Georgia Tech’s Open Access Robotics Lab Opens to the World
Meghan Brown posted on September 01, 2017 | 1831 views

Do you have a great idea for a robotics experiment that you want to test out? If you’re lucky, your school will have a fully equipped robotics lab and testing space that has what you need. But maybe your school’s labs don’t have the equipment you need, or it’s just difficult to get a time slot—assuming your school has a full robotics lab at all.

Well, if you want to run experiments with swarm robotics, Georgia Tech has you covered, no matter where you’re working from.

Georgia Tech’s Robotarium, a remote robotics lab home to nearly 100 small rolling and flying robots, is now officially open and available for engineering students and researchers around the country to submit and run swarm robotics experiments.

After more than a year's worth of planning and development, the Robotarium held its grand opening this past Tuesday.  Appropriately, a scissors-wielding robot named Snips performed the official ribbon cutting. Later, a researcher from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Skyped into the room to run a live remote experiment, demonstrating the true purpose of the Robotarium: free and open-access robotics research.

The lab was conceived two years ago by Magnus Egerstedt, executive director of Georgia Tech's Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines and a professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. It’s expensive to build and maintain robots, let alone an entire robotics facility, which means that many engineering students don’t have access to these resources on their own campus.

Magnus Egerstedt overlooking the Robotarium test bed. (Image courtesy of Georgia Tech.)
Magnus Egerstedt overlooking the Robotarium test bed. (Image courtesy of Georgia Tech.)
“It irritated me, and it still does, that robotics research is largely a resource competition and not a ‘who has the best ideas’ competition,” Egerstedt said. “The Robotarium is solving that. If you have a good idea, you should have a platform to try it.”

“It’s time to begin a new era in robotics,” he added. Without the barriers to entry in studying robotics that come from a lack of facilities, this kind of open-access research tool will open up great opportunities for engineering students and researchers to pursue their own projects, and collaborate with others.

The Robotarium is a USD$2.5-million facility funded by the National Science Foundation and Office of Naval Research. It allows researchers around the world to upload their own code and then have Georgia Tech’s rolling and flying swarm robots perform their experiments. Afterwards, the researcher is sent data and video. 

The facility also features seating and workspaces on site, so that interested parties can watch other experiments run, or oversee their own. A retractable safety net curtain pulls around the test bed when the flying bots are in use, to keep the bots contained, and to protect anyone watching inside the room.

Hundreds of students visited the lab after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, to enjoy an open house and watch as the Robotarium team conducted several experiments, including flying quadcopters that could change formation without crashing into each other.

Engineers and researchers who have experiments they want to run can upload their programs and run them for free by visiting the Robotarium website.

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