USV armRapid developments in machine learning and artificial intelligence in recent years have greatly advanced perception capabilities and thus the level of autonomy for machines, as evidenced by great strides made in autonomous vehicles and aerial drones over the last decade. These successes are due to advances in computing hardware and large datasets for training learning algorithms. However, for many real-world robotic applications, a robot’s environment may be so complex that no existing datasets are adequate, and synthetically generating high-fidelity data in simulation may not be possible. In collaboration with Todd Murphey from Northwestern University, ECE Professor Xiaobo Tan will use a new three-year, $397k NSF grant to advance active learning for robots, where the robots purposefully plan their motion and interaction with the environment to enable sensors to gather the most informative data. This award supports research to create algorithms for efficient robot active learning for perception and control of complex systems in highly dynamic and uncertain environments, such as the aquatic environment. The algorithm development effort will be supported by a running case study of autonomous aquatic debris removal using an unmanned surface vehicle equipped with soft sensor-rich robotic arms. Advances will have broad implications in applications of robotic technologies, such as aquatic debris cleanup, underwater search and rescue, and personalized minimally invasive robotic surgery. 

Link to the award abstract: