Russell Toris ’11 adds vision to an artificial lifestyle
by Bill Sulon
October 13, 2009
Russell Toris ’11 watches a Khepera III robot he programmed scoot around in the computer science lab.
Russell Toris ’11 is not the kind of guy to get lost in The Matrix, but he is capable of creating artificial reality.
The Wilton, Conn., computer-science major spent his summer in Carlisle volunteering in the computer-science department, where he wrote software for a Khepera III robot acquired by Associate Professor of Computer Science Grant Braught ’90. Toris not only jump-started the robot with his coding, but also integrated its circuitry with dLife, a software library under development by Braught and his computer-science students. The applications will enable users to control, monitor and communicate with the robot over a wireless network.
Thanks to his participation in the college’s Dana Research Assistantship Program, Toris will be spending the next year interfacing the robot and dLife with another software package called The Player Project, which enables users to make computer simulations of robots.
Toris said that dLife alone would not be able to tell the difference between an actual robot and a simulated one. The integration of dLife and The Player Project will allow for “multiple simulations running simultaneously and will open up the possibility of evolving the actual robot’s actions.”
Toris is working on the next phase of robotic evolutionary development.
“What I did was write a program that integrates this new robot into dLife as a recognized robot,” he said. “As for what the robot is supposed to do, that is up to the user. The robot can be programmed to react to different sensor readings, do things such as follow walls, obstacle avoidance and other functions.
“With artificial intelligence, the package allows users to create evolving representations of artificial neural networks. This opens up many possibilities to explore actual theories of evolution,” Toris said.
Braught said Toris is creating the tools necessary for a project that will help in the investigation of the use of simulated evolution in the design of robot controllers.
“Russell has an incredible knack for programming,” Braught said. “We can talk about what needs to be done at a very high level and I always know that he’ll be able to figure out exactly how to get it done, and when it is done, it will be done well.”
The artificial-life venture is the latest example of Toris’ software skills. Last year he won Day Software’s inaugural JCR Cup for creating a unique Web application using the Basel, Switzerland-based company’s software. Toris beat out more than 50 other entries with his Web clipping application, called Crux, a play on Day Software’s CRX content infrastructure. His application provides users a Web clipping feature so that they can surf the Internet, highlight interesting material and then save the content at the URL—Web site address—to the source using standard keyboard “copy” and “paste” commands. Users can then use their Web browser to surf or search their Web clippings anytime they want.
The clear winner
Toris’ win was clear to the JCR Cup judges. David Nuescheler, Day’s co-founder and chief technology officer said, “Russell’s entry showed brilliance: a useful application, an innovative application–elegantly executed and really showcasing the power and simplicity of CRX. While judging this contest was great fun because of the wealth of great ideas exhibited in the submitted applications, Russell stood out from the crowd. We knew it was the winner from the start.”
For his effort, Toris won a useful prize: a new MacBook Pro laptop with a 17-inch screen and printer. When not working with the college’s robotics lab computers, Toris uses his laptop to program higher levels of artificial life into robots and simulated robots.