I am a Researcher in Autonomous Robotics. AMA!
Sorry, this was actually my first post on reddit, I just got back from work, I'll answer as many as possible
For those of us who build and fly drones responsibly, what is your opinion on the burgeoning public opinion that they require excessive legislation?
That is an interesting point. There has been a development in that just a couple of days ago http://www.theverge.com/2015/2/15/8040647/faa-small-uav-drone-rules-regulations. I do think that one should be certified to be a responsible driver, and take responsibilities for eventual damage to things or people. That I'm afraid requires a lot of legislation.
Are you worried that you are creating something that will ultimately kill us all, Skynet style?
Wait But Why has a cool (but very long) two-part article series that touches on this, if you're interested.
I have read that article. It is really well written, and quite interesting. However I think the arguments that they make are quite far from a scientific analysis of the problem. It is more focused on the philosophical implications.
As far as my imagination goes I cannot imagine a way that would be actually possible. The common idea is that to mimic the functioning of a human brain it's sufficient a very complex Turing machine. In my opinion that is not the case, there is something more going on in our brains that at the moment we fail to understand. If we would be able to build a machine that is self conscious with the technology we have today, it would require an amount of energy that is just not possible to produce on earth.
Did your University prepare you enough or did you have to study a lot of things that weren't in the program by yourself to work on your project?
I did have to study a lot of things, but I think what really University is supposed to do is to provide you with a valid method so you can easily study new things
Is it a self learning system ?
At this stage of development it is not, however I am creating a very modular system that allows to easily expand it in future research
What was your major in University, how did you know you were interested in robotics, and how did you start out in this field?
I did mechatronics as an undergraduate and Control System as a postgraduate. Although it doesn't look like it, at the level I do it there is a lot of math to deal with. Maybe that is what caught my attention in the first place, I love math and being able to apply it in such a cool field is really interesting for me.
I see several courses on machine learning available on coursersa. What direction would you send someone with a programming background on to help start to learn and understand how to make an autonomous robot?
if you are interested in actual design of robots, i would suggest something like mechatronics (that's what i did as an undergraduate). The reason is that it gives you a broad understanding of all the necessary components of a robot: mechanics, electronics, programming
Where do you hope your work will put humanity in 20 years?
Artificial Intelligence can significantly improve the safety of modern machines. It can be of assistance in many ways to humans, for example by doing jobs that are dangerous for us. To answer your question I think that in 20 years our way of living is not going to change much. Robots are already numerous among us, the thing I am doing is to improve them.
What tools like, programming language are you using?
I am mostly working on theoretical results at the moment. For my simulations I use Matlab/Simulink connected with an Agent programming language called Jason, which takes care of the reasoning of the machine.
What do you think is the most efficient/"best" option for robots to sense their environment? Machine vision, some type of radar, something else entirely, or a combination thereof? And why?
There is no such thing as the "best" options. The answer always depends on what you are looking for. Every sensor system has its own pros and cons and really it depends. Data fusion is a branch of mathematics that helps you mix different kind of inputs from different kind of sensors so to come up with a better noise-proof reading. In most systems this is what's going on.
What kind of sensors are involved here? Image-based? Depth-based?
I work at a higher level than that. I work on the reasoning of the machine, which means I assume that I already have information coming from sensors, so it doesn't matter what kind of sensors. What I do assume is that this information is not entirely reliable, so in my mathematical models I introduce some disturbances, and design a control system that can cope with such disturbances.
Ahh, okay, so you're entirely on the machine learning side of things?
Not exactly machine learning but more of the "Planning" side, that is given what you know about the world, make decisions that will help to reach the final goal.
Due to the amount of windows on your screen this research seems excessively difficult, what are your plans to acquire a second monitor?
Haha I do have another monitor, It just wouldn't fit in a single video. I am not really into video editing to be honest.
Does your current research intend to provide a fully autonomous (unmanned) or a semi autonomous (manned) solution? How will you deal with collision avoidance? The Darpa Urban challenge provided an interesting insight into just how difficult autonomous navigation can be (as in, it's realtively simple to detect an upcoming collision but significantly more difficult to decide what to do about it!)
It will be a fully autonomous system. Collision avoidance is exactly what I am working on right now. The idea is to continuously predict the behaviour of other vehicles as well as the trajectory of your vehicle and make plans of action accordingly. The planner has to take into account all sort of things: weather conditions, speed, intentions of the incoming vehicle (friend or foe?), and so on. My approach is to use sense the world and use several algorithms, the planner will decide which algorithm to use in which situation
Do you ever worry that there will be a point of no return in autonomous robotics and everything will go downhill from there? This could be really, really far away in the future but do you see that as a possibility?
please see the answer I gave to user moosebrah
What type of computer science background do you have?
I do have a bit of programming background, and general courses at Uni. Not as much as you would think I guess.
As somewhat very passionate about AI, and a strong believer about what it could do for society, I have to ask, what kind of timeframe do you predict for singularity type advancement in the field? Do you ever see it becoming possible? Thanks!
I don't believe there will be such a thing as a singularity, it will always be a smooth and gradual change
Hello, What role does a subsumption type architecture play into your chosen specialty/current research?
I am using an Agent-based architecture which is kind of similar. Have look at
Autonomous vehicle control systems (Veres et. al 2011)
How did you get into the robotics program at your university? Do you have any advice for anyone pursuing a career in robotics?
I started with a BEng in Mechatronics and then did an MSc in Control Systems. My advice is to study some serious maths and everything will come easier.
Do you look into energy efficiency of do your just follow a route? For example going faster when there are no waves and slowing down when there is a lot of wind (similar to this http://www.adrenaship.com/news-media/news/66-energy-efficiency-routing-adrena-launches-into-a-new-adventure.html)
Yes I do look at efficiency. The behaviour in tough weather conditions is a big part of the project.
How big of a part does Systems and Control Theory play in you research?
Also, are you planning on staying in academia, or rather join the industry?
System and control theory gives you a solid background on pretty much everything you need to work with robots, especially mathematics.
Yes, I am planning to stay in academia. I love it.
What would you say are the best resources to learn about Autonomous Robotics?
There are many good books you can start from. For example this:
http://planning.cs.uiuc.edu (free book)
Have you watched the movie "Her" directed by Spike Jonze? If so, what do you think about it? Do you think people in the future may fall in love with intelligent computers?
I haven't watched the movie, but I intend to watch it soon
What do you think about fuzzy mathematics in autonomous systems or in AI systems in general? I had a fuzzy mathematics course some times ago and I never could get around to actually try to implement something, anything and from what the teacher told us it's really useful for self driving vehicles (for instance self parallel-parking cars).
Also where could one find the resources to learn about self-learning machines and artificial neural networks outside of an university? I was actually extremely disappointed not to be able to learn about this in my engineering school, and I have no idea where to start if I ever want to.
I actually don't like fuzzy mathematics, so I never got very far into studying it. What I can tell you is that is not that used in robotics, there are much more sophisticated ways to deal with uncertainties.
I am afraid I don't really use neural networks so I don't know any sources. However you can find loads of material from universities that are open to download for the public. Have a look for example at the MIT OpenCourseWare database.
I'm 17 and planning to do a degree in robotics after 6th form.
What would you recommend for me to do as preparation for joining this study?
Would you recommend doing a degree in robotics or in a broader field like mechanical engineering?
Thank you in advance.
To do robotics you need to know your maths. One thing I had to struggle with was probability theory. High school didn't prepare me at all and I had to start all over again. If you don't enjoy heavy math, you are not going to enjoy robotics. I would recommend going on with robotics. If you are really interested in that you don't need to focus on mechanics only but you need a bit of everything: mechanics, electronics, programming, and all the maths in between.
I replied before about my disagreement that math was so important for robotics, what I missed was that the question was about going to school for robotics. .
What I would recommend if you want to get in to robotics is either some sort of robotics program or electrical engineering or computer science, but NOT mechanical engineering.
The structure of any robotic system is always the easiest thing to be designed generally the least innovative, it undergos the same stresses that non-robotic devices go through. Robotics in general never break any new ground in mechanical engineering. Unless it is due to the inability of non robotic systems to do the task in the first place... (ie. Mars rover) there are some other uses of good mechanical design to make the job of the electronics and computational systems easier.
The greatest number of current advances come in computational, mainly because this is the most accessible form of robotics, and really is the overall control of any robotic system, it is the obvious choice for entry or advancement in robotics, but becomes limited by the hardware (electronics) available if trying to design a robotic system from scratch.
Electronics is extremely important after all these computer systems operate on a hardware layer of electronics, furthermore there are many sensors and signal processes that need to be there for robotics. Whole balancing systems and feedback loops can be designed purely in electronic circuits with no processing required. Allowing a mechanical system to interact with the world autonomously only requiring CPU direction for the whole systems goal. . You can think of this like the "instinct" of a robotic system. The best most reliable robotic systems in the world rely more heavily on strong electrical designs and processes.
Software can be perfect if the electronics fails at a task the system becomes useless far quicker. Wha
There is significantly more overhead required to do research or design in this aspect than computational though.
The greatest number of current advances come in computational
that is just not true, I am afraid. The greatest number of advances in robotics come in algorithms, hence mathematics.
If we are talking about building robots, than I mostly agree with everything you write. However if we are talking research than again: mathematics.
The question was about the preparation for a robotics course. I still insist that math is the way to go. If you have a good background in mathematics, then electronics, control systems, algorithms, data fusion.... everything comes easier
Edit: I don't think I mentioned that I work in robotics.
Prep for any engineering or computer science course, yes math is most important, that is why I deleted my last comment.
What I also said is that algorithms not equations "pure math" is more important to actual robotics but that it requires very little formal mathematics background to make advancements in robotics.
What I meant by computational is computational algorithms or methods, so I think we are on the same page here. The point is it is in the realm of computer science.
I do find math and computer science to be over emphasized in academic robotics though, I think it really holds universities back in making real progress in robotics. I think it has to do with budgets and accessibility though, maybe also the academic "pure knowledge" mindset and the idea that practical application is for industry not academia, but the fact is robotics is extremely practical.
Of course I am not talking "pure math", I am an engineer not a mathematician. But that doesn't mean that it's easier, it just means that you make assumptions based on real world scenarios. And I still don't agree with you, you do need strong mathematical background to be able to understand stuff like stability of non-linear systems, Bayesan filters and so on.
As of computer science I agree with you, it's over estimated in the field. But I still don't agree with the math.
Again it depends on what you are looking for. If you want to build a robot, you just use (consciously or not) math that is already been developed for you (see data fusion, SLAM, combinatorial planning, sampling based planning and so on). If you want to make a contribution you have not only to improve on something, that of course you have to understand first, but you have to prove (mathematically) that your approach is better and why.
What kind of work in robotics do you do?
As a high school senior who wants to get into the field, what can I do? I'm currently majoring in Computer Science, but have no idea how to get at the intersection of CompSci and EE that robotics requires.
What I did is called Mechatronics and it's exactly what you are looking for. I am not sure how is it called in your country but that's what it is in the UK and in Italy (where I graduated).
What do you think of this years FRC (First Robotics) competition?
I honestly don't really know about this competition.
How hard is it to not personify or anthropomorphize any of your robots?
Not sure what you mean by that. Are you talking about look or something else?
What time frame are we looking at here to get it in boats (5-10 years)?
hopefully less than 5 years
Do you get support from your family?
What kind of support are we talking? If you mean economical support than fortunately i don't need it
What other technology do you see converging with Robotics in the near future? (I was at a seminar recently where the speaker mentioned biological nano tech is a probability.)
Yes, I think that biology and medicine will. If it does improve our lives, than you can be sure there is somebody working on it right now.
What kind of response does this boat show on a collision course I mean when an incoming ship is charging towards it with the boat surrounded by land does it stop or does it keep going ???
It makes a new plan so the collision doesn't happen anymore, and if there isn't one it stops in a safe spot
What is your favorite dinosaur?
What are your feelings on Transhumanism?
How long until the Japanese develop robot fuck dolls?
I don't have a favorite dinosaur. Don't know much about dinosaurs really.
I think that we will always make tools to improve our lives, but we won't evolve in a way we can appreciate it in our lifetime.
I don't see much of a technical challenge in doing that, somebody has probably done it already.
Have you worked with anyone at U of Hawaii Mania? My brother was a postdoc there and worked on an autonomous boat ROV to scan all the container ships coming in and out of the port at Honolulu
I wish I had! Sounds the best place on earth to be a postdoc. What's your brother name?
Where and when do you think AI will first present itself? What do you believe the repercussions will be for humanity and AI from that moment on?
From what I can see today, I don't think there will ever be drastic repercussions for humanity. Robots are tools, we build them to help us doing things.
Hi！First I must say: Your ideal is so cool! Then my question: if your work finally is done? in what aspects will you use your invention? In Business ? Tourism ? military? Or..?
I am not making any invention here, research is mostly about improving what others have already done in the field. I am creating the tools so that any of those applications will be possible.
Who is your mentor?
My supervisor Professor Sandor Veres, you can look him up on google scholar to see his publications.
Hypothetically, If you could also program it to commit a murder that cannot be traced back to you, would you do it?
I am not really into murder no.
when can i transfer my mind into the internet?
I don't reckon anytime soon, I'll let you know though
Can you elaborate further on what you're doing to achieve "humanlike decision making" and what specific challenges affect unmanned surface boats but not other unmanned vehicles? Also, it would be interesting to take your views on if the problems you're addressing can be applied to autonomous systems within other environments, such as indoors.
by humanlike decision making I mean that the system is designed to cope with problems in the same way we do. Surface boats can find themselves in pretty difficult environment, with limited moving capabilities. What I am trying to do is make the system take critical decisions in any situations without human intervention. To answer your second question, I am focusing on boats but with different models the theory can be applied to different systems and so can the implementation. Hopefully I will be able to provide the tools to do that in the future.
Which white collar jobs will be the first to fall to automation, and why?
I actually never thought about that, I guess you should ask a Computer Science/Machine Learning expert.
Hi, I'm doing an extended project(5000 words) alongside my A-Levels on the threat of A.I. to human civilisation, so i have a few questions:
How big of a threat do you think autonomous machines are to employment in the future?
How big of a threat do you believe Super Intelligence poses to us as a race?
Also, do you know of any places that are good sources of information for this topic?
I am afraid this is not my topic. I actually don't think there will every be any threat to human civilisation from A.I.
Q1: Hello, I'm working on a robotics localization algorithm for my undergraduate final year thesis. It's a underwater autonomous vehicle equipped with a forward looking camera and a sonar. I'm trying to fuse both data sets. The final objective is to detect what type of object it is and align itself towards it, say a buoy or a small craft or a diver etc.
What kind of algorithms or tips do you have for me? I'm trying to use the sonar's XZ space and the camera's XY space and somehow fuse them
Q2: I'd like to to a master's in robotics, possibly in the USA. Any thoughts on how to approach this?
Q3: What is that fancy control panel/UI thing?
Q1: I don't know much about image processing. I would suggest to have a look at classic filters such as Kalman Filter, EKF, or may Box Particle Filters. Q2: I have no experience in the US, in the UK I just sent my application and I got called shortly afterwards. Q3: the panel is an interface that tells you all sorts of things: position, velocity, accelerations, and so on. It also allows you to select the point you want the boat to go to and the desired speed.
I am just finishing my MS in Mechanical Engineering, and have really tried to orient my knowledge to include programming and electronics, I'd really like to get into the field of robotics as a career.
How did you get into Autonomous research?
I would love to do research at a place like MIT, Carnegie, or Berkeley's biomimetics lab. However I've only just got a 3.5gpa, and I wasn't exactly groomed since childhood for this career. Would I really stand any sort of chance trying to apply for a PhD/research-fellowship at universities researching this?
Also, what kind of autonomy do you work on?
I'm fascinated by legged stability problems. :D
I am afraid I don't know how it works in the US. I did have an MSc with distinction which really helped, but still I think I was given the place on the day of the interview, my supervisor for some reason liked me more among 20 people. For your second question I work on Path planning, more specifically in the discrete domain, with formal verification tools.
Sailboat or motorboat?
Autonomous piloting of a (motor-)boat seems like it would be comparable to or a little easier than autonomous driving of a car. Could you outline the major challenges in the problem please?
Motorboat. The challenge is the limited moving capabilities in tough weather conditions, especially with a lot of other vehicles around, for example in an harbour environment.
I have a couple of questions if I may: 1) For the boat, are you using Raspberry Pi or other off-the-shelf micro-processors? 2) Will the codes be Open Source by any chance? Thanks!
I am not working on implementation, and anyway we are talking something much more powerful than a Raspberry Pi. The implementation will be done by a UK military company, so probably not Open Source :).
The cognitive layer. How close are we? Years? Decades? Months?
If for cognitive you mean "self conscious" then decades I would say
Do you actually call it a brain, or is that just for us plebs benefit?
yes I do call it brain, but the reason is that I really don't know what else to call it. I don't mean any similarities with the human brain.
As a high schooler who is learning and trying to build their own autonomous robot, do you have any suggestions to make the process easier?
start with easy stuff, try to make something that you are actually going to use, for example an automatic system to turn on off the lights when you walk off your room, just to give you one. If you are really interested in the result, everything it's easier.
Do these "autobots" so to speak, transform?
Not really, no.
How did you go about localization of your vehicle? In recent autonomous automobiles, there has been a huge effort to use vision, but there are obvious difficulties with you consider floating on a body of water. What kinds of sensors are you using?
The localisation is no problem at open sea, there is GPS and a whole series of other instrumentations to use. If you mean "mapping" then it is not my field, I assume a map is already available and I generate plans of action in the map
How do we survive an economic collapse when we can't be hired anymore because robots can do all of our jobs?
the use of robot in the production make it possible for you to buy the phone or pc you are using to write this quite simplistic question. Robots still need to be designed, manufactured, tested, maintained. Robots are used for jobs that are actually damaging for our health.
Couple of questions....
1) What sensors are being used, or planned to be used? The planning seems to be based off the shoreline, but do you really have access to something that can tell you the shoreline?
2) Quick look at the video seems to show the boat cutting the edge of that island pretty darn closely. If it's a sloping shoreline, I think your simulated boat would pretty surely have run aground on the offshore shallows. If it gets deep there, you're still risking collision by an errant wave or wind driving you in to the shore. What approaches are being considered for safety of the vessel and the things around it?
What I do is I assume that I have data from several sources, and I assume that the data is not entirely secure. So in my mathematical models i add some uncertainties and I design my reasoning so to cope with such uncertainties. Regarding the video it was just a demonstration of the software capabilities of the simulator, which I designed. It doesn't do anything "smart" yet. Anyway in that particular algorithm I can set the minimum distance from the shoreline.
What is your favourite type of pie?
Do you answer questions in an AMA?
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