Nora Ayanian sees a future of autonomous robot coordination

Nora Ayanian

Photo Source Tumo

“Teams of humans are exceptionally good at coordination. Teams of robots, however, are clumsy at coordination, requiring extensive communication and computation.” – Nora Ayanian

There’s no denying it, robots are incomparably skilled when carrying out a specific given task, even if that task requires some light improvisation. The same can’t be said, however, when robots are forced to worked together; the overlap in work either results in extra work on the programming side or redundant/ineffective task management on the robot side. But what if robots could coordinate themselves autonomously depending on what the other robots are currently doing? It may sound like something out of Westworld, but this is exactly the question that Nora Ayanian is working to answer.

Nora Ayanian, assistant professor and Director of the ACT (Automatic Coordination of Teams) Lab at USC, endeavors to make robots and robotics a very real part of everyday life. “I want to make robots easy to use and have them everywhere,” said Ayanian, “they should be accessible, user-friendly and interactive so you can have them in your house and in your car. Right now, robots are really difficult for novices to use.”

Despite her passion for the robotic, her goal to achieve robotic automation would require researching a much less predictable source: people. By developing an online multiplayer game with funding from the National Science Foundation CAREER award, Ayanian was able to study the ways that humans can coordinate together when presented with very little information or communication tools. This research would prove invaluable in defining an automated coordination system for robots and allow to them to “think” of solutions for problems based on the activities of the greater robotic team.

Though automated coordination could certainly be applied to groups of identical robots with identical programming, Nora Ayanian believes that diversity, both in terms of team and of the robots themselves, is the key to solving complex tasks.

“The way we solve multi-robot problems right now is to uniformly apply one control policy to all of the identical robots in the team. For example, imagine we’re trying to monitor air quality with a team of physically identical aerial robots. If we considered all the factors that could affect the problem, the robots, and their capabilities, we might have too many factors to consider and our problem would be intractable,” wrote Ayanian in a blog post for Justmeans.com. “Imagine that same team of aerial robots assisted by robots on the ground. The robots on the ground could provide additional information such as temperature, position, topography, and satellite communications via hardware the aerial robots might not be able to carry. They could also perform computation, telling the aerial robots where to go and mapping the air quality, allowing the aerial robots to use more of their on-board energy for sensing.”

The contributions Nora Ayanian has made to the field of robotics don’t just end with the vast potential of her research, they are also every present in the new generation of roboticists she inspires and works alongside in her role as Director of USC’s ACT lab. We are incredibly excited to see what Ayanian’s work means for the future of robotics and dub her our “Featured Innovator of the Month.”

Note: Nora Ayanian does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is she affiliated with our company.

Sources:

https://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2016/

http://www.justmeans.com/blog/diversity-in-the-it-industry-is-key-to-solving-global-problems

USC News: New USC Viterbi professor sees robots in future

USC News: Two USC Viterbi researchers named among top ‘Innovators Under 35’

Featured Innovator: Charles Marohn, a man building Strong Towns

CharlesMarohn

Charles Marohn presenting his TedX talk – Photo Source Governing.com

“When we look at our cities today, we see that we have been so obsessed with getting that dollar for that grand huge project that we’ve just overlooked the pennies, the nickels and the dimes that are just waiting to be picked up in our core neighborhoods.” – Charles Marohn

Charles Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, will be a keynote speaker at this year’s APWA PWX conference. For those unaware, Strong Towns is a national media nonprofit that hosts events, publishes articles, and shares weekly podcasts all with the goal of rethinking how communities can generate long-term prosperity. Charles Marohn should know; he’s Professional Engineer, a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a published author, and has been considering this very question for a while now.

“After I got out of engineering school I was ready to go build a great America. It was actually going out and working for an engineer for a number of years and seeing that even in places that were experiencing incredibly high rates of growth, that growth was not making us wealthy. It was not giving us prosperity,” says Marohn. “I started asking some really hard questions. Why, even though we’re doing these projects and we’re creating jobs and economic development and all the things that these programs are set up for, are we’re not seeing the long term success? That got me asking questions about the money we spend, the money we get back, how the tax systems encourage certain types of investments and not others.”

Strong Towns works to address the issues of America’s land use and the financial procedures to allocate funds to different communities by advocating for: a functioning transportation system that promotes prosperity in a community, job creation and economic growth as a result of a healthy local community, long term prosperity through financial solvency, the proper management of land and resources, and other beneficial principals that strengthen communities.

To date Strong Towns has released over 300 podcasts, published posts on the daily, and had over 6,000 people attend Strong Towns events in 23 states and Canada in the last year alone. To fully understand the influence Strong Towns has, however, one need look no further than the testimonies of their members.

“Our community has recently gone through an assessment of our downtown to attempt to revitalize. Strong Towns gave me tools and language to address our planning committee and planners, and resources to point to as I began to engage city officials. It also equipped me to begin this process, identify who to approach and how, get involved in local government, not as a partisan but just as a concerned citizen who can work for change.” ~ Curran Bishop, Carbondale, IL

“Strong Towns has the potential to cut through all that murkiness with its clear, concise explanations of how we got here and move us more quickly to the path of recovery. They are performing a vital service to our country.” ~ Susan Horst, Bellingham, WA

Innovation is most often all about rejecting complacency and constantly questioning our prescribed methods and procedures. Charles Marohn and Strong Towns do just that, challenging the status quo in order to create stronger local communities with a chance for long-term prosperity and possibilities. This is why we’ve named Charles Marohn our “Featured Innovator of the Month.” We are very excited to hear him speak at PWX 2016!

Note: Charles Marohn does not work for Willamette Valley Company nor is he affiliated with our company.

Sources:

Strong Towns

Time

Fergus Falls Journal

Ledger Inquirer

Broken Sidewalk

Pi Day Gives Us an Excuse to Celebrate Mathematics This Month!

Pi Day

Celebrate “Pi Day” March 14th! 

As a company full scientists, engineers and other technological innovators, we value and celebrate mathematics! So you can probably guess that Pi Day, March 14th, is a big deal to us!

Yes, Pi- the mathematical constant.  You know, that “π” symbol thing used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.

Since it’s humble beginnings at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, Pi Day has exploded into a cultural phenomenon celebrated by students, mathematicians, engineers and everyone in between around the world! The day is often commentated with pie eating contests, essays, T-Shirts, poetry, internet memes, math challenges and more!

To understand the fascination of Pi, you must first understand it’s infinite nature. Scientists and mathematicians have calculated Pi to more than a trillion digits, but its exact nature remains a mystery that will never be solved. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.

You may have memorized pi in your High School math class, only to never use it again- but it’s impact on science, technology, engineering and math is astronomical. Steven Strogatz summarizes it’s importance beautifully in this 2015 New York Times article. “The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach,” he writes. “The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi”.

Pi is so much more than a number. Our modern world depends on it. “It lies at the heart of any technology that involves rotation or waves, and that is much of mechanical and electrical engineering,” writes Chris Budd. “In medical imaging using CAT or MRI scanners, the scanning devices move on a ring which has to be manufactured to a tolerance of one part in 1,000,000, requiring an even more precise value of pi”.

We could go on about our excitement over Pi Day, but we’ll leave you with this list of interesting reads on the subject. So, from all of us at WVCO, Happy Pi Day!

photo credit: LEGO happy pi day! via photopin (license)

Extend the Life of Your Craft and Repair Adhesives For Best Results

Craft Glue

It’s widely agreed by home repair and craft experts that when it comes to “MUST HAVE” home repair and craft glues, nothing compares to Eclectic Products, Inc., a subsidiary of the Willamette Valley Company.

It’s superior range of adhesives and do-it-yourself products include household names like Amazing GOOP® II Max (the ULTIMATE repair glue), E6000, Amazing GOOP, SHOE GOO ® bonds to just about anything whether it’s glass, wood, plastics, tin, metal, ceramic, cement, rubber, vinyl, leather, fabric and much more.

Because these adhesives are essential for “Do-It-Yourselfers, Crafters, Professionals and Woodworkers”, it’s important to care for the products to enjoy a longer shelf life and to experience the best results. Here are some tips shared by the company on their Facebook page recently:

1. Never roll the tube! Rolling it will cause pinholes to form which allows air to get to the adhesive and dry it out. Gently squeeze from the bottom of the tube.

2. Before putting the cap back on, always squeeze gently until the adhesive is level with the top of the inside of the tube. This cuts out the air pocket.

3. Before putting the cap back on, put a little petroleum jelly around the threaded area of the tube. This keeps the lid from becoming glued shut in case you get some of the adhesive on the threaded area.

Click here for more uses and fun project ideas!

About Eclectic Products, Inc.

Headquartered in Eugene, Oregon, Eclectic Products specializes in adhesive/patch/coatings and repair products ranging from 0.18 oz. tubes to industrial totes and drums. The company offers powerful brands with exceptional performance and high-level technical R&D abilities. Eclectic Products has earned numerous awards for product performance, innovative design and excellence from organizations such as the National Retail Hardware Association, HGTV Magazine and Handyman Magazine. Eclectic’s manufacturing facility based in Pineville, Louisiana has also been recognized by the State of Louisiana for demonstrating exceptional quality of work and a commitment to community. All products are proudly made in the U.S.A.

Event Recap: 2015 EWTA Info Fair and APA Annual Meeting

EWTA Info Fair

Photos via EWTA Info Fair on Facebook

2015 EWTA Info Fair and APA Annual Meeting in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: A Look Back to Our Future

Last month, the WVCO team joined 75 exhibitors and hundreds of professionals from the wood products industry for the 2015 Engineered Wood Technology Association (EWTA) Info Fair, the premier supplier exhibition for North America’s engineered product manufacturers. The Info Fair is held in conjunction with APA – The Engineered Wood Association’s Annual Meeting.

This year’s product and services exposition, which celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Engineered Wood Technology Association, was the perfect blend of past, present and future.

Many of you may recall that October 21, 2015 was “Back to the Future Day” a tribute to the beloved “Back to the Future Series”. So it was fitting that the theme of the 2015 APA Annual Meeting & EWTA Info Fair, held October 17-19, was “APA Looks Back-To-Our-Future: Driving the Road to Success!” There was even a DeLorean on display!

Willamette Valley Company has a long standing history with this annual event, and we always look forward to it. “Info Fair is the best exhibition that we do,” says Tony Vuksich, Vice President of Northwest Sales, The Willamette Valley Company. “It allows us to interface with the management of many of our very important clients, and support EWTA in a mutually beneficial setting.”

This year, WVCO was a Gold Sponsor of the EWTA Reception and proud to help sponsor the Mike St. John Memorial Golf Tournament, an Annual Golf Tournament to honor the life of Pacific Woodtech executive and APA trustee, Mike St. John.

In addition to the exciting opportunity to introduce our latest wood products solutions to members of our industry, WVCO was honored with a 2015 Supplier Award/a> at the Chairman’s Dinner and Safety Awards Recognition!

Read APA and EWTA Members Travel “Back to Our Future” at 2015 Annual Meeting to learn more about the highlights from this year’s Annual Meeting. You can also visit the event’s Facebook Page to see more photos and recaps of this year’s event.

The Engineered Wood Technology Association is a related non-profit corporation of APA – The Engineered Wood Association. EWTA represents companies that provide products and services to the engineered wood products manufacturing industry and is based in Tacoma, Wash. To learn more, visit www.engineeredwood.org.

American Public Works Association (APWA) Presents 2015 Public Works Projects of the Year Awards

2015 APWA Project of the Year Awards

2015 APWA Project of the Year Awards

Each year, The American Public Works Association (APWA) presents the Public Works Projects of the Year awards to promote excellence in the management and administration of public works projects, recognizing the alliance between the managing agency, the contractor, the consultant, and their cooperative achievements. Winners are selected by a 15-member Public Works Projects of the Year Awards Committee and are recognized at APWA’s International Public Works Congress & Exposition, which took place August 30-September 2 in Phoenix, Arizona this year.

This year’s award winners were recognized during APWA’s International Public Works Congress & Exposition Awards Ceremony earlier this month in Phoenix, Arizona.

The APWA Public Works Projects of the Year awards are presented annually and this year, APWA selected projects in five categories: Disaster/Emergency, Environment, Historical Restoration, Structures, and Transportation. This year’s APWA Awards also includes the Projects of the Year Award for Small Cities/Rural Communities (SC/RC). The SC/RC Projects of the Year award is for agencies from cities and counties with a population of 75,000 or less, and was established to promote excellence in demonstrating creativity, ingenuity, and efficiency in the delivery of public works projects that have a profound impact on the community.

Click here to learn more about the 2015 Public Works Projects of the Year Award.

Disaster or Emergency Construction/Repair
<$5 million: Kelly Stand Road
$25 million–$75 million: SR 530 Landslide Emergency Response and Repair
Environment
<$5 million: La Jolla Ecological Reserve Low Flow Diversion Project $5 million–$25 million: Port of Olympia Stormwater Treatment System $25 million–$75 million: Cascades Park >$75 million: Bay Division Pipeline Reliability Upgrade – Bay Tunnel Project

Historical Restoration/Preservation
<$5 million: Balch Gulch Bridge at NW Thurman Street Rehabilitation
$5 million–$25 million: Avenida Menendez Seawall
Structures
<$5 million: Julian Wash Linear Park $5 million–$25 million: Eloise T. Leveritt Public Works Building $25 million–$75 million: Pierce County Sewer and Traffic Operations Facility >$75 million: Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center
>$75 million: Target Field Station

Transportation
<$5 million: SW 9th Street at Innovation Square $5 million–$25 million: Bagby Street Reconstruction $5 million–$25 million: Houghton Road, Irvington Road to Valencia Road $25 million–$75 million: Mercer Corridor Improvements Project >$75 million: San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge New East Span

Small Cities/Rural Communities Projects of the Year:
Disaster/Emergency: San Ramon Canyon Storm Drain Project
Environment: Stevens Creek Corridor Park & Restoration Phase 2
Historical Restoration/Preservation: Rehabilitation of the Bath Village Covered Bridge
Structures: Bridge District Water Storage Facility and Park Project
Transportation: Fairchild Overpass Improvements

About APWA
The American Public Works Association (www.apwa.net) is a not-for-profit, international organization of more
than 28,500 members involved in the field of public works. APWA serves its members by promoting professional
excellence and public awareness through education, advocacy and the exchange of knowledge. APWA is
headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, has an office in Washington, D.C. and 63 chapters in North America. ’s Infrastructure Tour on @ENRnews http://ow.ly/PUinD #ENRLowSlow

WVCO’s PRE-TEC Division Partners with Fanuc to Integrate ‘The Big Robot’

Large Robots

Standing with M2000iA

WVCO’s PRE-TEC Division team are some of the brightest minds in the industry. Since the mid 1990s, this team has successfully created more than 220 robotic systems and is currently FANUC’s largest custom robotic Integrator on the West Coast.

Much of the success of our robotics division has been made possible by partnering with leading edge companies like the FANUC America Corporation to develop automated manufacturing solutions using six axis robots and other precision equipment gor customers all over the world.

Recently, this team delved into a BIG project. We mean REALLY big.

Meet M2000iA, FANUC’s largest robot available in the North American market. This beast of a robot is offered with a 900Kg (2,094lbs) capacity or 1350Kg (2,976lbs) capacity- in other words, it can handle enormous objects like car & truck bodies, and very large castings. Our PRE-TEC team has proudly partnered once again with FANUC to integrate this huge robot for a customer here in the Northwest.

It takes a very innovative company like FANUC to supply us with the broad range of robots and servo drives we need to build the flexible automated solutions that integrate the multi-axis robot arms, with end-of-arm tooling, conveyance systems, and safety hardware.

With headquarters in Rochester Hills, Michigan, FANUC America Corporation produces software, controls, and vision products that aid in the development of robotic systems. Their technologies help manufacturers like us maximize efficiency, reliability and profitability.

To get an idea of their extensive capabilities, just watch this video where they demonstrate four FANUC Arc Mate 100iC robots welding an automotive trailer hitch:

For more information about the FANUC America Corporation, visit www.fanucamerica.com.

PRE-TEC designs and builds automated solutions for challenging manufacturing applications, and support all projects with training, spare parts, and preventive maintenance programs. Download our company overview for contact information and to learn more: Please visit www.wilvaco.com to learn more about WVCO’s other divisions.

Click here to download more info on M2000iA

The Challenges of Funding our Growing Transportation Needs

Highways and Bridges

Grow America

Transportation is critical to economic growth, however, economic growth is critical to fund the ever changing needs of our transportation system. One cannot exist without the other. The imminent threat of Highway Trust Fund insolvency combined with this paradox is the root of intense debate and discussion in Washington, DC and among key players in the transportation industry.

According to US Department of Transportation, sixty five percent of America’s major roads are rated “less than good” condition, while one in four bridges require significant repair or cannot handle today’s traffic and 45 percent of Americans do not have access to transit.

One of the proposed solutions to this challenge is The GROW AMERICA Act, a six-year bill that would increase investment for our nation’s highways, bridges, transit, and rail systems by 45%. The proposal is funded by supplementing current revenues from the Highway Trust Fund in combination with a 14 percent transition tax on an estimated $2 trillion of untaxed foreign earnings that U.S. Companies have accumulated overseas.

Critical investments are needed to help communities keep pace with our expanding economy, our growing population, and the traveling needs of the public. This animated video explains the key features of the GROW AMERICA Act and why we need to move forward on a long-term surface transportation bill.

How would you address the funding challenges in our transportation infrastructure?

For more information on this proposed bill and other transportation topics, please visit www.transportation.gov.

photo credit: 2008 06 09 – 3057 – Baltimore – I-895 at Moravia Rd via photopin (license)

2015 Western Bridge Preservation Partnership Meeting

Bridge Preservation
A few months ago, “60 Minutes” aired an insightful report about America’s aging infrastructure. According to the peice, titled “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure“, 1 in 9 of the 700,000 bridges in the United States is considered “structurally deficient”.

Transportation activists and professionals agree there is an urgent need for lawmakers to invest in the much needed restoration of America’s outdated roads, rails, airports, seaports and bridges. One of the biggest challenges facing transportation engineering and maintenance personnel today is maintaining the integrity of these massive structures used by millions of people every day.

“Our highway infrastructure took decades and generations of Americans to build and is simply too valuable to be left to languish,” says Larry Galehouse, National Center for Pavement Preservation (NCPP) in this post. “As with any valuable asset, we must work hard to preserve it by judicious and timely proactive maintenance.”

Our POLYQuik Performance Products team is looking forward to meeting with bridge practitioners from state and local agencies, contractors, consultants, suppliers, academia, and federal government officials at the 2015 Western Bridge Preservation Partnership Meeting May 18-20, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. The event is a regional forum dedicated to bridge preservation practices throughout the Western Region.

Bridge Preservation is defined as “actions or strategies that prevent, delay or reduce deterioration of bridges or bridge elements, restore the function of existing bridges, keep bridges in good condition and extend their life.” Source: AASHTO Board of Directors, Policy Resolution PR-3-11, October 17, 2011.

The experienced chemists and engineers in our POLYQuik division continue to research and create high performance concrete repair products that are successfully utilized in bridge maintenance. The conference is an opportunity for us to share our concrete repair solutions with bridge maintenance managers, superintendents, designers, crews, planners, programmers, inspectors along with local, state, federal, and other agency bridge owners involved in bridge maintenance activities.

photo credit: “Old Town” Tbilisi and the Mktvari River via photopin (license)

Featured Innovator: Dean Kamen


“Lots of people talk and dream about changing the world. But inventor Dean Kamen is actually doing it.” — CBS News

At WVCO, we like to think of ourselves as a team of innovators with divisions like PRE-TEC, Willamette Valley Company Railroad Division, POLYQuik Performance Products, WVCO Wood Products, and much more.

We believe that innovation not only fuels our company, it is what fuels our society and makes this nation great in good times and in bad. WVCO’s focus has always been on creating breakthroughs in products and service to transform the way industries work, so we want to celebrate the spirit of innovation by featuring some of our country’s top ground-breakers and inventors who use their talents for good.

This month, our featured innovator is inventor and entrepreneur, Dean Kamen. For decades, Mr. Kamen has been a tireless advocate for science and technology and currently holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide.

In 1982, Dean Kamen co-founded DEKA Research and Development and has developed inventions such as a portable dialysis machine, a vascular stent, and the iBOT — a motorized wheelchair that climbs stairs. Recent projects include portable energy and water purification to help improve living standards in developing countries, and a prosthetic arm for maimed soldiers. He is perhaps best known for inventing the Segway PT, an electric transporter with a computer-controlled stabilization and control system.

Though his inventions have positively impacted countless lives, his greatest achievement just may be the work that he is doing with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an international youth organization co-founded by Kamen to inspire a future generation of brilliant innovators. Kamen says the mission of his organization is “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

The organization operates the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST LEGO League, and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions. CBS Sunday Morning recently profiled Dean Kamen in this piece.

To learn more about Dean Kamen and his contributions, please visit www.dekaresearch.com/founder.shtml and www.usfirst.org.

Dean Kamen photo credit: danielernst via photopin cc