Highlights on International Conference on Robotics & Automation
June 5, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Roboticswas 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.