All the Latest, Most Exciting Robotics Research From ICRA 2017

We're at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation 2017 in Singapore

1 min read
ICRA robotics conference in Singapore
Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

Every six months, an enormous posse of top robotics researchers from around the world converge on some moderately exotic location to impress each other with their latest research. Right now, we’re at the 2017 edition of the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), which is taking place as you read this in Singapore. As always, we’re going to do our best to read every single paper and attend every single technical session, even though there are 11 tracks all happening at the same time along with workshops, forums, and an expo.

You can expect to see posts this week about what’s most novel and interesting from the conference, but (again, as always) there’s way too much cool stuff to cram into just one week: We’ll continue to post ICRA-related content for the next few weeks, even as we get back to our regular robotics news.

Turtlebot 3 Burger mobile robot is powered by ROS, the Robot Operating SystemROBOTIS, Intel, and OSRF will demonstrate the TurtleBot 3 (Burger model pictured) at ICRA 2017 and host a launch party with talks, Q&A, and prizes.Image: ROBOTIS

And if you’re at ICRA, come say hi! I’ll be the harassed-looking dude with a big camera frantically running between sessions. Also, on Tuesday, IEEE is co-hosting the official TurtleBot 3 launch party with Intel and ROBOTIS. It’s across the bay at Baliza nightclub, and you should come: We’ll be talking on stage with TurtleBot celebrities, and there will be prizes and food (register soon, there’s a limited number of tickets!). More info here.

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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