Robotics Fast Track now accepting applications

We’re excited to announce that OSRF and BIT Systems are seeking innovative and revolutionary robotics projects for the Robotics Fast Track (RFT) effort, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The goals of Robotics Fast Track are:

  1. Enable rapid, cost-effective development of new robotics capabilities designed to respond to, and even anticipate, quickly evolving needs in space, maritime, ground, and air operations. RFT will focus on the development of groundbreaking robotic hardware and software by funding novel approaches as well as creative adaptations of existing technologies.
  2. Achieve breakthrough capabilities in less time and at a fraction of the cost typical of government-supported robotic development processes by engaging highly agile organizations and individuals who traditionally have not worked with the U.S. government.

Learn more and apply at rft.osrfoundation.org!

RSS 2015 Workshop on Robot Simulation

A workshop on Realistic, Rapid, and Repeatable Robot Simulation (R4SIM) will be held at the Robotics Science and Systems conference  in Rome, Italy.

The R4SIM workshop is motivated by the need for robotics simulators that

  1. lower the barriers to entering robotics research,
  2. provide a means to realistically and comprehensively simulate systems in conditions, or at scales, that would be unfeasible or impossible to test experimentally, and
  3. enable efficient and reliable transition to and from hardware experiments.

Check out the workshop, call for papers, and important dates at http://r4sim.com/.

And a full CFP is located here:
http://www.r4sim.com/R4SIM-Final.pdf

Robots, Women and Design: Opportunities Abound

This piece was written as a precursor to the Silicon Valley Robotics panel titled “Women in Robotics: Challenge or Opportunity?” Join us at IDEO’s San Francisco office on Wednesday, April 29 at 7 pm to hear from women in a wide range of robotics roles. Tickets can be purchased here.

Let me get the basic statistics out of the way. It is widely acknowledged and reported that women are grossly underrepresented in the STEM fields. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) reported in 2011 that women hold less than 25% of the country’s STEM jobs. Women comprise a mere 17% of Google’s technology workforce; Apple sits at 20%. There are many factors at play, from what the ESA describes as the lack of “family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields,” to gender discrimination and stereotyping, to the shortage of strong female role models.

It is the latter point that I wish to touch on first, because indeed, I found my niche in robotics due in large part to the outstanding mentor I found in Leila Takayama. I met Leila during an internship at Willow Garage, back when I was struggling to apply a psychology degree to a burgeoning interest in badass robots. I began at Willow as an operations intern. I did everything from inventory management, to lunch clean-up, to multimeter measurements on robot stress tests, to light switch labeling. As much as label making satisfies my deepest desire for order, I saw everyone around me designing and building the PR2. At that time, the PR2 was arguably the world’s most sophisticated personal robot. I wanted in on the action. That’s about as far as I got, though – a keen interest in robots – until Leila joined and introduced me to Human-Robot Interaction.

Without a doubt, it was my experience as Leila’s research assistant, her advice and encouragement, and the challenges she emboldened me to take on, that opened my eyes to how I could make a place for myself in the world of robotics. With Leila as my role model and mentor, I conducted HRI research, co-authored a paper, gradually become comfortable surrounded by a nearly all-male engineering team, and shed the sometimes crippling doubt around whether I had what it took to work in a highly technical field. Witnessing Leila successfully navigate this male-dominated industry cemented in me the confidence I needed to pursue a career in robotics, not only as a woman, but as a designer and researcher.

At Leila’s urging, I applied and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction masters program. This turned out to be the second most influential factor in getting me to where I am now, co-founder and Lead UX Designer at OSRF. I mention this because, while UX researchers and designers are now in high demand at technology companies, that path would have been unknown to me without Leila’s example.
The message here is twofold: find a mentor within robotics, as I did with Leila; and realize there can be more to a STEM career than only engineering. There is enormous opportunity for women and researchers and designers; there are countless ways for women to kick ass in the robotics field. Don’t misunderstand me: be an engineer if that’s where your passion lies, but know that there’s more to robotics than engineering.

As robots become increasingly commonplace in our everyday lives, the need for robotics designers and researchers (and engineers) is growing, opening up vast opportunities to shape how robots function and behave, and how we in turn perceive and interact with them. Just one simple example: What should happen during a robot-human encounter in a narrow hallway? Numerous social norms govern this scenario on how to negotiate passage when only humans are involved. Bringing such an encounter to a satisfactory and natural conclusion when a robot is involved requires thoroughly technical as well as social and user experience expertise. Who knows, maybe having a female perspective in this research means that robots will never be guilty of manslamming.

For robots to weave seamlessly into daily life, we must design and construct them with a keen understanding of the preference differences not just between genders, but within male and female populations as well. Robots need to appear non-threatening yet capable, be able to accommodate personal space preferences, and provide the desired amount of information with the communication style or tone most effective with its current audience. Robots designed and built exclusively by men, or exclusively by women, will fail in some regards to meet the needs of half their users. If we wish for robotic technologies to flourish, it would be foolhardy to accept the STEM fields’ gender ratio status quo.

Robotics is special among technical areas in that the breadth of required specialties is exceptionally broad. Without an understanding of technical, psychological, cognitive, and social factors robotics will stay locked in limited industrial application areas. Such a limitation would be a enormous opportunity lost.

Clearpath offers ROS consulting service

Our friends at Clearpath Robotics announced today that they’re offering ROS consulting services for enterprise R&D projects. And they’ve committed to giving part of the proceeds to OSRF, to support the continued development and support of ROS!

This service is something that we’ve heard requested many times, especially from our industry users, and we’re excited that Clearpath is going to offer it. If you’re looking for help or advice in using ROS on a current or upcoming project, get in touch with Clearpath.

OSRF is in Google Summer of Code, version 2015!

Accepted students will participate in real-world software development,
contributing to robotics projects like Gazebo, ROS, and Ignition
Transport, and engaging with the global robotics community, all while
getting paid. As a bonus, this year we also offer ROS-Industrial
projects.

Check out our GSoC site and don’t forget to visit our ideas page, which lists projects that we’re interested in. Feel free to ask
questions and propose suggestions at gsoc@osrfoundation.org. The
student application period starts March 16th. Get ready for a robotics
coding summer!

OSRF joins Dronecode

Dronecode logoWe’re pleased to announce that OSRF has joined the Dronecode Project, which promotes open source platforms for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). That mission, plus the burgeoning use of ROS and Gazebo in UAV development, make Dronecode and OSRF natural partners.

We’ll work with Dronecode to make our tools even more useful for UAV projects. We’ll also bring together the general robotics community and the aerial robotics community. Both groups have valuable tools and capabilities which can be shared, to everyone’s benefit.

We look forward to getting more involved with the UAV community and seeing some amazing open source flying robots.

Dr. Baxter goes to Oregon

At the end of January, Baxter left OSRF for a stint in Corvallis, Oregon where he will be used in a project that is investigating the use of teleoperated robots in the treatment of highly contagious diseases such as Ebola. He will be joining the Personal Robotics Group, part of Oregon State University’s growing Robotics Program, as part of their NSF-funded work to bring robots to the front lines of the current Ebola outbreak.

Health care workers are at the highest risk of exposure when working in close proximity to infected patients. Even the use of personal protective equipment still exposes workers to considerable risk of infection. These risks are due to both faulty practice and extreme conditions, especially in harsh locations such as West Africa where high temperatures and humidity present real operational challenges. The use of intuitive teleoperation interfaces will enable health care workers to remotely operate robots (such as Baxter) to perform significant portions of their jobs from a safe distance. Examples of potential tasks include patient monitoring, equipment moving, and contaminated material disposal. This will allow health care workers to provide needed care while maintaining the important patient-health care worker interaction, all while making their jobs safer and more tolerable.

Here is an example of a task that Baxter will help investigate, as performed by the PR2:

Gazebo Released for DARPA HAPTIX Project

The Gazebo team has been hard at work setting up a simulation environment for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Hand Proprioception and Touch Interfaces (HAPTIX) program. The goal of the HAPTIX program is to provide amputees with prosthetic limb systems that feel and function like natural limbs, and to develop next-generation sensorimotor interfaces to drive and receive rich sensory content from these limbs. Managed by Dr. Doug Weber, HAPTIX is being run out of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office (BTO).

As the organization maintaining Gazebo, OSRF has been tasked with extending Gazebo to simulate prosthetic hands and test environments, and develop both graphical and programming interfaces to the hands. OSRF is officially releasing a new version of Gazebo for use by HAPTIX participants. Highlights of the new release include support for OptiTrack motion capture system; the NVIDIA 3D vision system; numerous teleoperation options including the Razer Hydra, SpaceNavigator, mouse, mixer board and keyboard; a high-dexterity prosthetic arm; and programmatic control of the simulated arm using Linux, Windows and MATLAB. More information and tutorials are available at the Gazebo website. Here’s an overview video:

“Our track record of success in simulation as part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge makes OSRF a natural partner for the HAPTIX program,” according to John Hsu, Chief Scientist at Open Source Robotics Foundation. “Simulation of prosthetic hands and the accompanying GUI will significantly enhance the HAPTIX program’s ability to help restore more natural functionality to wounded service members.”

Gazebo is an open source simulator that makes it possible to rapidly test algorithms, design robots, and perform regression testing using realistic scenarios. Gazebo provides users with a robust physics engine, high-quality graphics, and convenient programmatic and graphical interfaces. Gazebo was the simulation environment for the VRC, the Virtual Robotics Challenge stage of the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

This project also marks the first time Windows and MATLAB users can interact with Gazebo, thanks to our new cross-platform transport library. The scope is limited to the HAPTIX project, however plans are in motion to bring the entire Gazebo package to Windows.

Teams participating on HAPTIX will have access to a customized version of Gazebo that the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL) developed under the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, as well as representative physical therapy objects used in clinical research environments.

More details on HAPTIX can be found in the DARPA announcement.