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Input Devices Displays GUI Microsoft Robotics Technology Hardware

Robot Swarm Control On Microsoft's Surface 106

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.

  • 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 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
  • Re:RTS games? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Psaakyrn ( 838406 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:24PM (#33389000)
    The whole point of this is to micromanage troops. Sure, you can control large numbers of units efficiently using that, but can you control a trio of SCVs to heal each other, another 4 to poke a group of irritating zergling, swap roles to make sure all of them receive no casualties, and initiate an SCV rush on a zerg base? (well, unless you're korean)
  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Thursday August 26, 2010 @11:35PM (#33389054) Homepage Journal
    It's nothing new. They've been facilitating botnets for at least a decade now.
  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @12:30AM (#33389262)

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

    Not as frightening if you are sitting at the controls

  • Mod This Shit Down (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @12:33AM (#33389270)
    Yeah, I saw that episode of Saturday Night Live too. I laughed at it. I enjoyed it. With me so far?

    It aired April 8, 2000, more than ten years ago. It got old. You're not funny or clever. You're not some kind of deep, cultured, worldly guy. You're some dude on Slashdot who's repeating something from ten years ago that was amusing but not all that funny in the first place. It was a bit funny back when that ugly fuck Christopher Walken said it and it was a new skit. It's repetitive now.

    You might as well parrot another predictable, cookie-cutter, assembly-line Slashdot meme. The only difference is that it would be a Slashdot meme and not a pop culture meme. Nothin' personal. Just that Slashdot will be greatly improved when we stop celebrating this bullshit.
  • Re:Boooring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macshit ( 157376 ) <snogglethorpe AT gmail DOT com> 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.

  • Re:RTS games? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:00AM (#33389504)

    The problem with RTS games path finding vs robot path finding is that the games have a flawless description of the environment (the description IS the environment) and no inherent physical limitations on the driven device, only ones programmed in.

    Well, that and the utter LACK of any ACTUAL ROBOTS to guide. (Or those few that do exist are so damn expensive nobody can afford a swarm of three).

    Oh, and those Surface tables... Those aren't exactly laying around anywhere either.

    But overlooking that minor obstacle for the moment, the first thing that goes to hell when you actually NEED a robot swarm is that flawless environment description. And of course situations needing swarms never occur where you have maps, they happen annoyingly in some remote area, immediately adjacent to (but outside of) the area your funding covered.

    Perhaps thats why the summary is so ga-ga about the joy stick simulation, because its the only part of this that seems remotely usable on Joe SixPack's touch screen device.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 27, 2010 @02:32AM (#33389580)

    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 various multitouch controls, a simulator, and other such things. It also has a tag/barcode recognition system.

  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:17AM (#33389742) Journal

    You might as well parrot another predictable, cookie-cutter, assembly-line Slashdot meme. The only difference is that it would be a Slashdot meme and not a pop culture meme. Nothin' personal. Just that Slashdot will be greatly improved when we stop celebrating this bullshit.

    In Soviet Russia, cowbell needs more Natalie Portman!

    Yes, yes, memes are lame. You're not some kind of deep, cultured, worldly guy for pointing that out. Being lame is sort of the point of memes. We're a bunch of lame nerds sharing a silly, arbitrary common culture. Sorry, but it's what we do.

    Kirk would totally kick Worf's ass. Emacs > VI! Dr. Who is better than Star Wars or Trek! This is an ex-Parrot! Mandatory XKCD reference! [xkcd.com]

    Yeah, it's all lame repetition of old stuff, some of which wasn't even that great to begin with, but, hey, that's culture for you.

  • Re:Is it just me? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Friday August 27, 2010 @03:56AM (#33389892)
    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 degrees of freedom with one hand, while you temporarily do something else with the other (which is normally used to press buttons).

    I'm just not impressed.

Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Mother Nature cannot be fooled. -- R.P. Feynman