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16 January

CBC interview on our plans for multi-robot collaboration at sea

This morning I did an interview with Dave Bronstetter, one of the great Canadian radio broadcasters, and a familiar voice to Montrealers. The interview aired live on the radio show All in a Weekend on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) station Radio One. The interview was quite pleasant and relaxed, and a marked change from the very first radio or TV spots I did a long time ago when I was very nervous.

We discussed the work in my lab on multi-robot mapping using a team of heterogeneous robots, some of which can swim underwater, some that can fly and a robot boat. While we have been working on multi-robot systems from over a decade, it is only recently that we have gotten into outdoor experiments with such a diverse set of different systems. By combining both swimming and flying, we gain a tremendous ability to map and understand a region of the shoreline.

I may have goofed a bit in understating the number of other groups working on multi-robot systems: there are lots. Before in the pre-interview we had discussed the number of groups using technologies like ours, which is small, and this is what I was thinking about during the interview.

One of the particular pleasures of the interview stemmed from the fact that Dave Bronstetter had interviewed my father many times, and remembered him well. We had a chance to talk about him a bit before and after the on-air segment. In addition, Dave's voice and manner was very familiar since I have listened to him on various shows over a long span of years. He's also served as television anchor man and host of the popular and long-running radio show Daybreak, and I think I may have spoken to him then.

You can listen to the MP3 recording here, or use one of the embedded players below.

Music Player Extended

Above embedded player requires Flash7 plugin, click to start.


Dave Bronstetter on air CBC
Dave Bronstetter on air CBC

I have been interested in multi-robot collaboration for several years, and have worked on it with various students. Some of the key themes have been: using multiple robots to help one another figuring out where they are by having them observe one another (the PhD work of Ioannis Rekleitis on collaborative localization), allowing robots to find one another even though they know nothing about the environment and cannot communicate (the MSc work of Nicholas Roy on rendezvous and "what to do when you're lost at the zoo"), and various problems on multi-robot search. Papers on some of this can be found at our lab's publications page at http://www.cim.mcgill.ca/~mrl

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
19 February

Asteroid 2011 CQ1 came very very close to hitting the earth just a few hours after it was discovered on February 4 at 19:39 UT (14:39 EST). It came within a distance of 0.85 Earth radii (5480 km) over the Pacific Ocean. By astronomical standards, that is a really small distance! The image shows how severely it's orbit was changed due to it's close exposure to Earth's gravitational field.

Although the object was only about a meter in diameter (and thus not very threatening) the closeness of the approach prior to detection is unnerving. I don't think any other object has been recorded coming as close to the Earth without hitting it.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
16 July

Last week I was at the Google Faculty Summit in New York City. It is was interesting how careful the Google people were about avoiding "creepy" applications. They purposely avoid a lot of data cross linking just to be "clean", more so than I had expected or realized. This was especially important in the context of their new social network Google Plus (which I get to below). There are cool things they could do, maybe even easily, but which they avoid just to stay on the safe side of what people are comfortable with. That's quite impressive as a policy, and an interesting tradeoff between medium term coolness and long term continuance of user trust.

I think making users trusting is, rightly, a top priority for Google since everything else is dependent on that. Simply providing fantastic serve: that's a relatively easy thing, but trust is this evanescent ineffable thing you can't buy.

One of the topics they talked about was the challenge of keeping the huge legions of Google servers efficiently deployed. John Wilkes talk amount this configuration management issue in the context of their upcoming new system for handling it called Omega.

New York, of course, was the crazy exciting hub of activity is always has been. I stayed in the Standard Hotel in the meat packing district, which is a hub of the fashion industry, and right near the

Google NYC offices (they own a nice big high-rise building there). Well, staying there (a) made me feel hip, and also (b) made me feel like a poorly-dressed yokel (especially in the evening when the Bugatti's were parked on the street). I did drink the metaphorical Google Kool-Aid and discovered a slew of new Google "products" that I had not known about, or lost track of.

I got in on Google Plus about a week ago, in anticipation of the meeting. As most readers probably know by now, it's the new social network Google has launched.
I must say I am loving it, and find it much nicer than Facebook. While the user community is much narrower, I have found quite a few people I know, respect or am interested in. Of course, it helps that I move in techie circles. Most importantly for me though, it has a much more nuanced find-grained model of privacy. I can share some things with one sub-community (i.e. family members and close friends) and other stuff with my profession community. It also has lots of other nice flourishes like great mobile integration with Android devices and a very nice video conferencing feature. On top of that, it really encourages cross-use of multiple Google "properties" like Google Docs (which is destined to get better and better). All in all, I think this is going to be a very very very good year for Google.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
31 July

We went to see the "Tribute to Nerds" show at the annual Montreal Comedy Festival last night. It was totally sold out.

There were some great highlights and I especially liked the spot by Kumail NANJIANI, but a substantial fraction the comedy from several of the other comedians on stage was based on tired old "nerd stereotypes" which was rather disappointing. The hosts Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar from the TV show Big Bang Theory did a good job, (even though they read from a teleprompter much of the time and didn't actually attempt to do traditional standup themselves). They pitched a range of jokes include showing shots of famous IT personalities ("here's Mark Zuckerberg, who invented a social network so he wouldn’tt have to meet people"). Dan Mintz also had a really excellent act that was presented with an unusual deadpan style.

It was still a good time, but didn't live up to my expectations. I did have a headache going in though. Of course, live stand up if intrinsically both hit-and-miss, and also very dependent on your mood at the time.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
31 August

I am lucky enough to work in a milieu where I meet smart teenagers and twenty-somethings all the time, and they are often brilliant. Of course, being relatively young they tend to be relatively short on experience. Most of the time, though, they know their own strengths and weaknesses (and if anything suffer from being too modest). That contact made the article about a very rich 26-year-old touting his age and experience relative to his 25-year-old competitors especially amusing.

26-Year-Old Founder Says He’s Way Smarter Than 25-Year-Old Founders

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
21 September

Quote of the day (Montreal graphs):

To compare the performance of exploration and validation, both algorithms were tested on a variety of random graphs. The first set of parameterized random graphs was generated by starting with a complete 2D lattice (i.e. a grid) and deleting a specified fraction of randomly selected edges such that the graph remains connected. This first family of graphs should be familiar to those who have been forced to drive a car in Montreal (where roads are often under repair in the summer), and are termed Montreal graphs with deletion factor p, or Montreal(p), p ∈ (0,1).

-- from a paper in 1997. I think maybe the term was first used in 1994.

These can also be described as geometric graphs generated by the Erdős-Rényi process,
constrained and to the 4-connected lattice and with a side condition to
maintain connectivity.

I put this first on my Google Plus stream, so I guess this counts as a cross-post.

A montreal graph

with a large number of deletions (large p).

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
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