For tech visionary Peter Corke, the dream of a world with robots started more than half a century ago. He was just four. Neil Armstrong was yet to land on the moon, and his parents gave him a book that was to change the course of his life.
Today, that book – The How and Why Wonder Book of Robots and Electronic Brains – takes pride of place among research papers and textbooks in his office at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.
Just outside the door, robots move autonomously around the Centre’s open plan headquarters at QUT – everything from social bots to mobile manipulators and mini self-driving cars.
Fast forward 50 years and there’s no question Peter Corke embraces the same child-like enthusiasm for a world with robots. Now a Distinguished Professor, named 2017 Australian Teacher of the Year, his philosophy is learning by doing.
It’s how he ‘fell into’ a career at the global forefront of robotics research; since childhood, tinkering with cameras, electronics and machines. Now, as then, he also remains addicted to reading.
“I was a geeky kid and read encyclopaedias for fun,” says Distinguished Professor Corke.
“But I’m also a big believer that you don’t really know something until you do it, so my first understanding of robotics came when I put together a university open-day demo.
“It was 1983. I had a ‘mini-computer’ as big as a refrigerator with the compute power of a digital watch, and a four-axis stepper motor-driven robot. I solved the inverse kinematics by hand from first principles and coded the whole thing in FORTRAN, an old-fashioned assembly language.”
After attaining undergraduate and Masters degrees in electrical engineering and a PhD in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, all from the University of Melbourne, Distinguished Professor Corke joined Australia’s science agency, CSIRO.
There, his ‘make it happen’ approach resulted in the establishment of the nation’s first Autonomous Systems laboratory, which he led as Senior Principal Research Scientist until being head-hunted and joining QUT in 2010.
At QUT, Distinguished Professor Corke discovered a new passion for robotics education. Today, his open-source software and textbook Robotics, Vision & Control (first published in 2011 and fully revised in 2017) are widely used for teaching around the world.
A bicycle accident in 2012 led to his development of the world’s first massive open online courses (MOOCs) on robotics, which super-sized into the QUT Robot Academy in May 2017.
“I fell off my bike in 2012, at the start of Semester Two, and shattered my patella,” Distinguished Professor Corke said.
“I was laid up at home but there was nobody to cover my teaching, so I narrated and recorded my lectures at home, and had a colleague play them to the class. I uploaded rough and ready lectures to YouTube where they gained a life of their own. It soon became clear that I could teach 80 students in a classroom or 100,000 online.
“This led to a kind of teaching megalomania. I got to thinking that if there’s a whole generation of people who need to learn about robotics, I should teach them! I decided to re-do all the lectures and opted for bite-sized learning creating video lessons between five and eight minutes.”
Initially, the Robot Academy started as two six-week MOOCs that ran in 2015 and 2016, based on courses taught by Distinguished Professor Corke at QUT.
In May 2017, the MOOC content transitioned to the Robot Academy format of short individual lessons (over 200 videos, each less than 10 minutes long) or as masterclasses (collection of videos, around one hour in duration, previously a MOOC lecture).
“The beauty of the Robot Academy is that unlike a MOOC, all lessons are available all the time, no matter where users are in the world,” said Distinguished Professor Corke.
“I’m proud that the Robot Academy provides a very supportive and inclusive environment. Although targeted at undergraduate level, around 20 per cent of the lessons require no more than general knowledge, and close to half of the students (46 per cent) are female, which is much higher than an average university engineering classroom.
“The feedback from participants has been great and we are looking at how we incorporate more formalised testing and provide some sort of qualification upon completion.”
Plans are also underway to grow the content offered by the Robot Academy to this year include lessons on mobile robots; the technology behind self-driving cars.
WHAT ROBOT ACADEMY USERS SAY:
“I think at this moment nobody in the world can teach 2D geometry and pose like Peter Corke. It is perfect pedagogy. Like listening to an orchestra.”
“I’m starting this today, I have some experience with robotic water tank cleaning, adaptive sailing, and navigation. I am also a geologist. Thank you for this opportunity.”
“Greetings from Denmark. This is a really wonderful resource. I’m thinking of presenting it to the pedagogical leaders at the school I’m working at. I think it will be great for future students to understand – besides computer science and coding – the basics of robotics.”
“A brief and crisp overview of robotics. Excited to learn more!”
“This is one of the best, personally the best quick review tutorial of the 3D kinematics.”
“Robots are just revolutionising the world. Amazing!
“Thank you for providing this series of lectures. They are awesome.”
“This is an incredibly well-made video. Top notch production quality and very anti-boring stuff!”
Find out for yourself: www.robotacademy.net.au
Shelley Thomas, Communications Specialist
Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
P: +61 7 3138 4265 | M: +61 416 377 444 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org
About The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is an ARC Centre of Excellence, funded for $25.6 million over seven years to form the largest collaborative group of its kind generating internationally impactful science and new technologies that will transform important Australian industries and provide solutions to some of the hard challenges facing Australia and the globe. Formed in 2014, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision. They are a group of researchers on a mission to develop new robotic vision technologies to expand the capabilities of robots. Their work will give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable well-being of people and the environments we live in. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has assembled an interdisciplinary research team from four leading Australian research universities: QUT, The University of Adelaide (UoA), The Australian National University (ANU), and Monash University as well as CSIRO’s Data61 and overseas universities and research organisations including the French national research institute for digital sciences (INRIA), Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), and the University of Oxford.
Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
2 George Street Brisbane, 4001
+61 7 3138 7549