Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cheetah Robot - updated

Members of the MIT Biomimetic Robotics Laboratory
In my post of April 22, 2013 (Cheetah Robot text to improve reading skills) I wrote about a robot innovation from MIT that was more efficient than other available running robots. I used the text not only for class discussion, but also for a variety of language material useful for the development of students' reading skills.

Recently (September 15, 2014) the news website of MIT reported that the Cheetah Robot has been updated, and is now able to run outside, untethered.

MIT News website:

The information is interesting for my students because of the technical details of the innovation, and is interesting for me because of the language material of the text, and the way it can be compared to the earlier text.

As for the first text, there is an accompanying video (2:35) that shows the robot running and jumping, while two members of the team explain how it works. Neither is a native speaker of English, but this is good practice for students to understand a variety of accents.

As in my first post about the Cheetah Robot, the following features can be noted:

Areas of text that explain or give examples:
  • In general, the faster the desired speed, the more force must be applied to propel the robot forward.
  • ... by adapting a force-based approach, the cheetah-bot is able to handle rougher terrain, such as ...
  • The percentage of time a leg spends on the ground rather than in the air is referred to in biomechanics as a "duty cycle"; the faster an animal runs, the shorter its duty cycle.
  • etc.
In fact, most of the article explains and gives examples.

Verbs of what researchers "do":
  • develop
  • implement
  • take (robot) for a test run
  • estimate
  • hypothesize
  • find
  • control
  • design
  • present (details of robot)
  • model
  • reason
  • control
Examples of language that indicates change:
  •  They actually increase their stride length by pushing downward harder and increasing their ground force, so they can fly more while keeping the same frequency.
  • In experiments, the team ran the robot at progressively smaller duty cycles, ...
  • ... the robot was able to run at higher speeds without falling.
Comparatives / superlatives:
  •  fastest / faster
  •  more force
  • harder
  • rougher
  • more stable, agile and dynamic
  • the faster an animal runs, the shorter its duty cycle
  • higher
  • louder
  • etc.
Verbs of movement:
  • run
  • jump
  • accelerate
  • ramp up to
  • pump its legs
  • bound
  • gallop
  • sprint
  • propel forward
  • race
  • cycle their legs
  • stride
  • fly
  • run over
  • trotting
  • cantering
  • galloping
  • hop
  • fall
In addition, this text has these useful language features:

  • successfully implemented
  • recently took the robot for a test run
  •  eventually reach speeds of up to 30 mph
  • really fast
  • actually increase
  • actually control
  • biomechanically distinct gaits
  • relatively simple
  • easily split
  • progressively smaller
  • highly dynamic
Phrases for speed:
  • accelerate to
  • ramp up to top speed
  • at a steady clip
  • reach speeds of up to
  • propel forward
  • increase their stride
  • high-speed gait
  • fraction of a second
  • maintain forward momentum
  • triple the force
  • run at higher speeds
Tenses used:
  • simple present
  • present perfect
  • simple past
  • future with "will"
  • present progressive
I like to use texts in my lessons that students will find interesting, and also focus on the useful (or instructive) language features of that text. I feel that this text, and the innovation, will be useful in both these areas.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Robot, heal thyself

A paper on the website The Engineer describes an algorithm that allows robots to adapt to damage. It's titled, "Robots that can adapt like natural animals," by Antoine Cully, Jeff Clune and Jean-Baptiste Mouret.

The website:

The article:

There is also a video on the site that shows an example of a robot adapting to damage, and continuing to walk afterward.

Video (3:48):

There is no speaking and no sound, but there are words on the screen describing what is being shown - short and simple. This is certainly useful for lower-level students, since it is so clear and easy to understand. But it can also be used with higher-level students who can describe what is being shown (either in speaking or writing).

The article itself is not very useful for my students, since it is 23 pages long and written in an academic style. But the abstract can be useful for language work, and the innovation is very interesting.

The abstract:

"While animals can quickly adapt to a wide variety of injuries, current robots cannot 'think outside the box' to find a compensatory behavior when damaged: they are either limited to the contingency plans provided by their designers, or need many hours to search for suitable compensatory behaviors. We introduce an intelligent trial and error algorithm that allows robots to adapt to damage in less than 2 minutes, thanks to intuitions that they develop before their mission and experiments that they conduct to validate or invalidate them after damage. The result is a creative process that adapts to a variety of injuries, including damaged, broken, and missing legs.This new technique will enable more robust, effective, autonomous robots and suggests principles that animals may use to adapt to injury."

Although my students understood this text, they recognized that it was written in a rather formal, academic style. Students can identify these features of the text: vocabulary such as compensatory behavior, contingency plans, validate, invalidate, and enable; and grammar features such as passive voice and the use of compound and complex sentences (which my students refer to as "long sentences").

They can then work together to develop a simpler, more conversational version by imagining how they would describe this project to a non-technical friend.

One example that my students came up with:

"While animals can adapt when they get hurt or injured, robots can't figure out what to do when they're damaged. They have to either rely on their software programming or need a lot of time to figure out what to do. This algorithm lets robots adapt to damage in less than 2 minutes. They use a creative process to develop intuition before they have to do something and then they try out experiments to see what works after they're damaged. This algorithm can be used even when the robot's legs are damaged or broken. This will let robots be more independent, strong, and effective, just like animals that adjust to their injuries."

In addition to language work, my students enjoyed discussing this innovation and talking about features shown on the video.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Manufacturing Stories

The website's logo
In my last post (31 August) I wrote about the website Engineering Stories, which has both short stories and riddles to inspire young people to learn more about the S.T.E.M. fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

The website Manufacturing Stories has very different material, but a similar goal - that is, to inspire educators and students in areas of S.T.E.M.

The website:

From the About section:

"We are a social media company promoting manufacturing in US to families, educators and community leaders. Our mission is to be a cheerleader of sorts for manufacturing and all of the richness of innovation, social fabric and prosperity it offers America.

Our primary goal is to emphasize and strengthen the critical nexus between manufacturing and education primarily in K-12 CTE & STEM. To accomplish this goal we are building a searchable database of  pertinent information and resources. In addition we currently maintain active socail media platforms on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn."

The "searchable database of pertinent information and resources" includes "Today's News Stories" in 9 areas:
  • manufacturing
  • innovation
  • education
  • 3D printing
  • robotics
  • big data
  • social media
  • jobs & workforce
  • energy & sustainability
Even though the focus is on education and manufacturing in the United States, the resources available have an international focus. Each section has so many current articles that it will be easy to find topics and materials of interest to students in all areas of engineering.

As I now begin a new academic semester, I know I will be using this website often for resources. The material I choose and the ideas I develop with my students in the classroom will be focused on in various posts in the next few months.

Meanwhile, it's a good idea to check out this website for your own material.