Logo: University of Southern California

USC Viterbi Robotics Receives Award to Purchase State-of-the-Art Robot

Department of Defense research award will allow a Willow Garage PR2 robot to become a permanent part of the USC robotics collection
Jessie Wong
July 23, 2012 —
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Willow Garage's PR2 will soon become a permanent part of USC Viterbi's growing collection of robots.

Robotics faculty at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are the recipients of a research equipment award under theDefense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) from the Department of Defense (DoD). In May, Computer Science Chair Gaurav Sukhatme and Professors Maja Matarić and Stefan Schaal were selected out of 700 proposals to win one of 190 awards.  Three other USC teams were also selected to receive the award.

Each year DURIP supports academic institutions by providing funds toward the purchase of state-of-the-art research equipment worth $50,000 or more. This year the DoD awarded a total of $54.7 million to 100 institutions, with awards ranging from $50,000 to $1.9 million. The USC robotics award will be fulfilled by the Office of Naval Research.

In a news release announcing the 2012 winners, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Zachary J. Lemnios said, “The Defense University Research Instrumentation Program is essential to the department’s investment in university research. Instrumentation is critically needed to accelerate research progress and ensure world-class research training for the next generation of scientists and engineers in defense-critical fields.”

The robotics team’s proposal, entitled “Robotic Platform for Study of Human-Robot Interaction, Motor Control, Perception,” requested funds to purchase a Willow Garage PR2 robot currently in use by USC robotics researchers. Short for Personal Robot 2, only 11 PR2 robots currently exist in university labs.

Since 2010, a beta version of the PR2 robot has been on loan to USC as part of Willow Garage’s two-year PR2 loan program for academic institutions. The goal of the initiative was to foster regular, collaborative research while also ironing out flaws in the beta versions of the robot. Out of 78 entries in this competitive program, USC was one of only 11 selected to borrow a PR2 with a proposal entitled, “Persistent and Persuasive Personal Robots (P^3R): Towards Networked, Mobile, Assistive Robotics.” Both this proposal and the DURIP proposal detail further research into making robots more helpful and less reliant upon human intervention.

Joining USC Viterbi’s already impressive collection of robots, the permanent addition of the PR2 positions USC as an institution very well equipped for robotics research. As one of the few institutions in the world to own a PR2, Matarić says, "USC robotics now has an impressive array of robotics hardware, ranging from the Willow Garage PR2 to the Sarcos full body humanoid, our dozen NAOs to six Bandit humanoids, and many other mobile, aerial, submersible and self-reconfiguring robots."