A Different Philosophy

Computer Science

3-D: "I expect robots to take over the jobs that are dirty, dangerous, or dull. In my vision of a Utopian society, all human occupations would be personally fulfilling," say Professor Drumwright.

"What makes my research unique is more my philosophical approach than anything else," says Professor Evan Drumwright of the Department of Computer Science. Drumwright studies the control of autonomous robotic systems in order to program them to perform specific tasks, and he is especially interested in humanoid or manipulator robots and in robots that could be used as ground or flight vehicles.

"Many researchers will get deep into an area and produce in that vein for a very long time, " he says. "My philosophy has been that an understanding of the entire domain of robotics, at some depth, is necessary for real progress. I've made contributions in humanoid robotics, perceiving human motion, planning collision-free movements, modeling robot dynamics, and simulating robots. I have a fairly holistic vision of the field and where it is going, in contrast to many other researchers who are concerned with only a small aspect of robotics. "

Along with his research on autonomous flying vehicles, Drumwright has recently begun working on simulations in the area of mobile manipulation. He and many others are studying mobile manipulator robots in the hopes that people can one day use them as personal robots. In particular, he foresees robots helping the elderly retain their independence by doing tasks for them that they may no longer easily be able to do.

To assist in that effort, Drumwright recently led GW in acquiring a PR2 mobile manipulator robot, and he secured a $120,000 grant from Willow Garage to help purchase it. Only a handful of universities have the PR2, and all of them, including GW, are trying to program it to do various personal tasks.

To ramp up the PR2 research program, Drumwright and his new colleague, Professor Gabriel Sibley, have created a new course this semester offered to both undergraduate and graduate students. The course is built around the PR2. Drumwright and Sibley have developed a list of possible student projects and will also allow students to come up with their own ideas. "We 're really hoping to kick-start research with the robot through this course and to use it as an incubator for our research," states Drumwright. "I'm covering the control-the physics and modeling-and Gabriel's expertise is in perception for autonomous systems, so together we have a cohesive unit for approaching this research. "

Drumwright anticipates that the PR2 will be very helpful in research and teaching and in being a high-profile project for the school. "I'm hoping to use the robot to bring publicity to SEAS and GW, " he adds with a smile.