CoroBots and Microsoft Robotics Studio at Vassar
CoroBots are broadly capable and expandible four-wheeled mobile robot platforms designed to minimize the cost and complexity of robotics research and development. When Robot learned that CoroBots and Microsoft Robotics Studio were in active use at Vassar College, we made a beeline for Ken Livingston, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences, to give us an insight into what he and his students are up to. We then interviewed CoroWare to learn more about their history and mission in educational and mobile robotics. Click here to go straight to the interview.
—Tom Atwood, Editor-in-Chief, Robot Magazine
The Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, with matching funds from Vassar College, to provide a space in which faculty and students from many different departments might pursue research in robotics. Lead faculty on the grant were from departments of Biology (Jon Long), Computer Science (Tom Ellman, Luke Hunsberger, Brad Richards), and Psychology (Ken Livingston), and all had worked together previously in Vassar’s Cognitive Science Program. There are more than a dozen different robots in the lab, but CoroWare has provided our core suite of machines. The platforms are very flexible, with easy access to components and the ability to add large numbers of sensors in many different configurations. We’ve used everything from simple tactile sensors to fairly high resolution cameras. This allows us to use the robots in many different research projects.
In addition, CoroWare has designed a software interface that makes communication with the robots very easy to manage, whether they are being teleoperated or are running autonomously. We became very early adopters of Microsoft Robotics Studio as our primary software platform because it allows us to integrate code written for specific purposes in different languages. For example, our vision code is primarily written in C, but other functions are handled in C++ or C#. MSRS does the work of making these different chunks of code talk to each other seamlessly. CoroWare has integrated a very power efficient electronics package (built around Via boards and chips) with plenty of computing power, so we can easily take advantage of MSRS even when running computationally complex algorithms.
The fact that the same robots can be used in teleoperated or in autonomous mode with no major hardware changes has been a real boon for us. We can run our experiments on how variation in sensor input affects controllability in a teleoperation task one day and the next day use the same robot in our experiments that explore autonomous category learning. The fact that we can compare data from human teleoperators with data from autonomous robots turns out to be a real plus. For example, our experiments are already yielding some interesting and counter-intuitive results, including the finding that sometimes perceiving the world with less detail and precision makes effective learning much easier, not harder.
In other work, Luke Hunsberger is using our six CoroBots in his research on multiagent intentionality. Luke is interested in how agents operating autonomously nevertheless manage to communicate their unique perspectives on a problem well enough to allow them to cooperate in finding a solution. Humans do this all the time. You and I can figure out without a lot of conversation how to cooperate to pick up a big object and move it across a room. This seems simple, but I have to understand a lot about your capabilities and knowledge of the world (and vice versa) for that to work. Luke wants to know how we can give robots that same capability, and having six of them makes it possible to explore very complicated problems in cooperation.
One of the nice things about the CoroBots is their accessibility. We have been able to bring many students into the lab to work on our research, from the teleop to autonomous learning projects, and several of them (including all of the students in the photos) either are or are about to be co-authors on papers coming out of the lab. Several are planning to go on to careers in robotics, and we’re confident they’ll be working from a solid foundation thanks to the work they’ve been able to do in the lab with our robots.
CoroWare, Inc., www.CoroWare.com(800) 641-2676
CoroWare CoroBots, www.CoroBot.net, (800) 641-2676
Innova Holdings, www.InnovaRoboticsAutomation.com, (239) 466-0488
RE2, www.resquared.com, (412) 681-6382
RE2 JAUS Development Kit, www.resquared.com/JAUS-SDK.html
Feedback for MSRS, http://connect.microsoft.com/roboticsstudio
MSRS Development Center, http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/robotics/default.aspx