California State University, Long Beach
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All Things Robotic

Published: March 6, 2017

Walter Martinez, Physical Planning and Facilities Management’s (PPFM) Information Technology Manager, works hard to stay on the cutting edge of all things robotic.

Martinez, who lectures and runs his own lab in Electrical Engineering, participates in the Robotics Society of Southern California in an open-source project begun by French sculptor Gael Langevin to build a full-sized humanoid robot dubbed the InMoov—complete with fingers, hands and forearms—that is computer controlled via voice or autonomously using artificial intelligence. Martinez creates robots to his own design, some of which have been used in television commercials and sitcoms.

The goal of the InMoov project is to create an all-3D-printed robot.

“You can research materials and electronics, mechanics, programming and artificial intelligence and so on,” he explained. “I tried so many materials and made so many errors and went through so many 3D printers but I’ve been learning so much. My goal is add a body to Amazon Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant. I want more of the human-machine interaction. I want something that looks like us that we can interact with.”

Limited battery power sets limits for robotics in the 21st century.

“A humanoid robot will last between 15 and 20 minutes. Take a look as Asimo. After 15-20 minutes, that’s it,” he said. “We can still have the human-machine interaction that can help us do simple things. Strong machines can pick up things we can’t. The Japanese invest billions of dollars with private companies to build robots to serve the growing elderly community. Look at these robots and see how many have animated faces. They are cartoon-like faces. Older people feel more comfortable with that setting than a regular-looking robot.”

Martinez is unimpressed by the public’s fear that humanity will someday serve robot overlords.

“Everything has to be pre-programmed. That means we still have control of things,” he said. “However, there are companies like Google with programs that `mate.’ Those programs create other programs and no one knows what that other program will do.”

Robots come in all forms. “There are robots that are no more than discs with wheels and sensors,” he said. “Bill Gates once predicted robots will become as common in the modern home as laptops or washing machines. In fact, washing machines are actually robots. The definition of a robot is anything you can program to do things over and over again. Washing machines are programmed by their dials and it does the job. That’s a robot.”

Martinez earned both his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering technology and his master’s in Occupational Studies with a focus on technical curriculum development from CSULB in 2001.

He works out of his own lab in ET 239 equipped with 3D printers to assemble robots from kits that resemble the Mars Rover.

“We create autonomous software for these robots. This way, we simulate industrial settings which gives students ideas for their senior projects,” he said. “The next wave in robotics will be voice commands. More and more things will be voice activated. Say `open the door’ and the door will open. Say to your car `drive me to the movies’ and you will be driven to the movies. Then we need to improve battery technology.”

Walter Martinez with the robot
Walter Martinez…and friend.

His robotic creations have played a part in advertising including services as greeters. “Walk into a store and you might be greeted by one of my robots that says ‘Hi, and what are you looking for?’ If you tell it you want the latest iPod, it will reply ‘Look at my screen, based on our conversation, I believe this is what you need. Touch the screen and it’s yours.”

The Honduras-born member of the university since 1996 balances his robotics work with his new responsibilities as PPFM’s Information Technology Manager which include managing all the campus maintenance systems.

“For example, we have energy systems that remotely control the temperature in all the rooms,” he explained. “We have a system that controls the GPS locations of every tree on campus as well as its maintenance schedules, when was it trimmed, who trimmed it, how long did it take and what company did it. What materials did we use? What company used those parts?

“We also have a system for the sprinklers on campus which we can turn on and off remotely based on their status from GPS including weather conditions,” he added. “Say an office light bulb needs changing. I know who did it, how long it took and where we bought the light bulb. How long was it in our warehouse? Any detail you want to know about maintenance on campus is here.”

It was while pursuing his master’s that Martinez first participated in the popular TV series “Robotica,” “RobotWars” and “Battlebots” that aired for five seasons on Comedy Central through 2002 until ABC picked it up several years later.

“My robots battled other robots,” he said. “That experience was useful because it taught me to apply technologies that will still exist in the future. Look at the Tesla car. It has motors, motor controllers and software. BattleBots have motors, motor controllers and software. The things you learn building a BattleBot or any robot can apply to anything that is out there right now.”