From Geometry to Startups—The Rise of a New Robotics Industry in China

Speaker:Zexiang Li
Seminar Date:21/11/2014
Seminar Venue:Lecture Theatre 1
Many problems in robotics, mechanism design and manufacturing research are geometric in nature: Rigid body motion, modeling, analysis and synthesis of both open-chain and closed-chain manipulators, grasping and manipulation with multifingered robotic hands, tolerance formulation and verification, design and control of five- axes machines, etc. In this talk, I will present an effort, which was initiated by R. Brockett of Harvard about 30 years ago, and continued by the Berkeley group and then my own group at HKUST for the last 20 years to develop a unified theory, using tools from differentiable manifolds and Lie groups, for robotics, mechanism design and manufacturing research. First, using intuitive examples, I will recollect some of the basic concepts of differentiable manifolds and their “engineering” classifications. Then, I will show how problems in robotics ,mechanism design and manufacturing research can be modeled using various types of manifolds as their model spaces. Finally, I will highlight how geometric properties of these spaces are being exploited to provide more efficient solutions for optimization problems defined on these spaces. I will describe how results from this research program are being used as basis for founding of three companies, one in motion control, one in UAV-based consumer products and the other in assembly automation for 3C products. Burrowing from L. Page’s words, I credit this effort to “Geometry as inspiration.” There are grand opportunities for robotic research in China. However, the biggest challenge lies in the creation of an eco-system that foster growth of many more startups from our research and teaching programs. A new robotics institute is being proposed at HKUST for such a purpose.