Thursday, August 11, 2011

Science beyond Fiction - A visit at FET 2011

The European Future Technologies Conference FET is a bi-annual cross-disciplinary conference for frontier research in Europe.
I visited the conference for the second time (last time in 2009 in Prague). This year in Budapest, topics covered robotics, complexity, evolutionary computation and brain research. But, the most entertaining part of this conference are always the exhibitions.
The video gives a short 2-minutes tour through the stations that impressed me the most:

In the beginning you see a cyclops bot, the ECCE1: the first of a series of anthropomimetic musculoskelal upper torsos. That means its torso is designed to look very human-like, together with the noises from the servos it gives me quite a Terminator feeling (compare it to the ending scene of Terminator 1 movie if you don't believe me). This impression is reinforced by the calculations and identification routines that run down the computer screen while the bot is focusing on you to give you a tight handshake-
Our contribution to the conference was Istváns talk on "Complexity on the workbench" in the science cafe. Istvan had 20 x 20 seconds to present his ideas, where he started with the complexity problem, lead over to possible approaches to build complex self-organizing control systems and finally introduced our framework Frevo from our project MESON as a hands-on tool to practically build such systems.
Next station is the artificial eel bot that is moving around in a water bassin. A nice example of bio-inspired engineering. Still I hope that they don't make it a tool like a colonoscope out of it - just too creepy :-)
The cooperating robots had an interesting setup - the composition of ground robots, a flying multicopter and a robot that can lift itself up a rope. In cooperation, the bots could for example find, grab and fetch a particular book from a shelf. This will save me the way to the library in the future :-)
Another bio-inpired research is on octopus limbs. The biological ones are amazing regarding their adaptibility in length and thickness and their strength. Several research group investigate how these mechanisms can be converted to a technology for robot manipulators. In the video, you can see a first prototype.
The elected winner of the exhibition, was "the future of biomimetic machines", featuring iCub, a humanoid robot used as a platform to study perception and learning processes. In the video, you can see the cute robot following and catching a ball. Considering that the winner at FET'09 was a project featuring a Nao robot, one can conclude: "cuteness wins" :-)
Neither cute nor creepy are the robots from the SYMBRION/REPLICATOR project - they are whatever you want them to be. In the video you can see several parts assembling themselves, very impressive, although the docking mechanism still needs a bit of tuning.
These have been a selection out of approximately 30 demonstrations at FET'11. If you are more interested, go an visit FET next time for yourself, see you there :-)