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.

Following a welcome from UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Research Randy Katz, CPAR director Ken Goldberg introduced Dex-Net 4.0, hailed by MIT Technology Review as “the most dexterous robot ever.” This latest Dex-Net version succeeds in grasping a wide variety of objects like household items and tools with results of 269.5 “picks per hour” (PPH).

“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 addressed 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 a 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.

Media coverage highlights of the event include Robots on the rise at TechCrunch summit on CNBC and Robots Star in TechCrunch Event on Cal Campus on KPIX-SF (CBS affiliate); comprehensive coverage of all 2018 Sessions: Robotics presentations and demos can be seen on TechCrunch.

See event recordings >