Special Robotics Seminar: Raj Madhavan, "Robotics and Automation for Societal Good"

Wednesday, November 7, 2018
1:30 p.m.
2460 AV Williams
Ania Picard
301 405 4358

Special Robotics Seminar

Raj Madhavan
Founder & CEO
Humanitarian Robotics Technologies, LLC

Robotics and Automation for Societal Good
Global South Challenges & Technology-Policy Considerations

Robotics & Automation (R&A) technologies have the potential to transform and positively impact the lives of people around the globe by addressing some of the most pressing and unsolved needs of humanity, thereby elevating their quality of lives. Many of the existing R&A technologies are at a sufficient level of maturity and are widely accepted by the academic (and to a lesser extent by the industrial) community after having undergone the scientific rigor and peer reviews that accompany such works. Yet, several of these frameworks, when subjected to the demands of deployment in practical situations, reveal their brittleness and lack of robustness (for instance, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster). Recent developments in robotics, automation, and artificial intelligence technologies have fueled the confusion and concerns surrounding their societal impacts (e.g., self-driving cars, drones, and robots equated to job losses). While making the discussions imbalanced and skewed, the speculation of their negative effects has had an adverse effect on widespread societal acceptance.

My research efforts at two US govt. agencies and at two universities have focused on mobile robotics navigation in unstructured outdoor environments and on performance evaluation, benchmarking and standardization of robotic systems, in urban search and rescue and manufacturing domains, to name a few. In the last few years, my focus has been on the applied use of R&A technologies for the benefit of under-served and under-developed communities. In such resource-constrained domains, cost-effectiveness, reliability, and sustainability are crucial factors. Socio-economic, environmental, cultural, structural, and political factors also need to be carefully considered in close collaboration with the beneficiaries.

In this talk, I will share my thoughts and efforts in bringing together industry, academia, local governments, and various entities, NGOs, and NPOs across the globe towards the realization of socially acceptable robotics solutions. I will discuss a demining challenge that I founded in 2014 with the intent of producing an open-source solution for detecting and classifying buried unexploded ordnance. Finally, I will outline some of my recent work in the context of ethical, legal, and societal issues with emphasis on technology policy and governance.


Mumu Xu and Yiannis Aloimonos

Raj Madhavan is an internationally recognized expert in mobile and autonomous robotics & automation technologies. His current research interests lie in the application and tailoring of technologies that are cost effective, reliable, efficient, and geared towards improving the quality of lives of people in underserved and underdeveloped communities around the globe. He is equally interested and involved in ethical, legal, and societal implications of emerging technologies, and the associated technology-policy considerations. Dr. Madhavan is the Founder & CEO of Humanitarian Robotics Technologies, LLC, focusing on applied technology consulting, training, and research. From Feb. 2016-Jan. 2017, he was a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Robotics at Amrita University, Kerala, India. He has held appointments with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as an R&D staff member based at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and as an assistant and associate research scientist, and as a member of the Maryland Robotics Center with the University of Maryland, College Park. He received a Ph.D. in Field Robotics from the University of Sydney, and an ME (Research) in Systems Engineering from the Australian National University, respectively.

Over the last 24 years, he has contributed to various topics in field robotics, humanitarian technologies, and systems and control theory. He has published over 200 papers in archival journals, conferences, and magazines and has co-edited two books and four journal special issues. He has served as an invited independent judge for robotics competitions, has given numerous invited presentations in research organizations across the globe, has served on editorial boards and program and organization committees of premier robotics, automation, and control conferences, and on several national and international panels and review boards.

Within the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, he served as the Founding Chair of the Technical Committee on Performance Evaluation and Benchmarking of Robotics and Automation Systems, TC-PEBRAS (2009-2011), Founding Chair of the Humanitarian Robotics and Automation Technology Challenge, HRATC (2014-2017), Vice President of the Industrial Activities Board (2012-2015), Chair of the Standing Committee for Standards Activities (2010-2015), and since 2012 as the Founding Chair of the Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (RAS-SIGHT). Within IEEE, he was the Founding Chair of the IEEE Washington/Northern Virginia Section Robotics Automation Society (2007- 2009; 2010 Best Chapter of the Year Award) and Sensors Council Chapters (2008-2009). He is currently active within IEEE in the following roles: Member, TAB Future Directions Committee; Steering Cmte. Member, IEEE FDC ‘Symbiotic Autonomous Systems' Initiative; ExCom member of the IEEE Standards Association Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in the Design of Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems; Member-at-Large, IEEE-USA Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems Policy Committee. He is a senior member of IEEE, a 2008 Volunteer of the Year awardee of the IEEE Washington Section, was recognized for his services to RAS as VP of the Industrial Activities in 2014 & 2016, and is the 2016 recipient of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society's Distinguished Service Award for his “distinguished service and contributions to RAS industrial and humanitarian activities”.


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