» Robotics

I just spent a few minutes taking Google Mars for a spin – pretty unbelievable!
Working with JPL/NASA, Google has taken all the orbiter and lander pictures from various missions to Mars, and combined it all together into one big map of the planet, including links to pictures from the surface.

For those not famliar with Google Earth yet, you can surf around the surface of the planet, zooming in and out wherever you like, and in general visually exploring anywhere in the world.

With Google Mars, in a few minutes, I was able to have a look around Olympus Mons (the largest volcano in the Solar System), find a Viking landing spot, complete with overhead black and white images from the lander, and find the trail and path of one of the current MER robots, Opportunity. This last included bookmarks to images that, when clicked on, zooms you into a panoramic view of that location in full high-resolution color!
[To go into "Mars" mode from within the Google Earth application, click on the little planet icon at the top of the screen and select Mars]

After this little surfing experience I took a step back and looked at this: as a society we have managed to explore another planet (or at least make a tiny start on it) for the last few decades. Now however, all that data has been combined and filtered down into one overall, easily accessible, comprehensive “scouting” package, that has been electronically distributed to ever person in this group, so that they can have a look over there themselves.

Not a bad feat for mankind, not bad at all.


I saw a new video of the Big Dog project released by Boston Dynamics, and I have to say, it just blew me away.

Big Dog is a quadruped with hydraulic actuators pressurized by an onboard gasoline engine. It is the size of a large dog and weighs about 240 pounds, and it can carry a 120-pound load.

The real work here and bang-for-the-buck is the controls work done to have the robot dynamically maintain it’s balance on the four legs while walking on and over all kinds of varying terrain. This control system comes from Marc Raibert (who is running the project) and it looks like he’s made a big step forward from his previous work at the MIT leg lab that he started in the 80s.

I actually put together a proposal for DARPA’s Biodynotics program a few years ago with Brett Kennedy that came in 2nd behind Marc’s team, and from what I’ve seen today I see why. I think this work truly shows the future of mobility in changing terrain for mobile robotics applications for the next decade and beyond.

980_robot_judges_compressed.JPGTeam 980, the Thunderbots have finished building their new 130 pound, two-speed, lean machine!

To catch you up on this one: an international high-school robotics competition is well underway for the 16th year, and the number of teams participating has roughly doubled every year. FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) was started by Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway) as a way of inspiring high-school kids (and adults!) with real application of science and technology to something that everyone wants to do – build a robot!

These beasts weigh 130 pounds and are about 3x3x5 feet. They move, and they move fast, and they do all kinds of other tricks depending on what the game is for the year. The build season starts in January every year and for exactly six weeks each team of students, mentors, teachers, parents, and team fans all get together and figure out how to play the game and how to make their robot the coolest bucket of bolts that ever rolled the earth.

I had the pleasure of founding Team 980 with my father and some other engineers and it is still going strong, with the team’s seventh robot recently completed and shipped to the first competition.

In the next few weeks the team will be participating in regional events at major arenas in three different cities. Think of a basketball game, cheering fans and loud music and all, except the students get to take turns competing down on the floor!

For more info on this all-around incredible experience and to follow Team 980 on their run for the title, check out:
Team 980 Homepage
2008 Game Animation
FIRST Homepage

This is the start of Robert Hogg’s personal site, to help friends keep track of him. You’re at the beginning – it’s a good place to be. Where do you want to go from here?