System Bits: Dec. 13

Data, code sharing standards; wall-jumping robots; policy, technology intersection.


Data, code sharing standards for computational studies
While reporting new research results involves detailed descriptions of methods and materials used in an experiment, when a study uses computers to analyze data, create models or simulate things that can’t be tested in a lab, how can other researchers see what steps were taken or potentially reproduce results? To this end, a new report by prominent leaders in computational methods and reproducibility lays out recommendations for ways researchers, institutions, agencies and journal publishers can work together to standardize sharing of data sets and software code.

Victoria Stodden, a University of Illinois professor of information science and the lead author of the report asserted, “We have a real issue in disclosure and reporting standards for research that involves computation – which is basically all research today. The standards for putting enough information out there with your findings so that other researchers in the area are able to understand and potentially replicate your work were developed before we used computers.”

Illinois professor Victoria Stodden is the lead author of a new report that provides recommendations for how researchers, funding agencies and journal publishers can work together to report data and computational code as part of scientific research findings. (Source: University of Illinois)

Illinois professor Victoria Stodden is the lead author of a new report that provides recommendations for how researchers, funding agencies and journal publishers can work together to report data and computational code as part of scientific research findings.
(Source: University of Illinois)

Increasingly, it is becoming accepted for researchers to value open data standards as an essential part of modern scholarship, but it is nearly impossible to reproduce results from original data without the authors’ code.

However, sharing complete computational methods – data, code, parameters and the specific steps taken to arrive at the results – is difficult for researchers because there are no standards or guides to refer to, Stodden said. It’s an extra step for busy researchers to incorporate into their reporting routine, and even if someone wants to share their data or code, there are questions of how to format and document it, where to store it and how to make it accessible.

The report makes seven specific recommendations, such as documenting digital objects and making them retrievable, open licensing, placing links to datasets and workflows in scientific articles, and reproducibility checks before publication in a scholarly journal.

Wall-jumping robot
Opening new pathways of robot locomotion that were not previously attainable that could one day lead to vertically agile robots jumping around rubble in search and rescue missions, roboticists at UC Berkeley have designed a small robot that can leap into the air and then spring off a wall, or perform multiple vertical jumps in a row, resulting in the highest robotic vertical jumping agility ever recorded.

To build the robot, known as Salto (for saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles), the engineers explained that they studied the animal kingdom’s most vertically agile creature, the galago, which can jump five times in just four seconds to gain a combined height of 8.5 meters (27.9 feet). The galago has a special ability to store energy in its tendons so that it can jump to heights not achievable by its muscles alone.

Interestingly, to compare the vertical agility of robots and animals, the researchers developed a new metric to measure vertical agility, defined as the height that something can reach with a single jump in Earth gravity, multiplied by the frequency at which that jump can be made. Salto’s robotic vertical jumping agility is 1.75 meters per second, which is higher than the vertical jumping agility of a bullfrog (1.71 meters per second) but short of the vertical jumping agility of the galago (2.24). The robot with the second highest vertical agility that the team measured is called Minitaur (1.1 m/s).

Salto, for saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles. (Source: UC Berkeley)

Salto, for saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles. (Source: UC Berkeley)

Salto’s design is based on the power modulation used by the galago. Power modulation is an adaptation found in natural systems (and designed into some robotic systems) that increases the peak power available for jumping by storing muscular energy in stretchy tendons.
The galago jumps so well because its tendons are loaded with energy by its muscles when it’s in a crouched position. Adapting this process to Salto enabled its high vertical agility, including the wall jump.

Inside Salto, a motor drives a spring, which loads via a leg mechanism to create the kind of crouch seen in the galago. By using power modulation, Salto doesn’t need to wind up before a jump; as soon as it jumps, Salto is ready to jump again.

Salto weighs 100 grams (3.5 ounces), is 26 centimeters (10.2 inches) tall when fully extended, and can jump up to one meter. Salto’s maximum jump height was roughly 1.008 meters (3.3 ft). For the wall jump, Salto attained an average height gain of approximately 1.21 meters (3.97 ft). Other robots can jump higher than Salto in a single leap. For example, TAUB, a locust-inspired jumping robot, can leap to 10.5 feet (3.2 meters) in a single jump.

Helping technology, policy work together
An MEng student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at MIT believes when you’re part of a community, you want to leave it better than you found it. This philosophy has guided Keertan Kini throughout his years at MIT, as he works to improve policy both inside and out of MIT.

As a member of the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group, former chair of the Course 6 Underground Guide Committee, member of the Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI), and of the Advanced Network Architecture group, Kini’s research focus has been in finding ways that technology and policy can work together, because, as he puts it, “there can be unintended consequences when you don’t have technology makers who are talking to policymakers and you don’t have policymakers talking to technologists.” His goal is to change that.

Kini is also involved in making changes within the Institute. “I feel like the same interest that’s gotten me interested in policy is the same thing that’s gotten me interested in working with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,” Kini admits.

As a member of the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group (USAGE), MIT reported that he has been involved in exploring ways to revitalize the electrical engineering curriculum, redesigning the undergraduate lounge, and compiling a list of the resources available to Course 6 students.

He said he is especially interested in making sure students know about the MIT resources for prospective entrepreneurs, such as StartMIT, in which he enrolled last year.

StartMIT is an Independent Activities Period course designed to help students learn about what it takes to create a startup from the ground up. With the advice of over 60 speakers involved in the startup space, StartMIT offers practical advice on how to actually get a startup off the ground.