How JediBot Got Its Sword Fighting Skills

Stanford roboticist Torsten Kroeger takes us through what's going on in JediBot's brain as it attempts to kill people with a foam light saber

1 min read
How JediBot Got Its Sword Fighting Skills

JediBot, which we saw in action back in July, was a brilliant final project conceived by a group of students for an experimental robotics course at Stanford University. Kuka spotted the video on YouTube, and shortly thereafter, JediBot found itself with a new job as the main attraction at Kuka's booth on the expo floor of the IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems last month. We caught up with Stanford roboticist Torsten Kroeger, who took us through the brains programming behind JediBot's unquenchable thirst for the blood of Sith lords:

It's worth mentioning that due to a slight miscalibration, JediBot was not acting as aggressive as it could have been when we shot this demo. I took some whacks at it myself a little later on, and the robot was having a great time going for my throat every time I let my guard down. I have to say, it's really quite an experience to be on the other end of a robot with a sword doing its level best to separate your head from your body, but considering all the dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks that we tend to saddle robots with, can you really blame them for being overly enthusiastic when we ask them to take a few good-natured swings in our direction?

[ Stanford Robotics ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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