We recently spoke with Marco A. Gutierrez, a PhD Student at Robolab, University of Extremadura about the upcoming RoCKIn2015 event. Here's what he had to say about their mission, vision and preparation for the final event!
Hello Marco - 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?
Our team is composed of Robotics Laboratories from different Spanish universities. We have people working together from the University of Extremadura, the University of Malaga and the University of Castilla La Mancha with whom we have already had a good experience collaborating with in different projects. We also complement each other in the task that entitles the development and deployment of a domestic service robot. To this end, when we were deciding whether we should join the RoCKin Challenge or not, it was clear that joining our forces could make us achieve better results than if we went separately, and so we did.
What appeals to you about RoCKIn and how does it complement your research and personal development goals? What about robot competitions more generally?
We like the RoCKIn environment. The Challenge in Toulouse was our first experience and it was great. Development and testing on the field was a good way to push us and to improve in the last minute. We like the competitive environment as it motivates the people in the laboratory towards a common goal, moving them to innovate in different ways in order to solve real tasks. Personally, I think the achievements I can obtain out of a robotics competition like RoCKIn can help me to improve my resume while exploring and applying my research to real specific environments.
Have you been involved in robotic competitions before? If so, what were some of the highlights for you?
RoCKin is our first experience in robotics competitions. Its Functionality Benchmarks are great for teams that are starting. I think it pushes teams to participate on robotics competitions even if their solution is not yet complete. We participated in the first RoCKin Challenge, in Toulouse 2014, and the experience was great. We had just installed a new base to the robot and we could not make it move autonomously in time, so we had to withdraw from the bigger Task Benchmarks and concentrate on the smaller Functionality ones. The good thing is that even though we could only bring two team members to Toulouse we actually won the two Functionality Benchmarks in which we participated (Object Perception and Speech Understanding). Given our initial tough situation, this was quite a rewarding and motivating outcome.
What role do you think competitions have in furthering innovation in robotics?
I think robot competitions provide a major push to innovation in robotics. You only have to look at the DARPA Challenge and see how it has already pushed the development of autonomous vehicles. Just looking at the state of the art before and after the Challenges, it is amazing how much has been achieved in that short period of time and I think it is mostly due to the impetus these kinds of competitions create.
How are your preparations for RoCKIn2015 going? What are you finding to be the most challenging areas?
We are working hard on our robot autonomy. The integration of all the parts of the system is becoming quite challenging. Because of the heterogeneity of the team we work separately and then we have to get together and perform hackathons in order to integrate the different parts from each team.
And finally, what do you think the future holds for domestic service robotics?
It is undeniable true that robots will be more and more present in our daily lives. It has started with house cleaning robots, but with the lowering prices and accessibility to state-of-the-art robotics these developments are speeding up, getting solutions that will finally end up in our houses. I expect an astonishing growth of robots in domestic environments dedicated to solving specific tasks. However there is still a way to go before we get the multi-purpose robots that we see in the movies.
Thanks for your time Marco - we're looking forward to seeing you in Lisbon!
Thanks to you, great work guys! See you there!