Last weekend was the Dallas FIRST Regional

Last weekend was the Dallas FRC regional. There are videos of the competition available on-line. This year’s competition was steampunk based.

FRC

I’ve been coordinating judging for the FIRST Robotics competition in Dallas for about 8 years now, so naturally there are a significant number of retired EDS and a few Raytheon folks involved.

FRC allows students to start from a standard kit of parts and some state of the art tools (received at the kickoff in January) to build a robot attempting to meet specified objectives. This video is an overview of this year’s challenge – FIRST Steamworks

The goal of FIRST is to encourage the understanding and passion around STEM. It has a proven track record of results that is hard to argue with. 


I was also drafted to judge the Jr. FIRST Lego League competition on Saturday morning. That competition is targeted at grade school students. At least in the Dallas area this competition was sponsored by Raytheon, among others.

Jr

Fantastic Voyage moving a little closer to reality

One of the use cases often described with MEMS is using these devices to clear up problems in the human body.

This article describes an effort headed by the Korea Evaluation Institute of Industrial Technologies (KEIT) to create ‘microswimmer’ robots to drill through blocked arteries. These swarms of microscopic, magnetic, robotic beads which look and move like corkscrew-shaped bacteria.

spiral-shaped-microswimmer

Drexel’s microswimmer robots (bottom) are modeled, in form and motion, after spiral-shaped Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria (top), which cause Lyme disease (credit: Drexel University)

Once flow is restored in the artery, the microswimmer chains could disperse and be used to deliver anti-coagulant medication directly to the affected area to prevent future blockage. This procedure could supplant the two most common methods for treating blocked arteries: stenting and angioplasty.

Video of Achiral microwimmers (credit: Drexel University)

3D Metal-printing robot builds a mid-air bridge

I’ve been interested in 3D printing for a very long time. When I came across this article on a metal-printing 3D robot that can build bridges I was intrigued about the possibilities, and the engineering issues.

In any 3D printing project, crossing an unsupported span is a bit of an issue, but having the span support the printer at the same time is really a feat, and fun to watch.

Automation and leadership

automation2One topic that has been getting people excited over the last few years is that robots are going to replace many jobs or make some jobs much more boring. That is not even touching on the whole autonomous robot rebellion crowd’s concerns (I posted about an AI risks related podcast on NPR just last week).

Robotics is taking important roles ranging from milking cows, to working in kitchens, to logistics and order fulfillment. Now they are taking on more important functions in our business processes that used to be the domain of knowledge workers (even though it is happening slowly).

I do believe that the increased use of automation should shift how enterprises architects think about the enterprise and how that environment is structured. Automation is just another enterprise resource that needs to be defined, understood and optimized. The leaders are going to have to include these possibilities in their thought processes too.

These changes are inevitable. That got me thinking about a post that McKinsey put out about beating the transformation odds – after all automation efforts will be a transformation. Most of the article focused on the need for executive vision, clarity and communications. It also discussed the need for continuous improvement as part of the plan. Too often teams and breathe a sense of relief once a project is deployed, when in reality that is just point where it was given birth and now needs to develop and mature. Automation efforts are no exception.

Transformation is hard work, and the changes made during the transformation process must be sustained for the organization to keep improving.

Future of AI podcast

AIFor those interested in Artificial Intelligence, automation and the possible implications on the future, last week the Science Friday podcast had a panel discussion asking AI questions like:

  • Will robots outpace humans in the future?
  • Should we set limits on A.I.?

The panel of experts discusses what questions should be asked about artificial intelligence progress.

What was nice about this discussion was it goes into a bit more depth than the usual ‘sound bite’ approach in most media articles.

One thing that is clear from these discussions is that the simple rules described by Asimov are not really up to the task. After all each of his Robot stories was about the conflicts that come from the use of simple rules.

The podcast also prompted T. Reyes to write a post: The Prelude to the Singularity that discusses the controls needed before we let this genie out of the bottle.

For some reason, I now want to reread The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.