Jan 12

EV Talk

Had a good time last night at the Tokyo Hackerspace giving a short  talk on Electric Vehicle  tech and how to convert a motorcycle. Slides can be downloaded here,


 more about my conversion in the original post


Aug 11

Radiation Map : work in progress

 A recent news article got me thinking about Geiger readings in Japan, after a bit of Googling I came across some cool things like an upcoming Geiger shield from the Tokyo Hackerspace, and an aggregate data feed from Pachube with nearly 500 live datapoints. Excited to have all this data I decided to whip up something simple (in Processing) to plot it all on a map. I’ve been looking into to applying a predictive modeling construct (perhaps something like an ensemble Kalman filter with an atmospheric dispersion model for Cesium 137), to be able to plot the theoretical radiation levels in all of Japan. I tried modeling it simply with exponential decay, but the results were pretty abysmal.. hopefully I’ll hear back from my environmental studies contact and have something legitimately cool to show you shortly.

Nov 10

Passive Dynamic Locomotion!

Now that I’m back in the business of keeping an up-to-date blog , here is a post describing in more detail the research I worked on during my stay in Japan. Of course the best, and unabridged version can be read here , or the slides from my talk here.
But in short, the work I did with the Osuka-Ishikawa Robotics Laboratory was on passive dynamic locomotion, and more specifically with what is being called the Phase Transition Phenomenon. As I described briefly in a previous post, the idea behind passive dynamic locomotion is that machines can be created which ‘walk’ passively; ie without the standard array of sensors/actuators that are typically required for this sort of task. Through clever mechanical design the control is implied in the physical structure and thus it is said that the system utilizes morphological computation to control motion. Of course these robots must be placed on an incline such that their decent down the slope allows them to regain the energy lost through the inelastic foot collisions. Furthermore, devices of this sort have started to be developed which are able to walk as well as run (running implies a phase of motion in which both feet are off of the ground) depending on the incline angle. Here is a video from another lab which has collaborated on some of this research:


While in Osaka my work involved setting up a simulation environment (using the Open Dynamics Engine, a free open source C++ rigid body physics engine) in which similar 3-dimensional passive dynamic walking mechanisms were tested and evolved to optimize walking/running ability. Below is an image showing an example body, and the parameters that were evolved.

Again, more detailed explanation of the procedure and results can be found in the paper linked to above, but the gist of it is that a Genetic Algorithm was employed utilizing a handcrafted tailored fitness function, 70% crossover, 25% mutation, 10% mutation amount, a population size of 256 and Stochastic Universal Selection to maintain a high level of genetic diversity. On my desktop PC 150 generations of evolution took ~12 hours, which certainly put a damper on the number of variants I could test given the limited amount time I was Osaka working on this… At any rate I still found that the GA was effective in creating machines that were increasingly able to walk/run below are a few graphs showing the course of the evolution.  

Below is some video showing the initial randomness of population0 compared to population150’s ability to take several steps before falling over. Although stable walking/running motion was never achieved, I still think the results are pretty interesting. In the paper/slides I talk about how things like a better fitness function, more generations of evolution, a faster program (or supercomputer), careful introduction of additional a priori knowledge , a different incline angle or body configuration could have improved this. I am not currently working on developing this any further, but I found the study to be quite interesting and would definitely consider taking it [or something similar] up again in the future.  

Morphology Evolution of a Passive Dynamic Walking Machine from Z R on Vimeo.

May 10

Japan 2! More pics and Lab Work

I know.. this update is wayyy overdue … I’ll try to make it a good one.
So my research here in Japan (the Osuka-Ishikawa Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University) is on passive dynamic locomotion, and more specifically with what is being called the Phase Transition Phenomenon. Although it may seem like blasphemy, these are robots that are generally without the sensors/actuators/other electronics that are normally standard (as fate would have it, this is a Mechanical Engineering lab). However this is actually what makes passive dynamic locomotion pretty damn cool.  Here is a video that helped to inspire much of this research:


it is of a cat exhibiting three different gait patterns as a treadmill is run at different speeds. The amazing thing is that the cat is decerebrate, leading the big names in the field to believe the entire nonlinear control-feedback mechanism is implicit in the mechanical design. A long term goal of this laboratory is to further develop the control law for these passive dynamic walking/running devices, which could have a pretty big impact on the future of pedal robotics. The idea is that, for both bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion, rigid control of all the actuators is a pretty large computational (as well as efficiency) burden, which , in an underactuated model that takes advantage of carefully designed passive dynamics, can be offloaded to the mechanical structure. The new term I learned for this is Morphological Computation and the idea that a system can be, in a sense, “programmed” to handle complex nonlinear tasks through its mechanical design totally makes up [at least in terms of coolness factor] for the lack of electronics 🙂   Also, Here is a video from a different laboratory which has collaborated on some of this research:


My task will be to run simulations (and possibly machine physical models depending on how much I can get done in a semester) to further explore how passive robots can exhibit this phenomenon.
My Sempai (older student labmates) are an incredibly warm, friendly, and tight-knit bunch, and enthusiastic to teach me about Japan as well as learn about the US. Grad students are committed to their lab relationship almost more like family and all-lab outings/events are a regular occurrence- As I am writing this I just realized I still have yet to take a picture with them- Ill have to get on that ASAP!
Here are some pictures from around the lab, Ill try to be brief with the descriptions:


Basic PDW quadruped with locking spine and adjustable leg length


a few more passive and quazi-passive dynamic walkers


One of a series of “rescue robots” in the lab. This one is intended to retrieve an injured person from a hazardous area.

two more rescue robots, MOIRA and MOIRA II, which would (in theory) navigate through rubble after an earthquake or other disaster to locate survivors

another rescue bot which could remove large pieces or ruble and debris more carefully than standard excavation equipment

although not strictly a rescue robot, this critter is capable of traveling through pipes of variable diameter. Its purpose is to locate a gas leak without [potentially] having to tear up a whole neighborhood.


a pretty neat little omiyage I scored while helping clean out one of the other labs- the device (invented by one of the professors here) allows a robot to capture a 360 degree view of its environment (and thus self localize)using only one camera
There are also some awesomely cool clubs around campus; Below are pictures of the work in progress formula racer (OFRAC) and birdman glider.

I’ll be going back this weekend to help fab the main cowling – although I don’t really have the time, I’m going to try to become a regular member – wayy to cool an opportunity to pass up


As some may know, I turned 21 here this week! Funny thing is , the drinking age here is 20- (well really as soon as you can reach the buttons on a vending machine..) so its not nearly as big of a deal. I’ll have to put celebrations of lawful belligerence on hold. Not that the Japanese don’t like to drink- oh they like to get their glow on – but more on that another time (maybe).
Anyway, it just so happened that the Japan Open Robot Soccer tournament was held from May 2-4

As [if its not blatantly obvious] im a bit of an otaku,so this seemed like an ideal way to spend the day. Oh and it was. I’ll let the pictures do the talking:




The Osaka-U robocup team lab a few days before the event


‘bots being demonstrated at the entrance- one even danced like MJ!









A few of the different humanoid competitions

medium sized non-humanoid class

Mixed Reality class – miniature robots compete on the virtual field shown(!!)

The hosting organization has set a goal of beating the best human players and winning the world cup with a robot team by 2050. And, to put it nicely, Robovie still has a quite a ways to go before bumping Beckham from the podium… However the crowd seemed to acknowledge that coordinated autonomous humanoid soccer is anything but trivial. The atmosphere was incredibly supportive, enthusiastic , and excited to witness a demonstration of a still infant technology. A cool event indeed.
After this, one of my lab mates (who I had gone with) recommended I see Nipponbashi, and boy was I grateful for that recommendation. Suffice to say, this is my new favorite place on the planet.
Nipponbashi , sometimes pronounced NiiPWN-BASH, or Den Den Town – which most nearly translates to Electronics Electronics Town, is a sort of wonderland which takes scores of stores for new/used/bargan electronics, electronic hobby, hardware, toys and menga, 24h internet/gaming/comic cafes (with free coffee and icecream on a pay by the hour basis), and girls in cosplay and densely crams them all into an inner city section directly adjacent to the one of the [in]famous nightlife districts.
My kind of town.

It was hard to get a good picture with the staircase in the way, but this reads “DASA (with the N crossed out and replaced with a ‘D’) Device and Silicon ware Agency” – Like a big Sparkfun outlet!


“I want you to use the force you’ve gathered with in your grasp for the world from now on” … sexy.



I know, I know, everybody and their kid sister thinks that their touristy point&shoot sightseeing pics are works of art – so I’ll try not pollute the interweb too much; but here are some sights and other bits of randomness that I think are actually worth sharing:











at these temples, you can pay a couple bucks for an old lady to read your fortune – I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

retaliation gift in to say “thanks” for the gifts i brought from California. Now the ball is in my court. apparently thankyouforthe-thankyouforthe-thankyou gifts are not uncommon here



more enticing?






More Umeda


Making friends in Namba

Language barrier

I hope they’re not always crusty and filled with yellow cream



Nagisa Ongakusai 2010 – Japanese Ravebot



More Nagisa Ongakusai

more wtf?




Apparently Robot dogs do this too..

Do you have survive?

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it”
Sooo badass.

They’ve even taken our idea of consumerism to a whole new level!

Apr 10

Japan! Initial Thoughts and Photos

I have been in Japan for almost a week now – so I figured it was a good time to post with pictures, first impressions and so forth. For those of you that don’t know, I flew here last Tuesday for a 6 month stay near the border of Suita and Ibaraki city, where I will be doing research in the Osuka Robotics Lab at Osaka University. I was told that I wold be staying in a suburb of the main city of Osaka, however both Suita and Ibaraki make my home city of Santa Barbara look like countryside by comparison!
Anyways, after an 11 hour flight from LAX to NRT things went relatively smoothly through customs and I was able to take a train to the gargantuan Tokyo Station then Musashino city, where I stayed at a hotel next to a Mustache Pub.

The room was pretty much what I expected of a Japanese hotel room; about the size of a large American closet, with enough room for a small bed, TV, dresser, and bathroom (complete with a toilet that warms your butt and squirts your asshole). Down the hall was one of the fabled vending machines, from which ¥300 could produce a cold BEER! Much less notably (but still pretty cool), vending machines in Japan can provide beverages (mainly tea and coffee) warm as well as cold.

I should also note: sorry that this initial batch of pictures are of such shit quality. I came to Japan under the impression that in Japan there would be unique, new cameras , not [yet] available in the US, and they would be cheap! This is almost entirely wrong. Because Japan has become just as much of a wealthy consumerist nation as we are, camera retailers realized that they could charge just as much , and in some cases more, for cameras in Japan than in the US. The fact that the Yen is now beating the Penny, doesn’t exactly help this. There are still a few models that are only available here, but pretty much everything you can get in the states. If you are going to visit Taiwan it is a different story, but for Japan, bring a camera. Despite this, I am still going to get one (possibly two) eventually, but for now I’m stuck with mediocre camera phone shots.

I only had about a day to roam around Tokyo – during which I walked with some friends from Shinjuku station to Roppongi, stopping for food and bouts of Pachinko along the way. We visited the Tokyo Tocho (aka “Tax Tower”) government building observation deck, which had a view that was pretty damn special.

I don’t quite know what to make of Roppongi. Perhaps it is because we were a group of FoB Gajin, or maybe we were just in the wrong spot on a Thursday night.. but anyway, instead of the “active nightlife” we had been promised, we were confronted by a barrage of seedy Nigerian* men attempting to usher us into titty bars. Under different circumstances I probably would have checked out one or two, but if you want to talk about poor choice in advertising medium , I can think of no better example.
*I have no actual way of knowing that these people were Nigerian. As American’s we are taught (mostly through media osmosis) that anything sketchy and African comes from Nigeria.

Suffice to say, we split that scene and found nerdy-redemption behind a sign like the sign below:

Yes, you read correctly; Luda’s Dragon Quest bar. Complete with costumed bartenders, forever-looping 8-bit gameboy background music, and a menu offering “Right Arm Dragon Ham”, “Meat Slime”, and “Dragon Tail Soup”. It. Was. Awesome.

Early the next day we stopped at a big (Target type) department store. Everything was pretty much as I would have expected, except for this:

What apparel for my University is doing half way around the world, I don’t know (they also had Cal State Fullerton of all places…) but I have since seen 3 other [Japanese] people wearing UCSB hoodies. I stopped one of them to tell him I was a student there, and I’m not sure he knew that it was a University.. ha! I think it might be somewhat akin to Americans wearing clothing with Japanese/Chinese characters and words because they look cool – not really knowing what they mean. Definitely a tripp.

Later in the afternoon we took the Tokyo-Osaka Bullet train. With a cruising speed of 300kph this train would keep up with (if not outrun) most Liter-bikes! Not to mention it runs so smoothly you can hardly tell you’re moving.

The Umeda district , Osaka City. I can best describe this as a vast spiderweb of an underground and above ground mall, stretching several miles in all directions surrounding (and containing) the main subway station. There were a number of things I found to be pretty amazing in my initial explorations here, I’ll try to be brief and only list a few.
The first of which is the arcades. ARCADES! There are TONS of these scattered about the prime $$$ real estate in Osaka City. With mostly Pachinko, Krane, and Video games, arcades are wildly popular. From hot chicks to suit-and-tie business men, all demographics are represented – not just nerdy teens like in America. As shown below, a good DDR player will draw a crowd on a street corner. He’s not even looking!

The food. Osaka is known as “Japan’s Kitchen” ; the food so far has been absolutely delicious. This deserves an entire post all unto itself – so I’ll hold off for now.

We stopped by a pet store and saw some very unique animals you would be hard pressed to find in America. Even puppies are very expensive here, although they (as was observed) still like to eat their own shit. Some pictures of the animals are posted below:

We happened to arrive just as the Sakura (cherry) Trees were blooming. This is a big deal over here, for which the celebration is called Hanami, and involves sitting under the Sakura tree and drinking Sake. We joined [literally] thousands of other people celebrating this in an Ibaraki park on Sunday =)

I meet with my Research Supervisor tomorrow, and still have some reading I would like to do, so I’ll cut it off here for now. I’ll do my best to keep this site updated with info on Japan and what I am working with in lab, so stay posted!


r/w_ blog : 07-27-2017
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