9th March 2015

When it comes to seeing eye-to-eye with humans, Baxter is a roboticist's best friend.

QUT's newest robot is helping researchers break down the technological boundaries that stop them from working safely side-by-side with humans.

The key - seeing and perceiving the world as we do.

"Once robots can see and understand the environment they operate in they can make decisions that allow them to work safely beside us," said Professor Peter Corke, world-renowned roboticist with QUT's Science and Engineering Faculty and Director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision (ACRV).

"Current industrial robots are dangerous for humans to work around because they're simply not equipped to recognise and avoid obstacles suddenly in their way.

"Baxter uses a range of sensors to detect movement around it, as well as spring-loaded joints which stop it continuing a pre-programmed movement if it meets an unexpected obstacle.

"We've tried to 'rush' Baxter before and can certainly vouch for his quick reflexes."

Researchers at the ACRV have already programmed Baxter to use computer vision to play an unbeatable game of Connect Four.

They are now training Baxter to recognise and pick ripe capsicums.

Officially launched at QUT last night by federal Minister for Employment and Training Christopher Pyne, the ACRV brings together Australia's top computer vision and robotics researchers, who are creating the next generation of robots that can see and understand complex, real-world environments.

They are researching the use of robotic vision to create advanced farming tools, tackle Crown of Thorn starfish outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef and develop low-cost solutions for key health and medical problems.

"Robotic vision is the key enabling technology that will allow robotics to transform labour-intensive industries, disrupt stagnant markets and see robots become a ubiquitous feature of the modern world," ACRV Chief Operating Officer Dr Sue Keay said.

"We consider that 'seeing' is far more than just processing images.

"It's a complex process tightly coupled to both memory and action, which gives robots the understanding they need to robustly perform tasks that involve objects and places while at the same time providing rapid and continuous feedback for control.

"Robotic automation has transformed manufacturing, household cleaning and soon cars but robotics has made relatively little headway in other industries where the world is complex and time varying, like retail.

"Robots that can see, learn and respond as humans do will increase productivity in industries critical to Australia's economy."


QUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Commercialisation) Professor Arun Sharma said the university was proud to host the ACRV.

"This global initiative is developing the next generation of innovating robotic vision experts who will forge whole new industries by converting their research into new products, services and enterprises," Professor Sharma said.

Scientists and industry representatives from across Australia will meet QUT's advanced agricultural robot, Agbot II, when they converge on QUT tomorrow to learn how robotics and big data will change the face of farming into the future.

The Brisbane public will have a chance to eyeball Baxter and other ACRV robots at QUT's robotics extravaganza, Robotronica, in August.

The ACRV is an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence involving experts from QUT, University of Adelaide, Australian National University, Monash University, NICTA and partnering international universities.

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Kate Haggman, QUT Media, 07 3138 0358 kate.haggman@qut.edu.au
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