PIC4Ser - PoliTO Interdepartmental Centre for Service Robotics

In the industrial field, robotics applied to complex assembly lines is now a mature and proven technology: will robots conquer the same relevance in other fields? Thanks to the development of enabling technologies, we are in a historical moment in which the arrival of a new generation of robots is very close: robots will be able to support humans in work-related or day life activities and they will become safe and reliable "companions".

This market, now in a booming phase, needs more than ever support from research centers where it is possible a real multidisciplinary application driven approach. In this way, it will be possible to merge and integrate innovative solutions related not only to control, perception, artificial intelligence & cognition, locomotion systems, smart mechanical architectures, actuation and energy supply but also to aspects of design, interaction, security, as well as social, economic and ethical issues.

All those aspects strongly motivate the creation of the PIC4SeR – PoliTO Interdepartmental Centre for Service Robotics where the expertise can support all the necessary development steps, leading to design, simulate and manufacture the basic components that will enable the new era of "service robots". This Centre, aims to coordinate the activities of several research groups, already active in the various departments, on the enabling technologies necessary for the development of this highly innovative and multi-disciplinary area.

The goal of the PIC4SeR Centre is to create a common physical environment as well as a community, in which tools and skills can reside to organically synthesize the characteristics of different application scenario's (precision agriculture, smart cities, search&rescue, patrolling and early warning systems, life support for elderly and disabled people, rehabilitation, archaeological survey/security/protection, etc.) and their related robotic experimental solutions.

Activities

The PIC4SeR Centre will:

  • Coordinate and harmonize within a common interdepartmental Centre, the activities already carried out within the different departments of PoliTO (DET, DAUIN, DIMEAS, DIATI and DAD) on the theme of service robotics
  • Develop enabling technologies for service robotics in the different research areas, with attention to the integration, modularity, resilience and reconfigurability
  • Develop innovative methods for defining architectures (mechanics, electronics, ICT, etc...) for service robotics
  • Develop innovative mobile platform using hybrid locomotion systems, soft modular robots and biomimetic devices able to integrate the enabling technologies and to test innovations
  • Invest on the issues (and related technologies) of service / connected / smart / collaborative robotics avoiding, where possible, overlapping with other specific labs and companies already positioned in the national and international scenario
  • Deepen and expand the issues related to interaction and collaborative design (HRI / HMI)
  • Develop approaches and cross-cutting technologies independent from a specific platform and/or application
  • Face and develop "social" and "health & lifestyle" aspects (applications and relapse) where it is not strictly necessary a “humanoid” interaction, but is much important the effectiveness of the service offered and the technologies and / or data platforms used (included in this sector the issues of interconnection, cloud, data sharing, big data, augmented reality, etc...)
  • Make central the role of design and human-machine interaction for the effectiveness and safety of the service offered (to create something practical, safe and functional, not just purely cosmetic and / or appealing)
  • Deepen the economic, social and ethical aspects (on companies, on the labor market, on the society in general) related with the introduction of service robotics and the development of public / private services based on this emerging technology
  • Strengthen competencies and international industrial and scientific hooks in those areas, to use the activities of the Centre as a "flying wheel" for participation in regional, national and EU projects

Innovation

Service robots are at an inflection point, opening new contexts for productivity gains beyond what industrial robots have done. The scientific community is driving the innovation in collaboration with industrial companies through projects, solutions and prototypes focused on:

  • giving robots the ability to perceive, understand, and act in a wide range of dynamic environments
  • making robots simpler to program and use, and thereby engaging a wider group of innovators and users
  • improving the manipulation capability of robots to handle a diverse array of tasks
  • reducing the cost and size of robots
  • enabling robots to work with and around humans while keeping everyone safe
  • smart mechanical robots able to move in the same environments populated by Humans, side by side, facing architectural barriers, narrow and complex spaces

The fundamental challenges for service robotics are not isolated topics and the research community is addressing the development roadmap, through advancements in three important technical domains:

  • cognition and autonomous learning: the robot’s ability to perceive, understand, plan, and navigate in the real world. Improved cognitive ability means robots can work in diverse, dynamic, and complex environments autonomously
  • manipulation: precise control and dexterity for manipulating objects in the environment. Significant improvement in manipulation means robots can take on a greater diversity of tasks and use cases
  • interaction: the robot’s ability to learn from and collaborate with humans. Improved interaction - including support for verbal and nonverbal communications, observing and copying human behavior, and learning from experiences - means robots will increasingly be able to work alongside humans

Innovations in those areas are emerging from many scientific research centers and engineering disciplines. They come from within the robotics ecosystem, such as algorithms for manipulation, motion planning, and others. More, they come from outside the core robotics ecosystem, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, machine vision, and 3D sensors. Communities have been forming around these research topics, and they incorporate academics, R&D staff of high tech companies and early stage startups. The social, technological and industrial importance of this research trend is also highlighted by many regional, national and EU funds programs (e.g. robott-net.eu) especially designed for this area.