Enter song title:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Assistant professor Alexander Stoytchev (right) and graduate student Jivko Sinapov are working to develop software so a robot can learn to use tools. One example of such learning is maneuvering a hockey stick around a puck. Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University. And so that visitor tentatively gave the robot's left arm a few twists and twirls. The metal arm was heavy, but still moved easily at its shoulder, elbow and wrist joints.

Then the graduate students hit some keyboard commands and the robot replayed those exact arm movements.

It was all incredibly quick, smooth and precise.
Stoytchev, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, says it won't be long before robot technology is something we'll all see and experience.

"We'll have personal robots very soon," Stoytchev said. "We're waiting for the first killer app. Hopefully, we can contribute to that."

Star Wars

There's a little R2-D2-shaped trash can near the door to Stoytchev's lab in the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Building. Turns out the Star Wars movies were an inspiration to a young Stoytchev back home in Bulgaria.

"My interest in robotics stems from the day I saw Star Wars for the first time," the 34-year-old said. "I must have been in second or third grade at that time, but the two robots in the movie (R2-D2 and C-3PO) left a lasting impression on me."

That impression led Stoytchev to his high school's computer club and then to computer science studies as an undergraduate at American University in Bulgaria. He moved to Atlanta's Georgia Institute of Technology for graduate work in computer science. He was at Georgia Tech when he started working with robots.

His research specialty is developmental robotics, a blend of robotics, artificial intelligence, developmental psychology, developmental neuroscience and philosophy.

"It's one of the newest branches of robotics," Stoytchev said. "People have learned that it's unrealistic to program robots from scratch to do every task, so we're looking at human models. Humans are not born knowing everything. It takes a really long time to develop skills."

Stoytchev and his students are trying to figure out how a robot can learn what children learn over the first two years of their lives. (And child development is something Stoytchev is learning firsthand; he and his wife have a 2-month-old son.)


Enter your email address: