• Graduate student David Nelson, left, shows an appreciative audience how his group's robot, Mostly Harmless, hunts, grasps and deposits colored blocks on its back. The demonstration was part of an inauguration week presentation May 5 by the class Robotics Science and Systems  I.

    Graduate student David Nelson, left, shows an appreciative audience how his group's robot, Mostly Harmless, hunts, grasps and deposits colored blocks on its back. The demonstration was part of an inauguration week presentation May 5 by the class Robotics Science and Systems I.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Robot 'zoo' is a class act

Graduate student David Nelson, left, shows an appreciative audience how his group's robot, Mostly Harmless, hunts, grasps and deposits colored blocks on its back. The demonstration was part of an inauguration week presentation May 5 by the class Robotics Science and Systems  I.


Icarus and Mostly Harmless were among the machines on hand at a robotic "petting zoo" May 5 held in honor of the inauguration of President Susan Hockfield.

As Hockfield and her family looked on, students and professors introduced the machines, which were the final projects in a course that was new this semester, Robotics Science and Systems I.

Five teams of undergraduates were challenged to build robots that could each tackle one aspect of a larger hypothetical scenario: building shelters on Mars. Imagine that you could parachute prefabricated components to Mars, then have robots already there assemble them into a building, explained Daniela L. Rus, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and one of four instructors for the course.

In a demonstration, Mostly Harmless traveled slowly around the room looking for colored blocks about 2 inches square. When it found one, it grasped the block with a pincer-like hand and then dropped it into a small rectangular bin attached to its back. Icarus was designed to look for red balls.

What's been the best part of the course for Federico Mora (G) of EECS? "Actually getting to build a robot. It's amazing to see all the pieces coming together--and it actually works." Although, as his EECS teammate, junior Jeffrey Hoff, added, "it often does something completely different from what you expected."

The course is offered jointly between the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The three other instructors are Una-May O'Reilly, a principal research scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab; Assistant Professor Nicholas Roy of aero/astro, and EECS Associate Professor Seth Teller.

There are also many teaching assistants. "They're great," said Mora.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 11, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Artificial intelligence, Inauguration, MIT presidency

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