Logo: University of Southern California

Viterbi School Hosts Premier Robotics Conference

Stefan Schaal and Gaurav Sukhatme welcome colleagues from all over the world
Eric Mankin
August 02, 2011 —

As it does every summer, the Robotics: Science and Systems (RSS) Conference brought together top researchers working on the algorithmic and mathematical foundations of robotics and its applications and systems. This year's event, the seventh in the series, took place at USC, hosted by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Gaurav S. Sukhatme and Stefan Schaal.

Robotics 2
George Bekey and Gaurav S. Sukhatme

It was not a leap into the unknown for the pair. “Stefan and I are members of the original team that founded the conference,” said Sukhatme. “We both continue to serve as directors of the RSS board, and have both served previously as chairs of the conference.”

Researchers gathered in the Andrus Gerontology Center's Aida and Ron Stever Courtyard for breaks, meals and looks at robots brought by manufacturers, until a sonorous gong summoned them back to the center's auditorium. There, they listened to presentations on topics ranging from how to get robots to grasp, rather than simply cage and capture objects (this was the student best-paper finalist); how to train robots to recognize prone humans, to enable health care robots to search for fallen stroke victims; systems to control robots using gestures rather than hand-held devices; and, in a session chaired by the Viterbi School's Maja Matarić, how to make “encounter interactions in public environments where people and robots walk around” more people-friendly.

The best paper award went to a team from the University of Pennsylvania for “Identifying Homotopy Classes of Trajectories for Robot Exploration and Path Planning.” The runner-up was Marin Kobilarov, a former Sukhatme student USC Computer Science Ph.D. 2009 now at Caltech, for his work on “Cross-Entropy Randomized Motion Planning.”

The conference also saw the inaugural Dick Volz US Best Robotics Ph.D. Thesis Award presented to Robert Webster, III Johns Hopkins Ph.D. 2007. The runner-up was Jan Peters USC Computer Science Ph.D. 2007, Advisor: Stefan Schaal. The winning papers are now posted.

Some 400 researchers from all over the world attended – Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Switzerland, Canada,

Conference Program Chair Nicholas Roy ends a break
Japan and Korea were, along with the U.S., best represented.  Gold sponsors were Google and Willow Garage, Microsoft and iRobot supported at the Silver level.

Four robotics luminaries gave invited talks: the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana's David Forsyth on computer vision, Intuitive Surgical's Catherine Mohr on robots in operating rooms, Cornell's Andy Ruina on balance and locomotion and Google's Chris Urmson on driverless cars. And Viterbi robotics pioneer George Bekey was on hand to observe the proceedings and greet colleagues.

Robotics: Science and Systems VIII will take place in Sydney, Australia in July 2012. Sukhatme and Schaal plan to participate.