BY: Samuel Bouchard // Wed, November 25, 2009
Robots with nimble hands already help us assemble cars, harvest fruits, and even disarm bombs. Now when will they be ready to assist us with another life-changing task: loading a dishwasher?
Nobody really knows. To find out, a group of roboticists is organizing the Mobile Manipulation Challenge, to take place at the 2010 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Research groups are invited to bring their robots to Anchorage, Alaska, next May to show their skills at moving around cluttered spaces and manipulating objects autonomously.
This is the third edition of the challenge. The first two were more in the format of open demonstrations. This time the tasks will be standardized. They were chosen to be complex and compelling: the robots will have to „clear up a room that has been used as a toddler’s playground“ (talk about clutter) and „clear a dining table and place all the dishes in a dishwasher tray.“
To learn more about the challenge, I talked with Matei Ciocarlie, a researcher at Willow Garage who is helping organize the event.
Automaton: What is the goal of the Mobile Manipulation Challenge?
Matei Ciocarlie: First I want to emphasize that it is a challenge, not a competition. There won’t be any winner or loser and no big fat prize will be awarded. This event is about sharing knowledge. The main objective is to assess the state of the art in mobile manipulation, which is a harder question than it seems. Everybody uses its platform in its own environment so it is hard to really understand where this complex field really is.
Automaton: The challenge brings up the theme of standardization, which many people in the robotics community believe is necessary to popularize personal robots. Where will standardization come from in robotics?
Ciocarlie: In terms of software, it is clear for me that it will come from open source, which is the whole idea behind our effort at Willow. In terms of hardware, standardization is desirable, but we have to be carefull not to adopt standards that will hinder creativity. We have to find the right balance, at the right time. It is still not clear for me if people will join the early winners to make de facto standards or if they’ll come from something like an ISO or IEEE committee.