Expanding the reach of robotics

From flying and crawling through quake-ravaged wreckage to performing dexterous feats of minimally invasive surgery and enabling paraplegics to walk, the vision of what robots and intelligent machines can do has come a long way since I first began the robotics effort at Berkeley in 1983.

At that time, we were programming robot manipulators to stack blocks. With the recruitment of Jitendra Malik, John Canny and Ron Fearing, the Robotics and Intelligent Machines Lab was founded, and we set about adding vision and tactile sensing. We were soon joined by Ken Goldberg, Homayoon Kazerooni, Kris Pister, Ruzena Bajcsy, Karl Hedrick, Raja Sengupta, Claire Tomlin, Alex Bayen, Pieter Abbeel and others who expanded our efforts in many new and groundbreaking directions.

All these accomplishments were on display recently as a panel of College robotics faculty reported on the leading advances in the field. A short video featuring the researchers and their remarkable inventions is now posted to our Berkeley Engineering YouTube channel.

Panelist Ron Fearing speaks about being inspired by biology to miniaturize his “roach-bots” and teach them to crawl and fly. Claire Tomlin describes how to engage the “embedded human” in the midst of unmanned automated vehicles and aircraft, while Kris Pister speaks of making “smart dust” more mobile and multi-sensory. Homi Kazerooni, known widely for the robotic exoskeleton that enabled paraplegic Cal student Austin Whitney to walk at graduation last May, explains where prosthetics research is headed.

Also featured in our video, Ken Goldberg connects robotics to social networks and describes his role in catalyzing the rollout of a new National Robotics Initiative, which will hasten the translation of robotics research into commercial applications. This initiative was announced by President Obama as part of the new public-private Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) in June. Berkeley is one of five academic institutions leading this AMP initiative, and will be co-hosting a regional AMP meeting with Stanford here on December 5.

Meanwhile, the new issue of Forefront highlights Professor Stuart Russell’s pioneering A.I. work for the United Nations’ Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in the cover story, “Artificial intelligence outsmarts the bomb.”

As always, I welcome your suggestions and comments on this topic and on the entire scope of our teaching, research and service mission.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies
Email Dean Sastry