Attend the Austin Robotics Conference (aka, SXSWi Monday, March 14!)

Monday, March 14 has shaped up to be an amazing day of programming at South-by-Southwest if you have even micron of interest in any element of robotics.

Because, like an eventful Matryoshka doll, the Southby organizers have essentially programmed a daylong mini “conference within a conference” with the robotics minitrack that is assembled.

Beginning at 9:30am in the Hilton Garden Inn – Sabine Room (located at 500 North IH 35) and ending sometime around 6:00pm, enthusiasts of robotics – or what I like to refer to as the “ultimate field of digital interactive” convergence – will be treated to an outstanding line-up of topics and speakers.

Just browse the agenda below!

FIRST Robotics: Technically You’re Changing the World, 9:30 am 

Students say it’s “the hardest fun you will ever have.” Just like “real world” product development, building a competitive robot requires diverse science and engineering disciplines and kids all over the world are doing it! This panel includes experienced robot makers and mentors from Texas Instruments and National Instruments who can answer your questions and have you wishing you were still in school.

Presenters: Brian Powell, Eric VanWyk, Joe Hershberger, Rebecca Philips, Tim Ousley

The SINGULARITY: Humanity’s Huge Techno Challenge, 11:00 am 

Will supercomputing intelligences outsmart human-level intelligence? Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines is the world’s most known advocacy of a technology breakthrough that will change the face of humanity and the entire world. Kurzweil claims that the accelerating, exponential growth of technology will result in such a Singularity. This panel dissects the very core of the Singularity, if and when it will occur, and what we can expect to happen.

Presenters: Doug Lenat, Michael Vassar, Natasha Vita-More

Robot Art Lessons, 12:30pm 

Robots seem to be everywhere – from car assembly on factory floors to debris sweeping on your kitchen floor. But, with the popularity of events like Maker Faire, they are broadly entering the creative fields in new and innovative ways. More than an exotic, whimsical exercise, much of the work behind robot-inspired art installations is driving the discovery of technical innovations …come pick up lessons learned from the converging areas of materials science, haptics, interactive control, and communications that contribute to this new art form.

Presenters: Alan Majer, Steve Guengerich (yes, yours truly!)

Congratulations, Your Robot Just Accepted Your Friend Request, 3:30pm 

Telepresence is a straightforward application of robot technology — a robot becomes your eyes, ears and possibly arms and legs which allows you to become “telepresent” in a remote location. But telepresence is only one example of how you might want to interact with a robot over the web. We are using social networks to interact with robots and physical devices so they can become part of your custom information network. We use Google technologies such a Gtalk and Android to form the basis of the network. This project is open source.

Presenter: Rich LeGrand

Hacking Space Exploration: Robots, the Universe and Everything, 5:00pm 

From launching robots into space to discovering distant galaxies: how the public is hacking into open source space exploration. As technology shifts from a means of passive consumption to active creation, people are collaborating on a massive scale. Amateurs were once considered to be at the crux of scientific discovery, but over time have been put on the sidelines. Despite this, citizen science is witnessing a renaissance. Agencies such as NASA no longer have a monopoly on the global space program and more participatory projects are harnessing the power of open collaboration for exploring space on a faster schedule. But you don’t need to be a robotics engineer to participate – open source teams are open for anyone to join.

Presenter: Ariel Waldman

We hope you can join us – it should be an astonishing day of sharing, learning, and advancing this major field of tech innovation!

Robots Don’t Lie. People Do.

The date of this post is a lie.

I’m actually posting it March 1. But the date of the email below is true.

So, for the sake of monthly blogging continuity and a wee bit of historical perspective, I’m back-dating to January 30.

On Jan 30, 2011, at 6:56 PM, Interactive Panels <> wrote:

Hey Steve,

Happy Sunday from SXSW-land.

Good news — we have had some space open up on the SXSW schedule on Monday, March 14. In this space, we would like to do a mini-track of robot-related panels.

I’m writing to see if we can do the “Robot Art Lessons” session that you had proposed to the PanelPicker as part of this mini-track.

If you are still available to speak at SXSW and Monday, March 14 works for your schedule, then please reply “Yes, I am in for this Robot Mini-Track.”

Or, feel free to fire away if you have questions.

Best regards,
Hugh Forrest
SXSW Interactive Festival
March 11-15, 2011

I can’t tell you how happy this invitation made me. Mainly because it enabled my colleague and long distance friend, Alan Majer (that’s one of Alan’s creations in the photo), to have a reason for journeying to Austin from his home in Vancouver and share his hard- but joyously-earned knowledge with SxSW Interactive 2011 participants about the ultimate field of digital interactivity – robotics.

I call it that “the ultimate field of digital interactivity” because it has everything – human cognition, communications, mechanical engineering, design, emotion and sensory replication, mobility, software, and on and on.

So, to my friends and acquaintances at SxSW Central, I say “thank you” for the invitation – Alan and I will be there with bells on, just a year later than we had expected. All good things come in time…

Robot Art Lessons

HandDetailIf you know me or you read my blog, then you know that: I LUV ROBOTS.

I’m not a mechanical engineer, I’m not a robot builder, I’ve never written software for EPROMS, and I probably wouldn’t know what I was looking at on a LabView screen to save my life.

But, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities of robots.

(In fact, I think I’ll save a deeper exploration of the “Why?” for this love of robots for a future post… but at its core it has more to do with a personal belief that a deeper understanding of robotics and other forms of AI or “artificial life” is in fact a deeper search for our own humanity, not unlike the perspective recently shared by Jaron Lanier in a New York Times Op-Ed piece.)

This intense interest in robotics is why I regularly follow a handful of publications and blogs on the subject.

And, when I speak of robots, I’m not just referring to the cute little Lego-toy or cuddly animal ones, like Paro.  I’m also talking about the bizarre ones, like your garden trellis gone-wild-and-suddenly-climbing-the-side-of-your-house.

And the semi-scary ones, like the severed limb of a Transformer playing catch with your cell phone in the video above.

In a way, robotics – which may seem at first glance to be a domain purely of the left-brained, hard science type – is a field where right-brained creativity has a chance to run amok. No doubt, this is among the reasons for the explosive popularity of the Maker Faire phenomenon of recent years.

It’s also a reason why the South-by-Southwest Interactive (or SXSWi) panel proposal I’m part of for 2011 is themed “Robot Art Lessons.”

The panel proposal was inspired by a year-long correspondence with my (former-nGenera) colleague, Alan Majer. Alan left nGenera before I did, to pursue his dreams, principal among them, work on multiple dimensions of robotics. You can follow his work on his GoodRobot wiki.

Earlier this year, Alan did a show of his work at Toronto-area museum. You can view a number of the pieces in the installation on Flickr.

We thought it would be fun and informative to combine Alan’s work and research with my own interest in robotics, visual arts, and the intrigue of the creative process in general – be it for business, government, products, education, whatever. And it seemed to us that SXSWi would be a premier venue with an audience open-minded enough to join us for a conversation about what you get when you “glom together” fine arts and hard science.

If you count yourself as a potential member of this audience – whether you’ll be attending SXSWi or NOT – please do Alan, me, and our to-be-named panelists a great favor and vote for “Robot Art Lessons” to be included in the Southby program for 2011.

The PanelPicker process is a critically important part of the Southby planning process and, thus, we need your VOTE. We would really, REALLY appreciate it. Thanks!