We recently spoke with Conor McGinn, Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin about the upcoming RoCKIn2015 Challenge. Here's what they had to say about their mission, vision and preparation for the final event!
Hello Conor - 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?
Hey! Our team was setup from within the robotics research group in Trinity College Dublin. Our guys come from all backgrounds; mechanical engineering, computer science, interactive art and design - you name it. The core philosophy which inspires our research is that robots should be designed in a holistic way - we believe that the robot's physical construction influences its performance just as much as the software governing its behavior.
What appeals to you about RoCKIn and how does it complement your research and personal development goals? What about robot competitions more generally?
Robot competitions are fantastic! They make learning fun and if you are competitive (like we are!), they provide an opportunity to test yourself against your peers. However for us RoCKIn is a little bit special. As our group's research is concerned with the design of domestic service robots, it has proven challenging to accurately capture the capabilities of our robots in 'real-world' settings. Being involved with RoCKIn is helping us develop better methods of evaluating our robots as well as providing a framework to assess the performance of our robots relative to equivalent ones.
Have you been involved in robotic competitions before? If so, what were some of the highlights for you?
Yes, I have been involved with several in the past, both nationally in Ireland and also internationally in countries such as Austria and Poland. I was also lucky enough to attend the DRC in Los Angeles in June which was an unbelievable experience! As a big fan of robotics and engineering, I love to see real robots first hand! Also the thrill of competing is incredible! It's a great and somewhat surreal feeling to witness months or sometimes years of work converge over a few days.
What role do you think competitions have in furthering innovation in robotics?
I think they will continue to have a big role in attracting people to study engineering and computer science. For most people, I think building and competing robots can be as much fun as any sport or pastime. I think that competitions and task-driven innovation schemes in general have a big future in robotics. As robots usually vary a lot from robot to robot, I think competitions provide a perfect platform for assessing which ones work best.
How are your preparations for RoCKIn2015 going? What are you finding to be the most challenging areas?
I'm pleased to report that preparations are going well. As we are building our robot and developing our software simultaneously, it can be especially difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of certain algorithms/strategies using simulations alone. However we are confident that we will get there in the end!
And finally, what do you think the future holds for domestic service robotics?
We think that they will change the world in a profound way. They have the potential to improve many social problems and in my opinion they are likely to fundamentally change everything from how we work to how we grow old. It's also important to acknowledge that if we are not careful their development may also have undesirable consequences. However I think it's the responsibility of our society and of the robotics research community to ensure that doesn't happen.
Thanks for your time Conor - we're looking forward to seeing you in Lisbon!