Another successful exchange with the SICSA PECE Award

By Paola Ardón Ramírez

20 April 2020

I’m Paola and my research project is focused on robots collaborating on household tasks for which I use the concept of grasp affordances (knowing how to appropriately grasp objects given a task). From the beginning, the project has been planned to start on a theoretical basis and grow hierarchically to a framework that people can actually use. In this way, it also helps us evaluate how ‘intelligently’ the robot is helping on the household chores.

In June 2019 we agreed with assistant professor Maya Cakmak to collaborate on a joint project that involves creating a method to assist humans on grasping objects, specifically targeted to population that has mobility impairments. Our main objective would then be to facilitate the handover of the object depending on the receiver’s task.

We planned the academic visit to last for a total of four months. In December of 2019 I arrived to the Human Centred Robotics (HCR) at University of Washington, WA USA. The HCR lab’s main line of research is human-robot interaction and end-user programmable applications that facilitate the use of robotic platforms to non-experts.

University of Washington, specifically the robotic labs, are well known for their collaborations with Microsoft Research, NVIDIA, Amazon and Google, so it is needless to say that I was very excited to get my visit started and explore their facilities. The first month was more about adjustment, getting to know the place, the labs, where to get the much needed every day coffee and, of course, meeting new people.

The following months we followed a timeline to achieve the set goals for the academic visit. It was a busy but much enjoyable time as I learned from collaborating with other members of the HCR lab. I got many ideas for my research project and also got to collaborate on a parallel line of work involving grasping for limb re-positioning when going through therapy. Later on my visit I got the opportunity to stop by NVIDIA robotics lab and take a tour of their installations as well as a brief on their research. The experience was amazing and, interestingly, I learned how similar the line of research of the company is to the current project I’m working on.

The lessons I learned during my academic visit are immeasurable, not to mention how much I grew as a researcher. One of the biggest challenges for the completion of the visit was the unexpected and unprecedented times the world is living with the COVID-19 outbreak. Mainly because the final stage of our project is about humans trying the framework and giving us input on the robot performance. This last bit is in re-evaluation and adjustment to the ‘social distance’ rules we all are starting to get used to. At the end I’m convinced we will be able to evaluate the framework appropriately.

Visiting such a prestigious university and having such a great research adventure wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the SICSA PECE Bursuary.


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