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Fantastic Bots and Where to Find Them!

Remember Cartman? Not US sitcom South Park’s most pugnacious character, but a super-savvy robot, built from scratch by an Australian Centre for Robotic Vision team, acing last year’s Amazon Robotics Challenge in Japan.

Staking its claim as the only custom-built Cartesian robot at the global challenge – and packing a doubly powerful punch as the cheapest – Cartman knocked out 16 major academic and industry research teams from 10 countries to claim the $80,000USD first prize.

The success story features in the Australian Research Council’s latest snapshot, Making a difference – Outcomes of ARC supported research, released this week, casting a spotlight on ‘remarkable research delivering social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits’ to all Australians.

Taking Cartman’s legacy further, Dr Juxi Leitner, who led the Centre’s 22-member team to victory, solving a real-world challenge for global giant Amazon via use of a smart Cartesian robot to pick and stow warehouse items in an unstructured environment, has ventured into the world of start-ups.

The brainchild of Juxi and fellow Amazon Robotics Challenge team member, Norton Kelly-Boxall, Cartman Technologies is among the line-up of 2018 finalists selected by QUT bluebox Robotics Accelerator program.

“Robotics is about enhancing human life in some way and, ultimately, a way for communities and individuals to truly connect,” said Juxi, a Research Fellow and Project Leader (Manipulation and Vision) at the world-first Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, headquartered in Brisbane at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

“The development of an innovative and meaningful robotics industry, with robots, able to see and understand environments they work in, including in the home, will give people precious time back.

“Like Bill Gates’ vision of ‘a computer on every desk and in every home’, think about the positive impact of smart, affordable robots in every home. A utopian not dystopian future!”

Excited by the prospect of translating research into real-world applications via a start-up – with robotics and automation also positioned to shoulder the three D’s in industry, namely ‘dull, dangerous and dirty’ work – Juxi said the venture would not have been possible without a dynamic culture of innovation fostered at the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.

“Incredible passion flows from the Centre’s Director Professor Peter Corke, whose philosophy is simple: make something awesome!

“The Centre also has possibly the biggest university robotics Lab in the world, with the largest pool of PhD students working alongside the world’s top researchers. So, it’s a place where awesome things happen every day.”

Launched in 2014 and funded by the Australian Research Council, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is the first research centre of its kind on the planet to focus on the critical challenge of marrying computer vision and robotics. A hurdle considered the “Last Frontier” in creating truly useful robots.

“We are the largest robotic vision group in the world with more than 200 people and $25.6 million funding over seven years,” said Centre Chief Operating Officer Dr Sue Keay.

“Our research programs are developing technologies to harness rich information from visual data to enable robots to perceive the world and be truly useful to humans, improving the way we live and work.

“We are already applying our transformative technologies to help solve real challenges in the monitoring and protection of natural environments; provision of healthcare in hospitals and at home; sustainable food production; and efficiently harnessing our natural resources.”

Dr Keay applauded the new start-up venture, launched off the back of the Centre’s team victory at the 2017 Amazon Robotics Challenge.

“The Centre’s culture is all about creating a vibrant, collaborative, high-energy and future-focused robotic vision community, developing knowledge leaders for both industry and academia,” she said.

“A big part of that is not just leading the world in transformational research, but fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and new enterprises to advance robotic vision and expand the capabilities of robots for the good of all people and our planet.”

Cartman’s success story, as showcased in the new ARC publication, is just one of the Centre’s milestones in making a very real difference.

Check out a snapshot of achievements below:

  • In June, the Centre launched Australia’s first Robotics Roadmap following submissions and workshops with leaders in academia, industry and government, across key sectors including resources, built and natural environment, manufacturing, services, agriculture, defence and healthcare. The Roadmap aims to create grounds for necessary co-operation to allow robots to help unlock human potential, modernise the economy and build national health, well-being and sustainability.
  • SoftBank’s social robot, Pepper – the focus of a Queensland Government-funded $1.5 million social robotics research project based at the Centre – has ventured into an Australian hospital for the first time, thanks to a pilot trial at The Townsville Hospital. Pepper will act as a concierge in the hospital’s short stay unit for the next month before moving to the main foyer to provide information to patients and visitors on influenza vaccination. The hospital trial will run over five months.
  • Centre researchers are testing five prototypes of RangerBot – the world-first autonomous underwater robot poised to help monitor and protect the Great Barrier Reef, notably given a big thumbs up, winning the 2016 People’s Choice vote in Google Impact Challenge Australia.
  • Centre researchers are gearing up to demonstrate a prototype vision and sensing platform for UAVs to help maintain a network of power lines and poles via aerial robotic inspection. The researchers have been involved in a FrontierSI (formerly CRCSI) and QUT collaboration with Ergon Energy.
  • Centre researchers, in collaboration with Caterpillar, Mining3 and the Queensland Government, have developed new technology to equip underground mining vehicles to navigate autonomously through dust, camera blur and bad lighting. The researchers have completed four field trips to Australian mine sites.
  • Centre researchers are in the early stages of developing an asparagus picking robot. With the global population projected to reach over 9 billion by 2050, the Centre is focused on giving the next generation of robots the vision and understanding to help solve real global challenges, including sustainable food production.
  • Since its inception, starting with six PhD researchers, the Centre currently boasts a cohort of 65 PhD researchers from all corners of the globe. To date, Centre Alumni total 33 (including 15 PhD researchers who graduated from the Centre), working in diverse locations across Australia, the United States, South America, China, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and Canada.
  • In more cause for celebration, Centre Chief Operating Officer Dr Sue Keay, recently named one of the first Superstars of STEM by Science & Technology Australia, has been selected as a finalist in Queensland’s 2018 WiT Awards in the ICT Outstanding Achievement Award Category. This category in the awards, run by Women in Technology (WiT), casts a spotlight on women with 20 years’ or more experience ‘making a significant contribution to the growth and development of Queensland’s ICT Industry who serve as role models for others to aspire to’. Winners will be announced on 14 September, 2018 at the 21st Annual WiT Awards.


Shelley Thomas
Communications Specialist, Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
P: +61 7 3138 4265 | M: +61 416 377 444 | E: shelley.thomas@qut.edu.au

About The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is an ARC Centre of Excellence, funded for $25.6 million over seven years to form the largest collaborative group of its kind generating internationally impactful science and new technologies that will transform important Australian industries and provide solutions to some of the hard challenges facing Australia and the globe. Formed in 2014, the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision is the world’s first research centre specialising in robotic vision. They are a group of researchers on a mission to develop new robotic vision technologies to expand the capabilities of robots. Their work will give robots the ability to see and understand for the sustainable well-being of people and the environments we live in. The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has assembled an interdisciplinary research team from four leading Australian research universities: QUT, The University of Adelaide (UoA), The Australian National University (ANU), and Monash University as well as CSIRO’s Data61 and overseas universities and research organisations including INRIA Rennes Bretagne, Georgia Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, University of Toronto, and the University of Oxford.

PostedAugust 23, 2018

Australian Centre for Robotic Vision
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