Robotics

Parallel Optimization for Robotics: An Undergraduate Introduction to GPU Parallel Programming and Numerical Optimization Research

While parallel programming, particularly on graphics processing units (GPUs), and numerical optimization hold immense potential to tackle real-world computational challenges across disciplines, their inherent complexity and technical demands often act as daunting barriers to entry. This, unfortunately, limits accessibility and diversity within these crucial areas of computer science. To combat this challenge and ignite excitement among undergraduate learners, we developed an application-driven course, harnessing robotics as a lens to demystify the intricacies of these topics making them tangible and engaging. Our course's prerequisites are limited to the required undergraduate introductory core curriculum, opening doors for a wider range of students. Our course also features a large final-project component to connect theoretical learning to applied practice. In our first offering of the course we attracted 27 students without prior experience in these topics and found that an overwhelming majority of the students felt that they learned both technical and soft skills such that they felt prepared for future study in these fields.

RobotPerf: An Open-Source, Vendor-Agnostic, Benchmarking Suite for Evaluating Robotics Computing System Performance

We introduce RobotPerf, a vendor-agnostic benchmarking suite designed to evaluate robotics computing performance across a diverse range of hardware platforms using ROS 2 as its common baseline. The suite encompasses ROS 2 packages covering the full robotics pipeline and integrates two distinct benchmarking approaches: black-box testing, which measures performance by eliminating upper layers and replacing them with a test application, and grey-box testing, an application-specific measure that observes internal system states with minimal interference. Our benchmarking framework provides ready-to-use tools and is easily adaptable for the assessment of custom ROS 2 computational graphs. Drawing from the knowledge of leading robot architects and system architecture experts, RobotPerf establishes a standardized approach to robotics benchmarking. As an open-source initiative, RobotPerf remains committed to evolving with community input to advance the future of hardware-accelerated robotics.

Underrepresentation of Women in Robotics Research

Computer science (CS) and engineering research both have large and well documented gender diversity gaps. In fact, previous studies have reported that the overall CS Female Author Ratio (FAR) is only in the range of 16-26% and varies significantly between CS subfields ranging from as high as 42% in CS Education to as low as 8% in Theory and Algorithms. To understand the current state of gender diversity of robotics, we recently collected and analyzed the gender of paper authors from all IEEE RAS fully sponsored conferences (ARSO, CASE, HAPTICS, Humanoids, ICRA, ISAM, MEMS, RoboSoft, SIMPAR, SSRR) as well as IROS and RA-L from 2019-2021. Overall, we find that robotics has a long way to go to reach gender parity, with an overall FAR of only 11-12%. We hope this analysis helps the robotics community to continue to emphasize the importance of working to improve our diversity.

COMS-BC3159-F24: Parallel Optimization for Robotics

Many stages of state-of-the-art robotics pipelines rely on the solutions of underlying optimization algorithms. Unfortunately, many of these approaches rely on simplifications and conservative approximations in order to reduce their computational complexity and support online operation. At the same time, parallelism has been used to significantly increase the throughput of computationally expensive algorithms across the field of computer science. And, with the widespread adoption of parallel computing platforms such as GPUs, it is natural to consider whether these architectures can benefit robotics researchers interested in solving computationally constrained problems online. This course will provide students with an introduction to both parallel programming on GPUs as well as numerical optimization. It will then dive into the intersection of those fields through case studies of recent state-of-the-art research and culminate in a team-based final project.

COMS-BC3159-SP24: Parallel Optimization for Robotics

Many stages of state-of-the-art robotics pipelines rely on the solutions of underlying optimization algorithms. Unfortunately, many of these approaches rely on simplifications and conservative approximations in order to reduce their computational complexity and support online operation. At the same time, parallelism has been used to significantly increase the throughput of computationally expensive algorithms across the field of computer science. And, with the widespread adoption of parallel computing platforms such as GPUs, it is natural to consider whether these architectures can benefit robotics researchers interested in solving computationally constrained problems online. This course will provide students with an introduction to both parallel programming on GPUs as well as numerical optimization. It will then dive into the intersection of those fields through case studies of recent state-of-the-art research and culminate in a team-based final project.

Can Large Language Models Reduce the Barriers to Entry for High School Robotics?

In this study we will investigate whether we can reduce the barriers to entry for high school robotics through the use of code generation models derived from large language models (LLMs). As such, we aim to raise the abstraction barrier for the development of artificial intelligence algorithms needed to program and control the Romi Robot used in the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). To do so we develop a web interface that helps automate the prompt-engineer step and allows students to easily incorporate OpenAI Codex into their workflows.

Tiny Robot Learning: Expanding Access to Edge ML as a Step Toward Accessible Robotics

The high barriers to entry associated with robotics, in particular its high cost, has rendered it inaccessibility for many. In this poster we present our early efforts to begin to address these challenges through edge machine learning (ML). We show how ultra-low-cost robot and computational hardware paired with open-source software and courseware can be leveraged for hands-on education globally and the beginnings of a globally diverse research community.

RoboARCH: Workshop on Robotics Acceleration with Computing Hardware

Robotics is pushing the limits of conventional computing. This is a call to action for researchers across academia and industry: we must leverage nontraditional computing hardware (e.g., custom accelerator ASICs, FPGAs, and GPUs) and navigate enormous design spaces spanning across algorithms, hardware, and physical robot parameters in order to design new high performance systems enabling critical tasks in robotics. This workshop aims to gather pioneers and innovators working at the intersection of robotics and computer architecture, and to provide an introduction to this exciting emerging field to the computer architecture community.

Workshop on Leveraging Models for Contact-Rich Manipulation

The objective of this workshop is to bring together researchers in the model-based manipulation community to present their work and review state-of-the art methods in the field. In conjunction, the workshop aims to facilitate discussions on the future of the field and ask several important questions: how can we synthesize model-based approaches and recent learning approaches into a coherent whole? Do we believe that there is structure we can leverage from the models that we use to better inform planning and control algorithms?

RoboShape: Using Topology Patterns to Scalably and Flexibly Deploy Accelerators Across Robots

We present RoboShape, an accelerator framework that leverages two topology-based computational patterns that scale with robot size: (1) topology traversals, and (2) large topology-based matrices. Using these patterns and building on prior work, we expose opportunities to directly use robot topology to inform architectural mechanisms including task scheduling and allocation, data placement, block matrix operations, and sparse I/O data. For the topologically-diverse iiwa manipulator, HyQ quadruped, and Baxter torso robots, RoboShape accelerators on an FPGA provide a 4.0x to 4.4x speedup in compute latency over CPU and a 8.0x to 15.1x speedup over GPU for the dynamics gradients, a key bottleneck preventing online execution of nonlinear optimal motion control for legged robots. Taking a broader view, for topology-based applications, RoboShape enables analysis of performance and resource utilization tradeoffs that will be critical to managing resources across accelerators in future full robotics domain-specific SoCs.

COMS-BC3159-SP23: Parallel Optimization for Robotics

Many stages of state-of-the-art robotics pipelines rely on the solutions of underlying optimization algorithms. Unfortunately, many of these approaches rely on simplifications and conservative approximations in order to reduce their computational complexity and support online operation. At the same time, parallelism has been used to significantly increase the throughput of computationally expensive algorithms across the field of computer science. And, with the widespread adoption of parallel computing platforms such as GPUs, it is natural to consider whether these architectures can benefit robotics researchers interested in solving computationally constrained problems online. This course will provide students with an introduction to both parallel programming on CPUs and GPUs as well as optimization algorithms for robotics applications. It will then dive into the intersection of those fields through case studies of recent state-of-the-art research and culminate in a team-based final project.

RoboARCH: Workshop on Robotics Acceleration with Computing Hardware

Robotics is pushing the limits of conventional computing. This is a call to action for researchers across academia and industry: we must leverage nontraditional computing hardware (e.g., custom accelerator ASICs, FPGAs, and GPUs) and navigate enormous design spaces spanning across algorithms, hardware, and physical robot parameters in order to design new high performance systems enabling critical tasks in robotics. This workshop aims to gather pioneers and innovators working at the intersection of robotics and computer architecture, and to provide an introduction to this exciting emerging field to the computer architecture community.

Mind the Gap: Opportunities and Challenges in the Transition Between Research and Industry

Mind the Gap: Opportunities and Challenges in the Transition Between Research and Industry is aimed at bridging the gap between academia and industry. For researchers, this workshop will help lift the curtain on the realities of academic to industry tech transfer. For industry experts, this workshop provides an opportunity to influence the direction of academic research. For both, we hope to provide an venue for integrated dialogue and identification of new potential collaborations.

RobotCore: An Open Architecture for Hardware Acceleration in ROS 2

We introduce RobotCore, an architecture to integrate hardware acceleration in the widely-used ROS 2 robotics software framework. This architecture is target-agnostic (supports edge, workstation, data center, or cloud targets) and accelerator-agnostic (supports both FPGAs and GPUs). It builds on top of the common ROS 2 build system and tools and is easily portable across different research and commercial solutions through a new firmware layer. We also leverage the Linux Tracing Toolkit next generation (LTTng) for low-overhead real-time tracing and benchmarking. To demonstrate the acceleration enabled by this architecture, we design an intra-FPGA ROS 2 node communication queue to enable faster data flows, and use it in conjunction with FPGA-accelerated nodes to achieve a 24.42% speedup over a CPU.

Closing the Sim-to-Real Gap for Ultra-Low-Cost, Resource-Constrained, Quadruped Robot Platforms

As a step toward robust learning pipelines for these constrained robot platforms, we demonstrate how existing state-of-the-art imitation learning pipelines can be modified and augmented to support low-cost, limited hardware. By reducing our model’s observational space, leveraging TinyML to quantize our model, and adjusting the model outputs through post-processing, we are able to learn and deploy successful walking gaits on an 8-DoF, $299 (USD) toy quadruped robot that has reduced actuation and sensor feedback, as well as limited computing resources.

Tiny Robot Learning: Challenges and Directions for Machine Learning in Resource-Constrained Robots

Tiny robot learning lies at the intersection of embedded systems, robotics, and ML, compounding the challenges of these domains. This paper gives a brief survey of the tiny robot learning space, elaborates on key challenges, and proposes promising opportunities for future work in ML system design.

COMS-BC3997-F22: Introduction to Robotics Engineering from Bits to Electrons

Robots are cyber-physical systems – leveraging computational intelligence to sense and interact with the real world. As such, robotics is a very diverse, cross-disciplinary field. This introductory course exposes learners to the vast opportunities and challenges posed by the interdisciplinary nature of robotics. While grounded and focused in computation this course also explores hands-on electromechanical and ethical topics that are an integral part of a real-world robotic system. Topics will include: a survey of the algorithmic robotics pipeline (perception, mapping, localization, planning, control, and learning), an introduction to cyber-physical system design, and responsible AI. The course will culminate in a team-based final project.

Robomorphic Computing: A Design Methodology for Domain-Specific Accelerators Parameterized by Robot Morphology

We introduce robomorphic computing; a methodology to transform robot morphology into a customized hardware accelerator morphology. In this work, we (i) present this design methodology; (ii) use the methodology to generate a parameterized accelerator design for the gradient of rigid body dynamics; (iii) evaluate FPGA and synthesized ASIC implementations; and (iv) describe how the design can be automatically customized for other robot models. Our FPGA accelerator achieves speedups of 8x and 86x over CPU and GPU latency, and maintains an overall speedup of 1.9x to 2.9x deployed in an end-to-end coprocessor system. ASIC synthesis indicates an additional factor of 7.2x.

Harvard CS249r: Special Topics in Edge Computing - Autonomous Machines

Modern embedded systems are intelligent devices that involve complex hardware and software to perform a multitude of cognitive functions collaboratively. Designing such systems requires us to have deep understanding of the target application domains, as well as an appreciation for the coupling between the hardware and the software subsystems.This course is structured around building “systems” for Autonomous Machines (cars, drones, ground robots, manipulators, etc.). For example, we will discuss what are all the hardware and software components that are involved in developing the intelligence required for an autonomous car?

MIT Beaverworks Summer Institute: Autonomous RACECAR Grad Prix

Driverless vehicle technology has been growing at an exponential pace since the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges pushed the state of the art to demonstrate what was already possible. Commercial interest and aggressive development are being driven by Google, Toyota, Tesla, Continental, Uber, Apple, NVidia, and many other companies. There is no single technology or “killer app” available to solve the myriad perception, understanding, localization, planning, and control problems required to achieve robust navigation in highly variable, extremely complex and dynamically changing environments. This summer, Beaver Works Summer Institute will offer nine teams of five students, each with its own MIT-designed RACECAR (Rapid Autonomous Complex Environment Competing Ackermann steeRing) robot, the opportunity to explore the broad spectrum of research in these areas, learn to collaborate, and demonstrate fast, autonomous navigation in a Mini Grand Prix to Move... Explore... Learn...Race!