Ateneo Physics student Mariel Dee programs the NAO Robot at Nara Institute of Technology, Japan

Mariel Dee and the NAO Robot in NAIST, Japan

Mariel Dee and the NAO Robot in NAIST, Japan

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

It is a creature perhaps from an another world clad in white armor like a Storm Trooper shorn of its helm, revealing two large ears like a stereo speaker but glowing like Tron disc blades.  Its deep set eyes stared into space like black coals burning in blue flame.  Its three-fingered hand grasped the air like claws, as if wielding an invisible light saber.  And from lips unseen, save for a tiny hole beneath its eyes, the creature spoke in a child-like voice reminiscent of the White Queen in Resident Evil:

“My name is NAO.”

NAO is an autonomous, programmable humanoid robot developed in 2004 by a French startup company Aldebaran Robotics.  NAO stands a little less than two feet and weighs like a baby.  With about 21 to 25 ways to move–the swaying and nodding of the head, the rotations of the arms and legs, the grasping of the fingers–NAO can walk like a toddler, pick up an object, or play football in RoboCup.

Mariel Dee, a BS in Applied Physics with Applied Computer Systems student in Ateneo de Manila University, had programmed the NAO robot during her internship at Nara Institute of Technology in Japan last 14-27 October 2012.

“One can program NAO,” she said, “by typing text commands directly to its computer processor.  But I programmed NAO using the Kinect.”

Kinect is a motion sensing input device developed by Microsoft for the Xbox 360 video game console.  Kinect has a camera that receives red, green, and blue (RGB) colors as input.  Kinect also has depth sensor which consists of an infrared laser and a CMOS APS–an active pixel sensor that determines the noise level at each pixel and uses its circuitry to cancel it out.  Kinect is the technology that powers games like Dance Central where you try to match the dance moves of your virtual dancer on the computer screen.  The closer your moves are to your virtual dancer, the higher your score.

What Mariel did is to make Kinect read her movements, translate them into skeleton frame motion, and use this as input in a language that NAO can understand.  The Kinect skeleton frame is made up of several joints.  The central spine consists of the head, shoulder center, spine, and hip center.  The arm  consists of the shoulder center, shoulder (side), elbow, wrist, and hand.  The leg consists of the hip center, hip (side),  knee, ankle, and foot.  In all there are 20 joints connected by 19 line segments.

In her program, Mariel made use of a limited number of NAO’s movements: walk forward and backward, walk sideways to the left and right, turn left and right, kick with right leg, bend down, push with hands.  But NAO is like a deaf boy trying to learn his first sign language.  For example, if  Mariel raises her right hand forward, NAO walks forward; if backward, NAO walks backward.  If Mariel raises her right hand to the sides, NAO walks sideways to the right; if her left hand, NAO walks sideways to the left.

“The main problem is how to make the program robust,” said Mariel.  ”NAO should be able to obey commands even if it were posed by child or an adult whose heights and arm lengths are different.  So what I did is to compute the angles formed at the joints and use this as a Kinect input for NAO.  In this way, the lengths such as that  between the elbow and the wrist or from the shoulder to the elbow would not matter but only the angle formed by these two segments at the elbow.”

 The skeletal frame seen by Kinect looks like molecules in Chemistry, with the joints represented by atoms and segments by bonds.   In a way, what Mariel wishes to measure are the equivalents of body angles of a molecule.  For example, the body angle for a water molecule H-O-H at the Oxygen atom is 104.5 degrees.  But unlike molecules which have more or less fixed body angles, the body angles in a NAO robot have greater range of possible angles.

So can we now have robot combats as seen in old animes like Tosho Daimos or in more recent movies like Real Steel, with robots mimicking the actions of their human controllers?

“No.  We are not yet there,” said Mariel.  “But I am glad that after I left, the NAO robot that I programmed was showcased during an open house of the NAIST Robotics Laboratory.  NAIST is nice.  It is fun working there.  They still have other robots there like a humanoid face that mimics your emotions.  But NAO is so cute.”


Ateneo physics faculty Juan Paolo Bermundo and Jennifer Damasco-Ty are now Ph.D. in Materials Science students in NAIST, Japan

by Cindy Cease

Mr. Juan Paolo Bermundo and Ms. Jennifer Damasco Ty went to Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Ikoma City, Japan last October2012, to pursue PhD in Materials Science. Mr. Bermundo would be part of the Information Device Science Laboratory to work on Thin Film Transistors (TFT) research. TFTs are electrical components found in display devices which act as active switches controlling individual pixels. Specifically, he will work on improving the electrical characteristics of TFTs by using novel materials and techniques. On the other hand, Ms. Damasco Ty would work on bulk heterojunction solar cells research.

Prior to their doctoral studies, Mr. Bermundo and Ms. Damasco Ty went to NAIST as interns during their graduate and undergraduate studies, respectively, in Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU). Below is an interview with Juan Paolo and Jennifer by the Ateneo Physics News:


Jennifer Damasco Ty with her sensei at NAIST

1. When will your studies start?

I will start as a research student on December. If all goes well, I will start as a PhD student on April.

2. Why did you choose NAIST?

Because of the opportunity available to me as an Ateneo alumni and faculty. The partnership between AdMU and NAIST makes me eligible to apply to the Screening of International Students by Special Recommendation. Also, as an undergraduate student, I was fortunate enough to participate in the NAPI internship which invites AdMU teachers and students to NAIST. During that time, I was able to observe the research in two laboratories and get to know the professors.

3. What will be your research area there?

I will be working on bulk heterojunction solar cells.

4. What will be the pros and cons of your studies in this university with your chosen field?

It is very easy to do research in NAIST because of the availability to many research equipment. Furthermore, NAIST also has good relationships with universities and research institutes abroad.

5. What are your future plans?

In the near future, I hope to work in a company pursuing similar research to gain experience. But I am also open to other opportunities that may be available to me after NAIST. Pursuing post-doctoral studies would be ideal.


Juan Paolo Bermundo at NAIST

Juan Paolo Bermundo at NAIST

1. When will your studies start?

I started my PhD studies last October 1, 2012 at Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST). The institute is in Takayama Science Town in Ikoma City, Nara Prefecture—in the countryside but relatively near to big cities such as Osaka (45 mins by train), Kyoto (45 mins) and Kobe (2 hours), and the historic city of Nara (30 min).

2. Why did you choose this university?

I went to NAIST last March 2012 as an intern and I found the research environment to be top class. I also liked how people are focused with their research. Ateneo also has a very good partnership with NAIST. In fact, there are a lot of Ateneo graduates here in NAIST especially from the ECCE department.

3. What will be your research area there?

I am now part of the Information Device Science Laboratory in the Graduate school of Materials Science in NAIST. I am currently working on Thin Film Transistors (TFT). TFTs can be found in display devices and they act as an active switch that controls individual pixels. I am specifically working on improving the stability of TFTs (such as IGZO TFTs) and developing doped ZnO using novel materials and techniques to improve its electrical characteristics. The goal is to develop new materials that can be used for next generation flexible displays.

4. How did your employment in Ateneo as faculty member help you to get into the PhD program of your chosen university?

An advantage of being an Ateneo student is that there are a lot of opportunities to go to several partner universities. Ateneo has a lot of International mobility programs such as the JTA and internships to other universities. Because of this, I was able to apply and get accepted as an intern student in NAIST last March 2011.

The scientific training that Ateneo provided in the Physics and Materials Science Engineering programs is also helpful in making it easier for me to keep up, adjust, and adapt to a new research environment. Being a faculty member is also an advantage because I can review the basics. Teaching develops one’s discipline and patience.

Ateneo Physics faculty Artoni Ang went to a two-week internship at NAIST

by Quirino Sugon Jr.

Artoni Ang setting up of the UHV SEM for Auger Electron Spectroscopy

Artoni Ang setting up of the UHV SEM for Auger Electron Spectroscopy

Artoni Ang, an Assistant Instructor and a graduate student of the Department of Physics of Ateneo de Manila University, went to Narra Institute of Technology (NAIST) last October 2012 for a two-week internship.  NAIST is a graduate school for Material Science, Information Science and Biological Sciences in Nara, Japan. Since 2006, it has been holding the NAIST Project for Interns (NAPI) where qualified students from the Ateneo de Manila University are invited to the laboratory of their choice for a 2 week internship.  For his internship, Artoni went to the Surface and Materials Laboratory under Professor Hiroshi Daimon.  This laboratory focuses on the study of nanomaterials, surfaces, and interfaces using the 10 m long Ultra High Vacuum (UHV) total analysis system developed by the laboratory.

Below is an interview of Artoni by the Ateneo Physics News:

1. How long have you been teaching in Ateneo?

Less than a year.  This is my second semester. I am teaching Ps 1 and 2 (Natural Science course) and various lab classes for Health Science and Biology majors. I am teaching 13 units this semester.

2.  Where do you do your research in Ateneo?

I work in Mr. Ivan Culaba’s Vacuum Coating Laboratory at the first floor of Faura Hall. Right now I am working on thin films on elastomeric substrates. I am trying to make stretchable diffraction grating. Specifically, I wish to reduce the cracking on the metal film as the grating is stretched. Metal films on stretchable substrates have many applications.  Diffraction gratings are just one of them.  Diffraction gratings are surfaces with very fine line grooves like furrows in a field, except that the distance between furrows is in the order of the wavelength of light, which is a few hundred nanometers or a fraction of the width of a hair strand.  Reducing cracking of the grating would increase the lifetime of such material.  I am working on the optical properties of materials by using the grating as a beam scanner. If we have a beam incident to the grating, we can change the angle of the of the reflected beam by stretching the grating. Stretching would change of the grating pitch or the distance between the line grooves.

3.  How is your work in the lab related to your work in the NAIST laboratory?

It is not exactly related but similar . Here we work with thin films with thickness levels in the nanometer and micrometer range in the wavelength of light. In NAIST we work with even thinner films in the Angstrom level or about 10 layers of atoms thick. Here we have high vacuum systems with pressures of 10^{-5} torr. In NAIST they have ultra high vacuum high systems of 10^{-10} torr. Most of the procedures in running the equipment are the same, except when the pressures reach 10^{-10}: they have to bake the chambers. They wrap the chambers with heating blankets and bake the chambers for a month to get it to 10^{-10} torr. In our case to reach 10^{-5} torr, we only need 2 hours to pump it down. We use rotary pump and oil diffusion pump. In NAIST they use turbo molecular pumps and titanium sublimation pumps. After they bake their chambers they leave it at that pressure range. Then they leave all their pumps turned on 24 hours a day. In our case, we shut the system down once we are done with a specific experiment. We don’t need to keep it turned it overnight, because we can regain the same pressure the next day after 2 hours.

The panel that controls the substrate holders in their UHV system

The panel that controls the substrate holders in their UHV system

3.  How many interns were from Ateneo?

There were 10 of us: 1 from Biology, 4 from Materials Science, and 5 from Information Science. I am part of the Material Science group. We were all assigned to different labs. We only see each other during scheduled trips or if we run into each other during the day. I am on my own from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

4.  What was your day like in the NAIST laboratory?

During my first day there, they held a welcoming tea party for me. So all of the grad students and most of the pofessors were there. I get to meet everyone. Since they were around 20 of them, I can’ t remember all their names. They opened the dried mangoes I brought. They all liked it. It wasn’t a formal Japanese tea ceremony.

I was there for 2 weeks. But lab work was only about 8 days. The usual day starts with me going to the laboratory at around 9:00 a.m, though I usually try to arrive a bit later. I don’t like to be the first one in the laboratory alone. And I stay outside to wait for a graduate student to arrive. They actually they told me where they hide the key, but I am not comfortable going inside without them. My day actually starts around 10:00 a.m. I waste an hour waiting outside.

Their lab is divided into two main parts: experimental section and the offices. In my  first day they assigned  me to an empty desk. And that is where I stay. In my first day, too, I met with one of the professors: Sakura Takeda-sensei. She created a schedule for me so that I will be working with different students with their own research projects. When working with them, they perform their experiments and explain the details to me. And in some cases. I get hands-on. In one particular case, we were working for two days on a scanning tunneling microscope. But it was repair and maintenance duties. We have to remove some of the main components. It was a long job. I think they finished all the maintenance work a few days before I left. And they started baking it. I guess they had to wait a month before they can even start using it.

I was assigned to do analysis on the data we collected in the experiments. I did image processing on diffraction patterns from RHEED (Reflection High Energy Electron Diffraction) experiments. I analyzed the data collected using ARPES (Angle Resolved Photoelectron Spectroscopy). From that data we were able to obtain the electron band structure of the Lead monolayer on Germanium. I was  suppose to get the mass of heavy hole from that data, but I did not get to finish the calculations. They had their own software which came with equipment. And there was another software that I think one of the graduate students wrote using java. It just converts the data collected from ARPES to electron band diagram we are all familiar with.

I worked with another student doing RHEED experiments on Indium monolayer on Silicon substrates. I also used the Scanning Electron Microscopes on Iron polycrystalline sample. I was suppose to help on the experiment involving Bismuth on Silicon, but one of the major gauges broke down, so we have to stop.

I attended study sessions, a laboratory meeting, and a laboratory colloquium. In the study session, we spent around an hour discussing theoretical principles behind ARPES. In the colloquium, we spent the entire morning listening to two graduate students presenting papers relevant to their work. It would have been were more interesting if they were reporting in English, but they were speaking in Japanese. I sat there the entire morning looking at their slides. In the afternoon is the colloquium where every graduate student presented a slide or two about their progress since the last lab meeting. Some of the students were presenting slides whose only progress is that  they attended courses or studied their exam. Nevertheless, they still have to present those because it is apart of their process. There are also students who made a lot of progress. They presented a lot of the data they were collecting. They also made me present a brief overview of the research that I do in the Philippines. I had to leave after 4 hours. I think their meeting lasted 6 hours–the whole afternoon. Between the colloquium and laboratory meeting is lunch break. And there is 30 minutes of general laboratory cleanup.  Everybody cleans by sweeping or mopping the floors.

During the first week my sensei gave me a lot of books. After 5:00 p.m. , I usually go straight to the dorm and read the books–not the entire book but only the selected chapters. I think she was surprised that I can read them overnight, because she is just used that her students have difficulty reading books in English. So from their point of view, I read really fast.

A group photo with the professors and students of the Surface and Material Science Laboratory

A group photo with the professors and students of the Surface and Material Science Laboratory

5.  What do you like best during your stay in Japan?

Their transportation system is very organized. If the train is scheduled to arrive at 8:02 a.m., it will actually arrive at 8:02 a.m..  So if we go out for dinner or cultural trip, our entire travel itinerary was already arranged, because they know the schedules of the trains and buses. It was easy getting around even without a car.  And this was in Narra which is not one of the big urbanized area. But despite that the transportation system is very good. In fact when you go out to the gate of NAIST, the first thing that you see is a rice field and it smells like a rice field. But then there is a bus station in front of the gate.  So even if it is in the rural part of Narra, we can still get around. We can also actually walk to the closest train station, but it takes 40 minutes.

It seems very safe there. There were times we walked to the train station in the middle of the night beside the big mall at around 10 or 11 p.m. We were not worried about being held up. The sense of security is also visible in the campus itself. They don’t have a close gate. It is just an open road that goes toward the campus. I don’t see any security guard walking around.

Of course the food was great. The organizers brought us to Japanese restaurants. We got to try sushi, yakiniku, okonomiyaki, ramen, and some other Japanese foods. Before I went there, I promised myself that I will never say no. I will eat whatever served to me. Half of what I ate there, I don’t know what it was. And then we had weekend trips to Kyoto, Osaka, and Narra. We got to visit some of the old temples and an aquarium in Osaka. During our last day there, they took us to the shopping district in Osaka,where they sold everything from electronics to anime things to clothes.

6.  Any parting thoughts?

Overall it was a good experience. You get to see how research is done in universities in other countries. The research culture is very different. Most of the students are full-time researchers. They don’t attend courses. They only worry about their research projects. They spend an entire day in the lab, because they have a desk there. They are really focused on what they are doing in the lab. Unlike in my experience as a student, my attention is divided in the courses I am taking and the research I am doing. Of course, it would be easier if you are only focused on research work.

It was also eye-opening to me to see how disciplined the Japanese people are.  After eating in the cafeteria, they clean up. We don’t see people littering. They all follow traffic rules, unlike here in the Philippines where traffic is very chaotic.

After I finish my Masters degree, I plan to apply for Ph.D. degree outside the Philippines. I am now looking at Erasmus Mundus program for Materials Science. I have already informed my Professors in NAIST that I will be applying there, too. Hopefully, I get accepted to one of them. If not , I shall also apply to universities in the United States.