Willow Garage Blog

June 9, 2010

LaundryPR2 Beta Program: A Platform for Personal Robotics

The University of California, Berkeley already has a history with the PR2. Last winter, Jeremy Maitin-Shepard spent his nights working on a PR2 at Willow Garage. At the end of this project, Jeremy had the PR2 folding towels with a success rate of 100%. Now, UC Berkeley is getting its own PR2, and we're excited to see what else the team will accomplish. Berkeley's ambitious plans for the PR2 include manipulation of deformable objects, hierarchical planning, perception, and learning from demonstrations.

Towels were only the beginning of Berkeley's work with non-rigid materials and laundry. Berkeley's researchers will use the next two years to work on taking it to a whole new level: doing the full laundry cycle, from dirty clothes in a laundry basket to clean, folded clothes. This will present multiple, more difficult challenges. One of the challenges in folding towels was identifying the correct places to grab a crumpled towel and straighten it into a flat, foldable towel. With clothes, Berkeley will have to improve their techniques to handle more difficult and varied shapes. The PR2 will also have to operate with greater robustness and complete new tasks in order to finish the full laundry cycle.

Last summer, UC Berkeley's Jason Wolfe studied hierarchical planning with the PR2 during his internship at Willow Garage. Humans use this type of planning everyday to make the most of their movements. If you have to carry the laundry to your room and replace the batteries in your alarm clock, you'll probably plan to swing by the kitchen drawer for batteries before picking up the laundry basket and heading to the bedroom. You could make two separate trips, but your time is more efficiently used if you're able to plan your actions more optimally. The same kind of task planning will make robots more efficient, and UC Berkeley will work on this challenging research area with their new PR2.

In the area of perception, the Berkeley team will work on improving the PR2's ability to find and interact with real-world objects. Some of the research areas Berkeley will work on include recognizing transparent objects, like glasses, finding people, and determining the correct way to grasp objects.

Lastly, Berkeley plans to use the PR2 for learning from demonstrations. Programming robots can be time-consuming and requires expert programmers. What if you could teach a robot simply by demonstrating what you want it to do? Berkeley will work on this challenge and teach the PR2 tasks, like basic assembly of objects.

Berkeley teamThe Team

The UC Berkeley team brings together expertise over a wide range of relevant fields.

The team includes an excellent group of graduate students and postdocs, including the following: Mario Fritz, Haomiao Huang, Warren Hoburg, Judy Hoffman, Sergey Karayev, Jeremy Maitin-Shepard, Stephen Miller, Mathieu Salzmann, Pranav Shah, Arjun Singh, Hyun-Oh Song, Jie Tang, Ramanrayan Vasudevan, Michael Vitus, and Jason Wolfe.


Below is a video of Arjun Singh presenting the UC Berkeley proposal to the rest of the PR2 Beta Program participants. You can download the slides as PDF.

June 7, 2010

TeaAssistive Mobile Manipulation for Older Adults at Home

A PR2 will soon arrive at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where an interdisciplinary team will research how robots can help older adults live independently at home. The populations of the United States, Europe, and Japan are all getting older. With proportionally fewer young people around to provide care, experts are concerned that costs will skyrocket and seniors will not receive the help they desire. Robots like the PR2 may be able to help older adults stay in their homes longer with a high quality of life. The Georgia Tech team aims to make progress towards this long-held dream.

Rather than try to guess what seniors want, the team will work with older adults to better understand their needs and how robots can help. The team will also write code to make the PR2 perform helpful tasks at home. By working closely with seniors throughout the research process, the team hopes to better meet real needs and accelerate progress. To make everything more realistic, the robot will spend some of its time in a real, two-story house on the Georgia Tech campus, called the Aware Home. This will enable older adults to work with the robot in a convincing environment, and will give the software developers a good place to test their code.

It's an ambitious proposal, but the Georgia Tech team has the experience to pull it off. For example, the Healthcare Robotics Lab, which is leading the software development, has extensive background in human-scale assistive robots to help people with severe motor impairments. Their robots Cody and EL-E already use ROS and the lab plans to port many of these robots' capabilities to the PR2, including opening doors and drawers, operating lamps and light switches, fetching and delivering objects, and perception for operation in cluttered environments. Moreover, the Healthcare Robotics Lab has developed intuitive interfaces that people can use to command Cody and EL-E, such as a point and click interface that uses a laser pointer, an RFID-based interface, and direct physical interfaces.

Another key part of the team is the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory from the School of Psychology; this group will be leading the human-robot interaction research. They have extensive experience researching technology for older adults, including a recent survey on how older adults would like to use robots.

This PR2 team will bring us closer to the day when robotic assistance allows people to confidently stay in their homes as they get older.

Georgia TechThe Team

The Georgia Tech team combines the expertise of researchers from biomedical engineering, psychology, and interactive computing. Several members are also active in Georgia Tech's Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines and the Robotics PhD program.

Prof. Charlie Kemp, who is director of the Healthcare Robotics Lab, is leading the overall project and the software development thrust. Prof. Wendy Rogers, who is director of the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory, is leading the human-robot interaction thrust. The other team members follow:

The team includes an excellent group of graduate students and postdocs, including the following: Jenay Beer, Tiffany Chen, Travis Deyle, Tucker Hermans, Advait Jain, Marc Killpack, Chih-Hung (Aaron) King, Hai Nguyen, and Cory-Ann Smarr.


Below is a video of Charlie Kemp presenting Georgia Tech's proposal to the rest of the PR2 Beta Program participants. You can download the slides as PDF.

Article written with assistance from Travis Deyle (Healthcare Robotics Lab and Hizook.com) and Prof. Charlie Kemp.

June 2, 2010

Here are some video highlights from our PR2 Graduation Party, which celebrated the 11 PR2s that are being distributed in the PR2 Beta Program. Check out the video for shots of all 11 PR2s dancing together and other fun footage. For photos and other details, please see our previous post.

June 1, 2010

Our Gazebo engineers have been hard at work bringing improvements to the Gazebo user interface and the simulation quality of the PR2 robot.  These improvements will be available with the forthcoming release of ROS C-Turtle.  Included will be the option to create simple shapes (boxes, spheres, and cylinders) and light sources (point, spot, and directional) within the GUI, while a simulation is running. This capability lets a developer dynamically change and even create a simulation environment on the fly. These modifications can be saved to file, and reloaded as needed.

You will be able to use the mouse to select and manipulate every object in the simulation.  Once an object is selected, three rings and six boxes appear around the object. The rings allow you to rotate the object in all three axes, and the boxes provide a mechanism for translation. This manipulation interface provides a convenient and intuitive tool with which to modify a simulation. It's also possible to pause and modify the world by pressing the space bar, or simply selecting the pause button.

In addition to these GUI improvements, more ROS service and topic interfaces will be added in the new Gazebo release.  For details on the proposed Gazebo ROS API, please check out this tutorial.

The upcoming version of Gazebo will also include improvements to the model of the PR2 robot.  With the help of some graphic artists, we've added detailed meshes and textures to the PR2 model.  These new meshes not only improve the appearance of the PR2 in simulation, but also improve the way sensors such as laser range finders interact with the robot. These new details, along with GPU shaders, create a realistic simulation of the PR2.  

Gazebo's enhanced representations of the real world demonstrate the power of developing and debugging algorithms using Gazebo.  Check out the videos below to see the new features in action!

May 28, 2010


Dance Introducing the PR2s Keenan Wyrobek and Eric Berger Scott Hassan, Founder Party Steve Cousins, CEO

On Wednesday night, we officially kicked off the PR2 Beta Program with a party and robot unveiling.  Over three hundred guests gathered at Willow Garage, and watched as all 11 Beta robots were introduced.  Scott Hassan, the founder of Willow Garage, laid out his vision for increasing productivity by bringing robots out of the factory and into our everyday lives.  Keenan Wyrobek and Eric Berger, co-directors of the personal robotics program, outlined the PR2 hardware platform and ROS software platform, highlighting how excited we are about the rapid adoption of ROS within the robotics community.

After the robot unveiling, representatives from each Beta Site came forth to claim their robots.  Demos, photo ops and human-robot dancing ensued.

More photos


May 26, 2010

PR2 Beta Workshop

PR2 Beta Workshop PR2 Beta Workshop PR2 Beta Workshop PR2 Beta Workshop PR2 Beta Workshop

On Monday, we kicked off the PR2 Beta Program Workshop.  Representatives from all 11 institutions are here at Willow Garage, learning about ROS and their new PR2 robots.  We're having a great time getting to know each of the groups, and hearing more about their plans for the robot.  Check out some photos above! 

May 21, 2010

Call For Papers: IROS 2010 workshop: Semantic Mapping and Autonomous Knowledge Acquisition

Dirk Holz (University of Bonn), Tom Duckett (University of Lincoln) and our own Radu Bogdan Rusu are organizing a workshop at IROS 2010 in Taipei, Taiwan on "Semantic Mapping and Autonomous Knowledge Acquisition". The workshop will bring together researchers from areas such as Computer Vision, Cognitive Robotics, 3D Mapping, Mobile Manipulation, Machine Learning, Knowledge Representation, Exploration, and Decision Theory.

We invite community members to submit papers presenting their latest work on novel methods for semantic perception and autonomous knowledge acquisition. Please see the workshop 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 July 1st, 2010; check the workshop website for details.

Important Dates:

  • Submissions Due: July 1, 2010
  • Notification of Acceptance: July 23, 2010
  • Final Papers Due: August 6, 2010
  • Workshop at IROS:  October 18, 2010
May 20, 2010

PR2 at Stanford PR2 at Stanford-2 PR2 at Stanford-4 PR2 at Stanford-5 PR2 at Stanford-6 PR2 at Stanford-7 PR2 at Stanford-8

The first PR2 Beta Program robot has officially left Willow Garage and arrived safely at Stanford Univeristy.  We're excited to get the Beta Program underway, and next week, we'll be hosting representatives from each of the 11 Beta Sites for a ROS and PR2 workshop.  We plan to ship out the remaining 10 robots in approximately three weeks.  This first short-distance shipment served as a practice run for getting the next PR2 robots to their new homes, and we were excited to see the Stanford recipients unpack and drive the robot out of its crate without incident.  We were even more pleased to see the PR2 collecting data for an object recognition task within a few hours of arriving at the lab.

The PR (Personal Robot) project took off in Ken Salisbury's lab, and it was only appropriate that the PR1 be hauled out for a photo-op with its decendant.  Thanks to Eddie Salisbury for the great photos; we're glad to see the PR2 settling into its new home.

May 18, 2010

Google I/O 2010 kicks off tomorrow at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.  Google I/O is Google's developers conference, bringing together thousands of developers for two days of deep technical content.  This year, Google is introducing GadgetFest at the conference, an interactive playground featuring futuristic technologies, robots, 3D visualizations and simulations, and other innovative gadgets.  Willow Garage will be roaming around GadgetFest, part of the After Hours Evening Event, with a PR2.  If you're interested in chatting, track us down!

To learn more about Google I/O, check here.

May 17, 2010

Last weekend, we brought a few Texai and PR2 robots over to the X PRIZE fundraiser in San Francisco.  The PR2 robots moved through the crowd, operated by Willow Garage employees, while the Texai were teleoperated by invitees that were unable to attend the event.  You can see Sergey Brin's keynote presentation via the Texai, below.

Check out these sites for more details:
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