Edwin Olson talks robotics at World Science Festival

Edwin Olson Enlarge
Edwin Olson

Prof. Edwin Olson spoke on his work in the realm of robotics at the annual World Science Festival in New York City on Sunday, June 2. His presentation was a part of the Festival’s acclaimed Cool Jobs program, which features a series of thought-provoking and inspirational lectures on technical occupations aimed at young people and their families.

Prof. Olson spoke about his motivation for becoming a roboticist (“It’s cool!”) and how he was drawn into becoming a researcher in the field. He explained the many activities that robots can perform in order to protect or help humans and how a robot’s form and operation are a result of its intended purpose. His lecture included a short video presentation from his work as a graduate student on an early autonomous vehicle, and then moved to a live demonstration of robots produced in the APRIL laboratory. The demonstration included a game of hide and seek, in which two volunteers from the audience hid while two others gave commands to robots to seek them out. Prof. Olson’s presentation was livestreamed and recorded.

"" Enlarge
Grad students Lauren Hinkle and Rob Goeddel demo robots at WSF.

In addition to his presentation, Prof. Olson and some of his students participated in workshops and demonstrations of his lab’s robots over the course of the science festival weekend.

Prof. Edwin Olson received his PhD in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008. During his time as a PhD student, he was a core member of their DARPA Urban Challenge Team which finished the race in 4th place. Upon joining the Michigan faculty in 2008, he created the APRIL robotics lab, which studies Autonomy, Perception, Robotics, Interfaces, and Learning.

His active research projects include applications for explosive ordinance disposal, search and rescue, railway inspection and safety, and automobile autonomy and safety. He is active in both the open source software community as one of the original developers of the message-passing system LCM, and the creator of the OrcBoard robotics controller. Much of his current software is available under open source licenses. He has taught Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (EECS 492), Autonomous Robotics Laboratory (EECS 498), Mobile Robotics: Methods and Algorithms (EECS 568), and Algorithms for Robots (EECS 598). Prof. Olson was one of Popular Science’s “Brilliant 10” in 2012.