Embedded Systems Conference Boston 2019: The Robotics Talks

Embedded Systems Conference

Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Boston, MA

May 15-16, 2019

As I mentioned in my overview article, Boston’s 2019 Embedded Systems Conference included its usual blend of embedded systems/Internet of Things-focused vendors and presentations, but robotics were also at the forefront this year. Or, at least, they were the focus of more of the presentations that caught my attention this year.

“Exploring Real World Applications for Dynamic Robots”

Thursday’s keynote presentation by Boston Dynamics’ Kevin Blankespoor, “Exploring Real World Applications for Dynamic Robots,” discussed the unique capabilities and design-purpose of Boston Dynamics’ quadruped, humanoid, and wheeled robots Spot, Atlas, and Handle. And those in attendance were treated to a demo of Spot led by Boston Dynamics’ Bryan Hollingsworth. Without going into detail, a quadruped robot is great for inspection in industries such as construction, energy, and public safety. A wheeled robot like Handle excels at tasks like moving boxes in warehouses, pallet-building, and unloading trucks. And humanoid robots are great R&D platforms, looking many years into the future.

“Advanced Vision Systems for Safe Human-Robot Interaction”

Veo Robotics’ Patrick Sobalvarro delivered an interesting talk about robot-human interaction, “Advanced Vision Systems for Safe Human-Robot Interaction.” For those of us not familiar with industrial robotics, Sobalvarro provided an exceptionally useful primer regarding the fencing-off of industrial robots and the protocols required when humans enter the robots’ cages in industrial settings. I’ve seen very few presentations about robotics in my career, so I really appreciated the background portion of this presentation; it was informative and set the stage for those of us with limited robotics backgrounds to be able to follow the meatier portions of the talk.

Power and force-limited robots are designed to allow human-robot interactions because if the robots will not injure people if they do come into contact, but they are weak and slow. So Veo Robotics is designing robots that would use a 3D sensing and control system so robots would be able to avoid coming into contact with people entirely.

One of the interesting Q&A questions was about collision avoidance. Veo uses a full-stop safety approach because, as Sobalvarro explained, their customers prefer their robots to follow a planned trajectory, though he could see the possibility of that in the future.

“Introduction to the Robot Operating System”

The PTR Group’s Michael Anderson presented “Introduction to the Robot Operating System.” This presentation dove into the details of ROS, which is “an asynchronous publish/subscribe message-passing middleware.” Designed for writing robot software, of course. Anderson dug deep into the hows and whys of ROS. And noted the differences between ROS and ROS 2. ROS was designed for the single robot use case, while ROS 2 is designed for (among other things) robot swarms.

Coming Next

Those were the three robotics-focused talks I caught at ESC. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s with quick summaries of the other four talks I attended, in and around the time I spent chatting with attendees at their booths.

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