Spring 2011

Robotics: Science and Systems I

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6.141/16.405J - RSS Grand Challenge


Robots today have been used successfully in many domains, from exploring Mars and finding evidence of water, to mapping the health of Coral Reefs, to assisting long-distance drivers, and assembling cars. In our course we will pursue a grand challenge approach to robotics and create new robot bodies and brains. We are motivated by tasks at the frontier of today's robotic capabilities. We will develop solutions for these tasks that are grounded in state-of-the-art algorithms and systems science for robots. We will implement these solutions and test them using a challenge format.

Our robots will employ some of the most advanced techniques for perception, navigation, and manipulation to cope with unknown environments, negotiating intricate paths, adapting their next move to obstacles, finding useful objects in the environment, and using them to build a structure. This work will provide our students with the foundations for creating computer systems that interact with the physical world, leading the way from PCs to PRs (personal robots).

The grand challenge for this course is Build a Shelter on Mars. Imagine a robot delivered via parachute into a remote and unknown environment such as the surface of Mars, and given a crude prior map of the local terrain. Imagine further that construction materials, in the form of distinctively colored blocks, have been similarly delivered and are scattered around the landscape; some have ended up where intended (i.e., in known locations), whereas others have ended up in unknown locations or may have been lost or destroyed.

We wish to design and implement a robot that can move about its new domain, collect blocks, bring them (together or one at a time) to some autonomously-determined collection/construction point, and assemble them into a primitive shelter. The shelter may range from a simple low wall, to a multi-level (stacked) wall, to an "L" or "V" shape, to a room-like structure.

The elements needed to solve Building a Shelter on Mars enable other robot applications, ranging from autonomous navigation with dynamic obstacles, searching and rescuing victims at a disaster area, tidying up a room, clearing the dishes in a cafeteria, delivering packages in an office environment, and fetching a glass from the kitchen.

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