Here's the ultimate technology fusion for the greater good for you.
Microsoft Surface, the so-called "tabletop computing" platform, has been fused with Microsoft Robotics Studio to solve a problem that was highlighted during the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the US. The end result is an awesome command console for monitoring and controlling a swarm of robots remotely, and reading back telemetry from them in order to make disaster management more effective and improve speeds of relief.
Earlier today, Mark Micire from the Lowell Robotics Lab at the University of Massachusetts presented his Doctoral Thesis on "Multi-Touch Interaction for Robot Command and Control".
"The response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 exposed several technological gaps", Mark explains in his introduction to his thesis. "In a day where satellite photography and multi-touch devices are becoming ubiquitous in our digital lives, it was surprising to find that many response groups were still using hand-drawn paper maps."
"Additionally, advanced technology such as hand held digital photography and robot cameras were limited to sending video only to the operators at the site and not immediately to the command staff."
By fusing together the robotics control systems and various tools available as part of Robotics Studio with the natural interface created by Surface, Micire has created a tool that aims to speed up and increase the efficiency of disaster recovery efforts, to allow more lives to be saved.
"Our work focuses on closing the gap between the personnel in the field and the command hierarchy supporting those teams. Using [Surface], we have designed and tested software for controlling individual robots as well as groups of robots for emergency response in a natural and easy to learn interface." This interface has been brought about by studies into how people desire to control the robots with their hands, and leverage that to make the interface as simple to use as possible. "We developed a virtual joystick interface that abandons traditional visual affordances uses human bio-mechanics to increase performance and provide ergonomic benefits over traditional physical joystick controllers."