(WORCESTER, Mass.) – U.S. Representative Jim McGovern and U.S. Senator Ed Markey met with Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) students, professors and administrators today to tour a series of innovative robotics engineering labs focused on advancing space exploration, human-robot collaboration, and disaster response. 


“I am enormously proud to have such brilliant people living, learning and working right here in Worcester,” said U.S. Representative Jim McGovern. “Given Senator Markey’s keen interest in science and technology, I invited him to come and see firsthand the world class education that WPI provides as well as the ways that this lab is pushing the boundaries of technology.”


At the Robotics and Intelligent Vehicles Research Laboratory (RIVeR), McGovern and Markey were introduced to a variety of robotic systems, including Oryx, a planetary rover; and Aero, a robot used in a recent NASA Centennial Challenge. They also saw WPI’s Autonomous Robotic Collaboration Lab, in which researchers create algorithms that allow robots to interact with the world and collaborate efficiently.


Later, in nearby Washburn labs, they were introduced to WARNER (WPI's Atlas Robot for Nonconventional Emergency Response), a 6-foot tall, 330-pound humanoid robot.


In December, the WPI-Carnegie Mellon University team training WARNER placed seventh nationally at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge (DRC) Trials in Florida, a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters. DARPA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, creates breakthrough technologies for national security. WPI’s team is now one of 11 finalists that will compete for $2 million in the DRC Finals next June in California. 


“WPI is known as Worcester Polytechnic Institute but it also stands for Worcester Pioneers in Innovation,” said Senator Ed Markey. “The cutting-edge work in robotics and advanced manufacturing being done at WPI are at the heart of Massachusetts's innovation economy, leading to the companies and jobs of the future. I thank Congressman McGovern for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of WPI and the entire region's excellence in the industries and technologies of the 21st century.” 


McGovern and Markey were also briefed on the team’s participation in the Smart America Expo, held in June in Washington, D.C.  Organized by the White House Office of Science of Technology Policy and Presidential Innovation Fellows, the SmartAmerica Challenge was launched in 2013 to bring Industry, Academia and the Government to show how Cyber-Physical Systems (the Internet of Things) can create jobs, new business opportunities and socio-economic benefits to America. 


At the Expo, WPI demonstrated two innovative projects with teams in the Smart Emergency Response Systems (SERS) challenge and the Closed Loop Healthcare challenge. In the SERS scenario, WARNER demonstrated various mobility and manipulation tasks, such as clearing debris and turning a valve to showcase efforts in a disaster situation. The healthcare challenge, by contrast, focused on making improvements in the  healthcare/medical sector.


“WPI believes it is critical to continue to bring together disparate technologies all working toward the same goal,” said Taskin Padir, assistant professor of robotics engineering at WPI, who is involved in multiple robotics efforts on campus. "We’re striving to raise awareness about the current state of robotic technology and cyberphysical system technology to see how it can save and improve lives, whether that means assisting people with disabilities or responding to disaster situations.”


RIVeR Lab at WPI was founded in 2010. Their research is aimed at advancing the capabilities of autonomous robots and intelligent vehicles. Research activities in the RIVeR Lab focus on design, analysis, implementation and control of intelligent vehicles, mobile robots, walking robots, manipulators and adaptive systems. 


A private technological university in the heart of New England, WPI offers bachelor and advanced degrees in science, engineering, and management by providing its 2,700 undergraduate and 1,000 full- and part-time graduate students with a thorough conceptual foundation in science, engineering, management, the humanities and arts, and the social sciences.


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