Robotics

Highlights from the ICRA 2015 robotics conference in Seattle

Highlights from the ICRA 2015 ...
Baxter was among the many advanced robotic systems on display at ICRA 2015
Baxter was among the many advanced robotic systems on display at ICRA 2015
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The Shadow Dexterous Hand manipulator
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The Shadow Dexterous Hand manipulator
Shadow Dexterous Hand showing its ... err, dexterity
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Shadow Dexterous Hand showing its ... err, dexterity
The Shadow Dexterous Hand is based on human antomy
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The Shadow Dexterous Hand is based on human antomy
The Fetch manipulator robot's "head" showing camera
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The Fetch manipulator robot's "head" showing camera
Disney's robotic Lincoln shows the impressive progress of anamatronics
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Disney's robotic Lincoln shows the impressive progress of anamatronics
Controls for Disney's robotic Lincoln
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Controls for Disney's robotic Lincoln
The Amazon Picking Challenge saw international teams of students competed for US $26,000 in prizes to develop robots that can pick objects off unstructured shelves
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The Amazon Picking Challenge saw international teams of students competed for US $26,000 in prizes to develop robots that can pick objects off unstructured shelves
A Baxter robot at the Amazon Picking Challenge
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A Baxter robot at the Amazon Picking Challenge
A commercial manipulator at the Amazon Picking Challenge
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A commercial manipulator at the Amazon Picking Challenge
Items used in the Amazon Picking Challenge
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Items used in the Amazon Picking Challenge
Mujin fast robot moving bolts
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Mujin fast robot moving bolts
Mujin uses advanced vision for fast identification of objects
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Mujin uses advanced vision for fast identification of objects
Detail of the Beam telepresence robot
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Detail of the Beam telepresence robot
A collection of A collection of Schunk manipulators manipulators
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A collection of A collection of Schunk manipulators manipulators
Baxter was among the many advanced robotic systems on display at ICRA 2015
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Baxter was among the many advanced robotic systems on display at ICRA 2015
Detail of Baxter robot controls
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Detail of Baxter robot controls
Robot quality control testing styluses
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Robot quality control testing styluses
Adept robot showing strongpoints
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Adept robot showing strongpoints
Adept robot showing front construction
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Adept robot showing front construction
The Ambot GRP TRAXx
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The Ambot GRP TRAXx
The Ambot GRP 4400
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The Ambot GRP 4400
SDK software drone
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SDK software drone
Skiing robot for the Humanoids Application Challenge
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Skiing robot for the Humanoids Application Challenge
The skiing robot has vision capability
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The skiing robot has vision capability
The Robotis Kidslab robot is designed for younger students
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The Robotis Kidslab robot is designed for younger students
The Robotis open source football-playing robot
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The Robotis open source football-playing robot
Robotis 3D-printed manipulator
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Robotis 3D-printed manipulator
Robotis 3D-printed manipulator showing construction
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Robotis 3D-printed manipulator showing construction
HEBI robot spider
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HEBI robot spider
The joints of the HEBI spider work independently
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The joints of the HEBI spider work independently
A HEBI joint
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A HEBI joint
A HEBI joint showing circuitry
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A HEBI joint showing circuitry
HEBI joint detail
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HEBI joint detail
A therapy robot by Barrett Medical
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A therapy robot by Barrett Medical
Clearpath robot module with sensors
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Clearpath robot module with sensors
Clearpath robots
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Clearpath robots
Surgical Cockpit manipulators
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Surgical Cockpit manipulators
Robotic sorter solving a problem
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Robotic sorter solving a problem
Robot sorter in action
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Robot sorter in action
Robots wander the hall at ICRA 2015 – not aimlessly, they are mapping the area
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Robots wander the hall at ICRA 2015 – not aimlessly, they are mapping the area
Detail of Clearpath module
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Detail of Clearpath module
A precise vacuum manipulator
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A precise vacuum manipulator
Drone demonstrating vision and navigation system
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Drone demonstrating vision and navigation system
The Da Vinci robotic surgeon
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The Da Vinci robotic surgeon
Attendees could try out the Da Vinci surgical robot
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Attendees could try out the Da Vinci surgical robot
The Da Vinci control station
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The Da Vinci control station
A Fetch manipulator robot
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A Fetch manipulator robot
The Fetch manipulator robot is designed for warehouse work
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The Fetch manipulator robot is designed for warehouse work
Fetch manipulator robot hands out brochures
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Fetch manipulator robot hands out brochures
Mujin solving a problem
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Mujin solving a problem
The Beam telepresence robot
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The Beam telepresence robot
Schunk manipulators
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Schunk manipulators
Baxter in the ICRA exhibit hall
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Baxter in the ICRA exhibit hall
The stylus-testing robot is by Smokie
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The stylus-testing robot is by Smokie
An Adept robot with manipulator tower
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An Adept robot with manipulator tower
An Adept robot module with manipulators
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An Adept robot module with manipulators
Robotis Kidslab robot uses a simple set of servos
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Robotis Kidslab robot uses a simple set of servos
Clearpath robot module with sensors
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Clearpath robot module with sensors
Clearpath robot playing netball
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Clearpath robot playing netball
Kuka robotic arm
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Kuka robotic arm
Clearpath module with Baxter
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Clearpath module with Baxter

The city of Seattle saw a robotic population explosion this week as the 2015 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) descended on the Washington State Convention Center. The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society’s flagship conference ran the gamut of all things robotic, from showcases of new technology to forums on government policies as they relate to robotics.

The Washington State Convention Center is no village community meeting hall. It's a major international venue designed to hold events like a World Trade Organization conference, which gives you a sense of the scale of this week's conference that hosted roboticists and students from all over the world.

Attendees were of course encouraged to network and share information. That is, if they had time. With 940 papers being presented, three plenary lectures, 12 keynote speeches, and a bewildering collection of tutorials and workshops on everything from marine robotics to haptics for neuroscience, it's a mystery how anyone had time to chat – much less take in the bus tours to Blue Origin, Boeing, the Fred Hutchinson cancer center, the Veterans Administration Hospital, Amazon, and the University of Washington campus.

Disney's robotic Lincoln shows the impressive progress of anamatronics
Disney's robotic Lincoln shows the impressive progress of anamatronics

But the hub of the conference was the exhibit hall, where sponsors and other companies came to show off, recruit, and sell. Familiar names, such as iRobot and Disney were in attendance, with the latter looking for the next generation of imagineers, as well as publishers like MIT and Cambridge University press, and educational organizations like University of California Berkeley and the University of Washington.

This being a robotics conference for scientists and engineers, many of the exhibitors concentrated on the nuts and bolts aspect of the field, such as Moog Inc, which as showing off its latest generation of servos, and HEBI Robotics, which makes robotic elbow modules that include motors and computers, so robots that can be built where the joint modules act as a team. They illustrated this with a robotic spider that looked a little too lively for comfort.

The joints of the HEBI spider work independently
The joints of the HEBI spider work independently

Manipulators were a large draw, with the Schunk company telling us that one of its biggest challenges will be to take its industry-standard manufacturing robot manipulators and adapting them to the more flexible robots of the future. In a similar vein, Shadow Robot had its Dexterous Hand on display, which is an open source manipulator designed around the form and function of the human hand that's aimed at researchers and educators.

The Shadow Dexterous Hand is based on human antomy
The Shadow Dexterous Hand is based on human antomy

Another interesting research/education robot was Robotis' football-playing humanoid robot. Consisting of a series of servo motors operated by an open-source system, the little robot has apparently done very well in robot football competitions and is so popular that the company had to come up with a smaller, less expensive version for younger students. There's even a 3D printed hand under development with variable grip for the larger version.

The Robotis open source football-playing robot
The Robotis open source football-playing robot

Also running around the exhibit hall (sometimes literally) were the platform robots, such as those made by Adept Mobile Robots, which are customizable platforms covered with lots of hard points for screwing on equipment, such as sensors and manipulator towers. Then there were the more rugged platforms built by Ambit or Clearpath Robotics. These two companies build platforms that at first glance look like miniature tanks or driverless quad bikes.

The Ambot GRP 4400
The Ambot GRP 4400

The Da Vinci control station
The Da Vinci control station

For those interested in something a bit more hands on, Intuitive Surgical brought along its Da Vinci robotic surgeon, which attendees could try out in a mock operation, while start-up Applied Dexterity had its Surgical Cockpit, which aims at doing what Da Vinci does while giving surgeons less of a sense of operating through a periscope.

Manufacturing and commerce were represented by the makers of complete robotic systems. The famous Baxter robot by Rethink Robotics was on display, though we had to double check that we were at the right booth because so many other exhibitors had incorporated Baxter into their designs.

For warehouse work Fetch Robotics had its tag-team warehouse system on hand.

Mujin fast robot moving bolts
Mujin fast robot moving bolts

The factory floor was represented by Mujin, which has developed a new high-speed manufacturing robot, and Smokie Robotics's general purpose arm that demonstrated its ability to carry out various tasks, such as identifying and manipulating objects, or quality control testing of tablet styluses.

Meanwhile, Suitable Technologies concentrated more on meeting than manufacturing with demonstrations of its BeamPro and Beam telepresence robots.

The part of the conference that seemed to generate the most excitement were the challenges intended to spur invention and technology sharing. The most prominent (and certainly taking up the most floor space) was the Amazon Picking Challenge, where international teams of students competed for US $26,000 in prizes to develop robots that can pick objects off unstructured shelves. The idea Is to remove designated items from the shelves and place them on a table while being scored for speed, accuracy, and mechanical errors.

A commercial manipulator at the Amazon Picking Challenge
A commercial manipulator at the Amazon Picking Challenge

The winners were Team RBO for first prize, Team MIT for second, with Team Grizzly taking third.

Other challenges included the Humanoids Application Challenge, which saw creating vision-capable humanoid robots to carry out practical tasks, such as a skiing robot to help in mountain rescue operations. The Mobile Microrobotics Challenge saw robots the size of the thickness of a human hair go through tests of autonomy, accuracy, and assembly, and the Humanitarian Robotics and Automation Technology Challenge took on the serious task of identifying and classifying landmines for removal.

We'll be taking a closer look at some of the challenges and new technologies showcased at ICRA 2015 in coming days – in the meantime, check out our ICRA photo gallery.

2 comments
Daishi
Cheaply mapping and navigating spaces is mostly the domino that needs to fall before household robotics can go more mainstream. It was cool seeing the little Turtlebots cruising around mapping the place with the depth sensors but they are $2,000. The iRobot Create 2 is $200 but they would probably frown on commercial use but you would still have to buy a Kinect or Asus Xtion sensor and a netbook for it. Maybe Raspberry Pi has enough computing power now? That might be able to get the total platform cost down to about $500 for something that would navigate an environment. Some of the telepresence robots are getting cheaper too, you could probably pair one with a kinect sensor and it could operate in an automated mode using pretty much only the existing platform + kinect. I'm not sure if people would buy a $2,000 bot that only does telepresence but if it did other things like patrol your house while you are away more people might go for it. I kind of like the idea of putting a small 4 post telco style rack on a platform so you can mount additional hardware and sensors to it. Need an extra battery? Done. Environment monitor, done. Extra lighting, robotic arms to fetch stuff, decent bluetooth speaker. Why not? It would allow people to buy a mostly standard form factor telepresence platform and augment it along the way as they go so they don't have to front all of the costs immediately or make a huge investment in technology that can't be augmented or upgraded. I think it's on the robotics industry to get a working, inexpensive platform that's extendable so people can create and build applications on top of it and they are getting closer to the mark even if not everyone is aiming for it.
IgorGabrielan
What kind of company "Ambit"? "Then there were the more rugged platforms built by Ambit or Clearpath Robotics."