PR2 Beta Sites: Spotlight on Penn

Path planningPR2GRASP: From Perception and Reasoning to Grasping

Household robotics is an area that can potentially change our lives for the better. Most importantly, disabled and elderly people can become less dependent on others if household robots are available to clean, cook, bring clothes and medication, and perform other home chores.  Unfortunately, robust household robotics is also one of the more difficult areas of the field.  At Penn, the PR2 recipients will tackle a number of the challenges facing the personal robotics field.

One such challenge is navigation in dynamic environments. For personal robots to be effective, they must be able to navigate while taking into account the movements of dynamic obstacles such as people.  To this end, the Penn group will use the PR2 to continue their work on such issues as motion planning for navigation and people tracking in cluttered spaces for navigation.    

Another project on Penn's list is spring-loaded door opening with the PR2.  While the PR2 can already open doors at Willow Garage, the robot is not yet capable of opening spring-loaded doors. In order to function robustly in real environments, a personal robot must be equipped to manipulate a variety of doors.  Because the PR2 has two arms, the robot might soon be able to open a spring-loaded door without the door closing on the robot before it releases the door handle and travels through the doorway.  This ability to open more challenging doors can make the PR2, and other robots, more useful in our everyday lives.

In addition to navigation and door-opening, the team at Penn aims to modify the PR2 hardware and create support for modular end-effectors.  Penn is one of the only Beta Sites to propose hardware changes, and the team hopes to improve the PR2's capabilities by making available end-effectors that are capable in ways that the current grippers are not.

Penn's proposal also includes a variety of other diverse projects, including: visual localization and pose estimation of objects for grasping; transferring natural handheld objects between the PR2, humans, and other robots; learning salient features for better perceptual processing by the PR2; planning and controls for two-arm manipulation; and establishing telepresence through the PR2 with the Pennochio project.

To see what's currently happening on the PR2GRASP project, check out

Penn teamThe Team

This project includes the efforts of eight researchers coming from three different areas of Engineering and Science and specializing in such diverse areas of robotics as vision, planning, controls, machine learning, haptics and hardware design. These joint efforts are being led by Maxim Likhachev.

The team also includes an excellent group of graduate students and postdocs, including the following: Ben Cohen, Steve Gray, Soonkyum Kim, Mike Phillips, Cody Phillips, Matt Piccoli, Joseph Romano.


Below is a video of the Penn team presenting their proposal to the rest of the PR2 Beta Program participants. You can download the slides as PDF.

This article written with assistance from Maxim Likhachev.