Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang and Susan Gaither tickle a robotic hand at Nvidia’s robotics research lab in Seattle. (Nvidia Photo)
When Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang interacted with a sensitive robotic hand at today’s open house for his company’s robotics research lab in Seattle, it was love at first touch.
“It almost feels like a pet!” Huang said as he tickled the hand’s fingers, causing them to retreat gently.
“It’s surprisingly therapeutic,” he told the crowd around him. “Can I have one?”
The robotic hand, which is programmed to avoid poking humans when they come too close, was just one of the machines on display at the 13,000-square-foot lab in Seattle’s University District.
Nvidia is based in California’s Silicon Valley and has nearly 200 employees working at an engineering center in Redmond, Wash. But when the chipmaker laid plans to open a lab focusing on research in robotics and artificial intelligence, it set up shop in the same building that houses the University of Washington’s CoMotion Lab. It also put Dieter Fox, a longtime computer science professor at UW, in charge of the operation as senior director of robotics research.
Huang said Seattle was the natural choice.
“Because of the University of Washington, because of Microsoft, because of Amazon, this has become one of the great hubs of computer science,” he said. “And so it made sense that we thought about this area.”
UW’s tradition of collaboration in computer science was also a selling point.
“Everybody was working with everybody else,” Huang said. “This is very unnatural, frankly, in most universities. They tend to be very isolated. … The collaboration, I felt, was the perfect culture for creating a robotics platform.”
Nvidia conducts a lot of research elsewhere, focusing on applications ranging from virtual-reality systems to self-driving cars to autonomous drones to medical imaging. But Fox said the Seattle lab will be the core facility for basic research in robotics.
“This lab is focusing on the next generation of interactive manipulators,” Fox said.
Nvidia moved into the lab in November, and since then operations have been ramping up toward the goal of having 50 roboticists working on site. At least 20 of those roboticists will be Nvidia employees, and the rest will be visiting academic researchers and students, Fox said.
Today the lab’s tables were strewn with boxes of Cheez-It crackers and Domino sugar, plus cans of Spam and Campbell’s tomato soup. Those ingredients didn’t go into the dishes served at the open …read more