The outstanding performance this past weekend by the robotics team from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition certainly comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the institute's work. The team finished second overall in the international DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge, and first among all teams using the Atlas robot, built by a company recently purchased by Google.
My reaction to it is that IHMC is the most visible example we have that there is no reason why people and companies in Pensacola can't compete at the highest levels of accomplishment. During my years at the News Journal I regularly complained to just about anyone who would listen that Pensacolians, including local elected officials, just didn't realize what we had in IHMC. In some ways I think that remains true. Still, in recent years IHMC has become more visible, largely due to the accomplishments, and the accompanying videos, of its robotics team. But more quietly, IHMC researchers continue to do groundbreaking, world-class research on a wide variety of complex topics.
When I went to work at IHMC writing its newsletter, I warned everyone there that I was an old journalist, not a scientist. The point was that I would be writing about extremely complex technical subjects that I knew little or nothing about. I have always read widely, including on science, space, technology and medicine, and consider myself well- grounded for a layman. But at IHMC I quickly realized that pretending to know what the hell they were talking about would expose me as a knucklehead.
My general approach to a newsletter article at IHMC was to study up on the subject with material provided by the scientist working on it, record the interview, transcribe the recording myself, write the article and then humbly submit it to the scientist in hopes that I had not botched the science too badly. They would always kindly straighten out the kinks and, to use a favorite word at IHMC, we would 'iterate' until we had an accurate article.
No question, it is the people at IHMC that make it go, with a higher level
of general brilliance than any place I have ever been. Sometimes for fun I would copy someone's resume and email it to my wife with a comment
like, can you believe this. You can do it yourself by clicking on the People
page on the IHMC website, where the combination of advanced degrees
from the world's greatest universities and esoteric research topics will
have you realizing you should have shown more respect to the nerds in
your junior high school science class.
But it's also instructive to see how many IHMC researchers have degrees from the University of West Florida, including Ken Ford, the institute's founder and director, who is himself a world-class scientist and administrator, with deep ties to top-level agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation. Ford got his systems science degree at UWF, which tells you that opportunity lies where you find it.
Anyway, I just wanted to add my congratulations to IHMC's latest
robotics triumph. And as the new IHMC research facility rises from the
ground on Romana Street downtown, it should serve as a very visible
symbol for what Pensacola can accomplish.