Rhode Island: It's All in Our Backyard

Brown robot rocks global competition

December 23, 2015 by chris

Brown University has beat out more than 90 total entries from 19 countries around the globe to win the inaugural “Rethink Robotics Video Challenge.”  Stephanie Tellex, assistant professor of computer science and the principal investigator at Brown’s Humans to Robots Lab, took first place (with a little help from the band AC/DC and graduate student John Oberlin) for her humorous video about teaching her Baxter-brand robot to manipulate objects through trial and error. The grand prize – a brand, spanking new Baxter robot —is on its way to Our Backyard from Rethink Robotics.

The goal of the Challenge was to highlight the amazing work being done by the research and education community with Baxter robots. Users of its Baxter robot submitted videos showing them solving real-world problems, whether in research, manufacturing, or education. A significant obstacle to robots achieving their full potential in practical applications is the difficulty in manipulating an array of diverse objects. Brown’s Humans to Robots Lab is driving change in this area by using its Baxter to collect and record manipulation experiences for one million real-world objects.

On a factory floor, robots do a great job of picking up and manipulating objects that they’ve been programmed to handle. However, picking up objects that they’ve never encountered before can be a big problem for even the most sophisticated robots. Tellex developed an algorithm that enables her Baxter to learn how to pick up new objects by repeatedly trying (and often failing) to do so. Over time, the robot learns how best to pick up the object, and can do so successfully on future attempts.

“Our goal in creating the Rethink Robotics Video Challenge was to raise awareness of the tremendous amount of unique, cutting-edge research being conducted using collaborative robots that advances our collective education,” says Rodney Brooks, founder, chairman, and CTO of Rethink Robotics. “Brown was ultimately chosen as the best entry because the work being conducted by the Humans to Robots Lab at Brown University is critical to helping robots become more functional in our daily lives.”