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13 January
2018

Underwater and surface robotics leaning and mapping the ocean

I am at the 2018 marine robotics field trials and things are ramping up nicely. There are a wide selection of cool projects from several universities including York, University of South Carolina, University of Minnesota and McGill University.

Our own lab is looking at a nice application of inverse reinforcement learning in the context of following divers (such as a marine biologist) and taking optimal photo documentation (such as regions of the reef of interest). We are also deploying an underwater camera to takes footage using similar motivating principles implement in a deep learning architecture.

We start our day at 8am with a morning briefing regarding the day's experiments an the previous days results, successes and challenges. Then we work at sea until dark and do development work and fine-tuning (or more) until late at night. It's exhilarating, but also exhausting.

We have another 5 or 6 applications being fielded.



















By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
24 June
2018

  

The International Conference on Robotics and Automation took place in Brisbane, Australia this year. Despite some concerns that the regional robotics community in Australia was smaller than in other regions, the attendance at the conference exceeded any prior year. This is, no doubt, a reflection of how robotics (as well as AI and vision) are growing in significance, impact and relevance.

The industrial trade show that accompanies the academic tracks of the conference was only a small event that had only limited appeal. It has not grown to a major phenomenon with many companies of all kinds participating. This include companies that address leading edge robotics technologies, as well as organizations that use relatively small-scale (yet important) industrial automation. Some of the attendees seeks to advertise and sell technologies, while others focus on attracting attention to better hire new employees or maybe even build partnerships.

With over 1,000 research presentations, it's hard to summarize the diverse kinds of work being done. Field robotics got a fair bit of attention, which aligns well with some of the challenges in the Australian environment, as well as Canada. Rod Brooks gave a great keynote talk which commented on the importance of considered human needs and interactions, while at the same time delivering a stinging critique of classical HRI research. In fact, his critique related to much of the academic community which he felt was overly focussed on obscure or unrealistic quantitative research benchmarks, as opposed to having a greater impact on real-world needs and performance challenges. Rod has defined much of his career by railing against contemporary research trends, which is a great way to get attention. I feel his critique had some truth in it, yet also was a bit too hyperbolic since conducting scientifically valid quantifiable research is critical to ongoing progress, especially as the field matures. Doing stuff that really works in practice is critical, which was part of Rod's message, but it's also important not to use hype and public relations as the arbiters of progress. Anybody who doubts that should just reflect on the Theranos scandal.

On aspect of the conference that provoked a mixed emotional reaction from me was the fact that only a very small fraction of papers could get full-length oral presentations. While reviewing standards have increased and papers were fully-reviewed and generally of pretty good quality, there was simply not enough space or time to allow them to be presented orally and poster-style presentations were the order of the day. This seems like a development that is not likely to be reversed and we are planning something similar for ICRA 2019.


By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
13 September
2018

  

Submissions for ICRA 2019 are coming in.

We created a special policy for people and organizations being hit directly by hurricane Florence. Since that is probably not a huge fraction of our community, we opted for a solution that involves a substantial amount of manual intercession and verification.

I looks like the conference will be far bigger that originally predicted back when we made our bid many years ago. Best estimates from our team and our community at large are currently at about 4,000 people, but with quite a lot of variance.

We have repeatedly scaled up our plans and with the paper deadline imminent, we should finally have a solid estimate of how big the conference will be, although it's still hard to know the ratio of attendees to papers.


By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
14 September
2018

Extensions for natural disasters

As the ICRA 2019 deadline was approaching, two natural disasters became apparent: Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut. How were to to respond? No official standard policy for deadlines extensions due to natural disasters exists in our community, and some sub-communities like SIGGRAPH do not make exceptions in such cases. Worse yet, we don't have a good standard mechanism for monitoring such events. This is especially tricky since hurricanes and typhoons are intrinsically unpredictable and people can also get upset when extensions are given out selectively and without sufficient cause. Moreover, broad extensions cause a whole cascade of downstream problems and deadline changes what can have potentially serious repercussions.

In our case in 2018, we first became aware of Hurricane Florence (due to being contacted several days early on by members whose universities announced closure policies) and shortly afterwards developed a policy to provide deadline extensions for those who were experiencing extreme hardship.

Subsequently, we learned of Typhoon Mangkhut and extended the policy to that event, first informally and then via an official web site update that took some time to propagate.

This seems to have become a somewhat regular issue and ad hoc methods we used a few year ago when our community was much smaller are not adequate. We will have to develop better mechanisms for world-wide monitoring and adaptation to such emergencies.


By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
16 September
2018

It's too early to be certain, but ICRA 2019 is looking to be a big one, which is what we expected. The number of submissions to RA letters has exceeded previous records, and the number of regular submissions is climbing (see figure), and there are also a few typhoon/hurricane extended-deadline papers to come later.

The plot below shows submissions coming in, but the absolute number is misleading since it fails to indicate papers in the other input streams.


ICRA 2019 submissions
ICRA 2019 submissions
over time as the deadline approaches,
not including RA-letter and delayed papers
(Click to expand)



By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
18 November
2018

  

International Symposium on Experimental Robotics

I went to the International Symposium on Experimental Robotics where our group had a couple of papers, and I also gave a talk at an associated local workshop. The meeting was, as usual, a great mixture of interesting work, professional networking, and a bit of exposure to the local culture.

My colleagues Ioannis and Stergios, with me
My colleagues Ioannis and Stergios, with me
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ISER people assembled for a picture
ISER people assembled for a picture
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Buenos Aires by day
Buenos Aires by day
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ISER people
ISER people
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Buenos Aires by night
Buenos Aires by night
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Sightseeing
Sightseeing
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Giving a talk
Giving a talk
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A also gave a talk at an affiliated workshop
A also gave a talk at an affiliated workshop
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People at the outreach workshop
With the organizers at the outreach workshop
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Yiannis giving his talk
Yiannis giving his talk
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Fancy hotel
Fancy hotel
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By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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