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Input Devices Displays GUI Microsoft Robotics Technology Hardware

Robot Swarm Control On Microsoft's Surface 106

Posted by timothy
from the moving-things-about dept.
zerOnIne writes "Dr. Mark Micire of UMass Lowell has built an intriguing new user interface on the Microsoft Surface, a multitouch-capable table computer. The interface is being used to control swarms of robots for disaster response, search, and rescue. One of the most interesting things about it is the intuitive tabletop joystick widget. Using a very fast hand-detection-and-identification algorithm, they can paint a touch joystick (dubbed the DREAM controller) directly underneath the hand. This joystick conforms to the size of the user's hand and tracks with hand movements, making sure that the control is always directly under the hand where the user expects it, even without haptic feedback. I've had a chance to go hands-on with this system, and I think it's truly remarkable."
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Robot Swarm Control On Microsoft's Surface

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  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:06PM (#33388916)

    Still somewhere over $5k?

    I'd love to build this into something... if I could sell it to someone other than businesses looking for a way to waste money.

    • Just guessing, but you can probably get the same effect by using a rear projector and a camera to look for reflections on the screen. Might even be how they did it in the first place.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Surface uses infrared reflections to generate an image which is then processed. Alot of the challenge for a device of this type is the analysis of the IR, handling ambient light, and diffusion. If you were going to roll your own, I'd start with a project such as: http://digitalstratum.com/programming/ftir_build
        or a similar FTIR method. However, if you just want multitouch, then you've got other options such as project based (search for wii whiteboard).

        Surface provides a fairly substantial SDK with variou

        • I have noticed that some windows 7 multi touch all in one computers with OEM builds come with some surface apps built in.

          All of the surface machines I have seen are running Vista underneath, Perhaps it has been ported finally however

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      You can now get touch overlays for very large displays, as in up to about 70" (that I've seen) and by touch I mean multitouch. With a camera overhead and some visual processing you could figure out who was touching what, and the touch overlay would tell you how hard. You could probably add an off the shelf cooling fan to an off the shelf television... they're not designed to run horizontally, at least not most of them. The overlay is about the same price as the television, but that's still cheaper than surf

  • Soon we'll be using this to play Syndicate [wikipedia.org] in real life.

  • Unbelievable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thePig (964303) <rajmohan_h@ya h o o .com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:07PM (#33388926) Journal

    This is amongst the coolest things that I have seen in a long time. Unbelievably cool and useful. Microsoft, I bow to you - the table seems to be the future of computing - if not amongst the masses - atleast amongst planners and decision makers.
    Although it makes me sad about my existence as a person though - doing a 9x5 job which is neither cool, nor very useful for humanity as a whole.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by NNKK (218503)

      This is amongst the coolest things that I have seen in a long time.

      So you've never seen an iPhone with one of the dozens of games that have been out for years using similar control schemes, then?

    • Re:Unbelievable (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cptdondo (59460) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:15PM (#33388964) Journal

      It's a very, very cool front end. Where does it get the data in the real world?

      I'm running a construction job with 3 contractors. Today they had 8 excavators, 3 backhoes, half-dozen off-road trucks, a water tanker, a vactor truck, and probably a few things I've forgotten. They were hammering up concrete, ripping down a building, tearing up a dam, and moving an incredible amount of dirt. They still managed to dump the dirt in the wrong place.

      A webcam http://www.ci.springfield.or.us/millrace/images/ww.jpg [springfield.or.us] and a cell phone do more for me than this.

      Don't get me wrong, I think it's cool as hell, but GIGO applies to this in spades.

      I'd love to see a real application for this; not a simulation.

      • by martas (1439879)
        the typical application that is cited for robot swarms is disaster response, afaik. there is no real application yet, because the technology isn't here yet. (isn't that a weird word, 'yet'? it doesn't even look like a word, does it? yet... hm.)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by cptdondo (59460)

          I've done disaster response. While robots may have some very limited applications, dogs and eyeballs and boots are better. You need lots of them and each one has to be thinking and looking on their own.

          You are looking for survivors and making decisions that are not quantifiable at all. It'll be a long time before we can send out a "swarm" of robots into a disaster area and have them work as well as a trained dog or a trained SAR person.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Hunter0000 (1600071)

            The swarm of ground robots is a bit of a reach goal. Current applications of this include showing manpower and equipment (and current robotic resources, like UAVs). The idea being, issued orders to a person or vehicle's representation on the map will send orders to a communication device they posses. The map would also serve to display data that currently is compiled (slowly) onto paper maps. This way, the interface becomes useful for combining data and asset display that also allows orders to be issued to

          • by Psaakyrn (838406)
            For some types of disasters yes. Try doing the same when it's several hundred meters underground [wikipedia.org], or any other number of situations where you can't get people in due to safety or situational reasons.
            • by cptdondo (59460)

              OK, you got 33 miners trapped underground in Chile, and 2 million displaced in Pakistan due to flooding.

              Where do you put your resources?

          • by delinear (991444)
            Agreed, apart from working in very difficult conditions (under water, near intense heat or chemical spills - where you're likely not saving lives but clearing up or preventing further disasters) a human is almost always going to be a better option, and certainly far less expensive. My guess is that "disaster response" is bandied about simply because it's more likely to be welcomed by the public than "army of killer robots under the command of the military".
          • by KarrdeSW (996917)

            dogs and eyeballs and boots are better. You need lots of them and each one has to be thinking and looking on their own.

            I would like to purchase some of these thinking boots you have in your possession.

        • Here in San Diego, there are "Tsunami Evacuation Route" signs posted for a tsunami that hasn't happened yet.

          When money and power are king, and technology is sufficiently advanced, the only thing we are left with is disaster capitalism. [naomiklein.org]
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mmicire (128543)

        We have done this with real robots also. See links in posts below. Basically, if you had the ability to geo-locate your vehicles (via cell phone gps for example) and had a camera that could watch them, then you would have the circles drawn around them just like in this video. The simulation is on a completely separate server and is modeled as if it is being viewed from an overhead camera. So, the simulation is just for the robots. All of the registration and camera modeling is done as if it is real.

        We hope

  • I was expecting something a lot cooler than that after reading the description. And why is it so slow? Even with the video sped up to 3x it was still painful to watch.

    I can't help but think of this video every time the Table Computer is mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZrr7AZ9nCY [youtube.com]
    • Re:Boooring (Score:5, Insightful)

      by macshit (157376) <miles@g[ ]org ['nu.' in gap]> on Friday August 27, 2010 @01:41AM (#33389444) Homepage

      "Surface" is yet another piece of slightly-interesting-in-theory-but-kind-of-meh-in-reality tech that microsoft has been trying to get people enthused about for ages -- and consistently failing. You know, kind of like tablet computers before Apple actually made people want them.

      I wouldn't be at all surprised if Apple suddenly teams up with Ikea and has every living room in the country computing with their coffee-table within 3 months though.

      • I think Surface is a great technology for kiosks. However the need for kiosks is rather limited. That and the cost makes it a very small market. Many geeks see and think that they could turn their coffee table into remote control. That's a cool implementation but I see it like swatting a fly with a tank; it's overkill but nice to show off once to your friends.
    • by macshit (157376)

      "Surface" is yet another piece of slightly-interesting-in-theory-but-kind-of-meh-in-reality tech that microsoft has been trying to get people enthused about for ages -- and consistently failing. You know, kind of like tablet computers before Apple actually made people want them.

      I wouldn't be at all surprised if Apple suddenly teams up with Ikea and has every living room in the country computing with their coffee-table within 3 months though.

      • by macshit (157376)
        (sorry about the dup comment; slashdot was being its usual flaky-ass self -- and of course, no comment deletion!)
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:17PM (#33388974) Homepage Journal
    Using a Microsoft product to control a swarm of (potentially killer?) robots?
  • NOG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nethead (1563) <joe@nethead.com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:17PM (#33388976) Homepage Journal

    Finally. A decent interface for C&C.

  • Is it just me? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dangitman (862676) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:22PM (#33388992)

    Isn't the "swarm of robots" aspect slightly more interesting than the "touchscreen interface" aspect?

    • Technically, no. "touchscreen interface" is interesting. "swarm of robots" is frightening. There's a distinction.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "swarm of robots" is frightening. There's a distinction.

        Not as frightening if you are sitting at the controls

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Hognoxious (631665)

          Not as frightening if you are sitting at the controls

          It might be a mistake in their programming. It might be due to a cunning ruse by the hero. But in the final scene, they always turn on their master. Them's the rules, see.

    • Would be if there were actually robots. It's just a simulation and the graphics reminded me of Syndicate Wars.
    • by martas (1439879)
      the idea of robot swarms has been around for a while. how to control them has been an area of research for a while, and still is. though all that work is still kind of theoretical, because the hardware doesn't exist yet (or at least isn't sufficiently cheap yet), so testing is a bitch.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by herks (1144039)
      The swarm stuff is neat, but has been done in RTS games. Nothing really revolutionary, except that it's never been done for swarms, using a touch table. The work defines some easy gestures and methods that have been studied and found to be what the majority of people would naturally do. What I find truly revolutionary about this interface is the dream controller. It doesn't get much play in the video, but it is remarkable. You put your hand down, and it draws the controller around it. It's exact every
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Here's what I perceive to be a real problem: from what I could see in the video, using the "Dream Controller" requires the constant and complete use of both hands. That drastically reduces its usefulness in the real world. As long as you are using the Dream Controller, you can't do ANYTHING else. And that's just bad. At least with a traditional joystick, you can at least temporarily work most functions with one hand. With other kinds of physical controllers like the Cyberman II you can control 6 complete de
    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Not really... without the touchscreen, it's pretty much the equivalent to an RTS from 1998.

  • by Michael D Kristopeit (1887500) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:23PM (#33388996)
    NOTICE: no robots swarms were actually controlled in the making of this story
  • by LifesABeach (234436) on Friday August 27, 2010 @12:11AM (#33389194)
    I don't know weather to laugh or scream.
  • I misread the title as "Robot Swarm Control On Moon's Surface", and was sorely disappointed.

  • Real robots too!!! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Check out his other videos. They have done this with real robots also.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48A8vdJ68lI

  • With Microsoft "D REAM"...
    "Things can only get better..."

  • In case you're interested, there has been some nice work in using tabletop interfaces (ie. Microsoft Surface) to control home robots [hizook.com], like the iRobot Roomba.
  • EULA? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Friday August 27, 2010 @12:53AM (#33389330)
    Microsoft surface being used for search and rescue. Doesn't the EULA specifically state "not to be used for life saving operations or operations in which failure of the system could result in bodily injury"? A search and rescue robot certainly qualifies as a life saving device, the failure of which could result in people being dropped or crushed.

    I wonder why the researchers that made this felt that disregarding the EULA was acceptable.
    • Microsoft surface being used for search and rescue. Doesn't the EULA specifically state "not to be used for life saving operations or operations in which failure of the system could result in bodily injury"? A search and rescue robot certainly qualifies as a life saving device, the failure of which could result in people being dropped or crushed.

      I wonder why the researchers that made this felt that disregarding the EULA was acceptable.

      Probably because they were building a simulator instead of an actual device.

  • The interface is being used to control swarms of robots for disaster response, search, and rescue.

    Ah yes. I ran across a video of these robots in action [youtube.com] a while ago.

    Looks great!

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:06AM (#33389706) Homepage Journal

    1) User swats away a fly
    2) A thousand robots charge off the edge of a cliff
    3) ???
    4) *Sigh* Back to the drawing board

  • Someone building a decent Zergling controller.
  • In Microsoft Surface YOU are overlord of robot swarms !
  • Did anyone else think that too?
  • This really is cool research. I could definitely see this controlling other assets besides robots.

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