Raibert hopper in matlab

Made a quick Raibert-based BLDC-actuated hopper to test some stabilization algorithms before we try them out on the full leg models.

[jwplayer mediaid="153"]

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The robothespian team on Russian TV


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Developing a multi-modal communication robot

Well, we just had our first attempt to lead an H2020 bid rejected. The comments overall were very positive, the reviewer simply judged us too ambitious, so I’m trying to see it as a learning experience! Certainly we know now that we have the technical chops to win a bid, provided we see eye-to-eye with the reviewers in terms of scope. And we may yet revisit this project at a later date. Until then, for posterity:

The robots produced in project HELEN will use multiple parallel communication channels to provide nuanced, naturalistic robot-human communication via the use of advanced sensory systems and human-friendly mechatronic design, brought together on versatile and engaging commercial robots. The results of the project will be intuitively interactive installations, which provide information delivery in public spaces, and act as a communications and support hub in privately owned or industrial workplaces.

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Interview in WIRED on the rise of AI

How real are the robots in Spielberg’s Extant? (Wired UK)

“Wired.co.uk speaks with the experts to see how close we are to the human-level artificial intelligences seen in the sci-fi series, and if we have anything to fear from their development.”

click the link below for the full interview with me and Murray Shanahan from Imperial College London:


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Why compliance?

Much of the world we interact with is solid and inflexible. We manage to navigate this environment without damage because our own bodies are tractable and ‘bendy’ – rigid bodies in a rigid environment is a recipe for damage. Common problems include vibration, backlash, unrecoverable hardware configurations leading to singularities or lockups.

Adding compliance to a mechanical system is one way to reduce or eliminate these problems – it also makes them safer for humans, and allows the system to adapt itself to external conditions. Compliant robots are more robust, safer, and human-friendly than their rigid counterparts.

Compliant design can be roughly broken down into two streams – passive vs active. Active compliance requires force-sensing elements, which then allow us to adjust the behaviour of the system depending on the external forces being sensed. This gives us a lot of control over the system dynamics, and allows for on-the-fly automatic tuning to adapt to different conditions. The major downside is that it works only when powered on, and electrical faults or current spiking can create serious problems with the potential to result in injury for humans, or damage for the hardware. Additionally, we must anticipate where force sensing is required, and depending on the joint or actuator type, it may not always be trivial to obtain accurate measurements or disambiguate between internal or driving forces, and unexpected external impedance.

Some examples of active impedance control in robotics and rehabilitative devices: The Barrett arm, Baxter, Lopes

Conversely, passive compliance involves building compliant elements into the actuation of the robot itself. This generally comprises the use of soft mechanical components, like springs and pneumatic elements, which do not require power to give them elasticity. We can also take advantage of the energy-storage capacity of compliant systems, which make them more efficient than purely motor-driven elements. Additionally, passive compliant mechanisms are much safer than active ones, however due to their lack of rigidity they are notoriously difficult to control, and cannot be tuned as quickly or readily as active approaches.

We can eliminate some of the issues with passive compliance while retaining their most useful features by using parallel methods of actuation. For example, a motor linked to a rigid body with springs (PEA/SEA), or using parallel springs with different force constants to provide a customized force curve for a particular joint or linkage. Parallel actuation is usually not considered when building robots, as it is seen as redundant and not cost-effective, however the advantages are several. Not only can we link several types of actuator to get the best elements of each, we can improve the sensing and force bandwidth by using one mechanism at eg. low speeds, high power, and another which responds quickly but with low force output. That said, getting multiple elements with different characteristics, response speeds and linearity to play nicely with each other is not necessarily trivial – at my current job we’ve been working on tuning one particular type of hybrid system for some months now. Nevertheless, hybrid actuation schemes have huge potential and should, in my opinion, be far more common than they currently are in robots, particularly those designed for HRI.

Additional reading: a nice talk about the compliant elements of COMAN from Nikos Tsagarakis of IIT

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Interview in the Guardian on Socibot

Our desktop robot, Socibot, is getting a lot more attention now we changed up the head design to make it more human-like. I was interviewed by Oliver Wainwright about the capabilities of the robot, and what it’s like to have in the office:

Capable of mimicking human expressions and emotions, the SociBot is designed to bring a human touch to teleconferencing – or to imitate your friends. But will it just creep you out?

SociBot: the ‘social robot’ that knows how you feel

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Interview on FoxNY on RoboThespian

The rapid progress of artificial intelligence

Meet the humanoid robot called Robothespian. He is designed to interact with people even through Skype. Created by England-based Engineered Arts, the Robothespian runs on algorithms and codes, or a form of artificial intelligence.

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Humanoids 2013



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ICRA 2013






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news and changes

Haven’t updated this in a long while! Long story short, I applied for a job in the UK and after about five months of faffing around with bureaucracy, have finally been granted a work visa. So, what’s up? I’m now part of the R&D team for Engineered Arts, an engineering contracting company that specialises in the creation of humanoid robots for research and entertainment purposes.


Basically I’ll be helping to make these guys a little bit more human. One of the challenges with biomimetic humanoids is to create machines that are sufficiently lifelike to inspire natural responses, without making them creepy as all hell. It’s a narrow line to walk! Right now we’re hoping to collaborate on an FP7 grant which aims to parameterize the uncanny valley. Fingers crossed for the next judging round …


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