Column by IEEE RAS VP of Technical Activities

Amplifying Research

Ken Goldberg, Vice President of Technical Activities
Professor, IEOR and EECS, UC Berkeley,
(Column for the June 2006 issue of Robotics and Automation Magazine)

"The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn." - John W. Holt, Jr.

I woke up on October 8, 2005 and rushed to the Internet to check the progress of a group of experimental robot vehicles racing through the Mojave desert. As creative ideas raced head to head, Mobile Robotics was entering a new era. Research in Robotics and Automation is thriving: the past year produced new books by MIT Press and Springer STAR, new conferences such as RSS and CASE, new products such as the retooled Lego Mindstorms, and the 132-mile DARPA Grand Challenge Robot Race which was successfully completed by four teams. According to Sebastian Thrun from the winning Stanford Racing Team, some of the lessons learned were:

  • Software can overcome limitations in hardware
  • Integration of heterogeneous sensors is vital
  • Pre-operation testing is essential
  • Machine learning allows tuning before and during operation

In summary, make mistakes faster than your competitors! Although this Grand Challenge was somewhat restricted to American teams, it had many key contributors from overseas. The race defined a common goal and allowed approaches and results to be compared head to head. It also generated great interest from the public and future roboticists. Although details can and should be debated, this was a positive step forward for our field and is stimulating future research in associated areas.

Speaking of future research, Technical Committees (TCs) are formed to promote research in subfields of Robotics and Automation. The RAS currently has 19 TCs as listed below. Each TC has up to 3 co-chairs, one of whom, the Corresponding Co-Chair, is responsible for maintaining the TC member mailing list and communicating regularly with members.

One of our goals is to make TCs more like amplifiers than capacitors. Rather than serving as repositories for research, TCs will actively work to expand and stimulate research. This can be done in a variety of ways: through workshops, special issues, and by maintaining an up to date TC website. We are also pushing for an expanded role for TCs in conferences: organizing sessions and reviewing workshop proposals. Probably the best way to amplify research is to foster communication with TC members about open problems, new technologies, new results, and new opportunities for collaboration.

TC membership is free and open to anyone (it is not necessary to be a member of IEEE). Please consider joining one or more TCs by visiting the TC website. To join and be added to a TC mailing list, just send email to the TC's corresponding co-chair.

I'm hoping that a number of new TCs will be created over the next two years. Most of the existing TCs are organized around applications, but TCs on methodology are also welcome. The website includes links to a new Charter describing how to propose a new TC, duties of TC chairs and TAB officers, a new TAB online database, and other new developments. It also describes our Distinguished Lecturer program, which will have a new emphasis on reaching the general public which I'll describe in an upcoming report.

I feel very fortunate to join President Dick Volz and the other officers serving you for the 2006-2007 term. Great thanks are due to Roland Siegwart and Bruno Siciliano for their excellent leadership of the Technical Activities Board during previous terms. I'd like to welcome Frank van der Stappen and Katsu Yamane as new Associate VPs of Technical Activities, and Tatsuo Arai, Alicia Casals, Satoshi Tadokoro, and Sebastian Thrun as appointed TAB members whom I will work closely with in addition to officers and the Technical Committee Co-Chairs to advocate and expand research.

Speaking of competition and amplification, check out the TAB website to see which of the TCs was voted Most Active at ICRA. I look forward to working with you and to making many (hopefully constructive!) mistakes along the way...


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