Saturday, November 13, 2004

Robosphere 2004, Nov. 9-10
Eyewitness Account


Robosphere is a bi-annual robotics workshop that focus on
deploying robots into space for long-term operations. This
includes adding robustness to existing robot platforms and
making robots more and more self-sufficient such as being
able to self-repair, perform habitat construction, utilize
in-situ resources, and be more autonomous.

I wasn't around for last year's workshop, but this year it
was at NASA Ames in Moffet Field, CA near San Jose. I live
in Los Angeles, so we had decided to drive up which takes
about 5.5 hours.

So three of my colleagues and I plus href="http://www.isi.edu/~shen/">Prof. Wei-Min Shen
gathered together at 5:30am and took a rental van up to San
Jose. We stopped once to have some breakfast at some
fast-food town, but we spent a lot of the time napping for
the sleep we didn't get during the night. I'm not sure what
we talked about, but I think we mostly did some joking around.

Finally, we arrived at NASA Ames at 11:15am. Only 3 hours
and 15 minutes late! Sadly, we missed some of the speakers
already who talked about habitat construction for
extra-terrestrial environments. According to the program, I
missed the following presentations:

  • "Mobile lunar and planetary base architectures", Marc
    Cohen, NASA Ames Research Center
  • "Mobitat: Mobile Modular Habitat", A. Scott Howe, Plug-in
    Creations Architecture
  • "LB1 - A Case Study: A Lunar Habitat as a Self-sustaining
    Intelligent Robotic System", Susmita Mohanty, Moonfront LLC
  • "Radiation and Micro-meteorite Shielded Lunar Habitat
    Formation by Semi-autonomous Robotic Excavation", Dr. Lyman
    Hazelton, KinetX Inc.

Notice that a lot of the speakers are from companies. I
think that's particularly interesting since from my
experience at academic conferences, most people have been
from universities or research institutions. There were
quite a bit of people from companies at this workshop.

So the next section of talks was about "Robotic
Colonies/Ecologies". These talks essentially boiled down to
how to control many robots over a long period of time and
have them adapt to the environment and needed tasks.

Anthony Enguirda of Griffith University in Australia started
off by describing the concept of the robot colony and how it
differs from the conventional paradigm. I arrived right in
the middle of this talk, so I didn't learn very much. I'm
looking at the accompanying paper in the proceedings, and it
looks interesting, but it doesn't seem like there's a lot of
substance. Of course a lot of this workshop was focused on
wild speculation and the introduction of new ideas, so I
think this is acceptable. I'll have to focus on this paper
more closely when I have time.

Hamid Berenji of Intelligent Inference Systems Corp. gave a
talk about Dynamic Cased-Based Reasoning (DCBR). This was a
method for robots to ascertain their state and recover from
faults and error conditions. This looked a lot like an
expert system with the capability to generalize and adapt to
the situation. This seems effective, but the drawback to
any type of system like this is it requires a heck of a lot
of pre-programming of all the fault cases you can think of.

Finally, Zhihua Qu of University of Central Florida gave a
talk about a control-theoretic approach to controlling a
large population of robots. It basically takes a huge
matrix representing the state of every robot in the
population and you add an extra row/column that is the human
controller. Then you effect this matrix with your control
inputs. It's a very interesting approach and I wonder how
you could apply it. It seems in order for this control
system to actually work, you need to know the state of all
the robots and they need to receive your appropriate inputs.
How do you do this in a physical space with poor
communication, I don't know. Maybe there's an assumption in
here that I didn't get.

After this, we went to lunch. More later.

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