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Comment Why this is useful (Score 4, Insightful) 9

As a researcher in this field not affiliated with this work, the merit is that most SLAM methods (that's essentially mapping an environment and tracking your position within it) have generally had very little understanding of the map that results. The world is most commonly a fuzzy blob of pixels or voxels.

In contrast, a human might "map" an environment in terms of salient objects, like "The potted plant" or a set of office chair. Such a semantic map has several possible advantages--- it could support more natural interactions with people, and it can serve as a powerful regularizer that prevents the robot from learning incorrect maps.

  The particular method described in this paper is pretty well executed, and making a system that runs in real time with such a large amount of data is not easy. Of course, many researchers are looking at building semantic maps.

Comment Another highlight: MAGIC 2010 competition (Score 2) 38

This was also the first year of the multi autonomous ground-robotic international challenge (MAGIC), in which teams of robots collaborated to perform urban recon/search-rescue type missions. This competition focused on autonomous exploration, map building, object recognition, and coordination between both the robots and the human operators. 23 teams from around the world entered the competition, with the top five finalists competing just a few weeks ago in Adelaide, Australia.


It was also covered on slashdot:


And Team Michigan, from the University of Michigan, took first place and $750k in prize money. (Forgive my obvious bias, I'm the team leader :)



Submission + - U.S. Robots Win Big Down Under 1

An anonymous reader writes: US teams dominated the MAGIC 2010 autonomous robotics competition, mapping and neutralizing simulated bombs at the 250,000 sq. meter Royal Showgrounds in Adelaide, Australia. Leading the pack with a team of fourteen robots was Team Michigan, principally from the University of Michigan, followed by the University of Pennsylvania, and RASR. This contest marks the beginning of practical robots that not only think for themselves, but also actively coordinate with a human commander.

Submission + - Robot soldiers team up for DoD competition (army.mil) 2

jstrom writes: Six finalists have been announced for the final round of the Multi Autonomous Ground-Robotic International Challenge (MAGIC 2010). The contest, which is sponsored by the American and Australian defense departments, aims to quickly boost the autonomous capabilities of robots deployed on the battlefield. Each team is asked to field a robot collective to autonomously map large-scale urban environment and neutralize IED-like props, while tracking and differentiating between non-combatants and enemy soldiers. The finalists, composed of three US teams in addition to teams from Japan, Turkey and Australia, will compete for US $1.6M in prize money at an undisclosed location in Australia this November. Team Michigan has posted videos (torrent) of their system in operation and animations of the algorithms they are developing. The other US finalists include the University of Pennsylvania and Robotics Research.

Comment Summer research in robotics (Score 1) 87

Many universities offer summer research opportunities for undergraduates. My robotics lab at the University of Michigan, for example, (april.eecs.umich.edu) has a large population of undergraduate researchers.

Students from under-represented backgrounds can often get help with placement (e.g., ARTSI, www.artsialliance.org).

In short, I encourage you to find labs that you are interested in working with. Keep in mind that PIs get many solicitations from potential students... as a result, it can be fairly competitive.

Comment Re:But what is the replacement policy? (Score 1) 452

Having just had two seagate drives fail recently (a 750GB DB35 with an electrical failure as reported by smartctl) and a 750GB 7200.10(?) with a broken SATA connector, I recently got to experience their return policy.

I had to ship Seagate the drives FIRST, then they ship the replacements. They would cross-ship for an additional $20. I thought this was okay, if not ideal.

They did have elaborate packaging recommendations, but I wrapped the drives in bubble wrap (the same packing material newegg sent me drives in), put 'em in a box with anti-static peanuts, and sent the package via insured priority mail. The $200 insurance cost me $1.30 or something. I think I paid about $20 total for the package containing both drives.

I was promptly notified when my RMA package arrived at seagate, and replacement drives shipped the day after that with a tracking number sent via email.

They even claim to have an 'upgrade' option, where if your old 300GB drive dies, you can pay some marginal cost and have them replace it with a new model. That option was greyed out for me-- I guess my drives were too new.

All in all, I was satisfied with the return procedure.

What I'm entirely unsatisfied with is their firmware upgrade policy. I have several affected 1.5TB seagate drives, and I cannot fathom why I must contact their tech support in order to get the correct firmware. Why isn't there an auto-magic upgrade program? (Or, having not RTFA, is that what this new program is?)

Comment Nuturing young researchers (Score 2, Insightful) 235

Here's another factor to consider: skilled scientists do not appear out of the ether. Nor do they emerge fully formed from the head of Zeus. More often than not, they're smart (but inexperienced) young folks. They may not be native English speakers, either.

Workshops and conferences can fill a nurturing role. Poster sessions play a big role: a little encouragement and hopefully some productive feedback during the session will help them become better researchers. Of course, recognizing substantial research contributions is extremely important, but the two goals are not in conflict.

(slightly off-topic rant): The press likes to complain about how millions of dollars go to fund "ridiculous" research... like studying the DNA of bears in Alaska. From their depiction, you might think the money was being distributed to the bears by being covered with honey and shoved into hollowed trees. No, that money is going to fund graduate students, creating the next generation of researchers who will be there to drive our technology forward. The study of bear DNA might actually be really interesting, but even if it turns out to be unremarkable, those dollars still helped produce new researchers.

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