RBE’s Undergraduate Spring Meet & Greet: The MQP Project Fair!

Filed in News by on February 28, 2018 0 Comments

Last Friday, February 23rd, the Robotics Engineering program held its annual RBE Spring Meet & Greet, giving undergraduate RBE majors the opportunity to learn more about the faculty, find out about the research happening right now at WPI, and — most importantly! — get a sneak peek at some of the Major Qualifying Projects presenting at this year’s Project Presentation Day.

For those who missed the Meet & Greet, a zip of the slideshow is available to download by right-clicking here.

RBE Items of Interest: November 3, 2017

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Bringing Motion to Life, Ras Labs Becomes a Breakout Labs Company – Some good news for our own Lenore Rasmussen – her company, Ras Labs, has joined the Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs! She has more exciting news as well – ask her!

Lockheed Martin to design giant robot sub for US Navy – What it says on the tin. Of interest to the Sailbot MQP.

Cockroach Robot Grows Tail, Does Flips – UC Berkley has apparently been working on robot roaches for a while, and now they have one that uses a simple “tail” to right itself (which real cockroaches would find useful).

Why Human-Controlled, Force-Multiplying Robots Are the Future of Work on Earth – An opinion-piece published by IEEE.

Three concerns about granting citizenship to robot Sophia – A robot from Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong has recently been granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. This article gives the details, but largely outlines the ethical issues of same.

New RoboBee flies, dives, swims, and explodes out of the water – Incredibly cool. The video is astonishing.

Shelley: Human-AI collaborated horrors stories – From MIT, a post-Halloween treat. Shelley_ai is a twitter account powered by a deep-learning AI fed with stories from the reddit thread “r/nosleep”. She starts a story, and invites human users to continue the story in round-robin fashion.

RBE Items of Interest: July 7, 2017

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A Colonoscopy Robot and Other Weird Biomedical Tech From IEEE’s Biggest Robotics Conference – A brief overview, with videos.

Self-driving cars could soon be making decisions based on morality – The University of Osnabruck in Germany has suggested that there are some basic, non-context-related moral principles that a self-driving car can use to deal with driving’s version of the Trolley Problem.

Why Rat-Brained Robots Are So Good at Navigating Unfamiliar Terrain – What it says on the tin, with a discussion of the current navigational tech and where rat brains could prove useful.

Purifying water with swimming, bacteria-hunting microbots – A fascinating alternative to harsh chemicals: magnesium as a propellant, with gold and silver as microorganism attractors/destroyers. The bots, which are partially iron, are then cleared from the water with magnets.

Self-driving potato – Exactly what it says on the tin, oh my gosh.

RBE Items of Interest: June 23, 2017

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WPI Salamander Wins First Place at the IEEE ICRA Soft Robotics Speed Challenge – Good job, everybody! Expect to see this and the next news item as individual posts on the blog. Our robot finished the course in under a minute – every other team took over *twelve*.

WPI Robotics Team Guides Unmanned Sailboat to Victory in SailBot ’17 – We beat out the US Naval Academy! The link is to a Worcester News Tonight segment featuring our own Ken Stafford and graduate Nick Gigliotti.

Robot Uses Evil Alter Ego to Learn Reliable Grasping – A surprisingly click-baity title for IEEE. Carnegie Mellon and Google are using zero-sum games between robots’ arms to help speed up self-supervised grasp learning.

Central Saint Martins graduate creates misbehaving robots designed purely to annoy you – Put in context with the “evil alter ego” above, one wonders if the robots are trying to teach us something.

“Virtual bubble” for autonomous cars would mean goodbye traffic lights – Controlling movement through a traffic system by reading the relative speed/distance of vehicles as they approach intersections and slowing down/speeding up relative to one another to make for smooth crossing. Very similar to the “invisible top hats” discussed for drone use.

Autonomous tunneling robot takes on the trenches – A segmented robot with the name BADGER is being designed to dig tunnels without the need for major digging by humans. A neat idea, and pretty sound, but I do wonder how this will affect archaeological concerns.

The rise of autonomous cars is probably going to do interesting things to our music

RBE Items of Interest: June 9, 2017

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TechCrunch Robotics Event – “TechCrunch and MIT’s CSAIL are running a one-day event on robotics on July 17 at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium that will bring together the robotics perspective of startups, venture capital, research, government, and corporates.”

Softbank is buying robotics firms Boston Dynamics and Schaft from Alphabet – What it says on the tin. Big news in local business.

Take a Load Off. The Robots That Fold Laundry Are Coming. – What it says on the tin. I’m reminded of the Industrial Revolution’s spate of household inventions whose primary purpose was to ease the strain of servants’ (women’s) work.

US Army’s TAR head up display to give soldiers a tactical edge – Another application for augmented reality. One must ask, however, whether it is wise to manipulate the reality of a soldier. And more: Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?

Total Internal Reflection Accounts for the Bright Color of the Saharan Silver Ant – While this looks outside our wheelhouse, the biological construction of the hair on these ants makes for “remarkable thermoregulatory properties, enabling the ant to maintain a lower thermal steady state and to cope with the high temperature of its natural habitat” – which may be something interesting to study with regard to material science, space travel, and/or urban heat islands.

How to Prepare for an Automated Future – A thought-provoking article regarding the “up-skill”ing of our workforce to match the advances in automation. May suffer slightly from all interviewees being either Ivory Tower or white-collar.

Robotic priest offers blessings in digital form – What it says on the tin. I feel like there’s an Old Testament reason why this is a bad idea.

How to Recharge Batteries – An old, classic video that is, ah, very instructional.

Beyond WPI: The Markhor robot wins Regolith Mechanics Award at NASA’s Robotic Mining Competition

Filed in News by on June 1, 2017 0 Comments

The culmination of every senior undergraduate student’s career at WPI is the major qualifying project — but the life of a project doesn’t have to end after the college’s Project Presentation Day. One such project is the Markhor mining robot, which went on to compete at NASA’s 2017 Robotic Mining Competition.

[The RMC is a competition] for university-level students to design and build a mining robot that can traverse the challenging simulated Martian terrain. The mining robot must then excavate the regolith simulant and/or the ice simulant (gravel) and return the excavated mass for deposit into the collector bin to simulate an offworld, in situ resource mining mission. The complexities of the challenge include the abrasive characteristics of the regolith simulant, the weight and size limitations of the mining robot and the ability to tele-operate it from a remote Mission Control Center. The on-site mining category will require teams to consider a number of design and operation factors such as dust tolerance and dust projection, communications, vehicle mass, energy/power required and autonomy. In addition to the on-site mining category, teams must also submit a systems engineering paper that explains their design philosophy. (NASA’s Eighth Annual Robotic Mining Competition: Rules and Rubrics)

Out of the nearly fifty teams that competed, Markhor won the Regolith Mechanics Award, “[a]warded to the team with the best example of a real granular innovation that identified a specific regolith mechanics problem (like the way the soil flows around the grousers, or angle of repose too high in their dump bucket, etc.) and intentionally improved their design to deal with it.”

To find out more about Markhor and the team of WPI students and faculty behind it, see WPI’s official announcement of the win and its news article about the team, see videos of the robot in action, or come to WPI’s TouchTomorrow event on Saturday, June 10, where the robot will be on display!

RBE Items of Interest: May 26, 2017

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“Parasitic robot” tosses treats to steer a cyborg turtle – A team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have developed a robot that can mount on a turtle’s shell and direct the turtle via light (which turtles naturally move toward) and positive reinforcement. The rig looks a little flimsy at the moment, but it’s a good next step in robot-biological cooperation.

Chinese retail giant building one-ton delivery drones – While this seems like a natural direction for drone technology to go, I wonder how air traffic control (already difficult) and bird flight patterns will be affected by these new, larger machines.

Drones Go to Work – A long and fascinating read. Summary: “The disruptive economics of unmanned vehicles are taking hold. Here’s how to think about the drone economy and your place in it.”

World’s first autonomous security vehicle with companion drone – What it says on the tin. An interesting variant on, perhaps, swarm thinking.

Waltzing robot teaches beginners how to dance like a pro – What it says on the tin. However…

Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Dancing Partner” — …it does remind me of this short story from 1893, about an automaton built for that very purpose – and the disturbing results thereof.

RBE Items of Interest: May 19, 2017

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RBE Items of Interest: May 19, 2017
"Geometry", by CARP (Custom Autonomous Robotic Painter)

“Geometry”, by CARP (Custom Autonomous Robotic Painter)


Art in the age of ones and zeros: Robot art – A breakdown of the results of the 2017 RobotArt competition, where WPI’s “CARP: Custom Autonomous Robotic Painter” MQP placed 9th out of 38 teams from around the world! Several of their pieces are featured – very exciting!

The Surprising Repercussions of Making AI Assistants Sound Human – It comes down to the user making assumptions about the actual capabilities of the AI. If we add colloquialisms and filler sounds to our virtual assistants, it invites conversation/interaction beyond just directives – and, unfortunately, our AI can’t differentiate between chit-chat and commands.

Adding just a few self-drive cars to the road gets the traffic flowing – A team of researchers led by the University of Illinois tested the effect on traffic patterns with only a few autonomous cars in the mix – a microcosm of what we’re likely to see during the liminal period between all-human and all-autonomous drivers. There’s a lot to unpack here – from the actual results of the experiments, to traffic flow theory, control theory, and human/robot interaction.

Growing healthy resilient biological tissues on humanoid robots – It’s difficult to get musculoskeletal tissue to transplant, and it’s difficult to use engineered tissue because it’s not under the same performance pressure as tissue grown “in vivo.” Solution: Grow the tissue on robots who move like the transplantee will.

Are face-reading blimps and quadcopters in “top hats” the future of drone safety? — A brief overview of some of the practicalities of drones in daily life – from the need to consider three-dimensional safety zones for swarms (requiring “virtual top hats”!) to making drones more approachable by looking more like toy blimps.

3D-printed robot has first soft legs to tackle rough terrain – What it says on the tin. Includes a cute video – it sort of shuffles along.

Robot vs. Volcano: “Sometimes It’s Just Fun to Blow Stuff Up” – National Geographic. Blowing up robots. In a volcano.

WPI Robotics Engineering Open House

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Friday 25 Sep 2015 3-5pm

WPI Robotics Engineering moves to new offices!

Filed in Posts by on August 23, 2015
WPI Robotics Engineering moves to new offices!


Come visit WPI Robotics Engineering in our new offices at 85 Prescott St. This beautiful old brick mill building also houses WPI University Advancement and the Mass Academy (a WPI-operated STEM magnet high school). Above is the greeting we got from our University Advancement neighbors!