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03 July
2012

Last week was the International Symposium on Experimental Robotics in Quebec City, for which I was one of the organizers. I am happy to report that the conference went off very well. Now there is a painful process of making sure all the accounts balance, and maybe chasing down a few truant registrants, but all in all it was quite smooth.

There were a lot of cool talks ranging from haptics to language-based navigation, and no bloopers at all. What a joy.


By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
04 October
2012

Well, today at the BTS meeting I learned about the carnivorous Croatian sea sponge. What could sound less threatening than a sponge? Well, this one takes advantage of it's docile reputation by eating you!! (Assuming, that is, that you are less than 8mm long.) It lives at depths of about 17m, probably in caves although a similar (or identical) sponge can be found at much greater depths (like 700m).

"A particularly interesting discovery was a deep-sea cladorhizid sponge of the genus Asbestopluma ... macrophagous and “carnivorous. It passively captures prey such as small crustaceans (up to 8 mm long) on its filaments provided with raised, hook-shaped spicules. Capture is followed by intense sponge cell migration, extracellular digestion, phagocytosis, and intracellular digestion by archaeocytes and bacteriocytes – the whole process taking up to 10 days. The strange sponge was described as a new species, Asbestopluma hypogea . "

(From an interesting article:
Habitats in Submerged Karst of Eastern Adriatic Coast – Croatian Natural Heritage
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2525830/ )


By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
25 January
2014

Last week I was at a beach-side restaurant in the Caribbean in the evening, and a baby turtle walked in. (It sounds like the beginning of a joke.) While I was staring at it in astonishment, another one walk in behind it.

I walked out and found a whole bunch of them, mainly heading for the restaurant/bar. They were being attracted by the lights which were brighter than the almost-full moon. I spoke to a local guy on the beach to assure that releasing them was the right thing to do, and then started scooping them up.

The restaurant staff provided an old cardboard box and with the help of Nick and some friends who had phones with bright displays, I collected about 15 or 20 (and also saw the hole they had been coming out of). Only a small fraction of them (maybe none) were actually heading for the sea as they were supposed to be doing. Although I was wearing my best clothes and had stuff in my pockets, I waded thigh-deep into the sea to release them, saw them swim around me a bit, and then head off into the ocean. It was amazing!


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Background

The problem this experience highlights is that baby turtles use light (from the moonlight on the water) to find the sea. Artificial lighting near the shoreline, however, causes turtle hatchlings to wander inland. They are very vulnerable to predators, dehydration and other risk factors. Some areas have legal prohibitions on beachside lighting, but as yet it seems that Barbados is not one of them. In fact, as indicated in the link below, the turtles in over half the nests in Barbados have trouble getting to the sea. Red lighting is also more "turtle safe" since they are not as sensitive to it.

http://www.seaturtle.org/mtn/archives/mtn93/mtn93p18.shtml

http://www.widecast.org/Resources/Docs/Eckert_and_Horrocks_2002_Beachfront_Lighting_Workshop.pdf

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
04 March
2014

Cynthia Than reports: There is no gender gap in tech salaries based on a study from the American Association of University Women.

The study itself is quite complex and does find a difference in pay associated with gender when averaged across all disciplines, but not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. The study discusses differences in the hours worked, but also other factors such as the fact that student loan debt, choice of discipline, and other factors also vary by gender. The most important factor associated with salary outcome was the choice of major selected by university students, with computer science being a high paying area that (until recently) was preferred by men.

For women who do pick computer science, as well as math, engineering, physical science, health care, the life sciences and social services, the study found no pay equity imbalance one year after graduation (page 17).


By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
21 June
2014

The International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2014

The International Conference on Robotics and Automation took place in Hong Kong the week before last and with a few of my students I was able to attend (and we present four papers on our work). Each year this conference gets bigger, and this year there were over 2,000 attendees, which is probably symptomatic of the growing importance and impact of robotics today. There were 19 parallel tracks meaning that for any single attendee there was a good chance there was more than one talk of interest going on at any given moment. On one hand this is bad, since it make it impossible to hear all the relevant talks. On the other hand, it was a lot better than squeezing all the talks into a smaller number of tracks and giving them insufficient time to present the results gully. In short, given the growth in the field, I though this was a good compromise.

Computational and algorithmic issues continue to be the key, and perhaps even growing, theme in robotics, as opposed to the also import issues of mechanism design, dynamics etc. There were several nice talks (and papers) on using computer vision to address issues in robotics. Vision and robotics used to be joined together under the once-ill-defined umbrella of artificial intelligence. Those areas separated into different communities well over a decade ago, but as each matures the links are begging to re-emerge. It is about time to see the areas coming together again. In fact, I think there is a sound argument to be made that vision and AI are both best regarded as sub-fields of robotics, which is the amorphous umbrella that captures humanity’s efforts to replication human and biological capabilities with all the sub-themes interacting. Thus, vision in the context of robotics is become more and more important and mature. Underwater robotics is also a theme of growing prominence, as is the combination of sensing and manipulation.

Hong Kong 2014 ICRA trip
Hong Kong 2014 ICRA trip
(Click to expand)
http://www.dudek.org/blog/blogpics/hong_kong_buildings_2014.jpg
Hong Kong buildings on Queen's Road




While in Hong Kong I had a chance to do a tiny bit of sight seeing, including a great trip to the Mainland China city of Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a key industrial center, and the place where many of today’s consumer electronics are fabricated. The abundance of electrics manufacturing, development and prototyping was really impressive. I have often observed that Silicon Valley (where I once lived) has good resources for electronics prototyping and technology development. In Japan, however, the popular level of access and appreciation to such activities is much greater, and in a big department store one can find real beakers, test tubes and soldering irons beside the toys, dresses and dishware (then this is good quality scientific material, not just kiddie-toy stuff that one finds in Montreal). Well, at least for electronics Shenzhen takes this trends to a far far far higher level, with a plethora of devices, tools, resources so tremendously available and accessible that any comparison with North America is almost laughable. It was cool, fun, impressive and maybe a bit frightening. As for the regarding to items and ideas that are supposed to be protected by intellectual property legislation, that’s also an interesting story.

All in all, Hong Kong and Shenzhen combined a top robotics conference with a very educational little outing to where the consumer electronics world has its nexus. In addition, I got to see a few great sights and eat some delicious (and sometimes challenging) food.

Recovered phone circuit boards, possible for use in bootleg clones
Recovered phone circuit boards,
possibly for use in bootleg clones
(Click to expand)
Shopping in Shenzhen
Shopping in Shenzhen
(Click to expand)



By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
27 January
2015

It the sky these days one can see the comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2).

I managed to get out of the city on the weekend and look for it, and even snap some pictures, despite fairly cold temperatures of about -14C. When it's cold the night air tends to be clear and provide good visibility on a cloudless night like last weekend, so that;s some consolation for freezing your fingers off. The photo below was taken by just laying my SLR camera facing upwards on the surface of a frozen lake, and taking exposures using the self-timer (to minimize vibration caused by pressing the shutter button). For me, the best results were at about a 6 second exposure at ISO 5000. In a 15 second exposure shown below, the comet is hard to see due to overexposure from the moon, but it's easier to se the relative positioning. As the moon gets brighter it will interfere more and more with seeing the comet, but with some care it's still possible.

I also rented some time on the Slooh telescope in the Cayman Islands and grabbed a higher resolution photo.

In late January the comet is near the pleiades and has a brightness somewhere wound 4.8 which is pretty dim, bit discernible on a dark night. If you are using software to find the comet, note that it's known as C/2014 Q2 since there are other comets that are also called Lovejoy. This is because the comet was discovered by an Australian amateur named Terry Lovejoy, and he's found several over the years!


Comet Lovejoy from my camera (G Dudek)
Comet Lovejoy from my camera (G Dudek)
(Click to expand)


exifdata

Comet Lovejoy photographed by G Dudek using Slooh
Comet Lovejoy photographed by G Dudek using Slooh
(Click to expand)




By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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