At the end of last week, we got up way too early and made the trek up to the University of California, Berkeley for the first annual Stanford-Berkeley Robotics Symposium. If you've spent much time in the San Francisco Bay Area, you know that there's an occasionally good-natured rivalry between Berkeley and Stanford, but this symposium was meant to transcend all of that and create a new era of Bay-spanning cooperation, friendship, and hugs. Besides the hugs (I didn't see any hugs), they may have pulled it off, and we've got a rundown of some of the presentations plus videos of the entire event.
If you want to relive the symposium minute by minute, skip down to the bottom of this post to watch all four sessions in their entirety. For a schedule of who presented what when, click here. We're going to highlight five of the presentations, focusing on research that we've been following in the past, but it's absolutely worth spending some time listening to what everybody has to present: these are top-notch robotics researchers, and it was (frankly) amazing to get them all into one room at the same time.
Mark Palatucci: Anki Drive
We have a good idea of whatAnki Drive is all about at this point, but Anki's Mark Palatucci took us through some of the actual construction process, on how they're manufacturing each car by hand. Lots of hands. It takes 100 people to produce one Anki Drive car. We were treated to a behind-the-scenes video of the assembly and testing; click here to skip right to the vid.
[ Anki Drive ]
Ron Fearing: UC Berkeley Biomimetic Millirobots
Berkeley has a spectacular menagerie of biomimetic robots, and we were hoping to hear about a new species from Ron Fearing. He didn't let us down, showing some video of SailRoACH, an evolution of the VelociRoACH and TAYLORoACH robots that were presented at ICRA 2013 earlier this year. SailRoACH (designed by Nick Kohut, who's now with DASH Robotics) uses a sail tail to turn itself using purely aerodynamic drag. We should learn more at IROS next month.
[ Biomimetic Millisystems Lab ]
Steve Cousins: Savioke
We were super excited to hear from Steve Cousins (formerly CEO at Willow Garage) on this new company he's just founded called Savioke (that's "savvy-oak"). A website has been up for a little while, but all it says is the following: "Savioke is creating autonomous robot helpers for the services industry. We are passionate about delivering easy-to-use yet sophisticated robots that can help people."
Part of that delivery process involves delivering something that people can actually afford, because as Steve commented, "if you can't sell the product, you can't scale it up. So somehow, you have to make something that's valuable, [and that] people can afford to buy." He went on to suggest that getting a robot down to $20,000 or $30,000 might make them competitive with humans, but stopped short of saying how Savioke was planning on achieving something like that, or even whether their focus is on software or hardware.
[ Savioke ]
Oussama Khatib: A New Generation of Humanoid Robots
Humanoid robots are always fun, and while a lot of focus recently has been on the DRC humanoids, they're not the only large bipeds under development. One issue that all humanoids (DRC included) have to deal with is navigating around three dimensional environments, which essentially means environments where the surface you're trying to navigate across isn't level. Humans have a sense of balance that helps us out with this, and robots can leverage the same sort of thing, but humans also cheat all the time by using our arms to balance ourselves against objects around us. So why not let robots do that, too?
We'll see more of this at ICRA 2014, if not before.
Advait Jain: Redwood Robotics
In May of last year, Redwood Robotics was announced as a partnership between Meka Robotics, Willow Garage, and SRI International to build the next generation of robotic arms for the personal and service robot markets. We kind of haven't heard a heck of a lot (or, really, anything at all) since then, so we were hoping for some news of some sort. Unfortunately, the presentation was mostly about Meka Robotics, and not Redwood. Read into that as you will.
One interesting thing that Meka is involved in the the Red Sea Project, which is the development of a sort of submersible humanoid, pictured above in simulation. It's a collaboration between Meka, Stanford, and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.
[ Redwood Robotics ]
Hooked yet? Here are embeds for each one of the four sessions, but if there are specific speakers that you're interested in (here they all are), the YouTube pages for each session also include hotlinks to jump to individual presentations if you expand the "About" sections.
Special thanks to Pieter Abbeel, Sachin Patil, and Oussama Khatib for organizing this fantastic symposium, and here's hoping that it'll become a prestigious annual tradition. With lots of hugs.
[ SBRS 2013 ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.