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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Running a Demo Two: The Segway Reloaded

After technical difficulties eliminated the possibility of a true demonstration on Sunday night, the Segway team and I ventured forth on Tuesday night, fiercely determined to show the world the kicking abilities of our 'bot. We were spared the transportation difficulties by having the foresight to keep our Segways at the hotel. Brett, Brenna and Yang worked quickly and efficiently, supplying the autonomous Segway with a working camera and preparing for the impending demo. After I briefly adjourned with Yang to retrieve some posters for the night's poster session, I returned to see that the robot was working perfectly, hunting down the ball and kicking it as needed.

As the time for the demo drew closer, Brett and Yang retreated to the poster session, where they would be presenting some of their research. Brenna and I were left to run the demo. Our area was staked out by a large white painter's sheet, upon which the automonous Segway rested. The demo involved either Brenna or I riding the human transporter (HT) Segway in order to catch the ball. Then, we would place the ball somewhere on the white sheet, at which point the robot would search for the ball, grab it, and kick it to us. This demonstrated the capabilities of the robot to actively play soccer, although our limited space denied us the ability to demonstrate any form team work or AI. We set the robot to use the body-kick mode, rather than its powerful kicker, to ensure that balls didn't go flying off at high speeds. One of us also kept a close watch on the robot at all times, ready to stop it at any time using a handy GUI.

Hence, this demonstration went much, much better than our first attempt, and at times we even drew a nice crowd. I again had the opportunity to interact with many conference attendees and even offer the occasional Segway ride (although the popularity of the bar made me slightly reticent to openly offer rides as I had on Sunday).

Once the crowd of onlookers had died down to a small handful (i.e. the food was no longer being served), Brett told me that I could take a break to go check out the poster session. Here was firm evidence that I was well out of my league, as I could hardly understand the titles of most of the posters. I also had a chance to explore some of the other robotic demonstrations, taking a nice gander at the android project (an attractive old chap, though he had a bit of a potbelly) and talking with a member of CMU's Aibo team. All in all, it was definitely another good experience, as I was exposed to a variety of new projects in a really cool field.

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