This Summer I attended the International Symposium on Experimental Robotics. This meeting takes place every second year and tends to be located in diverse locations. This year it was in Athens, Greece and Natasha came along to check it out and do some sightseeing.
As the name implies, the conference features papers that have an experimental component. The selection on topics was very diverse ranging from medical robotics and (endoscopy -- cameras on a flexible stick) to search and rescue. There were a couple of papers on very different kinds dealing with autonomous or semi-autonomous flying helicopters. A student from Andrew Ng's lab discussed their ongoing work on the control of helicopters, and the amazing dynamics they can manage. Somebody from Nick Roy's lab presented the vision-based helicopter system they have developed that recently won a search-and-rescue contest (as noted previously in this blog in entry 112).
My own presentation dealt with the Aqua underwater vehicle and I talked about some new ways we are doing visual servo control to interact with human divers. In particular, I talked about some early results on using machine learning to assist the construction of servo controllers for real-time tracking underwater where color is an important cue.
As usual, the conference presented a great opportunity to meet people from the community and talk about research. Unlike larger meetings, the group is fairly focussed and you end up spending plenty of time with the same (very interesting) group. For example, I got to speak at length with a couple of interesting younger researchers such as Katie Byl and Jonathan Clark, and may end up with a new research sub-project as a result. Of course, it was also great to meet many old friends and colleagues, not the least of whom was the eminent Oussama Khatib who is the lead organizer of the meeting. Natasha got to briefly monopolize the dance floor with Oussama at the end-of-conference dinner; he also turns out to be a great dancer.
A highlight of the trip, aside from the talks, was a concert one evening. This was a performance by the Bolshoi Orchestra that was held in the Acropolis! They performed “Alexander Nevsky", a cantata for mezzo-soprano chorus and orchestra, opus 78 (1939) Sergei Prokofiev and Vladimir Lugovskoy. It also included Violin Concert No. 2, with Simos Papanas (of Thessaloniki) as the soloist and was conducted by the chief conductor of the Bolshoi: Alexander Vedernikov. This was the best possible venue for a concert and made the trip truly memorable.