We tend to associate NVIDIA with graphics cards, and more specifically, the graphics processing units (GPUs) that go inside them, but the company has a much broader focus. For example, NVIDIA is heavily invested in artificial intelligence technologies. As part of that, NVIDIA recently opened up a robotics lab in Seattle near the University of Washington campus to research and develop the next generation of artificially intelligent robots.
NVIDIA opened the lab in November with 14 researchers and expects to triple that number by midyear, which also factors in visiting faculty and interns. Dieter Fox, senior director of robotics research at NVIDIA and professor at the University of Washington's Paul G. Allen School of Computer and Science and Engineering, leads the new research lab.
The ultimate goal is to develop technologies that will enable next-gen robots to perform complex manipulation tasks as they work alongside humans. NVIDIA has several different industries in mind, such as manufacturing, logistics, and healthcare, to name a few.
"In the past, robotics research has focused on small, independent projects rather than fully integrated systems. We’re bringing together a collaborative, interdisciplinary team of experts in robot control and perception, computer vision, human-robot interaction, and deep learning," Fox said.
NVIDIA says the lab is focused on research that stays relevant to real-world problems in robotics. The research will focus on different scenarios, one of the first of which is a real-life kitchen where a mobile operator solves a variety of tasks, such as retrieving objects, learning how to clean, and even helping cook a meal.
That might not seem like an important task at first glance, but it serves multiple purposes. For one, these robots, or "cobots," could ultimately assist the disabled. And secondly, the training could be applied to more complex scenarios
"All of this is working toward enabling the next generation of smart manipulators that can also operate in open-ended environments where not everything is designed specifically for them," said Fox. "By pulling together recent advances in perception, control, learning and simulation, we can help the research community solve some of the greatest challenges in robotics."
This is not NVIDIA's first foray into this type of thing. In 2018, NVIDIA also opened an AI research lab in Toronto. In total, the NVIDIA Research team spans more than 200 scientists around the globe.