Team Interview #9< | >

Team: SocRob

Country: Portugal

Affiliation: IST

We recently spoke with Rodrigo Ventura, Assistant Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico, Universiade de Lisboa, about the upcoming RoCKIn2015 event. Here's what he had to say about their mission, vision and preparation for the final event!

Hello Rodrigo - thank you for joining us today. To start with, could you give us a bit of background information on your team, its aims and mission?

Thank you for inviting us. The SocRob team, which stands for Society of Robots, has been involved in scientific robot competitions since 1997. We started with soccer robots (the second meaning of SocRob) in the RoboCup Middle Sized League and have extended towards other leagues over the years, e.g., the 4-legged league and the Robot Search&Rescue. In 2013 we decided to restructure our team by focusing our efforts exclusively on @Home competitions, including both RoCKIn@Home and RoboCup@Home. We deeply endorse the idea that scientific competitions provide a strong push towards addressing challenging scientific problems that arise from the deployment of robots in real-world environments. The team comprises several faculty, postdocs, PhD and MSc students. Most of them are working on topics directly related to these competitions.

What appeals to you about RoCKIn and how does it complement your research and personal development goals? What about robot competitions more generally?

Successful participation in these competitions requires a consistent integration of several robot capabilities: perception, decision-making, navigation, and object manipulation. Since we are newcomers to @home-like competitions, the RoCKIn project provided us with several opportunities to learn about these capabilities and test our solutions within them. We have participated in both Rome and Peccioli camps, as well as in the Toulouse competition.

Have you been involved in robotic competitions before? If so, what were some of the highlights for you?

As I referred above, our team has been a frequent participant in robot competitions, mostly in RoboCup. Our main output has been the various PhD and MSc theses awarded to our students on themes stemming from scientific problems that arise from the competitions, as well as in terms of a consistent publications record. Our recent participation in RoCKIn events has resulted in a few awards (Best in Manipulation at RoCKIn Camp 2014, Best Demo at RoCKIn 2014, Best in Benchmarking at RoCKIn Camp 2015). In our first participation at the RoboCup GermanOpen 2015, our robot was voted by the general public as the Most Appealing Robot.

What role do you think competitions have in furthering innovation in robotics?

Scientific competitions challenge the community in several unique ways: firstly, it provides a common setup upon which the different teams, in equal terms, have to evaluate their solutions (and that is why the benchmarking aspect of RoCKIn is so relevant); second, it takes the teams out of the lab, by exposing them to real world conditions; thirdly, underlying competitiveness ends up pushing teams to their best capabilities; and finally, there is little tolerance for lack of robustness, thus forcing teams to explicitly address reliability issues. All of these aspects provide a big push for innovative solutions towards real-world problems.

How are your preparations for RoCKIn2015 going? What are you finding to be the most challenging areas?

We have been actively working on coupling object perception with manipulation. We have it integrated with the task coordination level in order to solve the TBMs. For us, one of the most challenging areas is object perception, which is key for all competition tasks. We have also been struggling with hardware issues in the arm of our robot.

And finally, what do you think the future holds for domestic robotics?

I believe domestic robots, in the sense of general multipurpose service robots, will have a smooth entry into everyone's homes. Automated machines such as washing and laundry machines have been there for decades; the market for small vacuum cleaner robots and automated home devices, now a stable technology, is growing; and I feel that the progresses we are doing now, as a community, will become commercial technology and will hit the market within the next decade.

Thanks for your time Rodrigo - we're looking forward to seeing you in Lisbon!