Category Archives: Robotics

10 essential skills for being a roboticist.

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People surrounding me often commit themselves as “Roboticists” like “Scientists”. Here is a good article that force me to think what is being a roboticist and how.

Have a look for reading through it as I found that is quite useful and motivates.

June 26, 2015 - The Tethered Robotic Explorer (TReX) robot being described by Patrick McGarey to a visiting group. The newly conceived platform was unveil to the public for the first time. TReX can climb many kind of steep terrain with the help of its onboard tether management system. It weighs roughly 90 kg and was built over a Husky from Clearpath Robotics. Photo credit: François Pomerleau - University of Toronto
June 26, 2015 – The Tethered Robotic Explorer (TReX) robot being described by Patrick McGarey to a visiting group at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) at the 2015 Field and Service Robotics conference. Photo credit: François Pomerleau – University of Toronto

What Type of Person Works in Robotics?

Roboticists are a combination of opposites. As specialists, we are skilled in the fine details of our respective specialisms. As generalists, we are able to see “the bigger picture” — something our broad knowledge base allows us to do.

Robotic engineers fall largely into the thinking (investigative) and doing (realistic) categories. This means that roboticists need to be a good mix between two opposing working styles. “Investigative” people generally like to solve problems by thinking, reading and studying. On the other hand, “realistic” people are practical – they like to solve problems by “getting their hands dirty,” so to speak.

Robotics is a delicate balance between hard study and “fiddling about” (as I like to call it), i.e. working on physical things.

10 essential skills for roboticists

In this list we’ve taken 25 career skills and grouped them into 10 essential skills for roboticists.

1. Systems Thinking

A project manager once told me that many people with robotics degrees turn out to be project managers or systems engineers. This makes a lot of sense, as robots are very complicated systems. We have to be good at mechanics, electronics, electrics, programming, sensing and even psychology and cognition.

A good roboticist is able to understand how all of these different systems work together and is comfortable with the theory behind all of them. Whereas, a mechanical engineer could reasonably say: “that’s a programming or an electrical problem, it’s not my job”, a roboticist must be well versed in all of the different specialisms.

2. The Programming Mindset

coding_computerProgramming is a pretty essential skill for robotics. It doesn’t matter if you’re involved in low-level control systems (only using MATLAB to design controllers) or if you’re a computer scientist designing high-level cognitive systems. Robotic engineers can be involved at any stage of the programming abstraction. The main differencebetween robotics and other programming disciplines is that robotic programming interacts with hardware, electronics and the (messy) real world.

There are over 1500 programming languages in the world. Although you clearly don’t need to learn all of them, a good roboticist will be have ‘the programming mindset’. They will be comfortable learning any new language if and when it is required. Which leads us nicely into the next one

3. Active Learning

There are so many topics within robotics that it is impossible to learn all of them before you need them for a project. Even after a 5 year undergraduate degree in robotics and a 3 year PhD, I had only scratched the surface of the topics in robotics.

Being good at active learning is an essential skill throughout your whole career. Therefore, having a good level of reading comprehension and a grasp of the learning strategies that work for you personally will help you to learn new things quickly and easily when the need arises.

4. Mathematics

There are not many “core” skills in robotics (i.e. topics that can’t be learned as you go along). One of these core skills is mathematics. You would probably find it challenging to succeed in robotics without a good grasp of at least algebra, calculus and geometry. This is because, at a basic level, robotics relies on being able to understand and manipulate abstract concepts, often representing those concepts as functions or equations. Geometry is particularly important forunderstanding topics like kinematics and technical drawing (which you’re likely to see a lot of in your career, even if it’s only on the back of a napkin).

5. Science or other Applied Mathematics

Einstein_Hubo_robotThere are some people (pure mathematicians for example) who only need to handle mathematics without applying the concepts to the real world. Roboticists are not this type of person. Skills in science and otherapplied mathematics are important for robotics, because the real world is never as exact as mathematics. Being able to decide when the result of a calculation is “good enough to actually work” is a key skill for a robotics engineer. Which leads us neatly to…

6. Judgement and Decision Making

Being a good roboticist means continually making engineering decisions. Should you program with ROS or another system? How many fingers should you give your robot? Which sensors should you use? Robotics is full of choices and there is almost never one correct solution.

Thanks to the wide knowledge base of roboticists, you might find yourself in a better position to weigh up certain problems than engineers from more specialized disciplines. Judgement and decision making are essential to make the most of your position. Skills in analytical thinkingwill allow you to analyze the problem from various angles while critical thinking skills will help you to use logic and reasoning to balance the strengths and weaknesses of each solution.

7. Good Communication

As a roboticist, your generalist knowledge will mean that you often have to explain concepts to non-specialists. For example, you might have to explain a high-level programming issue to a mechanical engineer, or a structural mechanics problem to a computer scientist. Good roboticists are a channel of communication between the different disciplines. Therefore,communication skills are vital. Being able to use yourspeaking and writing skills effectively is important. Also, if you have good instructing skills this is a big bonus.

8. Technology Design

Being proficient at technology design means being able to design things that actually work. It also means being able to figure out why something isn’t working properly and come up with possible solutions, meaning skills inrepairing. Robotics involves a wide range of technologies, so skills in technology design mean you can effectively isolate the source of problems and propose effective solutions. An almost magical ability to “get it working” (whatever it is and however it is broken) is one of the marks of a truly talented roboticist.

9. Complex Problem Solving

As we’ve seen from the previous skills, a lot of robotics is about using your complex problem solving skills. This includes foreseeing problems, to fix the problems before they’ve even arisen, and troubleshooting them if they do arise.

10. Persistence

Finally, given the complex nature of robotics, persistence is a pretty essential skill. It might be persistence in trying to find the solution to a particularly difficult problem, or persistence in trying to explain a complex topic to others. Good roboticists will also support their persistence withdependability, proving themselves to be as knowledgeable and adaptable as robotics requires them to be.

WoW!! Amazing GoPro rig! $21k Google-Powered

Wow!! 16 GoPros and Google powered camera rig. Personally speaking, this thing is the best gadget I have seen so far this year (Still 3 months to go but..).

The most amazing thing is “GoPro claims Odyssey allows the 16 Hero4 Black units to act like a single camera, with every pixel of every frame synced accurately.”

As one of robotists, it is difficult to obtain that amazing data real-time(?) for closed-loop control since only GoPro allows recording on its own memory and pull it out after for postprocessing or transmitting through WiFi that has a limited bandwidth.

It is very cool gadget anyway. If you are interested in this, please have a look the following YouTube demo clip.

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GoPro's $US15K Google-Powered Camera is the Next Best Thing to Teleportation

This year, the most amazing thing I saw at Google’s annual developer conference wasn’t a phone, a tablet, or even a head-mounted display. It was a 360-degree 3D video that took me to Japan. Now, filmmakers can spend $US15,000 ($21,300 AUD) on the tech that made it possible: the GoPro Odyssey. It’s one heck of a camera.

OK, so I probably need to do a little explaining: the GoPro Odyssey isn’t a camera in the traditional sense.It’s actually an array of 16 perfectly aligned GoPro Hero4 Black cameras — the same $519 ones you’d mount on your surfboard or drone or mountain bike — plus some special Google hardware and software to combine them into a single 360-degree stereoscopic 3D video at 8K resolution and 30 frames per second. (It’s an incredible amount of data.)

GoPro's $US15K Google-Powered Camera is the Next Best Thing to Teleportation

What Odyssey looks like now. The top image in this post is what it looked like back in May.

The result is a video like nothing you’ve ever seen. You place your smartphone into a Google Cardboard VR headset, put it up to your face, and you’re somewhere else. A beach. A glacier. A cable car climbing up a Japanese mountain filled with sightseers like yourself. And the quality is far better than any other such 360-degree video I’ve seen, due to the way Google’s software computationally generates believable 3D no matter where you turn your head. No seams. With this camera, filmmakers could take you to all sorts of wonderful places.

GoPro's $US15K Google-Powered Camera is the Next Best Thing to Teleportation

You don’t technically need to buy a $21,300 GoPro rig to create such a video: Google’s initative, dubbed Jump, will actually let you 3D-print a frame to install your own cameras. But the GoPro Odyssey kit doesn’t just come with 16 cameras (and 16 cables, and 16 microSD cards, and… you get the picture) it’s also got the hardware to interface all of them together, custom firmware loaded onto the cameras, and a way to plug ‘em all into an AC outlet simultaneously — so you don’t need to swap out 16 batteries in the middle of a shoot.

GoPro claims Odyssey allows the 16 Hero4 Black units to act like a single camera, with every pixel of every frame synced accurately.

Plus — since GoPro is Google’s primary partner — this is probably the only way you get access to Google’s super-impressive Jump video assembler technology for a while. Speaking of getting access, though, it may be rather limited to start: GoPro and Google are accepting applications now, but will only give “select content partners” the go-ahead to actually buy one.

In the meanwhile, there’s already a way for you to see what this camera is capable of: just direct your Chrome browser or the YouTube app on your phone to this video:

Be sure to tap and drag (or move your phone) to pan around. Or put on a Google Cardboard headset for the best results.

What if you aren’t a pro, yet you still like the idea of creating virtual reality videos? You could try a Ricoh Theta, which will let you publish non-3D spherical videos to YouTube and spherical photos to Google Street View. Or you could wait for GoPro to create a consumer-grade VR camera. I’m pretty sure that’s coming, too.



CyPhy Works Launches Drone That Makes Aerial Video Easy and Intuitive

Image: CyPhy Works
This camera drone can shoot stable video without a gimbal.

CyPhy Works makes drones that are unique predominantly because they use a microfilament tether to carry power and data that allows for unlimited flight time and flawless high resolution video streaming. We would have expected that their next drone would have leveraged this technology somehow, but apparently, some engineers at CyPhy had a clever idea and decided to Kickstart a new drone that takes advantage of it with the ability to fly around while remaining completely level.

If you want to use your drone to take good video, you usually have to spend an extra eleventy bajillion dollars (or thereabouts) on a stabilized camera gimbal. But seriously, gimbals are expensive: 3D Robotics, for example, sells a gimbal for its Solo drone that (at US $400) is nearly half the cost of the entire drone itself. The reason that you need a gimbal is that whenever the drone moves in any direction besides vertically, it either pitches or rolls, which messes up the orientation of your video unless the gimbal compensates for it. Additionally, a drone that’s pitching or rolling is much harder to steer, because control axes start to shift around.

This is all annoying. So can someone fix it, please?

Nice, right? By adding a different horizontal thrust component to each rotor and varying the rotor speed (along with some “fancy math”), the CyPhy engineers enabled the LVL 1 drone to translate in any direction, no pitch or roll required. The camera doesn’t need a gimbal, meaning that you can tuck it right into the body of the drone, saving on cost and weight and making crash landings a lot less destructive.

Here’s what we’re looking at with the LVL 1: It’s a hexcopter with a 1080p camera that can tilt 90 degrees, 20+ minutes of flight time, battery that charges over USB 3.1, GPS and optical flight stabilization, waypoint following and geofencing, payload mounts (with onboard data and power interfaces), and you control it with an app over WiFi, although you can also use a traditional R/C controller, which is a feature that we love. Also, that level flight capability? You can switch it off if you want to do acrobatics.

The LVL 1 is now on Kickstarter (seeking $250k in funding); the first batch went for $400, and the second for $450, but $500 is now the going rate. That’ll get you one drone, a charger, a charging cable, and the app to control it is free.

There are a few other things that are worth paying attention to on the LVL 1, like visual feature tracking and the ability to follow you around based on the GPS location of your cell phone. The drone also has the capability of recovering from a motor failure or prop loss, and in some cases, it can even deal with losing two motors at once, flying on just four out of six.

We asked CyPhy CEO Helen Greiner about where the idea for this drone came from, and the answer is straightforward: “We invented this great technology that makes drones fly better. Seems a shame not to share it with consumers.” We were also wondering about just exactly how the level flight capability works and how it compares to a conventional drone, and Greiner promised to tell us all about it, just not in the middle of their launch day. We’ll put together an in-depth article on LVL 1, but for now, this thing looks totally cool, and you have until June 18 to decide if you want one for delivery in February of next year.