Campus research team receives $100,000 grant, 2 HoloLens devices from Microsoft

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A team of campus professors and researchers received a grant from Microsoft for its work with human-robot interaction, the company announced Wednesday.

As part of the grant, the team received $100,000 and two Microsoft HoloLens Development Edition devices — headsets that allow the user to interact with three-dimensional holograms integrated into real-world surroundings — to conduct its research. This interaction is called “augmented reality,” in which the user perceives other HoloLens users, all physical objects in the real world and the hologram data at the same time, allowing multiple researchers to interact simultaneously with each other and their data.

S. Shankar Sastry, dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering and one of the award recipients, started this multidiscipline research initiative to improve human-robot interfaces three years ago, partnering with researchers and students from the electrical engineering, computer science, chemical engineering and psychology departments at UC Berkeley, Stanford University and UCLA. The grant adds to the funding that the team already receives from NASA and the Office of Naval Research.

One of the researchers’ goals is to introduce a new, simple user interface that would allow people to control robots and drones without an advanced degree, according to campus researcher Allen Yang, one of the recipients of the award.

Yang said this less complex interface would improve robot control and safety. While older technology requires the user to remain stationary at a computer, the HoloLens headset allows the user to be mobile while controlling a robot.

Applications of this improved technology that researchers plan to create include widespread use of search-and-rescue drones after fires and earthquakes. Rescue teams could send in a drone to make sure the first responders do not enter a dangerous situation.

Yang also emphasized that his team is working closely with graduate students in the robotics laboratory and undergraduate students in the Virtual Reality at Berkeley club.

“It’s really a collaboration,” Yang said. “It’s a very balanced project between research and education.”

Four other research groups in the United States also received the grant from Microsoft. Many of the proposals are part of larger initiatives at their respective institutions.

The winning proposals include Open-Source Investigations in Mixed Reality at Carnegie Mellon University, Augmenting Reality for the Visually Impaired at Dartmouth College, Collaborative Analysis of Large-scale Mixed Reality Data at Virginia Tech and HoloLens Curriculum for Trade-based Education at Clackamas Community College.

“Microsoft did a good job of selecting a diverse number of topics,” Yang said.

Microsoft is holding a HoloLens launch event Dec. 2-3, where the research teams will receive HoloLens training that is specific to their respective proposals. Yang will attend this launch event with Daniel Pok, president of Virtual Reality at Berkeley, and Rohit Swamy, project leader of the student club. Project leads Will Huang and Kevin Yin will attend Google’s fall 2015 Dean’s Society Event on Dec. 2 to present their project.

Contact Emma Soldon at [email protected].