A few examples on why doing research in robotics is less paper-producing than for other fields

Compiled, from time to time, with excerpts from my daily life

  1. 06.10.08 setting up a quite planar calibration pattern. starting point the pattern has already been printed by a good plotter, spray glue and fizative bough already the day before! from 10:00 to 13:30. Decision to use a thick plane of polystyrene, contacting a lab. equipped with polystyrene-cutting machines, performing the cutting work, spraying the glue to fix the pattern, wait the glue, discover the glue was a let-down, doubling the amount of glue, crossing fingers, etc. Post-scriptum: 10.10.08: after re-glueing twice on 06.10.08 and once more on 08.10.08, the pattern still refuses to stay on the polystyrene plane! I'll try with vinyl glue (crossing fingers in the hope that the water will not fade the checkers!).

  2. 09.10.08 setting up frontal camera prototype on an omnidirectional soccer robot (the camera and cables require protection): from 17:00 to 19:45, working in two, with a younger colleague; we passed our time reading literature, writing state-of-the-art sentences for papers, refining papers, etc. ;-) (reality is: drilling, changing bits of the drilling machine, grinding, screwing, checking and redoing everything continuosly). Uh! I forgot to say that this one was the fourth set of a few hours in the last two months, just for the same trivial task!

  3. 18-19.02.10 two students were sent to the cart (an electric vehicle we are turnig into an urban mobile robot) with the objective to field mount one board they developed and tested in the lab. After one hour the main control unit of the cart was no more properly working. up to now (noon 19.02.10) 8.5 hours spent, just for removing the main control unit...

  4. 24.02.10 still struggling after the control board, the cart is still not working.

  5. 12.03.10 after checking and re-checking the control board, having witnessed the different diagnosis during the days, we decided to mount it back into the cart, as a complete check needs the original load.

  6. 13.03.10 un-expected and un-reasonable event: the control board is now perfectly working! on one hand: wonderful! on another hand: no comment!!!! inference: no more young students on the "real thing" (at least graduate ones)!

  7. 04.03.12 this is crazy: we were needing a battery disconnector, we had to figure out how much current on the average, how much, and for how long, the maximum amount has to be sustained, the voltage, etc. etc., what in a sense is the normal overhead for a roboticist. The crazy comes in when we looked for such object on the market. First, RS does not sell such objects (at least in the size we needed, this is nearly unbelievable! if you ever looked in their huge catalog, and we looked for hours, using different search strings, and also looking directly in the index of the catalog). We were lucky enough to have some cooperation with a company that is producing forklifts, and they did know the companies producing such objects. Beside the cost (more than one hundred euros for 1 piece) the crazy is that we contacted the reseller of a producer, but we have not been able to buy: the reseller refused to sell the object "in the normal way" (offer => purchase order => delivery => invoice => payment). We then came back to the forklift company and found another producer, we contacted their reseller, but we had again the same issue (they refused to follow the normal procedure). We then spent some time with our administrative office, and found a way to proceed (I will be anticipating the money, and then having a refund ex-post). We agreed to proceed in such a way with the last reseller and, guess what? One month after the agreement still no news from them! Notice that the whole procedure started mid-october 2011! Now it is beginning of march 2012 and we are still missing the disconnector! I wonder whether S. Thrun, when preparing for the Grand Challenges, was also investing his time in such high-profile activities :-(

  8. Update 13.03.12: since 04.03.12 I contacted the reseller by telephone and email, I've been promised to be contacted with news about the delivery date, but ... no news about the delivery date. Perhaps next year someone will give us one of those object for free :-(

  9. update 23.04.12: it arrived! I anticiapted the money, so the whola affair it is still not over, but at elast the object is in the lab. and we can mount it on the cart!

Page author is Domenico G. Sorrenti; email to: sorrenti@disco.unimib.it