"Challenges and Opportunities for Autonomous Robots in the Wild"

Thursday, November 10th @ 11am PST

Zoom: https://ucsd.zoom.us/j/92050012028 (and viewing CSE 2154)

Speaker:  Chris Heckman

Seminar Abstract

When we in the robotics research community think of what we'd like autonomous agents to tackle in the future, we often target "dull, dirty, and dangerous" tasks. However, despite a sustained boom in robotics research over the last decade, the number of places we've seen robotics in use for these tasks has been uninspiring. Successful commercialization of autonomous robots have required significant human scaffolding through teleoperation, and incredible amounts of capital, to achieve, and despite this are still limited by brittle systems and hand-engineered components. The reality seems to be that these tasks are not nearly as dull as they might seem on the surface, and instead require ingenuity for success some small but critical fraction of the time. In this talk, I focus on my recent investigation into where the limits of autonomy are for the highly sought-after application to subterranean emergency response operations. This application was motivated by the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, which just last year concluded with the CU Boulder team "MARBLE" taking third place and winning a $500,000 prize. In this talk, I will give an overview into the genesis of our solution over three years of effort, especially with respect to mobility, autonomy, perception, and communications. I'll also discuss the implications for present-day robotic autonomy and where we go from here.


Chris Heckman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Jacques I. Pankove Faculty Fellow in the College of Engineering & Applied Science. He is also a Visiting Academic with Amazon Scout, where he is addressing last-mile delivery by developing autonomous robots on sidewalks. He earned his BS in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley in 2008 and his PhD in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University in 2012, where he was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. He had postdoctoral appointments at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC as an NRC Research Associate, and at CU Boulder as a Research Scientist, before joining the faculty there in 2016.