Moving Toward Telelocomotion

University of Washington Assistant Professor Sam Burden recently talked with Northwestern Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) students about the future of robotics.

It's no secret that human interaction with the physical world is becoming increasingly mediated by automation. From cars assisting drivers to robots helping surgeons, semi-autonomous machines are all around us.

The challenge with these types of machines is that there still needs to be human supervision. A robot with legs, for example, could lose its balance and fall en route to a certain task; when that happens, a person needs to intervene. Reducing this supervision will require safe and stable telelocomotion — a robot's ability to navigate on its own from place to place.

This was the topic of a recent conversation by University of Washington Assistant Professor Sam Burden titled "Toward Telelocomotion: Human Sensorimotor Control of Contact-Rich Robot Dynamics." The talk and subsequent discussion were hosted by Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program.

"The more removed a robot is from a person who needs to operate, the more it will rely on its own ability to reason about its environment," said MSR Program Director and Professor Todd Murphy. "Telelocomotion is challenging because robots engaged in dull or dangerous or dirty work will be substantially removed from their operators, sometimes cut off from them entirely, and will nevertheless need to operate reliably.

"Sam’s talk was great because it both made clear that telelocomotion is an important open problem in robotics and that it is incredibly challenging at all levels of engineering design."

Burden's talk examined what he thinks will be needed to more seamlessly integrate legged machines into our daily lives. He also addressed modeling dynamical systems and demonstrated how to go about learning new, complicated subjects.

"Essentially, he is developing easy-to-understand, useful models for robotics control problems," said current MSR student Victor Ozoh.

Ozoh was able to talk with Burden after his speech and came away impressed with his research and his ability to communicate its significance.

"I was inspired by his opinions on research directions for problems in robotic control," Ozoh said. "Having guest speakers like this definitely boosts the MSR student experience in a positive way. Guest speakers provide a larger picture of the state of robotics research and industry needs."