The Robotics Institute

RI | Seminar | December 9

Robotics Institute Seminar, December 9
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biography | Speaker Appointments

Technology Underlying Inherently Safer Human-Robot Interaction



Bill Townsend

Barrett Technology, Inc.




View the seminar.


Time and Place

Mauldin Auditorium (NSH 1305)
3:15 pm
3:30 pm


The gold standard for physical Human-Robot Interaction (pHRI) safety for decades has been separation. Collision-avoidance techniques extend this standard by allowing separation at closer proximity between robots and people and are a sensible part of a safety solution – but not sufficient. The separation paradigm has limited the conventional robot business to 1/3rd the size of the scented-candle business.

More-relevant tasks require intimate physical contact with people, other robots, or often-delicate nearby objects, both for task navigation and performing work; and these contacts are collisions. How can a robot provide rehabilitation therapy, complex surgeries, or help elderly patients out of bed without the ability to control delicate interactions with people?

This talk will highlight two key elements in the design of hardware for pHRI.

  • 1. A new motion controller technology contained in a 43-gram module reduces the power requirement of human-scale robotic arms from several-hundred Watts (and often 3-phase power) to a few 10s of Watts of battery power. The modules enable a power-based safety layer and cut robot mass while improving system reliability.
  • 2. The importance of inherent (open-loop) backdrivability, and the hidden dangers of using force- and torque-sensor feedback as a backdrivability short cut.

Speaker Biography

Dr. Bill Townsend is founder and CEO of Barrett Technology, credited in Millennium Edition of The Guinness Book of World Records as maker of the world’s “most advanced robotic arm”. The company's customers include NASA, Bechtel, Boeing, Ford, Honda, Yamaha, Sony, and Fanuc Robotics as well as research centers developing human-friendly robotics, including Harvard University, MIT, CMU, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, University of Tokyo, and University of Hong Kong. Dr. Townsend received his PhD (1988) and M.S. (1984) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. His Ph.D. work at MIT helped pioneer a new world of haptic devices, including the desktop PHANToM haptic interface (aka Mini-WAM), the MIT Falcon, and Intuitive Surgical’s DaVinci. He has won more than 10 professional awards including, in 2003, the preeminent Robotic Industries Association’s Joseph Engelberger Award for his pioneering contributions towards collaborative robotics. Mr. Townsend is a member of SME, RIA, IEEE, ASME, Phi Kappa Phi, and a US editor for Industrial Robot Journal.

Speaker Appointments

For appointments, please contact Virginia Arrington.

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.