Mechanical creatures debut at conference

Kane Loukas

During a University robotics event Monday, more than 400 people attended a fireworks display of new technology that included the educational possibilities of robots.
The Hyatt Regency ballrooms in Minneapolis were home to the robotics exhibition as part of the 1998 International Conference on Autonomous Agents. Companies and universities showed off their newest robotic creations and communed with other high-tech specialists and enthusiasts.
The evening appealed to technophiles and zoologists alike as robotic dogs and cats, a.k.a. “Virtual Petz,” were exhibited. Altogether there were about 20 robots ranging from a commercially produced robotic waiter to a student-developed search and rescue machine.
A robotic dog invented by Sony, one of the more advanced machines at the show, tracked, followed and kicked an orange ball. It also entertained spectators by going through motions that imitated the flexing of metal muscles as its tail wagged behind it.
In addition to highlighting the mechanical wildlife, professors and robotics specialists spent time speaking with people about the educational capabilities of robots.
Maria Gini, professor of computer science and engineering, said that building and working with robots makes students exercise several essential skills.
“By building robots students need to learn how to use microprocessors and how motors are connected to computers,” said Gini. “There are a lot of basic programming skills that come into play with robotics.”
The University’s exhibit included seven mechanized Lego robots. The robots performed the task of collecting and carrying small mushroom-shaped Lego pieces to a lamp.
A small group of University doctoral candidates and computer science and engineering faculty designed and assembled the robots over a two-week period.
Paul Rybski, a computer science doctoral candidate that worked on the University’s Lego robots, said the exhibition is important because it’s a chance to showcase the latest artificial intelligence research and development projects.
The urban search and rescue robot developed by the Colorado School of Mines was designed to be used in municipal disaster areas where people need to be found and eventually removed from rubble.
The complex machine can sense different shades of blood to determine which victims need immediate aid. It can also communicate with victims by way of microphones and video cameras.
“The project was very interdisciplinary,” said Glenn Blauvelt, an artificial intelligence graduate student at Colorado. “Students were exposed to a lot of things that weren’t necessarily their forte.”