SICSA PECE Award supports researchers in establishing new links and collaborations

by Èric Pairet, University of Edinburgh

15 April 2020

Howdy!, as my new Texan fellows would say. I’m`Eric Pairet, a part-time research associate at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics that has just finished a four-month academic placement at Kavraki’s lab, Rice University, Houston, US. During the placement, I have been actively collaborating with Prof. Lydia Kavraki, a lead researcher in the area of computational robotics, artificial intelligence and biomedicine. As my research is in the field of robotics motion planning, establishing such collaboration was really inspiring.

I arrived at Rice University in mid-November 2019. Contrary to green rainy Scotland, Houston welcomed me with warm and slightly humid weather that almost made me feel like home; I’m from Catalonia and I do cherish the warmth of the sun! The first couple of weeks were about adjustment to the new town, new people, and the amazing food range going from slow-cooked meat chunks to delicious fried doughnuts. Also, during these weeks I got to know the installations of the university, the routine in Kavraki’s lab and its incredibly interesting research, some of it in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

As for where my research goes, I worked with Prof. Lydia Kavraki on reusing prior experiences in robotic motion planning applications. This is inspired by human behaviour; when we want to perform a particular task, we already have an intuition about the motion we should plan for it. We developed an algorithm, also known as planner, that exploits some a-priori information of the task that the robot must accomplish. Initial experimentation has been conducted on a Fetch robot, a mobile platform with a robotic arm, on a stock replenishment task. The results indicate that accounting for relevant information in the planning stage allows us to quickly and more reliably obtain well-looking natural plans.

All in all, my placement at Kavraki’s lab has been extremely stimulating and productive. I would personally recommend any researcher to visit an external research centre, as it is a very enriching experience. Also, it allows to establish new links and grow as a researcher. Conducting this academic placement would not have been possible without the funding from the SICSA PECE Bursary. More information about myself and my research is available on my website.

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