Igor the Robot and his helper, Engineering Dean Edwin L. "Ned" Thomas, cut the ribbon March 3 in a ceremony dedicating the new robotics laboratory of Lydia E. Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science (CS) at Rice University.
"Our research aspires to develop robots that are safe, predicable, easy to command and useful to humans. With this new laboratory, we will come even closer to accomplishing those goals," said Kavraki, who joined the Rice faculty in 1996 and has joint appointments in bioengineering and in electrical and computer engineering.
Her lab, in Duncan Hall 1072, is equipped with two UR-5 manipulators, dubbed, with a nod to Dr. Seuss, Thing 1 and Thing 2, and a Fetch mobile robot named Igor. The UR-5 manipulators have an accuracy of 0.1 mm and can lift and carry payloads weighing up to 11 pounds. Their state-of-the-art Robotiq grippers can perform force-sensitive tasks.
The Fetch robot has a mobile base, a torso that can extend upwards and a capable arm. It serves as an open platform for research in the area of mobile manipulation. The lab is also equipped with Vicon motion-tracking cameras that enable precise localization of the robots, and Kavraki will soon introduce small drones to her lab.
"Assisted living, medicine, disaster response, transportation, manufacturing, environmental monitoring and space exploration are among the applications that will be impacted from human-friendly robots," she said.
The members of Kavraki's lab include senior research scientist Mark Moll, three post-doctoral students, eight graduate students and several undergraduates. The lab will serve as a collaborative hub for work among researchers in robotics, computer vision, automated reasoning, machine learning and artificial intelligence at Rice and at other universities and companies.
It will also support Rice's involvement in the newly established U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute, and in collaborations with NASA.
"Students at all levels, including undergraduates," Kavraki said during the grand-opening ceremony, "will benefit from their involvement in the lab. Now we have a real home for our research. You can see the smiles on the students' faces."