NSights Blog

Celebrating the first year anniversary of the Autonomous Robots Lab

Autonomous Robots Lab celebrates one year anniversary with "Robotics Day" on March 31

It is just about one year since we established the Autonomous Robots Lab  here at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Beyond myself, we started with two hires: doctoral candidate Shehryar Khattak, who joined the University from KAIST, in South Korea, and Christos Papachristos, an experienced Senior Researcher who had just defended his doctorate in the University of Patras, Greece.  

Since the very first step, my vision was to create a team that breaks new ground and defines new avenues in robotics research. And one thing was certain - to achieve this goal the most important milestone is to develop a team of researchers that possesses the relevant skills, a group that has the know-how, the vision, and the team spirit to contribute new approaches in science and technology.  

This is the spirit we try to build in the lab, which now hosts  two more doctoral candidates: Tung Dang and Frank Mascarich, one more graduate research assistant, Tyler Sorey, and multiple undergraduate researchers, including Matt Boggs, Dwight Boyko, and Jason Rush to name a few of those that have worked with us for a long time. This is the same direction we aim to continue with our upcoming hires, including an additional doctoral candidate and a postdoctoral researcher.  

From a technical standpoint, our goal is to contribute to making robots autonomous and capable of contributing to major societal needs. Humanity has shared this vision for years. From Talos (the giant automaton made of bronze to protect Europa in Crete), to R.U.R. (the Czech theatrical play first to coin the term "robot") we have envisioned the use of what we nowadays call "robotic systems".

In that framework, we are aligned with the vision of Isaac Asimov, who described a robotic utopia where robots are at least as capable as we are, yet are also able to serve our needs. At the same time, we are aware of the possible pitfalls: technology can help us improve our life and have more free time, but this will only be the case if we as a society make proper use of it. Many others before us have discussed these topics, and defined the avenues towards making robotics and autonomous systems a key factor to benefit our societies.  

This broad vision anneals our motivation every day in order to conduct useful research. Currently our interests focus on the problems of:  

Intelligent robot path planning and control for autonomous exploration, inspection, and curiosity-aware investigation of areas of interest;  

Multi-modal localization and mapping through the fusion of different sensing modalities in order to exploit their advantages and address their limitations;

Degraded visual environments robotic navigation;  

Nuclear site monitoring;  

Autonomous transportation systems.  

Further efforts include marine robotics, change detection and more. Relevant research results from our work are already being published in top conference venues and journals, while effort is also put on code open sourcing so as to make our results directly useful for the community.

What also comes with all the above is ... stress! Lots of it. Stress to get new grants, publish good papers, coordinate the education of the team, develop the lab mechanisms that ensure its active everyday life and enable innovative spirit to all its members.   We were lucky to get some important grants early including a National Robotics Initiative project. We were also honored with the continuous support of the University to the level that our test facility, the Autonomous Robots Arena, is by all means top-notch. Most of all, I have been lucky to have good people in my lab. Nothing would be possible without Dr. Papachristos and my students Shehryar, Tung, Frank, Tyler and all the others. 

What is equally important for us are collaborations. The Autonomous Robots Lab currently collaborates with expert researchers and colleagues from the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, the Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich, Nanyang Technological University, the Sierra Nevada Corporation, Flirtey, several colleagues within the University, and more. Building more collaboration corresponds to one of our main goals. In this struggle for novel research, we know it is better to be a team player. We try our best in that direction.  

To celebrate this experience so far and to enhance the effort to make robotics a focal point of our University, we organized a "Robotics Day." The Robotics Day will be a full-day event on Friday, March 31, and will include invited talks from Carnegie Mellon University, presentation of our lab activities, workshop talks by the lab members and our collaborators from the Sierra Nevada Corporation, as well as a live robotic demo. The University of Nevada, Reno community, and anyone else interested, is invited to participate in this event. Among others, specific examples of possible research directions for students will be provided. Following this link: http://www.autonomousrobotslab.com/robotics-days.html you can find the complete schedule of the event. We look forward to see you there.   We hope to able to present even more exciting results next year.

Searching for a lab-motto, I thought the following simple words of N. Kazantzakis, Greek writer, reflect the spirit we want to have: "Reach what you cannot" (Report to Greco)    

Costas Alexis head shot