might seem like a very specialist topic but shows that it has wider implications. It lists the research outcomes over the last two decades and hints at the how these might continue in the next few years. On top of that it is a wonderful guide for finding relevant references in the field. I highly recommend it for young researchers starting out in the field of EHR, as well as, people interested in the general idea of evolving robotic systems, both for humanoids and non-humanoid robots.

Robotronica 2015 - QUT

Of Robots and Kids

QUT was host to Robotronica again – and it was amazing!

What a robotics fest it was! The best part was seeing the excitement in the kids eyes when interacting with our robots. It is always great to talk to the public about your research and being able to inspire kids!

If you missed it, here are videos, photos and media coverage of our Naos, Baxter and mobile platforms:

Robotronica: Thousands glimpse into robot future at Queensland University of Technology

Robots, machines and a real-life cyborg have given curious humans a glimpse of what the world will look like a decade from now.
Thousands flocked to Brisbane’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Gardens Point campus for a day of fun, education and discovery at Robotronica.

A human antenna that ‘hears’ colours, a drummer’s robotic hand and an ear in a man’s arm: See the amazing technology that is turning US into robots

Adults and children flocked to an event celebrating advances in robotics
Robotronica was held at the Queensland University of Technology
The first government recognised cyborg was a guest at the exciting event
The world’s fastest drummer, who has a robotic arm, also played for guests

(I had the chance to meet Neil Harbisson for a photoshoot with Baxter, awesome guy!)

Robotronica 2015 introduces Queensland to the future

The robots have arrived, the future is here. The Queensland University of Technology is hosting its Robotronica spectacular today, a one-day free event offering Brisbanites the chance to connect with the latest innovations in robotic technology.
The robot-infested QUT campus is showcasing workshops, live demonstrations, performances and installations, as well as a robot petting zoo.

Robots and Kids

<– I was showing off our Kinova robotic arm to heaps of kids there, it was great!
In short, the future is bright!

Lunar Exploration

On Lunar Landings and Bases

Today is the anniversary of the first time humans stepped foot on the Moon. Another year has passed since Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface in July 1969. What a feat of engineering it was to follow JFK’s bold call to a generation of engineers, to build the systems allowing humans to walk on the Moon. Yet this anniversary also means, yet another year has passed without human presence on the Moon. The last men left our celestial companion more than 32 years ago and with it our sporadic manned, lunar exploration ended.

Given some recent rumours though this hopefully will change in the next decade. There has been increased interest in building lunar bases by the major (and not so major) spacefaring nations. Continue reading

boston harbor

CVPR from a Robotic Vision Perspective

The CVPR conference in Boston, one of the premier computer vision conferences, was all about convolutional neural network and deep learning. This new (or not so new) techniques seem to be doing everything from image classification to scene understanding. Although the vision community has not shown too much of an interest in robotic applications, I had a feeling that this seems to change (slowly at least).

tl;dr: CVPR is huge, lots of convolutional neural network, which is now the de-facto standard on how to tackle computer vision problems. CV research is getting more easily to reproduce thanks to open source code AND models. There is a trend to investigate more what is behind these networks and also a trend to look at more robotic (real-world) applications of vision.
My longer write-up of #CVPR2015 is after the break. Others have done similar things: a great write-up Tomasz Malisiewicz,  another one by Zoya Bylinskii listing interesting CVPR 2015 papers.

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IJARS Guest Content Curator

Earlier this year I got an email from Natalia Reinic at Intech and managing editor of the International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems (IJARS), about a new idea she had regarding guest curators. I was asked to be the first, of hopefully many to come, to “choose interesting, relevant robotics content (both scientific and popular) in a fixed period of time (let’s say 3 months).”

Update: IJARS just published their first e-zine online, with my curated content.

After the fold you can read what I came up with for Q1 of 2015. I hope you like it!

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pioneers2014

Pioneers 2014

Whoa, wow, whaaaa, … those are the first impressions that come to mind when looking back at the Pioneers festival the last few days in the Hofburg in Vienna.

I witnessed the world premier of the flying car, which was an amazing, from-the-heart presentation by their creators. Somehow I managed to talk to Xavier de Le Rue, (if you don’t know him, French snowboarder, world champion and XGamer) who was there presenting his movie/snowboard drone camera. Maybe there is a follow up with our research that we did at USI/IDSIA
.
I listened to a wonderful panel on space exploration and pioneering, and chatted, while having a beer with Andy Aldrin and Pete Worden!! Yes, he is the son of that, moon-walking Aldrin and currently the President of Moon Express, one of the companies vying for the Google Lunar XPrize (and open for lunar rover suggestions, might look at that in Brisbane…)
Pete Worden is the head of the NASA AMES research centre and just an amazingly great guy to talk to! AMES is close to the valley in California and has contacts with Google and such, for example, using quantum computing for optimization. They are also home to the Intelligent Robotics Group, hopefully Pete will send me some contacts for those guys!

Apart from all this, there was a lot of “networking” going on, facilitated by the red bulls and the pioneers brew. I met a variety of people, active in different areas of pioneering, from robotics to AI, from bio to medicine.

In short, the Pioneers Festival 2014 was, yet again, an awesome experience!! And it is going to be continued in 2015 …

Update: here’s a video showing the highlights from Pioneers 2014:

Git: Change your last commit

Git seems to be the way to go when it comes to code management nowadays. Also the iCub repository recently moved to Git.

Git has a number of pretty great features, one which I found very helpful is the ability to amend the previous commit. If you are as easily distracted as I am it might happen that you accidentally left something out of your last commit (or commited the binary/build directory too). With GIT you don’t have to worry, it can easily be fixed:

All you have to do is stage the extra changes like you would for a normal commit:
git add .
git rm --cached -r build/

And then just commit with the –amend argument.
git commit --amend

I did this with my commit here, you can’t even see that I pushed it before with the build dir :)

You can check the git log --stat to see your amended commit with the extra changes.
More information is available in the Git ‘commit’ documentation.

IROS 2013 Acceptance

Another year, another IROS. It seems that again a record number of submissions were received.

This year the conference received 2089 paper submissions (a record high) of which 903 (acceptance rate: 43%) were selected for publication. Many potentially strong
contributions could not be accepted because of the very
high number of submissions…

2012: 45.1% (812 papers accepted / of 1801 submitted)
2011: 32.1% (790/2459)
2010: 58.2%
2009: 54.5%
2008: 48.7% (661/1358)
2007: 52.4%

IDSIARobotics got a paper in again, thx Marijn! :)