Photorealistic simulator made MIT robot racing competition a live online experience

Every spring, the basement of the Ray and Maria Stata Center becomes a racetrack for tiny self-driving cars that tear through the halls one by one. Sprinting behind each car on foot is a team of three to six students, sometimes carrying wireless routers or open laptops extended out like Olympic torches. Lining the basement walls, their classmates cheer them on, knowing the effort it took to program the algorithms steering the cars around the course during this annual MIT autonomous racing competition. The competition is the final project for Course 6.141/16.405 (Robotics: Science and Systems). It’s an end-of-semester event that gets pulses speeding, and prizes are awarded for finishing different race courses with the fastest times out of 20 teams. With campus evacuated this spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, not a single robotic car burned rubber in the Stata Center basement. Instead, a new race was on Continue reading Photorealistic simulator made MIT robot racing competition a live online experience

We Can Do Better Than Human-Like Hands for Robots

One strategy for designing robots that are capable in anthropomorphic environments is to make the robots themselves as anthropomorphic as possible. It makes sense—for example, there are stairs all over the place because humans have legs, and legs are good at stairs, so if we give robots legs like humans, they’ll be good at stairs too, right? We also see this tendency when it comes to robotic grippers, because robots need to grip things that have been optimized for human hands.  Despite some amazing robotic hands inspired by the biology of our own human hands, there are also opportunities for creativity in gripper designs that do things human hands are not physically capable of. At ICRA 2020, researchers from Stanford University presented a paper on the design of a robotic hand that has fingers made of actuated rollers, allowing it to manipulate objects in ways that would tie your fingers Continue reading We Can Do Better Than Human-Like Hands for Robots

Learning the ropes and throwing lifelines

In March, as her friends and neighbors were scrambling to pack up and leave campus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Geeticka Chauhan found her world upended in yet another way. Just weeks earlier, she had been elected council president of MIT’s largest graduate residence, Sidney-Pacific. Suddenly the fourth-year PhD student was plunged into rounds of emergency meetings with MIT administrators. From her apartment in Sidney-Pacific, where she has stayed put due to travel restrictions in her home country of India, Chauhan is still learning the ropes of her new position. With others, she has been busy preparing to meet the future challenge of safely redensifying the living space of more than 1,000 people: how to regulate high-density common areas, handle noise complaints as people spend more time in their rooms, and care for the mental and physical well-being of a community that can only congregate virtually. “It’s just such a Continue reading Learning the ropes and throwing lifelines