At TC Sessions: Robotics 2018, SuitX co-founder Homayoon Kazerooni demonstrated exoskeletons to help support workers and spinal cord injury survivors.

TechCrunch showcases Berkeley robotics

by Saemmool Lee

At a CITRIS-co-sponsored event on May 11 that drew more than 1,100 people to Zellerbach Hall, TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics presented pioneers in the fields of robotics and AI from industry and academia, including CITRIS People and Robots Initiative (CPAR) researchers.

CPAR director Ken Goldberg introduced the latest version of Dex-Net 4.0, hailed by MIT Technology Review as “the most dexterous robot ever,” which succeeds in grasping a wide variety of objects like household items and tools with results of 269.5 “mean picks” per hour.

“We are addressing the problem of universal picking – being able to pick up objects that are extremely diverse,” says Goldberg. Grasping objects is very easy for humans, he says, but extremely hard for robots. The technology is particularly useful for e-commerce, where every order is different.

“The big thing we’ve been talking about recently in the research community is benchmarks,” says Goldberg. “We’ve never really had this in robotics, because everyone’s robot is slightly different.” So how to define a matrix that they can share and benchmark sets of objects and scenarios?

“I think we are at very interesting moment,” he says. “I’ve been working in this business of robot grasping for so long, but this is the first time that there’s been so much industry interest in this problem.”

Speakers talked about how robots will change our daily lives. Pieter Abbeel, Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and CITRIS researcher, sees “a pretty big shift in what people are doing.” He predicts that “maybe few years from now” we will see one person managing 10-20 robots, teaching them new things. “Now all of a sudden, we need one person and 10-20 things can be done,” he says.

Founders of robotics companies demonstrated their novel tech products at the event. Homayoon Kazerooni, Berkeley mechanical engineering professor and CPAR affiliate, introduced the latest from his SuitX startup, which produces robotic exoskeletons designed for work requiring repetitive movements and for survivors of spinal cord injury or stroke.

Marc Raibert, a founder of Boston Dynamics, introduced four-legged robots that can run and climb stairs, which could be used to secure skyscraper stairwells for crisis prevention and response. “You might not like going up and down the stairs in a 20-story building if you had to use your own legs,” he says. “But robots can do that.”

Raibert insists that the impact of robot is could be bigger than the internet. “The Internet lets you to touch all the information in the world,” he says. “But robots, especially combined with the Internet, let you touch everything in the world and manipulate it – so that’s the bigger idea.”

See event recordings >

The CITRIS People and Robots Initiative works on robotics projects in the interest of society. For more information and to inquire about collaboration, visit the CPAR website.

Photo: Getty Images