A robot learns its way around the lab

A striking blue robot named Rosie has made itself at home for the last couple of years in the Robotics, Perception and Learning lab at KTH, as part of a project in which robots are learning how to perceive three dimensional environments and move about and interact in them — even in the course of routine afternoons where rooms are randomly closed off, students and researchers bustle around, and things like cups, soda cans and lab gear accumulate and, just as unpredictably, get cleared away.

Unlike you or me, robots actually have to learn things like: chairs change positions from hour to hour, or that a book resting on a table is not part of the table.

So Rosie — a Scitos G5 built by MetraLabs — maps the rooms at RPL, revisiting them repeatedly. She documents everything with the help of a depth camera (RGB-D), and dumps billions of points of physical space into a database, from which 3D models of the rooms can be generated.

The system the KTH researchers use detects objects to learn by modeling the static part of the environment and extracting dynamic elements. It then creates and executes a view plan around a dynamic element to gather additional views for learning.

This autonomous learning process enables Rosie distinguish dynamic elements from static ones and to perceive depth and distance. She learns when things are where they are, and how to negotiate physical spaces.

Beyond that, Rosie also is building an understanding of what kind of spaces she is in — be they office spaces, kitchens or corridors.

The project is called STRANDS and I spent an afternoon at RPL with Rosie and some of the researchers working on it, Johan Ekenkrantz, Nils Bore and Hakan Karaoguz. They helped me make this short video.

Here’s a recent paper from the STRANDS project that explains how robots can learn how to adapt to our dynamic, three dimensional world:

David Callahan

With right materials, heat can be converted into electricity on large scale

Even body heat can produce an electric charge. With better materials, energy efficiencies can be realized on a larger scale.

Where there’s heat, there’s energy. In systems like automobile engines, a lot of heat escapes – so one area of research in which KTH is involved is thermoelectric generation, or the process of converting heat into electricity. Researchers here have worked on a prototype generator for Scania trucks, for example. But vehicles aren’t the only things where we can get thermoelectricity. Researchgate News Editor Katherine Lindemann just did an interview with KTH Professor Muhammet Toprak, who explains some of the possibilities and why it’s so important to find the right materials for generators.

Read the full interview

Thermoelectric generation isn’t just about tapping into engine heat, Toprak tells Researchgate:

“About two thirds of the energy from gasoline used in cars and trucks is also wasted heat. One of the most important applications for thermoelectric generators is reducing the carbon footprint of transport by using the waste heat from the exhaust pipe to generate power. There are even attempts to use the heat from brakes for power generation. This power then can be used to charge the vehicle’s battery, or run electric windows, air conditioning, etc. to improve fuel economy.

“In one project, we are planning to integrate the thermoelectric generators into factory chimneys where very hot steam is released into the atmosphere. This will be an interesting large-scale project to demonstrate the impact that’s possible with this technology.”

But he says thermoelectric generation requires better electrical and thermal contacts if it’s going to go anywhere:

“The large temperature gradient across the device puts mechanical stress on the contact points. Because of this, high-grade heat is usually cooled down before it can be harvested, meaning the highly energetic waste heat is still not used at its full potential.”

On the whole, Toprak’s prognosis for the future is bright:

“In terms of fabrication and processing, we can’t limit ourselves to conventional approaches. The way the material is fabricated and processed has an immense effect on its final performance. This means that even slight chemical modifications of the materials require extensive testing to identify the best processing conditions. This is time-demanding research, and it would not be appropriate to expect miracles in a short time. But the future of the technology is promising.”

Read the full interview

Here’s a short video about thermoelectric generation …

David Callahan

Actual planning case is center of intensive international course

Three KTH students got to work directly with Gothenburg city officials and planning experts in October during an intensive course in sustainable urban planning for students from across the Nordic countries, which was offered in Gothenburg by the Nordic Sustainable Campus Network.sandra

The organizers invited 20 students from five Nordic countries to participate in the multidisciplinary event, which was all-expense paid for each student. The students, from the disciplines of urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture, geography, sustainable energy engineering, global health and social sciences, were divided up into teams to compete for the best planning case for redevelopment of Gothenburg’s Lindholmen area.

Linus Olausson, a student in sustainable power generation at KTH was on the winning team, along with students from Finland, Denmark and Iceland. Also joining Olausson on the course were KTH students, Joanna Saber (sustainable urban planning and design) and Alexander Boley (sustainable energy engineering).alexanderb

The course highlighted the social-ecological approach of urban planning.

“I could compare this event with my master studies on sustainable urban planning and design at KTH, due to our class being made up of students from all over the world, with different backgrounds,” Saber says. “It offers a broad knowledge perspective when students from universities all over Scandinavia are participating.”

Saber adds that the cross-disciplinary make-up of the teams also enriched the experience, a view shared by classmate Boley. “I understood how important different viewpoints are when working on a problem, as everyone with different educational background sees it differently,” Boley says.

“It’s always a good and fun way to work, when you have to take into account other factors that you normally wouldn’t,” Saber says.

For more information, visit https://nordicsustainablecampusnetwork.wordpress.com/

David Callahan

Watch this maintenance drone simulate a pick-up and drop-off


droneDrones are already flying to remote places to drop off heart defibrillators. In Singapore, there’s even a restaurant where drones carry orders from the kitchen to the waiters’ station. Soon, you can add to the list: drones that perform inspection and maintenance on infrastructure like bridges and radio towers. A team of automatic control researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology just published this video of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) making the kind of pinpoint pickup and drop off you might see as part of these kinds of jobs.

Led by Dimos Dimarogonas, associate professor in Automatic Control at KTH, the researchers presented the experiment and their work in October at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Daejoen, Korea. Their research is part of the European Union Horizon 2020 project AEROWORKS, which aims to put drones to work on inspection and maintenance of infrastructure.

The UAV in the film is equipped with a small arm and gripper. Pedro Pereira, a PhD student from KTH, says that the experiment shows how a control algorithm enables the UAV to track a path to its predetermined position while at the same time the arm is able to orient itself and reach down and conduct its pickup/dropoff activities independently of the drone’s motion.

“The experiment presented in the video illustrates a particular scenario, where the manipulator and its gripper are horizontal before take-off, and they need to be vertical before the load is picked up,” Pereira says. “While the manipulator orientation is being steered from horizontal to vertical, the UAV position is simultaneously being steered from its starting point to the point where the load can be gripped.

“Such a control algorithm is needed in scenarios where the UAV is required to transport a load,” he says.

David Callahan

Post script: Those of us in Sweden are just getting our heads around a recent high court ruling that drones carrying cameras are an illegal form of surveillance. Whether this affects future uses including maintenance/repair, I cannot say. Dimos isn’t the coordinator of AEROWORKS so he is unaware of any legal complications. Now, I’m no fancy big city lawyer — but from what I can tell, the law exempts uses where there is no public access – which would include the tests inside of the Smart Mobility Lab at KTH. Anyone with a policy analysis background care to weigh in?  

Stars of polymer science gather at KTH

Bones do a good job of repairing themselves, except when they can’t.


Molly Stevens

When bones are broken beyond self-repair, doctors take pieces of the hip bone, specifically a part called the iliac crest, and graft it where it is needed. But there’s only so much iliac crest available, and the procedure results in years of pain. But Molly Stevens has developed an alternative. Her in-vivo bioreactor system harvests stem cells from the leg bone to enable bone regeneration.

A professor in Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine at London’s Imperial College, Stevens’ work in creating new biomaterials to detect disease and repair bones and human tissue has made her a rising star in life science. At this year’s Polymer Networks Group Meeting , June 19-23 at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, she will join an impressive line-up of plenary speakers.

Like biological tissue, polymer can also be made to self-heal, and that’s one of the research areas that keynote speaker Filip Du Prez, head of the Polymer Chemistry Research Group at Gent University in Belgium, and his 30 researchers are dealing with. Among others are the design of functional polymer architectures and polymer materials, various types of controlled polymerization techniques, and the development of new “click” chemistries.


Filip Du Prez

Also addressing the plenary is University of Tokyo Professor Mitsuhiro Shibayama, who is one of the world-leading researchers on the physics of so-called “soft matter” or “soft materials”.

Eva Malmström, Professor at Fibre and Polymer Technology at KTH, is proud that the conference is to be held at KTH for the first time, and says that the conference will bring together world-leading experts and graduate students from all around the

world in a dynamic mix. “It will be exciting to learn about the most recent findings in general and especially interesting to hear more about bio-based materials. Hopefully the conference’s setting will pave the way for stimulating discussions and fruitful networking”.

The plenary includes a host of international research leaders:

Dominique Hourdet, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France — “Macromolecular assemblies in aqueous media: from controlled rheology of polymer solutions to mechanical reinforcement of covalent hydrogels”

Olli Ikkala, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland — “Supramolecular Functionalization of Molecular Colloids and Colloidal Networks”


Mitsuhiro Shibayama

Bela Iván, Research Centre for Natural Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary —”Amphiphilic Conetworks as a New Material Platform of Bicontinuous Nanophasic Macromolecular Assemblies, Intelligent Gels and Unique Organic-Inorganic Nanohybrids”

James Lewicki, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA, USA — “A Multi-scale Experimental and Computational Approach to Studying Network Dynamics in Complex Polysiloxane Elastomers”

Zhigang Suo, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Boston, USA — “Soft Materials and Soft Machines”

Françoise M. Winnik, University of Montreal, Montreal, Canada — “Biological Responses to Chitosan Substituted With Zwitterionic Groups”

Chi Wu, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong — “A Novel Microrheometer – Total Internal Reflection Microscope Marries Magnetic Tweezers”