A Visit to a Cutting-Edge Robotics Lab

Upon the completion of the robotics leg of Operation Toxic Gulf this week, our local crewmember Dan Haefner contacted the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC). It turns out that a couple of Olin College alumni work there and the Olin students working on board the RV Odyssey were invited for a tour of the facility. Later on that day staff members from IHMC came for a tour of the Odyssey. I had the good fortune to meet with a number of staff and I had great conversations with John Carff and Johnny Godowski. Amongst other things, John is into micro air vehicles and Johnny works on high-speed legged robotic systems.

On my way out of Pensacola I made sure to stop by the facility and see their work. The people and projects were amazing. To say that I was a kid in a candy shop would be an underestimation. Their projects include humanoid avatars for NASA, programming for bipedal walking, fast-running legged robots, exoskeletons, and obstacle avoidance systems for unmanned air vehicles.

Iain Kerr with AtlasIn particular, I was introduced to two distinct bipedal robots that they are working on–Valkyrie & Atlas. To quote IHMC, “Because the robots will be working in environments built for humans, a human-like robot is best-suited to the challenges involved.” The idea is that these robots can conduct disaster rescue and relief operations in places where humans cannot safely go, such as an accident at a nuclear power plant. The FastRunner project, “a novel leg design to achieve unprecedented efficiency and speed while being self stabilizing,” was of great interest to me due to its biomimicry influence.

Considering our interest in having robots and robotics help us to solve environment challenge, it was a real pleasure to meet with the folks from IHMC, they could not have been more hospitable, and I encourage you to visit their website to get more information on the work that they do. We plan to keep in touch and hope that we can find a way to collaborate on a project with them in the near future.

-Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance CEO

[Photo at top – John Carff and Iain Kerr with Valkyrie; photo below – Iain Kerr with Atlas]