2023 Activity Report vol.19:Tohoku University

Activity Report of Open Application Program 2023 vol.19 (Course B)

Fostering Research and Cultural Exchange: The JST SAKURA Science Program at Tohoku University's Space Robotics Lab

Report from Space Robotics Lab, Tohoku University

 With the support of JST SAKURA Science Program, Space Robotics Lab (SRL) at Tohoku University hosted a team of six researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, Gujarat from February 8 - 28, 2024. It was a unique opportunity for research and cultural exchange between Japan and India.
The research team, comprising two faculty members (Prof. Harish PM and Prof. Madhu Vadali) and a cohort of four graduate students spent 21 days working on two robotic challenges crucial for space applications: detection of slip with robotic gripper and optimal trajectory generation of planetary rovers, utilizing offline Reinforcement Learning (RL). The main focus was to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and state-of the-art research methodologies to tackle the challenges with the combined expertise of both parties. Professor Kazuya Yoshida and Assistant Professor Shreya Santra lead the Tohoku University side.

 1Upon their arrival at SRL, the initial days were dedicated to interacting with the lab members, understanding the workflow and formulating the main problem statement of their research. With regular insightful discussions and rigorous brainstorming sessions, they quickly started working to set up the required hardware and software. Regular meetings and consultations with lab members further enriched their understanding of the diverse ongoing projects at SRL and potential areas of synergy. Their collaborative spirit was evident as the team seamlessly integrated into the vibrant research ecosystem of SRL.

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 One of the teams worked with a 7DoF manipulator showcasing the importance of slip detection in an autonomous assembly task. This task integrated camera-based pose detection of assembly blocks alongside a slip detection model, incorporating corrective actions upon detecting slips. The second team focused on expert trajectory generation for rovers on lunar-like soil by human demonstrations, along with the implementation of a classical path planner. Then they employed offline RL to transfer these skills to an actual rover. At the conclusion of the 3-weeks program, they presented their final outcomes, marking a successful completion of their tasks.

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Teams engaged in labwork

 The culmination of their efforts resulted in the submission of a joint conference paper, encapsulating the innovative work conducted during their tenure at SRL.

 Dr. Akiko Otsuka, senior researcher at JAXA Human Space Flight Centre was invited to Tohoku University to give a special presentation on her work on the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Following her talk, Prof. Yoshida presented the new R&D project at SRL on "Self-Evolving AI Robot System for Lunar Exploration and Human Outpost Construction" under the JST Moonshot Goal 3. This aroused a lot of interest among the guest researchers.
A notable highlight of their experience was the opportunity to tour various robotics laboratories at Tohoku University - including all the Space Robotics, Tough Robotics, Social Robotics and Neuro Robotics research facilities. These visits not only broadened their horizons but also sparked intriguing discussions on shared research interests and future collaboration prospects.

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Visiting Tohoku University Robotics Labs

 The professors also engaged in an official meeting with Tohoku University's Vice President, Prof. Masahiro Yamaguchi. The discussion revolved around strategies to enhance the collaboration between India and Japan, particularly in the realms of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum technology and fundamental sciences.

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Courtesy meeting with the Vice President of Tohoku University, Prof. Masahiro Yamaguchi

 During the weekend breaks, the team visited several cultural sites, historic landmarks and beautiful nature around the Miyagi prefecture - including the Matsushima islands and Zao mountains. They enjoyed themselves in the Japanese onsens and savored the delicacies of the Tohoku region. At the conclusion of the program, a farewell gathering took place at an Indian restaurant in Sendai. Participants reflected on the past weeks, received Sakura Science certificates and badges, and discussed ideas for maintaining the connections moving forward.

 This collaborative endeavor stands as a testament to the significant impact of international partnerships in driving cutting-edge research and fostering cross-cultural understanding. Plans are underway to establish long-term research exchanges, enabling a continuous flow of knowledge and expertise between students and faculty members from both institutions. The students who participated in this exchange even considered further education at Tohoku University.

 The host and esteemed guests express sincere gratitude to the JST SAKURA Science Exchange Program for providing this invaluable opportunity and fostering international knowledge exchange in the field of science and technology.

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IIT Gandhinagar team with the members of Space Robotics Lab