It's that time of year again... MIT Technology Review announced their 2011 "Young Innovators Under 35" Awards (TR35). This year two roboticists are among the recipients: Brian Gerkey and Pieter Abbeel. Brian Gerkey is currently the "Director of Open Source Development" at Willow Garage, where he architects ROS (the Robot Operating System). ROS is quickly becoming the world's standard robot software platform, supplanting Player --which was also developed by Brian. Pieter Abbeel, a professor at UC Berkeley, has done some cool stuff with the PR2 (eg. towel folding) as well as really nice machine learning work on autonomous helicopter acrobatics. Now we can add Brian and Pieter to the ranks of past TR35 robotics recipients: Aaron Dollar (2010), Andrea Thomaz (2009), Andrew Ng (2008), Robert Wood (2008), Josh Bongard (2007). I'm noticing a nice trend... Hopefully TR35's love for robotics continues.
Brian Gerkey is currently the "Director of Open Source Development" at Willow Garage, where he architects ROS (the Robot Operating System). ROS is quickly becoming the world's standard robot software platform, supplanting Player --which was also developed by Brian. I use ROS pretty much on a daily basis, and have been for years now -- all the way back to the botherder days (before the server was renamed roscore). ROS has been profoundly enabling; it is completely transforming the robotics software landscape. Need code for hardware drivers, coordinate transformations, localization, navigation, planning, image processing, point cloud processing, etc? No problem. ROS has it all via a vibrant open-source community. Basically, ROS provides the best-of-breed algorithms for many aspects of robotics; this let's us (as researchers) focus our efforts to make individual components better. It's tough to show Brian's work visually. If you want to understand what he does, go to ROS.org. Perhaps the best testament to ROS' growth are these graphics, pulled from the (new!) ROS metrics page; they show the growth of ROS repositories (left) and ROS packages (right):
You can click for higher resolution, but basically... ROS usage and interaction has grown exponentially from (almost) nothing in late 2007 to over 100 repositories and almost 3200 packages today.
Pieter Abbeel is currently an assistant professor at UC Berkeley. His lab is responsible for some well-known work on Willow Garage's PR2, including towel folding and sockification -- we forgive him for the latter. ;-) His lab also performs research on surgical robots. During grad school (under his advisor and fellow TR35er, Andrew Ng), Pieter did some very nice machine learning work on autonomous helicopter acrobatics. I'm particularly fond of Pieter's acrobatic helicopter work (video below), which was the subject of his PhD dissertation: "Apprenticeship Learning and Reinforcement Learning with Application to Robotic Control." I spent several reading groups (with labmates) dissecting his dissertation, so I'm pretty familiar with his work. Pieter's dissertation is incredibly complete and has been one source of inspiration for my own.
One of the benefits of being active in the robotics research community is that I've met both Brian and Pieter. They are impressive individuals. Kudos to you both!