Willow Garage Blog

April 6, 2010

ICRA 2010 is fast approaching, and we're excited to pack up and head north for a week.  Until then, we'd like to share some of the work you can expect to see from us in Anchorage.  Over the next month, we'll periodically run blog posts spotlighting some of the papers we'll be presenting, and workshops we'll be participating in.  If you see something that strikes your fancy, drop on by!

First up is the Best Practice Algorithms in 3D Perception and Modeling for Mobile Manipulation workshop, organized by Radu Bogdan Rusu, Gary Bradski, Andreas Nuechter, and Alexey Zakharov.  The goal of this workshop is to identify the state of the art of 3D perception and modeling algorithms for mobile manipulation.

       This full-day workshop will take place on Monday, May 3 (9:00 am-12:30 pm and 2:00 pm-5:30 pm) in the Dena'ina Center, Kahtnu 1.

Next up is the Representations for Object Grasping and Manipulation workshop, aimed at discussing the needs for the design of a robot system capable of performing grasping and manipulation tasks in open-ended, unpredictable environments.  Willow Garage's Matei Ciocarlie and Radu Bogdan Rusu will be among the speakers, presenting "Combining Perception and Manipulation in ROS."

       This full-day workshop will take place on Monday, May 3 (9:00 am-12:30 pm and 2:00 pm-5:30 pm) in the Dena'ina Center, Tubughnenq' 4.

Another workshop to look for is the Workshop on Mobile Manipulation, organized by Patrick Pfaff, Wolfram Burgard, Kris Hauser, Sachin Chitta, and Oliver Brock.  This workshop will discuss the state of the art of mobile manipulation research. Willow Garage's Kaijen Hsiao, Matei Ciocarlie, Gil Jones, and Sachin Chitta will be among the participants, presenting "Contact-Reactive Grasping of Objects with Partial Shape Information."  For a glimpse of their work, see the video on reactive grasping, below. 

       The full-day workshop will take place on Friday, May 7 (9:00 am-12:30 pm and 2:00 pm-5:30 pm) in the Dena'ina Center, Tubughnenq' 3.


April 6, 2010

Yesterday evening, an NBC Bay Area news crew visited Willow Garage to talk about Berkeley's towel-folding application on the PR2, which has gotten a lot of attention.  They chatted with Jeremy Maitin-Shepard of Berkeley and Willow Garage's Eric Berger. Check out the video below!

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcbayarea.com/video.

April 2, 2010

We knew Berkeley's footage of PR2 folding towels was cool when we tweeted it on @willowgarage, but we weren't quite prepared for the viral Internet storm that followed:

The towel-folding is the work of Pieter Abbeel's group at Berkeley. Jeremy Maitin-Shepard spent many a long night with one of our PR2 alpha prototypes, here at Willow Garage, adapting their research to ROS and the PR2 platform. Marco Cusumano-Towner and Jinna Lei also contributed to the work. The towel-folding is all the more impressive due to the level of robustness they were able to achieve: they successfully folded 50 out of 50 towels. As we've learned with our plugging-in code, once you've made something robust, it's easy to make it faster and more efficient in the future.

We're hoping to put together something more proper to highlight and describe the work that was done. In the meantime, they will be presenting their work at ICRA 2010, and you can read their paper here.

Update: here's a news piece from the Berkeley news office that describes more.

April 1, 2010

March 31, 2010


Willow Garage will be at RoboGames 2010, which is being held from April 23-25 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Stop by Saturday and Sunday to see what we've managed to steal away from the lab. RoboGames has always been a fun event for us, and we're excited to participate this year as a sponsor. Last year, Counter Revolution managed to take some chunks out of the combat stadium, and this year one of our interns will be competing in the firefighting competition.

We commissioned a PR2/Box Turtle poster from 2008 RoboGames poster artist Josh Ellingson:

Robot Power

We'll have 8.5"x11" posters as giveaways in our booth, so come grab one and check out our robots! You can also see more of Josh's awesome artwork in person this weekend at Wondercon in San Francisco, and you can see some making-of images in Josh's Flickr photoset.

The artwork above is licensed as Creative Commons (cc by-nc), so feel free to download and print your own.

March 30, 2010

Many of you have been asking how you can help us test the Texai robot. Stay tuned!

March 30, 2010

Antonio Morales, Mario Prats, Siddhartha Srinivasa, and Radu Bogdan Rusu, are organizing a workshop at RSS 2010 in Zaragoza, Spain: Strategies and Evaluation for Mobile Manipulation in Household Environments. The workshop will analyze new strategies for addressing the mobile manipulation challenge in household settings.

We invite the community to submit papers presenting their latest work on novel methods for advanced semantic perception in cluttered environments, sensor-based control including the robot-environment dynamics, task-oriented planning algorithms, and human-robot cooperative manipulation. Please see the website for a more complete list of topics. We welcome preliminary results, particularly with compelling videos or live demonstrations. Whether or not you submit a paper, you are invited to attend the workshop.

The submission deadline is May 8, 2010; check the website for details.

March 29, 2010

On April 14, 2010, Willow Garage will be at the National Robotics Week event at Paul Brest Hall on the Stanford University campus.  We'll be able to steal a PR2 and Texai away from the lab, so you can check out our robots!  The event runs from 12-6 pm, and is free to the public.

Other participants include:

For more information, including directions to the venue, please click here.  Hope to see you there!

March 25, 2010

When talking with people face-to-face, we may experience the "Cocktail Party Effect": even in a crowded, noisy room, we can use our binaural hearing to focus our listening on a single person speaking. With current telepresence technologies, however, we lose this important ability. Thankfully, there are already researchers giving us new tools for effectively bridging these remote distances.

Kyoto University's Professor Hiroshi Okuno and Assistant Professor Toru Takahashi, Honda Research Institute-Japan's Dr. Kazuhiro Nakadai, and four Kyoto University and Tokyo Institute of Technology graduate students spent a week at Willow Garage, integrating HARK with a Texai telepresence robot. HARK stands for Honda Research Institute-Japan (HRI-JP) Audition for Robots with Kyoto University.  The robot audition system provides sound source localization, sound source separation, acoustic feature extraction, and automatic speech recognition.

The HARK system integrated well with ROS and our Texai.  The Texai was outfitted with a green salad bowl helmet embedded with eight microphones, and there is now a hark package for ROS. Using this setup, their team put together three demos showing off the potential for telepresence technologies.

In the first demo, four people, including one present through a second Texai, talk over each other while the HARK-Texai separates out each voice.  The second demo shows that sound is localized and that sound direction and power can be displayed in a radar chart.  The final presentation puts these two demos together into a powerful new interface for the remote operator: the Texai pilot can determine where various sounds and voices are coming from, and select which sound to focus on.  The HARK system then provides the pilot with the desired audio, cutting out any background noise or additional voices. Even in a crowded room, you can have a one-on-one conversation.

HARK came out of close collaboration between HRI-JP and Kyoto University, and Professor Okuno's passion to make computer/robot audition helpful for the hearing impaired. HARK is provided free and open source for research purposes and can be licensed for commercial applications.

March 23, 2010

One of the ROS libraries currently under development is a web infrastructure that allows you to control the robot and various applications via a normal web browser. The web browser is a powerful interface for robotics because it is ubiquitous, especially with the availability of fully-featured web browsers on smart phones.

The web_interface stack for ROS allows you to connect to a web-enabled ROS robot, see through its cameras, and launch applications. Under the hood is a Javascript library that is capable of sending and receiving ROS messages, as well as calling ROS services.

With just a couple of clicks from any web browser, you can start up and calibrate a robot. We've written applications for basic capabilities like joystick control and tucking the arms of the PR2. We've also written more advanced applications that let you select the locations of outlets on a map, and instruct the PR2 where to plug in. We hope to see many more applications available through this interface so that users can control their robot easily with any web-connected device.

We're also developing 3D visualization capabilities based on the O3D extension that is available with upcoming versions of Firefox and Chrome. This 3D visualization environment is already being tested as a user interface for grasping objects.

All of these capabilities are still under active development and not recommended for use yet, but we hope that they will become useful platform capabilities in future releases.