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Wyss Institute’s Bioinspired Robotics Platform co-sponsors 2nd Northeast Robotics Colloquium

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Conor Walsh (left) and postdoctoral fellow Panagiotis Polygerinos (right) discuss a soft robotic glove designed for hand rehabilitation. [Photo credit: Kirstin Hagelskjær Petersen]

The Wyss Institute co-sponsored the 2nd annual Northeast Robotics Colloquium (NERC) where more than 200 students, senior academics, and robotics practitioners from 38 companies and universities engaged in discussions about the latest robotic innovations at the Institute, the wider Harvard University community, and other leading organizations in the region.

The role of robots in society is rapidly changing. Traditionally, robots have been confined to factories and warehouses where they work tirelessly on production lines, far from their human controllers and out of sight of the general population. Today, robots are specifically designed to interact with people and our everyday world. It is predicted that modern robotic devices will fuel a – robotic revolutionî in the upcoming decade as smart machines grow increasingly common in our daily routines.

A prototype of the i-HY dextrous manipulator – a low-cost three-fingered robotic hand that can pinch, grasp, and do everything in between. [Photo credit: Kirstin Hagelskjær Petersen]

Leaders in the field of robotics gave keynote speeches at the conference, including Marc Raibert from Boston Dynamics and Professor John Leonard from MIT, as well as industry members such as Jaybridge Robotics.

Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Conor Walsh was one of the keynote speakers. Walsh, who is also assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), is one of the pioneers of next-generation robots. He presented a new class of soft and wearable exosuits that are comfortable and specifically designed to permit a normal range of motion. These exosuits reduce the muscular action required to perform tasks such as walking by collecting information from the body to complement the users movements. These suits have a range of applications that include rehabilitating stroke patients and improving the stamina of military personnel.

Prof. Matthew Stein (far left) from Roger Williams University demonstrates a robotic avatar for remote participation in classes. [Photo credit: Kirstin Hagelskjær Petersen]

Despite decades of work from research groups around the world, little progress has been made towards the manipulation of objects in unstructured environments. In his keynote speech, Wyss Institute Associate Faculty member and founder of the Harvard BioRobotics Laboratory Rob Howe argued that too much focus has been placed on anthropomorphic hands when in fact, robotic hands do not need the dexterity of human hands to achieve human-quality manipulation. Professor Howe drew on inspiration from the lobster to develop the open-source i-HY – a low-cost three-fingered robotic hand that can pinch, grasp, and do everything in between.

Among the poster presentations and industry exhibits were robots on display, including the Robobee, which was jointly developed by researchers at the Wyss Institute, Harvards Microrobotics Laboratory, Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Northeastern University’s Department of Biology. During one live robot demonstration, members of the Harvard BioRobotics Laboratory took to hammers and baseball bats to prove the robustness and resilience of their i-HY robotic hand.

Boston Dynamics founder and NERC 2013 keynote presenter Dr. Marc Raibert (right) entertains NERC 2013 co-organizers Prof. Karthik Dantu (left) and Dr. Richard Moore (center). [Photo credit: Kirstin Hagelskjær Petersen]

The colloquium aims to bring together robotics practitioners from across the region through an event that is simultaneously a research symposium, a job-fair, and a showcase for established and up-and-coming robotics companies. The enthusiasm present at the Northeast Robotics Colloquium this year suggests that this event is growing into one of the most successful and accessible interfaces between students, industry, and leading academics in the region.

The Wyss Institute and Jaybridge Robotics sponsored the Northeast Robotics Colloquium with support from Vecna Inc, Aldebaran Robotics, and ABB.

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