Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bad PowerPoint 2: Too Many Tricks and not Enough Preparation

PowerPoint presentations can include neat tricks, like built-in video. What happens when the video will not run properly on the laptop and projector you bring along? The audience gets the wrong message that technology is complicated and unreliable. Before you head out the door you need to try the presentation out to find and fix any glitches.

Six weeks ago I toured the Idaho National Laboratory with a busload of seasoned citizens in a program organized by the Osher Institute in Boise. The morning began in the conference room of the Shilo Inn in Idaho Falls. One of the presentations was about a powerful computer software package called the Robot Intelligence Kernel (or RIK). RIK is an operating system for robots. It gives robots exceptional new levels of autonomy and intelligence. This revolutionizes robot capabilities and the robot/operator relationship. The robots can do cool things all by themselves, like detecting land mines both faster and better than humans can. A simple video-game style interface shows the operator what the robot is doing.

Their video about the Robot Intelligence Kernel would not run at all. Luckily they had brought along a 4-wheeled robot about the size of a lawnmower. Finally they gave up on the PowerPoint and just turned the robot loose. It took off like an inquisitive baby rhino. The robot galloped around the room all by itself, carefully avoiding the tables, the chairs, and their astonished occupants.

If you go to: you can click on the link in the upper right and see the video they did not show us that day. You can also download and read the fact sheet.

During the tour our guides mentioned that the Robot Intelligence Kernel had won an R&D 100 award for 2006. R&D 100 awards are presented by Research & Development magazine for the 100 most technologically significant new products of the year. The Chicago Tribune simply calls them the "Oscars of Inventions". Our guides never said it that clearly.

Can you understand the following description from the web page? How would you simplify it to communicate with a non-technical audience?

"RIK is a portable, reconfigurable suite of perceptual, behavioral and cognitive capabilities that can be used across many different platforms, environments and tasks. RIK integrates algorithms and hardware for perception, world-modeling, adaptive communication, dynamic tasking, and behaviors for navigation, search and detection."

"RIK is comprised of four layers. The foundation is the Generic Robot Architecture that provides an object-oriented framework and an application programming interface to feed data from a host of different platforms, sensors and actuators into a second-layer set of Generic Robot Abstractions. The third layer is comprised of many reactive and deliberative Robot Behaviors that take the generic robot abstractions as input. In turn, the top layer provides the "Cognitive Glue" that orchestrates the asynchronous firings of these behaviors towards specific application tasking. Dynamic autonomy interleaves different modes of human input into the functioning of the RIK behaviors."

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