Brad Campbell and Pat Pannuto Organize Robo Cafe Demo at DARPA Tech Conference

The demo focused on a robot delivery service, called Robo Café, where a team of robots delivered snacks to attendees at the touch of a button.

A snack-delivering robot Enlarge
A snack-delivering robot.

CSE graduate students Brad Campbell and Pat Pannuto participated in the Wait, What? A Future Technology Forum that took place September 9-11th in St. Louis, Missouri. The forum was hosted by DARPA and focused on future technologies in conjunction with national security. The conference was targeted to scientists, engineers, and other innovators who are interested in the nature and scope of future technologies.

The forum started with a welcome from the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. He highlighted multiple ways that the Department of Defense is working with the private sector on advanced technologies that will help the U.S. military maintain its technological superiority.

As part of the forum, Campbell and Pannuto organized a demonstration from the TerraSwarm team that integrated technologies from five universities (University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, UC-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Washington) to showcase the types of applications enabled by the TerraSwarm Research Center.

The demo focused on a robot delivery service, called Robo Café, where a team of robots delivered snacks to attendees at the touch of a button. The user interface for the demo was a smartphone app, running on unmodified smartphones.

The system dispatched a robot carrying the snack directly to the attendee, even as the attendee walked around. While the robot’s main goal was the delivery application, to demonstrate how the robots could be repurposed in real-time, a context-aware machine learning application ran in the background that could interrupt the robots in response to an event.

Finally, one of the robots simultaneously performed a surveillance task by carrying a video camera. The video stream was fed to a video summarizer, which extracted the most interesting, and novel clips from the stream in real-time. Instead of watching an hour long video, examining what the robot had seen was compressed to a minute long summary of several interesting clips.

The robots operate semi-autonomously, and use the ALPS position updates as waypoints to complete their deliveries. With a known map of the space, the robots receive their next waypoint, calculate a path to that goal, and navigate that path independently. If any obstacles present themselves, including other robots, people walking around, or changes in the environment, the robots both detect the change and navigate around the obstruction.

The University of Michigan team focused on the systems engineering aspect: architecting the application, bringing together the components, defining interfaces between them, and ensuring the demo worked as expected.

The Robo Café was just one of many other amazing demonstrations at the conference. Some other demos included Big Dog, a 4-legged robotic animal, and HUBO, a humanoid robot that can step through uneven terrain.

The event also consisted of plenary speakers, breakout sessions, and DARPA demonstrations over the three-day period.

Brad Campbell and Pat Pannuto work with Prof. Prabal Dutta in Lab 11, the Embedded Systems Lab in CSE.