ICRA 12 - Part 2: Willow Garage's PR2, MH-2 Shoulder Robot, Recon Robotics Scout Mini-Bot and Ken Goldberg's Robotic Art

May 31, 2012

Now that we have given you the intro to our story about what went on at ICRA 12, and you can find the introductory article here, it's time to review what the "big boys" presented at ICRA.

Among the gold sponsors of the conference which included InTech, Willow Garage has caught our attention right away. Being a big player in the robotics field for a few years now, Willow Garage started off back in 2006 with the mission to "accelerate the development of non-military robotics and advance open source robotics software." Soon to become a real tech incubator, research lab, and commercial business for robots and robotics appliances, Scott Hassan, the establisher of this great company has certainly helped move the frontiers within personal robotics by commercialising some of the best robots out there these days. On top of that, additional kudos are to be righteously given to Willow for partnering with several other robotics businesses to launch the Open Source Robotics Foundation back at the beginning of May.

After this kind of praises given to a certain robotics company, nothing less than pure excellence, striking innovations and instincts for revolutionary appliances has been expected by these Menlo Park inhabitants; that's exactly what they gave us at ICRA.

Among all the activities, workshops and tutorials presented by Willow Garage, the one where you couldn't even get into the auditorium as it looked more like a sold out rock concert was titled Semantic Perception, Mapping and Exploration held on May 14 and based on a research paper submitted to Willow Garage by Radu B. Rusu. The workshop certainly provided the possibility to address and discuss the use of semantic information for and by perception, with the aim to identify possible future research paths to develop tools in this particular research area. Another highlight concerned the ICRA Mobile Manipulation Challenge, titled for the occasion ICRA Sushi Challenge, where Willow Garage's personal robots named PR2's were handled to most participants challenged to make these robots work hard and manipulate with objects within a potential sushi restaurant. PR2s are fantastic personal robots armed with an open source robot operating system released at the beginning of 2010 and causing great excitement within the robotics worldwide community. Moreover, PR2 is not the only ace of spades  in Willow Garage's combination as their Turtlebot cannot be stripped of as much popularity as the PR2. 


To get a better idea of what a PR2 was expected to do at the Sushi Challenge, here is a demo of a possible restaurant scenario with a PR2 strolling around.

Moving over to other robotic "heroes" who managed to leave ICRA's attendees with their jaws wide open, we present you the Yamagata University team and their MH-2 shoulder robot to be your new potential companion for life. The MH-2 wearable humanoid robot is to be placed on your shoulder and to host a remotely-operated avatar which can literally be the embodiment of someone you chose for this role. As Evan Ackerman, the official blogger for IEEE's Automaton Blog describes it, the MH-2 consists of "two 7-DOF arms, a 3-DOF head and 2-DOF body, plus one additional DOF for realistic breathing" and is designed to mimic human actions as closely to reality as possible. So how does the MH-2 works in practice? While you place your MH-2 on your shoulder, your far away-located friend/relative or whomever you choose to share this avatarish experience with wears an immersive 3D display aided by a motion capture environment appliance such as Kinect for example. What happens next? Think of the film director and also a "researcher" Cameron and his movie Avatar where you can literally live in another dimension through an avatar-based live experience: your remotely-located companion can see everything you see and can whisper to your year all along while connected to your MH-2. Now how about that?

MH-2 shoulder robot

Strolling away from a shoulder-sitting robot to a scouting robot, Recon Robotics presented its Scout XT micro-robot, throwable micro-robot systems. As described in Robotic Magazine, the 1.2-lb (540g) Recon Scout XT micro-robot is deployed during high-risk operations involving surveillance, barricaded subjects, hostage situations and narcotics raids to provide situational awareness and standoff distance to tactical operators. The XT can be thrown up to 120 feet (36m) and can see in complete darkness. Once deployed, operators can direct the ultra-quiet robot to move through an environment and transmit video reconnaissance through walls and doors to a small, handheld operator control unit. This capability can reveal the location of armed subjects, the condition of hostages and the layout of rooms – all of which is critical to planning and executing the tactical operation. What is certainly underlining the value of these micro-bots is the purchase of these tiny wonders by the Metropolitan Washington Council Governments just to be distributed and used by tactical teams across the DC area. Military story aside, the little scout has had the chance to show off all of its grandeur at ICRA 12 Show Floor, as ironic as grandness might sound when it comes to tiny black bots.

To end this second overview of ICRA 12 happenings, we cannot wrap up without mentioning at least one real human being, in this particular case Ken Goldberg, Professor at UC Berkley and editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering, among other. Well-known for its expertise in the field of robotics and beyond, Prof. Goldberg hosted, along with many other renowned professionals such as Hiroshi Ishiguro, Lois-Philippe Demers, and Todd D. Murphy just to name a few, a workshop on the subject of Robotics and Performing Arts: Reciprocal Influences. The workshop was tailored to practically investigate "the relationships between the world of performing arts, with a spotlight on theatre and dance, and that of robotic technologies", providing new possible discoveries leading to future markets. Goldberg's contribution to the workshop, as unique as always in terms of originality and innovative ideas, focused on robotic systems such as the Tele-Actor (in Goldberg's word a skilled human equipped with a wireless camera who moves through and interacts with a live remote environment) and Ballet Mori (a ballet conducted by the earth), a performance where the principal dancer responded to music modulated live by the fluctuations of the Earth's movement measured in real-time by UC Berkley at Hayward Fault. Moreover, we had the pleasure to have Prof. Goldberg stop at our booth for an informal chat about what he has been up to and what more can we say if not that there are exciting times ahead of all of us as robotic geniuses such as Ken Goldberg keep working on projects to blow all of our minds. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Ken Goldberg 1Ken goldberg 3
Ken Goldberg 2

It's not over yet. Hoping you did read this article right to this point, if you thought we have given you all ICRA's highlights well you are wrong. Stay tuned for more as next week we turn over to Hiroshi Ishiguro, the father of geminoids, Heather Knight, the social roboticist, the little Q.bo robot, DARPA and NASA.

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Article by:
Ana Nodilo, nodilo@intechopen.com

Pictures by:
Petra Nenadic, nenadic@intechopen.com
IEEE Spectrum