FOr the first time, UCLA hosted the annual event Southern California Robotics SymposiumWhich came back victorious after a two-year hiatus. The day-and-a-half sold out event attracted nearly 250 robotics researchers and entrepreneurs from various companies and 11 universities. From precision robotics and surgical robots, to paper robots, to robots with artificial legs and walking, researchers from across the region showcased a wide range of robotics capabilities at the conference.
The symposium was previously held at USC, Caltech, and the University of California, San Diego, and was originally scheduled to take place at UCLA in 2020 but has been postponed until September due to COVID. This year’s conference theme was “Real Solutions to Real Problems Affecting Real People” and wowed attendees with robotics demonstrations, workshops, poster competitions and networking opportunities.
The symposium was organized by mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral students Fadi Rafidi, Alex Thoms, Will Flanagan, Min Seung An and Leonardo Ruffini as well as postdoctoral researchers Alexis Block and Richard Lin.
“After the pandemic was isolated, the community was eager to restore human relationships,” said Ankur Mehta, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCLA and faculty advisor to the conference organizing committee. “Consequently, this event has had more significance, especially for the new members of the community over the past three years.”
The symposium kicked off September 22 with an afternoon industry presentation and networking session at UCSD Samueli School of Engineering, featuring representatives from some of the conference’s sponsors Amazon Robotics, AWS Open Source, FTX, XPRIZE, Disney Research, Hello Robot, Horizon Surgical, University of California, Samueli and Relative Space.
“We have deliberately focused on professional academics in the early stages of our programs because these graduate students, postdocs, and new faculty will soon become the future of robotics,” Alexis Blok said.
Participants also got to choose from seven simultaneous interactive workshops hosted by five UCLA Robotics Research Laboratories – an “interactive tour of the human hand” anatomy research group Directed by Tyler Clites, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering as well as Bioengineering; “RoMeLa Robot Show” by Dennis Hong, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who chairs UCLA Robotics and Mechanism Lab; “Create and control your own origami robot”, “Undersea origami robots” and “Interactive Robot Aquarium: Dive Deeper” by Mehta Lab for Embedded Machines and Robots Everywhere; “Wearable Robotics Workshop” by Jacob Rosen, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who chairs UCLA Bionics lab; and “Be Connected: Touch Sensing and Perception for Robotic Systems” in UCLA Biomechatronics Laboratory Headed by Veronica Santos, Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Bioengineering.
The second day of the symposium opened at the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Convention Center, with notes from UCLA Samueli Interim Dean Bruce Dunn. In addition to welcoming guests from across Southern California, he also noted that the school is currently renovating 10,000 square feet of space in Boelter Hall to house many of the school’s robotics research groups. The collaborative space, expected to be completed in 2024, will also be made available to researchers from across UCLA and the larger robotics community.
One by one, student and faculty researchers took the opportunity to present their projects and learn from other robotics scientists at the conference. Alumni and postdoctoral scholars as well as associate professors from UCLA, Caltech, USC, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, and UC Riverside hosted presentations throughout the day. The researchers and students, including a few local high schools, also took turns in a “flash” poster talk in which each participant had 45 seconds to share their highlights of research, followed by a poster session that allowed for more in-depth discussions between conference attendees and poster presenters.
“We have deliberately focused on professional academics in the early stages of our programs because these graduate students, postdocs, and new faculty will soon become the future of robotics,” Block said. HuggieBot and other robotics research led to her receiving the Otto Hahn Medal from the Max Planck Society. “This shift in focus made the entire conference environment more welcoming for newcomers and made it comfortable to meet new people.”
The conference concluded with an awards ceremony honoring attendee choices for new faculty, rising stars talk and poster presenters, as well as a dinner to celebrate new connections and future opportunities in all things robotics.
Dannela Lagrimas and Riley de Jong contributed to this story.
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