Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto!

Tohoku University Engineering Summer Programme (TESP 2015) July 27 - August 7

Summer at Tohoku University moved into August with the always-popular Robotics fortnight - a series of lectures by some of the biggest names from the Graduate Schools of Engineering, Information Sciences and Biomedical Engineering.

This year's program featured Field and Space Robotics, Rescue Robotics, Human-Robot Interaction, Robot Vision, Medical Robotics and Molecular-size Robotics.

"Robotics has a very wide scope and we are very lucky that Tohoku University has many excellent professors working in different applications and disciplines," said Professor Kazuya Yoshida, who was the coordinator of the programme. "Our goal every summer is to increase the visibility of our cutting-edge research activities on robotics, and also to increase the mobility of students among our partner universities."

In all, 53 students representing 24 different universities and 26 nationalities participated in TESP this year. It was the largest and most diverse group of participants since the programme started in 2010.

"I first heard about Tohoku University through Hayabusa, the asteroid mission. It was really fantastic!" said Daniel Zhou Hao, a student from Cranfield University in the UK. "I'm studying control systems, and when Professor Yoshida came to my university for a presentation, it was so fascinating that we all really wanted to come here and study with him."

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Professor Yoshida's much anticipated lecture on Space Robotics introduced the university's current activities on micro-satellites and micro- rovers. This included an update on the university-made "RISING-2" satellite which was launched in May 2014, and Hakuto, the only Japanese competitor in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, an international race to land a rover on the moon.

"All of the lectures were interesting in their own way but my favourite was Space Robotics because there are certain aspects that are very challenging," said Peter Kaiser, who's studying Humanoid Robotics at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. "Once you've created the robot and shot it into space you cannot change it anymore. So the system has to work perfectly and that's very challenging in engineering, very exciting!"

Christiane Mair, a Robotics Systems and Control student at ETH Zurich, had more down to Earth interests. She was impressed with Associate Professor Masashi Konyo's lecture on Haptic Interfaces and Associate Professor Kazunori Ohno's lecture on Disaster Response.

"I have been focusing on micro-robotics myself, and the haptics and rescue robots lectures offered useful applications," she said. "But the best part of the course was the hands-on experience, which is rare in my own university because we're very focused on theory. Here we worked in groups, which was really nice, and we could share ideas."

"I think everyone really enjoyed getting together for the labs," said Professor Kazuhiro Kosuge, who taught a session on Robotics as Systems Integration. "Local students from Tohoku University took part and enjoyed the programme, so it was also a good chance for our students to interact with students from outside our university."

Seven other professors offered sessions over the fortnight -Professor Koichi Hashimoto on Visual Servo; Associate Professor Keiji Nagatani on Field Robotics; Professor Mami Tanaka on Tactile Sensing; Professor Yoichi Haga on the Medical Applications of Microsystem Technologies; Professor Satoshi Murata on Molecular Robotics; Professor Akio Ishiguro on Synthetic Robobiology; and Professor Takayuki Okatani on Computer Vision.

Since the programme draws on participants from different robotics disciplines, a perennial challenge faced by the lecturers is striking the right balance between giving an overview that is easy for everyone to understand, and being in-depth enough to be interesting to those who are already familiar with the topics.


"The professors explained their research very well, so the lectures were not difficult to follow," said Federica Scazzola, who's doing her masters in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at Sapienza. "Even though some of the classes were not in my field of expertise, it was really good for me to know about the different topics of research and learn more about what's going on in the robotics world."

Daniel Zhou Hao agreed. "I really liked the lecture plans - the arrangements, the lecturers, the contents. They gave us a lot of general knowledge which was good enough to stimulate our interest in the research of other areas. I'm studying control systems, so robotics is not exactly my area, but I still feel that I've learnt a lot and I can combine my knowledge with some of these other research ideas."

Another challenge faced by the professors is doing the lectures in English, something which they say gets easier with the annual practice.

"English is not our mother language, but to cope with globalization, we are starting to shift the teaching language from Japanese to English, " said Professor Yoshida. "Having this kind of seminar and honest feedback from international students is a great way to improve our skills."

In a fortnight that included some of the hottest days Japan has had in years, participants also took time out of the classrooms to enjoy some of the region's sights and culture. They visited Shiroishi, and tried their hand at traditional Japanese arts.


"Japan has a really interesting culture, very different from mine," said Federica Scazzola. "I've tried to see as much as I could, even go around to some temples and shrines on my own this week."

TESP 2015 marks the first time the robotics programme has run in cooperation with HeKKSaGOn, a network of Japanese and German universities. The School of Engineering hopes that summer programme participants are inspired to come back, and that the strengthening of ties among Tohoku University, HeKKSaGOn and all other partner universities, would lead to more international exchanges and research collaborations.

"To me, it's always very exciting to give this summer lecture, to introduce my field to new students," said Professor Yoshida. "This year, the level of the students' motivation was very high and they were very active. It was a really global atmosphere. We are expanding our robotics education and activities all over the world, and the success of this year's programme is a very good sign."


For information about TESP, contact:

Tohoku University Engineering Summer Program
Tel: +81-22-795-7996

For enquiries about this article:

Tohoku University International PR Section
Tel: +81-22-217-4816
Fax: +81-22-217-4818

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