Murphy presents at White House Frontiers Conference; receives new robotics grant from NSF

October 19, 2016
| By: Rachel Rose

Dr. Robin Murphy, director of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Center for Emergency Informatics, presented at the White House Frontiers Conference on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. Her “lightning talk” focused on the importance of artificial intelligence for the future of rescue robotics. President Barack Obama also took the stage at the conference and gave what Murphy described as an inspiring speech.

Murphy, who is the Raytheon Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University, was also recently awarded a National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative grant. Funded by the Department of Energy, the grant will allow Murphy to continue her current research on autonomous robot assistants.

For this three-year project, Murphy will be studying the use of autonomous robot assistants, which will improve the efficiency of and help overcome the perceptual limitations of just one robot in various situations. By providing an external and secondary viewpoint, this project will enable co-robots to build more resilience to disasters and public safety incidents.

Although the use of a secondary robot to assist is not a new concept, research on assistant robots has been limited because users tend to rule out the use of aerial robots and instead consider only ground robots. Additionally, users often choose suboptimal viewpoints, which reasonably diminishes efficiency.

Having the assistant robot act autonomously should reduce the work demands on the operator, as long as the operator trusts the assistant and the actual motion of the assistant does not move so quickly so as to distract or disorient the operator. Trust that an autonomous robot will perform correctly without supervision has not been widely explored.

The project will create the fundamental, principled understanding of perception and control needed to tackle the cognitive demands on co-robot operators, which will increase productivity and reduce costly errors. This research aims to contribute to practical methods for human supervisory control of multiple robots and quantification of risk.

Murphy was previously awarded the Department of Energy Science of Safety grant this summer, which was used to develop the prototype of the air-ground collaborative system that will be used for this current project.

Murphy’s research in this area has the potential to change the landscape of co-robotics by increasing the effectiveness of future ground and aerial robots. In turn, this can impact our society and economy in a positive way by increasing the country’s resilience in disasters and daily routine emergencies. There will be numerous life-saving co-robot applications such as bomb-squads, SWAT teams and disaster robots.

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