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Viterbi School Faculty Host World's Biggest Robotics Gathering

ISI robot team wins top honor in fast-design competition, nanorobot expert wins Pioneer Honor
Eric Mankin
May 26, 2008 —

The organizers of the mammoth 2008 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, held May 19-23 in Pasadena, were all from the Viterbi School Department of Computer Science.

Maja Matarić, left with MIT press editor Ada Brunstein
ICRA is the largest annual meeting in the field, featuring the latest research in all areas of robotics worldwide. The technical program this year included 661 papers from more than 40 countries. More than 1300 specialists attended the conference, which featured a robot challenge in which student teams from all over the world competed — a challenge in which a team from the Viterbi School's Information Sciences Institute took a top prize.

Viterbi School Senior Associate Dean for Research/ CS Professor Maja Matarić was conference general chair; her colleagues Professors Gaurav Sukhatme and Stefan Schaal were program chairs, while University Professor George Bekey served as honorary chair.

"Our department is very pleased that, at the helm of this year's ICRA conference  was a group of computer science faculty who have established robotics as a critical research strength of the department," said Viterbi CS chair Ramesh Govindan. "Profs. Mataric', Schaal and Sukhatme have collectively established a very strong robotics research program that is among the top-tier programs worldwide."
Stefan Schaal

At the conference award ceremony May 23, Aristides A.G. Requicha, holder of the Viterbi School's Gordon Marshall Chair, was one of two recipients of the RCA pioneer award. The honor is given, according to the official description "to recognize individuals who by virtue of initiating new areas of research, development or engineering have had a significant impact on development of the robotics and/or automation fields." (see accompanying story)

On the second day of the convention, a large delegation from the convention visited the robotics laboratories in Tutor Hall. (see photo gallery)

ISI wins competition
The general theme for this year's ICRA competitive challenge event was space robotics. The challenge simulated a series of unexpected problems occurring at a planetary habitat, where a robotic solution must be quickly developed and deployed, using only existing resources and robotic modules.

ISI's team, named Morpheus, came from Dr. Wei-Min Shen's Polymorphic Robotics Lab.Behnam Salemi  led the effort in which  Harris Chiu and Feili Hou contributed to the software development, Nadeesha Ranasinghe contributed to the vision and control, Rizwan Khan, Mike Rubenstein and Jacob Everist helped in the preparation and hardware construction.

Team Morpheus: (from left) Mike Rubenstein, Jacob Everist, Rizwan Khan, Behnam Salemi, Wei-min Shen, Nadeesha Ranasinghe, Harris Chiu, Feili Hou.

"The robot we designed was very powerful and flexible to adapt to unexpected tasks, and the competition really showed the value of teamwork," said Salemi.

The challenges were announced each morning at 8:30 A.M. and had to be solved by 1:00 P.M.

The competing teams had no advance knowledge of the challenge, and had to design and construct a robot on the spot, deploy the robot via an airlock the 'bot had to negotiate, and then teleoperate the device to explore the simulated Mars-like environment and perform functions like replacing and repairing damaged solar panels outside the habitat, repairing damage in air-ducts, and patching leaks.

Six international teams from MIT, Cornell, the University of Washington, the University of Southern Denmark, and a private firm competed against Morpheus. Morpheus posted the highest score, 40, for five events. MIT placed second with 37.

Images of the competition and competitors are at http://picasaweb.google.com/weiminshen99/ICRA2008 and http://picasaweb.google.com/harrischiu/ICRA2008