CITRIS roboticist recognized as top young innovator

Pieter Abbeel, a UC Berkeley professor and CITRIS researcher known for his novel work in the field of machine learning in robotics – including robots that can fold laundry – has been named to a prestigious list of 35 of the world’s top young innovators by Technology Review magazine. (Read his TR35 profile here). The honored innovators are all under the age of 35, and work in wide-ranging research fields that include energy, medicine, computing, communications and nanotechnology.
Abbeel, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, is being recognized for his research in algorithms that enable robots to learn new tasks. Abbeel has focused on applying his machine-learning research to surgical and personal robotics. Abbeel’s team has enabled robots to perform such concrete skills as tying surgical knots or folding towels and socks. (View a video of the towel-folding robot.) To complete those tasks, robots must be able to view irregular objects – such as a crumpled pile of laundry – identify and pick out the target items and then determine how to correctly manipulate them. Abbeel has demonstrated his robot’s abilities at the CITRIS Headquarters on numerous occasions, including the most recent Cal Day.

He is collaborating with heart surgeon Douglas Boyd at UC Davis to identify the most useful contributions a robotic device could make in the surgical setting. Telesurgery might be used to perform fairly routine but urgent procedures when a surgeon can’t get to the hospital in time.

Abbeel credits CITRIS with launching his early-stage collaboration with cardiosurgeon Boyd. “We met at a CITRIS health care workshop that brought together scientists with different interests and skills. We decided to work together so we could develop applications that are useful in the most critical surgical areas.”

Abbeel works on the seventh floor of Sutardja Dai Hall hosts an open robot platform that was designed and built by Willow Garage—the Personal Robot 2 (PR2). This robot has a mobile base, two arms, a variety of sensors, and 16 CPU cores for computation. Its software is the open-source Robot Operating System, or ROS, that offers full control of the PR2, including libraries for navigation, manipulation, and perception. Surrounding the robotics laboratory are two student collaboratory offices that allow students working on a large variety of projects, both theoretical and applied, to self-assemble into informal working teams solving similar types of problems.