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15 January

Today we had a fourth great day of robot systems tests. We also had a small crew from the Discovery Channel visiting for the last two days and grabbing video, and a professional subsea videographer who accompanied us underwater.

Over the last couple of days we operated the robots from shore. This included the first serious open-water untethered test of the robot, and additional walking data on different kinds of terrain type.

The second Aqua-series robot was deployed untethered underwater today, and was controlled using hand gestures, visual servo control, and bar codes. Our collaborators from York university used the same boat dive to collect underwater stereo vision data.

Junaed, John-Paul and myself just offshore

We had a few problems, which is on par for this kind of field trip. This included one person with a minor injury, and a one experiment that didn't work out. As I told my students, if every experiment worked perfectly, we didn't get close enough to the line.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
02 February

Focus groups and polling have become a standard approach not only for advertising, but also for developing political platforms or even for developing courses. Even research, to some extent, develops by building consensus, but sometimes this just doesn't allow for creative leaps and exceptional judgement. In some ways, this lowers the creative process to the lowest common denominators. There are lots of stories of scientists having this kind of breakthrough, but here's a well documented one from advertising (with an amusing video).

Here's a good example. The "1984" Apple advertisement has been cited and one of the most creative and influential advertisements of the 20th century. There's a real focus group of people who have never seen it commenting on it.

Now the focus group is not alone. Most of Apple's board also disliked the ad when the y first saw it (before it was ever aired), decided not to air it, and Mike Markkula supposedly said "Who wants to move to find a new agency?"

After it aired it immediately received immense publicity and recognition. It proved to be highly memorable and won over 30 awards. In a 2004 USA today article, Kevin Manley said "Twenty Super Bowls later, many tech industry leaders say the ad and the first Mac played an inspiring role in their career paths."

For the record, the actual final ad can be seen here. Steve Jobs authorized it after trepidation by his predecessor. It was directed by Ridley Scott and the production apparently had a budget of $900,000.

The take home message? Sometimes when you have a creative vision you have to follow your own instinct and ignore other people's advice.

Of course sometimes, a bad response results from not pitching your idea well. Here's a link on grant proposal writing that deals with that issue.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
20 February

I am meeting in Ottawa as part of the NSERC grant selection committee for computer science. This is a brutal exercise due to rather limited amount of funds in a growing area. In theory it would be nice to give every applicant a lot of meny, but it practice one can't do that. On the other hand, I think the process is very fair with a lot of discussion and a good-sized commitee that looks carefully at every grant applicantion.

Gearing up for this exercise was a lot of work. Computer science it divided into two different fund committees, based on the sibject of the proposal. The committee I am on has about 13 members and we each had to read a lot of proposals over the preceding 2 months. In the end, each proposal gets examined by about 6 people. I will be a relief simply to get rid of the 4-foot high pile of documents that have been haunting me.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
27 March

A while back I got a Celestron SkyScout start finder, courtesy of my wife. This is a portable gadget that uses a combination of GPS, magnetometer, and inclinometer, all solid robotic sensing technologies, to identify a star. You look through a hole to target a star, but the star identification process has nothing optical about it, which is a very neat trick. I describe it in the enclosed video (which is my first little experiment in video blogging -- next time, I'll try not to do it right after a bad night's sleep).

Oh, if you want to find it on Amazon.com, then click here. They call it
the Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium. They also have a version
combined with a green laser pointer.

Shortcomings of the Celestron SkyScout: takes a few minutes to acquire a GPS lock, LCD display is not great in very cold weather. Neither of these is serious.

Shortcomings of the video: too low a speaking volume, cluttered background, I look really tired.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
16 April

It seems redundant to comment on the dishonest and misleading new film Expelled on this blog. On the other hand, the creationist agenda represents a dangerous element of decay in our society. As such, it needs to be exposed for the insane idiocy that it is. One of the ongoing risks to our civilization is that of a gradual descent back into the mind set of the middle ages. It may sound exaggerated, but it happened before (in ancient Greece) and it took one thousand years to climb back out of the morass.

In general, I don't want to fall into the trap of just reposting other material from the internet, but in this case I believe it's worthwhile.

The YouTube clip producted by "Thunderf00t" does a good job of debunking the film and the disinformation that it promotes.

Why do superstitions and irrational beliefs systems seem to be gaining ground in the last 40 years? Between creationism, horoscopes, and UFO believers, there is plenty of reason to despair, despite the robust educational systems that exists all over the place. Is the problem in th schools?

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
12 May

Last week I gave an invited lecture at the Annual Huggins Science Seminar at Acadia University. My talk dealt with the current state of robotics for outdoor environments.

The Huggins Science Seminar is an event named after Charles Huggins, the Nobel prize winner who attended Acadia for his undergraduate degree. The seminar series brings in senior high school students from around the province to hear lectures on Science. The lectures are, by and large, delivered by scientists who are nominated, selected, and flow in for the lectures. I was impressed by the calibre of the students and the coordination of the whole event, and had a chance to meet Spencer Barrett over breakfast, a Canada Research Chair in Botany from the University of Toronto, who also gave a talk there.

Acadia is in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. It's a small town and very picturesque, being located right on the Bay of Fundy. I wish my trip had allowed more time to do some sight seeing or to contact local friends.

Wolfville NS in the evening
Wolfville NS in the evening

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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