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Synaptic Motion

For much of the last year I’ve been collaborating with Capacitor (an amazing dance company!) on a show revolving around the neuroscience of creativity. I helped design and build some of the tensegrity structures that will be used throughout the show as physical props and as analogies of the mind (see attached photo). The show is called “Synaptic Motion“, and tickets are now on sale! The show will be at YBCA in downtown SF, from Sept 18->21st, 2014. It has been a real blast to collaborate with Jodi Lomask, who runs Capacitor, and to meet the many neuroscientists, dancers, and other creative talent that has gathered around this project. I will be giving a pre-show talk on Thursday the 18th on the connections between physiology, tensegrity structures, neuroscience, robotics, and space exploration. Get your tickets while you can!

Info on Synaptic Motion:

What does the act of creativity look like? San Francisco’s internationally acclaimed science and technology dance company Capacitor tackles this question head-on in the world premiere of “Synaptic Motion.” Conceived and choreographed by Artistic Director Jodi Lomask, the multi-sensory experience is inspired by brain scans taken at UCSF to capture the mind during the act of choreography.

Media collaborators Mary Franck, Johan Bichel Lindegaard, Wesley Grubb, and RJ Muna have transformed this data into an immersive visualization of the creative process to the sound of Danish composer Toni Martin Dobrzanski and in a set designed by Erik Walker. Travel through a larger-than-life neural forest experiencing memories, future self projections, and mirror neurons in action, while Capacitor’s unique cast of dancers, acrobats, contortionists and aerialists challenge notions of the creative process. Let them take you on a trip through multiple states of mind utilizing tensegrity apparatus. Shows include pre-show talks on the neuroscience and technology behind the performance.

Through art, science, and technology, “Synaptic Motion” addresses the question: What does creativity look like? Not the art (the products of creativity), not the artist (the vessel of creativity), but the act (the activity in the mind that generates what we call creative work)? Neuro-imaging, conducted by project neurologists at the Gazzaley Lab, will form the basis of this inquiry. The Gazzaley Lab at UCSF is specifically focused on the study of neural mechanisms of memory and attention. For the development of “Synaptic Motion,” Lead Neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzeley and Engineer John Fesenko will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – a procedure that measures brain activity by detecting associated changes in blood flow – to monitor Lomask’s brain function while choreographing a new work. The fundamental assumption of fMRI is that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activation are coupled: when an area of the brain is in use, blood flow to that region also increases.

Tickets: Buy them early before they sell out!

Info about Capacitor – they do really creative dance performances that tie together science themes and amazingly beautiful dance.


p.s. I helped design the structure in the image above, and it is the same shape as the tensegrity robots we are designing in my lab at NASA for exploring other planets.


Posted in Tensegrity.

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Tensegrity Team Photo

Every Summer the Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics Lab fills up with amazing and talented students from many Universities, along with all the creative members of the team who participate in our research year-round. This was our biggest year yet, and here is the photo to prove it!

In this photo, from left to right, are:

Top Row:

Vytas SunSpiral, Adrian Agogino, Ali Toghyan, Roya Fallah Firoozi, Steven Lessard, Ian Krase, Kyunam Kim, Jeff Friessen, Michael Fanton, Pavlo Manovi, Nick Rolph (behind), Deaho Moon (front), Kyle Morse, Paul Glick, Stephen Goodwin, Drew Sabelhaus, Jonathan Bruce, Laqshya Taneja, Atil Iscen, Borna Dehghani.

Bottom Inserts, left to right:

Hao Ji, Sarah Dobi,  Bin Luo;   In-Won Park, Brian Mierlitz, Ken Caluwaerts (who were at the 6WCSCM conference in Barcelona presenting two papers to a special session on Tensegrity and Biology);   Yangxin Chen, Yuejia (Margaret) Liu, Justino Calangi, Alice Agogino;   David Atkinson;

While this team is gathered around the work being done at the NASA Ames Dynamic Tensegrity Robotics Lab, it represents students and effort occurring at many universities. Our biggest partner is Alice Agogino’s BEST lab at UC Berkeley, so many thanks to her and her students! We also have a number of students and post-docs from: UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, University of Idaho, Case Western Reserve University, Oregon State University, University of Ghent, and Lowell High School. Thank you all!

Posted in Robots, Tensegrity.

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Open Source Tensegrity Simulator Released!

I am *very* pleased to announce that the physics based tensegrity simulator we have been developing is now released as the NASA Tensegrity Robotics Toolkit (NTRT), Apache 2 licensed open-source project. It has been a long road to get here, including an 18 month review process by NASA legal. One of the key accomplishments of this beta release is to put together a tool chain which makes it easy to explore the relationship between tensegrity structures and how they move. We accomplish this with the following features:
a) A set of builder tools which make it easy to define novel tensegrity structures
b) The ability to automatically generate neuroscience inspired Central Pattern Generator control networks based on the physical layout of the structure.
c) A set of learning tools that enable the optimization of parameters for that control network for efficient locomotion.

You can see the results of this in the following video where we explore different “snake-like” tensegrity structures and find that each structure has a different locomotion gait. I’m especially interested in the results of the final experiment when we added ribs to the vertebrae and discovered a very natural looking slithering gait.

To find out more about the NTRT simulator, please visit its official release page, or go directly to the Source on GitHub.

Posted in Robots, Tensegrity.

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Talking about Intelligence at the SETI Institute

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting at the SETI Institute. SETI == Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence — so a very fitting place to share my ideas on human intelligence, how that relates to motion, our bodies, tensegrity structures, robotics, and how we are applying those ideas to create new robots to explore other planets. It was a fun talk and a great audience, and it was recorded, so you can watch it!

Posted in Brains, Presentations, Robots, Tensegrity.