Monday, June 7, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Ph.D. team robot a m Oniai
tackles rough road
Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts an oil-covered pelican which was
stuck in oil at Queen Bess Island in Barataria Bay, just off the Gulf of Mexico.
U, profs 1fear
BP oil spill could leave
lasting damage in Gulf,
University experts say
By RACHEL BRUSSTAR
Despite the distance between Ann
Arbor and the Gulf of Mexico, Univer-
sity professors and researchers have
begun to address the complex task of
exploring the ecological, legal, and
business repercussions of the British
Petroleum oil spill.
Gerald Meyers, a University Orga-
nization and Management professor,
said unlike previous oil spills such as
the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska
- which had a fairly successful cleanup
- the current flow of oil from the BP oil
rig will permanently change the eco-
systems of the Gulf Coast.
"This one's more than just a spill,"
Meyers added that natural meth-
ods of degradation will begin to break
down the spill regardless of the reac-
tionary measures of BP and the gov-
ernment, but these naturally occurring
processes still leave much work for the
nation's engineers and researchers.
"This is a national emergency
that is seriously affecting the lives of
thousands of citizens," Meyers said.
"Human life is not involved here, but
human existence is."
Peter Adriaens, a University Envi-
ronmental Engineering professor, has
served as a consultant on cleanups of
Ihe Fpop VaJdez atdG.Qulf War o.
spills, and said one of the greatest chal-
lenges of the cleanup will be convinc-
ing residents that returning the site to
a "pristine condition" is a negotiated
Adriaens said following any oil spill,
the first thing to occur is the evapo-
ration of lighter compounds of oil,
leaving behind only the heavier com-
ponents, which BP and the govern-
ment are currently working to contain
and hopefully eliminate.
But even the 1967 oil spill from the
Torrey Canyon tanker, considered the
world's first major oil spill, left rem-
nants of crude oil that are still being
found today, Adriaens said.
While the United States has taken
initiative in returning disaster sites
to their original states, establishing
programs such as the Environmental
Protection Agency Superfund, Adri-
aens said it is impossible to completely
remove all traces of contamination
after such a disaster.
Even advanced methods, like
the "top kill" - which was recently
attempted by BP to plug the flow from
the well with more than two million
gallons of a mud-like substance and
cement - have been proven failures.
While this precarious method did
not succeed in stopping the spills, BP
is now attempting to use the Lower
Marine Riser Package, which entails
removing the defective riser cap of the
pipe and replacing it with a new cap, as
reported by CNN.
According to another report by
CNN, the new cap has allowed BP to
successfully funnel approximately
SeeOIL SPILL, Page 3
By TOREHAN SHARMAN
For the Daily
When Engineering professor Jessy
Grizzle first began the MABEL proj-
ect in 2004, his intention was to use
the bipedal robot as a platform to run
computer software. Since then, Griz-
zle said the robot has become more
than just a mere platform.
With the ability to stand on two
feet and move with external com-
mand, MABEL is one of the first
robots capable of navigating through
uneven terrain, Grizzle said.
In one demonstration, MABEL
walked around its support pylon in
a cyclical motion. To display its abil-
ity to respond to non-flat terrain,
Koushil Sreenath and Hae Won Park
- two Rackham students working
with Grizzle on the project - placed
a one-inch board in its path. MABEL
stepped over the board and contin-
ued walking while Park and Sreenath
continued placing additional boards
in its path until the robot eventually
stumbled and was forced to recover.
Grizzle said unlike other bipedal
robots, MABEL is able to respond
to uneven terrain without the help
of a camera. He added that his team
avoided implementing computer-
based vision in MABEL to more
closely emulate improvisational
"The key feature is that MABEL
has no camera and no visual sensors,"
Park said. "It is like a human walking
on rough ground blind."
Sreenath said the mechanical
aspects of MABEL have been mod-
eled after human anatomy where
the springs in the robot's legs are
analogous to tendons that absorb
force. Members of the team said they
Online at MichiganDaily.com
Walking Robot: MABEL
treads rough terrain.
worked closely with the School of
Knesiology to properly replicate the
motion of the human legs.
"The tendons store energy so
when the ground varies, the energy
is stored in the tendons," Sreenath
said. "Equivalently, on MABEL we
have springs ... they compress to store
energy so when the ground level
changes, the energy does not propa-
gate throughout the system."
Grizzle said the team's goal is to
use MABEL to experiment on vari-
ous algorithms that will help emulate
human-like locomotion. He said they
would like to look at what processes
allow the human body to stay upright
and move and translate them into an
Despite the progress that has been
made on MABEL, Grizzle said the
project did not start out smoothly and
when Sreenath and Park joined the
team in 2007, MABEL was nowhere
near operational. The team spent one
year buildingthe robot, which he said
hindered the progress of Sreenath
and Pak's Ph.D. work,
"In the beginning, (Sreenath and
Park) spent the first year of their
Ph.D. work doing nothing but build-
ing a robot," Grizzle said. "When it
comes to a Ph.D. defense, that counts
for zero ... you've got to have results,"
Having recently overcome many of
the setbacks that plagued MABEL's
construction, Sreenath said the team
is now working on ways to improve
the robot's functionality.
With an electrical engineering
background, Sreenath said he is con-
centrating on the electrical and con-
trol systems of MABEL and is looking
to improve the accuracy of MABEL
when it recalculates environmental
factors like the coefficient of friction
of the surface on which it is walking.
As a bipedal robot, MABEL is cur-
rently only able to walk. Park, who
has a mechanical engineering back-
ground, said lie hopes to eventually
be able to increase MABEL's walking
speed and overcome the challenge
of bringing both of the robot's legs
off the ground simultaneously. The
result, he said, could be MABEL mov-
ing from a walk to a run.
" A June 1 article in The
Michigan Daily ("MRacing set
acceleration record at MIS")
misidentified the 2011 team
leader. His name is Nathan Lusk.
. Please report any error in
the Daily to corrections@
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