Work of Prof. Yanco, Students Highlighted
By Edwin L. Aguirre
Computer science Assoc. Prof. Holly Yanco and her Robotics Lab will be featured in a Microsoft video that will be shown this summer.
“Microsoft asked if they could make a video of the research we’ve been doing in the lab with Microsoft Surface and robot control,” says Yanco.
Microsoft Surface is an interactive computer with a large, 30-inch tabletop flat-screen display. It lets users grab and manipulate digital content using simple touch, hand gestures and object recognition instead of a mouse and keyboard.
According to Alyssa Felda, marketing communications director for Microsoft Research Connections
in Redmond, Wash., the video will be completed at the beginning of June and be available for public viewing.
“Our plans are to showcase the Natural User Interface Surface Robotics video on the Microsoft Research Connections and Microsoft.com
websites as well as promote it at various events and conferences,” says Felda.
Controlling a Swarm of Robots with Fingertips
“Microsoft funded some of the research and donated the Surface to the University,” says Yanco. “Back in 2008, I was one of eight researchers to receive a grant from Microsoft External Research for my work in human-robot interaction. With their funding and Surface donation, we conducted research on multi-touch control of individual robots and groups of robots, work that led to Mark Micire’s doctoral thesis.”
Micire developed a simple yet effective onscreen “joystick,” which he dubbed the DREAM controller
, for commanding and controlling a swarm of robots using Microsoft Surface. Such technology could conceivably be applied to military and police planning, disaster relief and search-and-rescue operations, warehouse inventory, and environmental monitoring and mapping, to name a few.
Micire joined Carnegie Mellon University as a research scientist after graduation and is now working with the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
“Since the completion of the initial grant award, we have continued to use Microsoft Surface for our research. We have also used it for graduate courses in multi-touch computing,” says Yanco.
New Life-Saving Technology
“The upcoming video works on several levels,” says Felda. “First, it demonstrates some really cool, potentially life-saving technology. We’ve all seen news footage of robots trying to maneuver inside the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan — areas that are far too dangerous for humans. Holly and Mark’s work has the potential to make such robotic rescue and repair missions much more feasible — it’s really inspiring to see how the technology can be used to control multiple robots with simple, intuitive hand gestures.”
She says the video also provides an opportunity to discuss Natural User Interface, which Microsoft believes is one of the next big things on the technology horizon.
“Finally, the video shows the power of collaboration between Microsoft Research Connections and the academic community. By aligning our interests and funding novel ideas, Microsoft Research Connections and academic researchers can advance technology for the betterment of people everywhere,” she says.
Felda says Yanco’s proposal that led to the DREAM controller fits perfectly with that goal.
“We could see how the combination of Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio and Microsoft Surface technology could lead to new directions in human-robot interaction,” she says. “The fact that Holly’s work would advance the use of NUI was obviously a big plus. But perhaps the most compelling aspect of the proposal was the practical, life-saving potential of the research. It’s nice to build a robot that can vacuum the carpet — but it’s fantastic to help create a robot that will save people’s lives.”