Georgia Tech Receives Nearly $3 Million in National Robotics Initiative Funding

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded nearly $3 million to fund projects led by Georgia Tech robotics researchers. The principal investigators (PIs) and co-PIs for these projects represent three of the Institute’s six colleges, plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

“Our faculty leverage robotics research across many disciplines,” said Steve Cross, Executive Vice President for Research at Georgia Tech. “Their combined resources and expertise are leading to practical solutions for many critical challenges in areas of science and engineering.”

The projects received funding through the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) program, first announced by President Obama in June 2011, and led by NSF with support from NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the USDA. The purpose of this program is to develop the next generation of robotics, to advance the capability and usability of such systems and artifacts, and to encourage existing and new communities to focus on innovative application areas.

Tech researchers received more than $2.8 million in NRI funding in 2012 and 2013, bringing the combined total of all current awards to over $5.75 million.

“Georgia Tech has a consistent record of achievement in the field of robotics,” said Henrik I. Christensen, KUKA Chair of Robotics and executive director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines (IRIM), the flagship for Tech’s robotics efforts. “I’m proud of our amazing faculty, our excellent research, and the awards our faculty members have received.”

Four projects received funding through the Information & Intelligent Systems (IIS) division of NSF’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering:

  • “Large-Scale Collaborative Semantic Mapping Using 3D Structure from Motion”—Led by GTRI Research Scientist II Zsolt Kira, this project received almost $392K and aims to advance real-time, large-scale distributed semantic mapping of outdoor environments with practical applications in city planning, asset management, creation of historical records, and support for autonomous driving. IRIM Associate Director of Education and Professor Frank Dellaert (School of Interactive Computing) serves as co-PI on the project.
  • “Collaborative Research: Exploiting Granular Mechanics to Enable Robotic Locomotion”—Led by School of Physics Associate Professor Daniel I. Goldman, this research focuses on developing computationally efficient analysis tools and techniques to create better methods for mobile robots to maneuver on unstructured terrains, such as those found in deserts, disaster sites, containers, and caves. Associate Professor David L. Hu (School of Mechanical Engineering) serves as co-PI on the project, which received $360K.
  • “Information-Theoretic Trajectory Optimization for Motion Planning and Control with Applications to Space Proximity Operations”—Led by School of Aerospace Engineering Dean’s Professor Panagiotis Tsiotras, this project received $700K and focuses on integrated sensing and planning under uncertainty where an intelligent agent needs to navigate autonomously in an uncertain and dynamic environment, specifically space robotic applications, such as satellite servicing and refueling, space station resupply, removal of space debris, spacecraft structural integrity inspection, crew assistance, and support for deep space missions to Mars and other planets and comets. Assistant Professor Evangelos Theodorou (School of Aerospace Engineering) serves as co-PI on the project.
  • “Representing and Anticipating Actions in Human-Robot Collaborative Assembly Tasks”—Led by School of Interactive Computing Professor Aaron Bobick, this project received almost $550K and aims to make fundamental advances that enable task specification to be compiled or converted into a grammar-like description of the human activity, specifically to improve human-robot collaboration for assembly tasks where the robot assists a human worker by providing tools or parts as required. Two members of the School of Interactive Computing (IC) serve as co-PIs on the project: Associate Dean for Off-Campus and Special Initiatives and Professor Irfan Essa and KUKA Chair of Robotics and Executive Director of IRIM Henrik I. Christensen. Additionally, Mike Stilman, another member of IC who died in May, is listed as a co-PI.

The fifth project, “Multipurpose Robotic Platform for Field Scouting and Sampling,” received more than $900K from the USDA. Led by IRIM Associate Director of Research and GTRI Principal Research Engineer Gary V. McMurray, the research aims to improve crop yields by developing the robotic technology required to autonomously collect data to monitor crops in a field or orchard, including crop scouting for biotic yield-reducing factors, such as pest organisms like insects, plant pathogens, and weeds; as well as abiotic stresses, such as inadequate moisture and nutrient levels. Professor Glen C. Rains (Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia) serves as co-PI on the project.

Robotics research at Georgia Tech attracts more than $35 million in sponsored research each year. Core research areas include mechanisms, control, perception, artificial intelligence, human-robot interaction, and application systems technologies. Tech advances personal and everyday robotics through its research into the ways robots can learn from and interact with humans, by developing advanced technologies, and by exploring issues surrounding the governance and ethical use of robots.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Awards IIS-1426998, IIS-1426443, IIS-1426945, and IIS-1427300; and by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under Award 2014-67021-22556. Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NSF or USDA.

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  • Zsolt Kira

  • Daniel Goldman

  • Panagiotis Tsiotras

  • Aaron Bobick

  • Gary V. McMurray

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