The International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) is the premiere event for the robotics research community. The 2022 meeting in Philadelphia returned the meeting to a strong semblance of what it used to be before the pandemic, most recently in 2019 (Montreal). In between the conference took place, but generally with a greatly-reduced in-person component, or a very atypical geographical distribution of attendees. The attendance in 2022 was as big or bigger that it had ever been, and the researchers and companies in attendance were greatly invigorated by the opportunity to see each other in person again, and to engage in the professional networking that is so important in building a community. In general, my impression is that smaller meetings and sub-communities have done pretty well in "virtual mode" during the pandemic, but building connections is a much larger community, especially between people who don't already know each other was difficult.
Robotics has continued to thrive all through the pandemic, and the quality of the research papers being presented was noticeably strong. For somebody like me who has been "in the game" a long time, it's exciting to see how much the quality of the work being done has improved, in terms of core science, engineering, testing and pragmatic impact. In the context of pragmatic impact, the trade show was also very impressive. The kind of companies on site, and the sophistication of the robotic systems and technology being show was head was wonderful. My own team from Samsung had a hiring booth and we got applications and expressions of interest from a students and professions of the highest calibre.
I got a tour of the U Penn GRASP lab that had me almost drooling in envy. I was we had something and focussed, comprehensive and spacious at McGill. Macro Hutter from ETH Zurich gave a great keynote talk on legged mobility. Marco is a top-notch research, a very nice gut, and an excellent speaker and did a great job presenting an overview of legged mobility as well as describing the impressive results from the DARPA SubT challenge. Notable, our own Canadian researcher Francois Pomerleau also had a great showing at the SubT challenge. Vandi Verma gave a well-received talk on NASA’s vision of robotic space exploration; it was so popular many people were unable to attend.
Unfortunately, a large number of people I know contracted COVID-19 at the conference, or contracted undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The opening reception with thousands of people was clearly a suspect. Although I wore a mask all through the event, I got sick the day I returned home, but luckily, it’s been fairly easy for me, probably since I was fully vaccinated and “boosted up”.