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Broad Area Colloquium for Artificial Intelligence,
Geometry, Graphics, Robotics and Vision

Programming Machines That Work

Daniel Koditschek
University of Michigan

Monday, May 20th, 2002, 4:45PM
Gates B01


Robotics is a fledgling discipline concerned with programming work: that is, specifying and controlling the exchange of energy between a machine and its environment. Because our understanding of how to do this is still quite rudimentary, the best progress in the field has come from a mix of inspired building and formal analysis. For more than a decade, my students and I have pursued such an agenda, building robots whose controllers drive the coupled robot-environment state toward a goal set and away from obstacles. The talk reviews our progress to date: what sort of "programs" do we know to build, with what theoretical guarantees, and with what empirical success?

Because animals exhibit so many of the capabilities we would wish to imbue in our robots, it seems plausible that useful inspiration may be gained from biology. A second theme of the talk concerns the benefits we have enjoyed from a close collaboration with biomechanists over the last few years. In particular, our hexapod, RHex, built to embody the essential biomechanical principles of animal runners, exhibits mobility superior to any previously documented autonomous programmable machine. The example of RHex serves well to illustrate some of the important concepts from biology that hold significant promise for the future of robotics, among these being the confluence of form and function, the tradeoffs between central and peripheral and between feedback and feedforward control implementations; and the allure and present limitations of "evolutionary" thinking.

About the Speaker

Koditschek received his Ph.D. in 1983 from Yale University in nonlinear control, and has been applying principles of dynamical systems theory to intelligent machine design for his entire career. After a number of years on the faculty at Yale, he moved to the University of Michigan in 1993, where he is presently a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Koditschek's archival papers have been published in a broad spectrum of journals ranging from the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society through the Journal of Experimental Biology, with a concentration in several of the IEEE and ASME Transactions. Various aspects of this work have received mention in general scientific publications such as Scientific American and Science as well as in the popular and lay press such as The New York Times and Discover Magazine.

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