GRASP Newsletter – Summer 2010

Volume 5

The GRASP Newsletter is an annual electronic newsletter for GRASP members, alumni, friends, and family. For more up-to-date information, we invite you to regularly visit the GRASP website at

As of August 31, 2010, the GRASP Laboratory hosts 60 PhD students, 12 postdoctoral researchers, 2 visiting researchers, 24 graduate students enrolled in the Master's of Robotics program, and 42 undergraduate and high-school summer interns, supervised by 15 faculty cross Penn Engineering.

In September 2010, we will welcome the incoming graduate student class of 25 Master's of Robotics and 19 PhD students.

2009-2010 has been a blessing year for GRASP with numerous top papers, awards, and challenge qualifications thanks to the pioneering performance of GRASP faculty, postdocs, graduate, and undergraduate students, and research associates.

The summer closes with

the MAGIC 2010 team qualification to the final challenge,

a YouTube video "Aggressive Maneuvers for Autonomous Quadrotor Flight" that reaches 1,138,130 views by Aug 30,

the arrival of the PR2 robot,

multiple MURI awards,

and kick-offs in the IGERT traineeship grant, a Robotics CTA award, and a DARPA award for Autonomous Manipulation.

A special acknowledgment to our lab coordinator, Charity Payne, who collected all facts below, as well as to Rebecca Stein, the new Associate Director for Research and Educational Outreach, for compiling an outstanding outreach program.


MAGIC 2010 team led by Dan Lee qualifies to the finals of the challenge in Australia:

Nathan Michael and Jon Fink won the award for the Best Student Paper at the 2009 Robotics: Science and Systems Conference in Seattle, Washington.

Katherine Kuchenbecker received the NSF CAREER award on her work, "Haptography: Capturing and Recreating the Rich Feel of Real Surfaces."

Dr. Ruzena Bajcsy won the Anita Borg Award.

George Pappas received the 2009 George Axelby Outstanding Paper Award for "Approximation Metrics for Discrete and Continuous Systems." This award is given to a paper in the IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control and is based on originality, potential impact on the theoretical foundations of control, importance and practical significance in applications.

Max Likhachev was selected to participate on the 2010 DARPA Computer Science Study Panel.

Ben Taskar was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan 2010 Research Fellowship Award. Sloans seek to stimulate fundamental research of early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise.

Joe Romano, GRASP PhD Student under Katherine Kuchenbecker, won the Best Teaser Presentation Award at the IEEE 2010 Haptics Symposium.

A paper by Pulkit Kapur, Mallory Jensen, and Katherine Kuchenbecker, was a Finalist for the Best Poster at the IEEE 2010 Haptics Symposium.

Shaudi Mahdavi-Hosseini and David Weiss received a 2010 graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Ben Taskar has been named a 2010 Young Investigator by the Office of Naval Research. Each of the 17 recipients (out of 211 proposal) showed exceptional promise for creative study and will receive a three-year research grant of up to $510,000.

Katherine Kuchenbecker has been awarded the Ford Motor Company Award for Faculty Advising, recognizing her dedication to helping students realize their educational, career andpersonal goals.

In an effort led by Maxim Likhachev, the GRASP Lab has been selected as one of 11 world-wide to receive a PR2 Beta Robot from Willow Garage.

An NSF IGERT training grant on "Complex Scene Perception" led by Kostas Daniilidis will start in 2011 joining training efforts of IRCS and GRASP faculty, 7 Psychology and 6 GRASP faculty.

The UPennalizers team led by Dan Lee qualified to quarter-finals in the Standard Humanoid League at the RoboCup in Singapore.

The MAGIC2010 team led by Dan Lee was selected  and participated at the qualifiers on June 11, 2010.



Daniel Koditschek wins a 2010 AFOSR MURI on "Control Science for Next Generation Sensing" leading a team of University of Pennsylvania, University of Minnesota, UC Berkeley and University of Melbourne researchers.

Jianbo Shi (with Ben Taskar) is part of the 2010 ONR MURI "Rich Representations with Exposed Semantics for Deep Visual Reasonings" led by CMU and including researchers from U. of Maryland, College Park, and U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Maxim Likhachev won a DARPA SPIR-Phase II subcontract to Dragonfly Pictures on "Tracking Dynamic Objects from a Moving Platform".

Maxim Likhachev with Jianbo Shi won a DARPA SPIR-Phase II subcontract to Dragonfly Pictures on "Path Planning in Dynamic Envirionments".

Maxim Likhachev has been selected to participate on the DARPA 2010 Computer Science Study Panel.

ARL RCTA: “Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance”: Directed by Kostas Daniilidis, Penn has signed a cooperative agreement as a member of the Collaborative Technology Alliance (CTA), the agreement will be funded with an award of $9.8M over the next 5 years.  General Dynamics Robotic Systems (Lead), with approximately forty PIs from the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Central Florida, Florida A & M University, California Institute of Technology/Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Foster-Miller, Boston Dynamics, and General Dynamics Robotic Systems. $129,700,000 total for the first five years. Amount to Penn: $9,836,112. July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2015.

An NSF IGERT training grant on "Complex Scene Perception" led by Kostas Daniilidis will start in 2011 joining training efforts of IRCS and GRASP faculty, 7 Psychology and 6 GRASP faculty, to train 12 PhD students in Perception.

A DARPA Autonomous Robotics Manipulation (ARM-S tract)  grant was won by Vijay Kumar (Penn PI) in collaboration with iRobot (prime) and University of Massachusetts, Armherst.

Ali Jadbabaie won an AFOSR grant on "Topological and geometric analysis of complex networks in collaboration with S.T. Yau (Harvard University) and F. Chung-Graham (UC San Diego).

The MAGIC2010 team led by Dan Lee was awarded a grant by ARL and the Australian Department of Defense to participate in the MAGIC2010 qualifying round.


Willow Garage PR2 Beta Program: “PR2GRASP: From Perception to Reasoning to Grasping”, Maxim Likhachev (PI), Kostas Daniilidis (Co-PI), Katherine J. Kuchenbecker (Co-PI), Vijay Kumar (Co-PI), Daniel D. Lee (Co-PI), Jianbo Shi (Co-PI), Camillo Jose Taylor (Co-PI), and Mark Yim (Co-PI), University of Pennsylvania.


Detection, Explanation and Prediction of Emerging Network Developments (DEPEND), DARPA, Penn PI: Ben Taskar, Prime PI: Charles River Analytics


Beyond Labels: Generalized Supervision for Structured Learning. ONR Young Investigator Program. PI: Ben Taskar, 2010–13.


Sloan Research Foundation Fellowship. PI: Ben Taskar, 2010–12.


AJILE: Adaptive Joint Inference and Learning for Visual Recognition. DARPA, Phase II of Computer Science Study Group Program. PI: Ben Taskar. 2010–12.


Pennsylvania State Health Research Formula Fund: "Vibrotactile and Auditory Feedback for Robotic Minimally Invasive Surgery", Katherine J. Kuchenbecker (PI) and David I. Lee (Co-PI), University of Pennsylvania.  Amount to Penn: $75,000.  July 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.


Graduating PhD Students:

            Spring Berman (MEAM '10) - Harvard University PostDoc            

            Alireza Tahbaz Salehi (ESE'09) - MIT PostDoc

          Ethan Stump (MEAM '10) - Army Research Laboratory Researcher


Graduating  Master's of Robotics Students (Dec '09 and May '10):

            Jonathan Bohren                

            Jamie Gewirtz                                    

            Bartholomew Gillan    

            Shrinidhi Kowshika Lakshmikanth    

            Rahul Krishnan    

            Jason Liu 

            Saurabh Palan            

            Sunthar Premakumar 

            Rajat Rastogi 

            Jonathan Schmid 

            Anne Schneider 

            Donald Scott 

            Shreyas Seshamani            

            Mackenzie White 



The GRASP Lab Faculty have involved 42 undergraduate and high school students in research during spring and summer 2010 !! 

Uriah Baalke (MEAM – Yim)

Nicholas Bartlett (MEAM – Yim)

Markus Beissinger (CD – Lee)

Ross Boczar (ESE – Lee)

Annett Bordoley (MEAM – Yim)

Jason Carter (Morgan State – Taylor)

Billy Cheringal (MEAM – Yim)

Kevin Cockerman (Penn State - Taskar)

Neel Doshi (MEAM – Yim)

Max Effron (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Andy Guenin (MEAM – Kuchenbecker/Yim)

Rikki Irwin (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Rekha Jois (MEAM – Yim)

Christine Kappeyne Van De (MEAM – Kumar)

Preeya Khanna (BE – Kuchenbecker)

Syed Khizer Hayat (MEAM – Yim)

Reuben Latigo (MEAM – Yim)

Stella Latscha (MEAM – Yim)

Nisan Lerea (MEAM – Yim)

Adam Libert (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Magalie Lilavois (BE – Kuchenbecker)

David Loewy (EE – Koditschek)

Antonio Macasieb (MEAM – Yim)

Paul Martin (ESE – Kuchenbecker)

Sebastian Mauchly (MEAM – Yim)

Zach Mazlin (MEAM – Yim)

Zach Meister (CIS – Daniilidis/Taskar)

Craig McDonald (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Thanat Owlarn (CIS – Lee)

Priya Pariyani (CIS - Taskar)

William Price (MEAM – Yim)

Steven Schlaefer (MEAM – Yim)

Michael Shomin (MEAM – Kumar)

Jennifer Smith (NC State/Bio Dept – Yim)

Andrew Stanley (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Dorsey Standish (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Ian Stephens (MEAM – Kuchenbecker)

Ashleigh L. Thomas (ESE – Lee)

Teyvonia Thomas (ESE – Lee)

Carlos Torres (University of Puerto Rico – Taylor)

Jessica Westone (CIS – Daniilidis)

Kevin Xu (CIS – Daniilidis)

High School Researchers

John Anthony (MEAM - Kumar/Keller)

Samuel Hurwitz (CIS - Daniilidis)

Richard Tredinnick (CIS - Shi)



September 1st, 2009, Stephen McGill presents his public policy robotics research on capitol hill.

October 29th, 2009, Provost visits the GRASP Lab. 

November 9th, 2009, SEAS Master's Open House.

December 11th, 2009, Celebrating 50 Years of Robtics: Symposium and Poster Session.

March 18th, 2010, The GRASP Lab exhibits at the K-12 National Science Teacher Conference in Philadelphia at the Convention Center.

March 26th, 2010, Katherine Kuchenbecker and thirteen of her students attend the IEEE Haptics Symposium Conference in Boston, where they present one talk, one poster, and six hands-on demonstrations of their research.   

March 30th, 2010, The first informational meeting on a Robotics Mentoring Opportunity for GRASP Students.

April 15th, 2010, The GRASP Lab goes to Capitol Hill for the AUVSI Congressional Robotics Caucus Event during National Robotics Week.

April 16th, 2010, The GRASP Lab opens its doors to celebrate National Robotics Week.

May 5th, 2010, The artist Lozano-Hemmer and members of the Fairmount Park visit the GRASP Lab.

May 14th, 2010, The Discovery Channel videotapes the Lab, Demos and Interview for a segment that will air in November.


March 25th - 26th, 2010,  Katherine Kuchenbecker was on the Program Committee and Co-Chair of Posters, Demonstrations, and Exhibits for the IEEE Haptics Symposium held in Boston, Massachusetts.


June 27th - 30th, 2010,  Katherine Kuchenbecker was Publicity Chair for the Robotics: Science and Systems 2010 Conference held at the Universidad de Zaragoza in Zaragoza, Spain.


May 3 - 8, 2010, Vijay Kumar was the Program Chair of the 2010 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA2010) was held in Anchorage, Alaska.

July 20-27, 2009, Jianbo Shi with Fei-Fei Li (Stanford) organized the 1st Sino-USA Summer School in Vision, Learning, and Pattern Recognition (VLPR 2009)  held at Peking University, Beijing, China.


A Symposium celebrating 50 years of robotics on December 11th featured talks by:

            Nancy Amato (Texas A&M University)

               Antonio Bicchi (University of Pisa, Italy)

               Steve Cousins (Willow Garage)

               Allison Okamura (Johns Hopkins University)

               Jim Ostrowski (Evolution Robotics Retail)

               Daniela Rus (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

               Gaurav Sukhatme (University of Southern California)

               Satoshi Tadokoro (Tohoku University, Japan)

            Yuan Zheng (Ohio State University) 


The Fall and Spring GRASP Seminar Series featured a wonderful lineup of speakers:

            Sept 18th Antonio Torralba (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

            Oct 2nd Shreyas Sundaram (University of Pennsylvania)

            Oct 9th Michael Littman (Rutgers University)

            Oct 16th Jana Kosecka (George Mason University)

            Oct 23rd Lynne Parker (University of Tennessee)

            Oct 30th Martin Buehler (iRobot Corporation)

            Nov 6th Greg Hager (Johns Hopkins University)

            Nov 13th Marc Raibert (Boston Dynamics)

            Nov 20th Jonathan How (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

            Dec 4th Jeff Shamma (Georgia Institute of Technology)

            Jan 15th Roger Brockett (Harvard University)

            Jan 22nd Todd Murphey (Northwestern University)

            Feb 5th Bennedeto Piccoli (Rutgers University)

            Feb 19th Ko Nishino (Drexel University)

            Feb 26th David Lee (Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and School of Medicine)

            Mar 19th William Provancher (University of Utah)

            Mar 26th P.S. Krishnaprasad (University of Maryland)

            Apr 2nd Cindy Grimm (Washington University, St. Louis)

            Apr 9th Alan Stocker (University of Pennsylvania)

            Apr 16th Dimitris Metaxas (Rutgers University)

            Apr 23rd Michael Kahana (University of Pennsylvania)

            Apr 30th Leslie Kaelbling (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) 


The 2009-2010 GRASP Special Seminars included:

            June 8th Yaroslav Tenzer (Imperial College of London, UK)

            June 17th Guilherme A. S. Pereira (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil)

            Sept 29th Michael Margaliot (Tel Aviv University)

            Dec 18th Kostas Derpanis (York University)

            Jan 28th Reza Ghaemi (University of Michigan)          

            Feb 24th Lihi Zelnik-Manor (Techion - Israel Institute of Technology) 

            Mar 10th Larry Matthies (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA)

            Mar 25th Fernando De la Torre (Carnegie Mellon University)

            Apr 6th Yanxi Liu (Penn State University)

            Apr 7th Weichuan Yu (Hong Kong University)

            Apr 20th Karlin Bark (Stanford University)

            May 10th Paulo Robuffo Giordano and Antonio Franchi (Max-Planck Institute)

            May 19th Jim Rehg (Georgia Institute of Technology)

            May 19th Xu Chu Ding (Boston University)

            May 21st John Doyle (California Institute of Technology)

            May 26th Roger Cholewiak (Princeton University)

            June 18th David Hu (Georgia Institute of Technology)

            June 21st Milos Zefran (University of Illinois at Chicago)



            Oct 23rd David Handelman (American Android Corporation) GRASP Industry Talk  

            Oct 30th Martin Buehler (iRobot Corporation) GRASP Seminar

            Nov 13th Marc Raibert (Boston Dynamics) GRASP Seminar

            Dec 11th Steve Cousins (Willow Garage) 50 Years of Robotics Speaker

            Dec 11th Jim Ostrowski (Evolution Robotics Retail) 50 Years of Robotics Speaker

            Mar 10th Larry Matthies (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA) GRASP Special Seminar



July 17th, 2009, The PSSI (Penn Summer Science Initiative) summer high school class under Andrew McGhie toured the GRASP Lab.

August 5th, 2009, A GRASP Lab tour was presented to the 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls participating in PennGEMS: Girls in Engineering Math and Science Camp at the University of Pennsylvania. 

August 13th, 2009, The tele-immersion demo was presented to a group of educators attending the MAGPI Fellows Summer Summit at Penn.

October 23rd, 2009, The GRASP Lab provided tours for those attending the SEAS Engineering Open House.

October 28th, 2009, The GRASP Lab gave two large tours for students and their parents from numerous area high schools participating in Nanoday at Penn.

October 28th, 2008, An advanced physics class from Westtown Friends School under Patti Spackman, a SEAS alum, visited the GRASP Lab for a tour.

November 6th, 2009, A GRASP Lab tour was given to teachers and guidance counselors from the Philadelphia and New Jersey area learning how to encourage girls in computer science by attending the Teacher/Guidance Counselor Day at Penn. This event was sponsored by NCWIT, the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

December 11th, 2009, Penn's chapter of Engineers Without Borders, PennEWB brought a group of students, from Saul High School and the Science Leadership Academy participating in their afterschool program, to visit the GRASP Lab for a tour while they visited Penn's campus.

December 15th, 2009, Springfield Township High School's robotics class under Tammy Pirmann visited the GRASP Lab for a tour. 

April 10th, 2010, Three GRASP Tours were given to the NSBE's STEM conference, as it fields to West Philadelphia's rising 9th graders and high school students.

April 22nd, 2010, The "2010 Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" brought two groups of Penn employees with their children to tour the GRASP Lab.

April 28th, 2010, Four large tour groups from high schools throughout the Delaware Valley participating in the WICS High School Day for Girls were given the opportunity to tour the GRASP Lab and to speak with some of our female graduate students.

May 7th, 2010, Engineers without Borders brought in a group of HS Students from Saul W.B. High School for Agricultural Sciences to visit the GRASP Lab for a tour.

May 22nd, 2010, Three high school robotics teams (Overbrook, George Washington and Paul Robeson), under the mentorship of undergraduate robotics students since March, compeated in the MATE Pennsylvania Regional ROV Challenge. Overbrook took second place in the competition and qualified for the International MATE ROV competition in Hilo, Hawaii.

March 20th, 2010, Katherine Kuchenbecker presented a workshop, “Haptics: Touch Feedback for Robotic Surgery and More”, for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Region E Conference held at the University of Pennsylvania.

May 21st, 2010, GRASP Discovery Day brought 65 students from Bala Cynwyd Middle School to the lab for a day of tours, lectures and lunch with robotics students.

June 16th, 2010, Katherine Kuchenbecker presented a workshop and lab tour, “Haptics: Touch-Based Interaction”, for the IRCS Undergraduate Summer Workshop on Cognitive Science held at the University of Pennsylvania.

June 25th, 2010, Nine high school students from Central and Carver Engineering and Science visited the GRASP Lab as part of the Boot-Up Camp.


June 22nd, 2009, #78 MARS Multimedia was included in "100 Ivy-League Learning Tools Anyone Can Access" in an article on 

July 7th, 2009, Jianbo Shi and Praveen Srinivasan's work with Abhinav Gupta from the University of Maryland, presented at CVPR in Miami Beach, received press in the IEEE Spectrum and Discovery, "Software Watches Baseball and Calls the Plays."

July 27th, 2009, Press on Mark Yim and researchers' work with modular robotics in the NY Times, "A Modular Robot that Puts Itself Back Together Again."  

July 27th, 2009, The $1 million Netflix competition concluded and David Weiss, CIS PhD candidate, was a member of the winning team, The Ensemble. "Netflix Competitors Learn the Power of Teamwork" in the NY Times.

September 21st, 2009, Harvey Rubin was published in the New Scientist, "Why Bankers are like Bacteria"

November 6th, 2009, The GRASP Lab team led by Professor Dan Lee was selected as one of the 12 finalists of MAGIC 2010 Robotics competition to take place Nov. 8-13, 2010, in an undisclosed location in Australia. Articles can be found at, Dr.Dobb's and

December 11th, 2009, The livestreaming of the "Celebrating 50 Years of Robotics" Symposium held at the GRASP Lab on Friday, December 11th, 2009 on

March 26th, 2010, The IEEE Spectrum highlighted Dr. Kuchenbecker and her students' hands-on haptics project, "Tactile Gaming Vest Punches and Slices". This Tactile Gaming Vest was developed by a team of students that included two robotics masters students (Saurabh Palan and Ruoyao Wang), plus an undergraduate (Ned Naukam) and a masters student (Eddie Li) from Mechanical Engineering.

May 4th, 2010, After reviewing 78 submissions to the PR2 Beta Program Call for Proposals, Willow Garage announces their selections of eleven recipients for the PR2 Beta robots at no cost. Details on the recipients were published on  

May 28th, 2010, Autonomous quadrotors dynamic flight through windows video was highlighted on, "Autonomous Quadrocopter Flies Through Windows, Straight into Our Hearts (video)"  

June 10th, 2010, The GRASP Lab UPennalizers, RoboCup Soccer Team, was highlighted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "RoboCup teams worldwide strive to bend it like C3PO" before they head to Singapore for the International Championship.



Agung Julius recently started as Assistant Professor of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, at Rensslaer Polytechnic Institute and has won a Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Julius will use the five-year, $536,785 award to further his research into computational analysis of hybrid systems.

GRASP Lab alum John Spletzer was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer, February 22nd, 2010 for "Wheelchair on the go," a new robotic smart wheelchair.


Andrew Hicks, GRASP Alum, was featured in the Philadelphia Magazine, "Best of Philly 2009."

Hugh Durrant-Whyte has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Alumni: To contribute updates, please e-mail Charity Payne at