Beginnings in robotics: from sci-fi movies to ICRA 2007

We are constantly working to develop our humanoid robots to achieve increasingly complex functions and adapt to more complex environments. Advancements are ongoing in areas such as Whole-Body Control, Human-Robot Interaction, and manipulation. This is all part of our mission at PAL Robotics is to enhance people’s quality of life through service robotics.

We are very excited that an expert in the field of humanoid robots, Enrico Mingo Hoffman, recently joined our team as a Senior Researcher. We had the chance to interview Enrico about his career to date, his beginnings in robotics, applying his knowledge in real application scenarios, and how he imagines humanoid robots of the future.

During his career to date, Enrico has worked in many areas of humanoid and legged robotics, and with several robotics platforms in Europe. He took part in National and European projects and at the moment. He serves as Associate Editor of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters and is Co-Chair of the IEEE Technical Committee on Whole-Body Control.

Enrico’s main interests are kinematics and dynamics of robots, motion planning and control of fixed/floating-base robots, optimization and software development. He is also the creator, main developer and maintainer of the motion/interaction control library OpenSoT.
When talking about his first interest in robotics, Enrico told us, “My interest in robotics started when I was very young. I grew up watching sci-fi movies and Japanese animation. During high school, I read many sci-fi novels, in particular, ASIMOV, where robots help mankind to explore the universe and dangerous situations. I decided that I want to be a part of such a future as well!”

“However it was during my Bachelor’s studies in Electronics Engineering at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, that I had the opportunity to first get in touch with “real” robotics. My Professors Alessandro De Luca and Giuseppe Oriolo were the organizers of the ICRA 2007 conference, held in Rome, and they were looking for student staff. I asked to participate and  it was great, because I had the opportunity to see the cutting-edge research in robotics of that period. With this experience, I decided to continue my studies in Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Robotics during a  master’s degree. In the student staff team there was also Luca Marchionni, current CTO of PAL Robotics, he was studying for his Master’s degree at that time. One of the booths at ICRA 2007 was from a company presenting a humanoid robot capable of walking and playing chess: PAL Robotics! The name of the robot was REEM-A.”

Career history: developing humanoid robots and research on modelling, planning, and control of generic legged robots

Regarding his previous experience working  with humanoid robots, Enrico told us, “I got my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electronic Engineering and AI & Robotics, respectively, both from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. During the Master’s degree, I had the opportunity to participate in the Robocup 2011 edition in the Standard Platform League.”

“After I graduated, I worked one year at PAL Robotics as a Robotics Engineer, mostly on Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) and Navigation. Then I started a PhD in humanoid robotics at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), in the Advanced Robotics Department (ADVR) led by Prof. Drawing G. Caldwell. The main topics of my PhD were the development of a Hierarchical Whole-Body control framework called OpenSoT on humanoid robots and participation in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, in 2015. I was also a visiting researcher in the Yamanote-Nakamura Lab (YNL) at the University of Tokyo.”

Enrico continued, “after the PhD I worked as a Post-Doc researcher for about four years, in the Humanoid and Human-Centered Mechatronics Lab (HHCM) at IIT, led by Dot. Nikos G. Tsagarakis, mostly focussing on whole-body control, inverse dynamics, optimization, loco-manipulation planning, trajectory optimization, and model predictive control. During this period I had the opportunity to work on several European Projects (e.g. COGIMON, CENTAURO, Eurobench) and with many different robotics platforms.”

“After the Post-Doc, I continued as a researcher in the same lab, focussing more on national projects for the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Institute for Occupational Accident Insurance (INAIL). At the moment my research focuses on modelling, planning, and control of generic legged robots.”

The European Sapce Agency team collaborating with PAL Robotics

Applying knowledge in real application scenarios: including Whole-body planning and control of legged systems

We asked Enrico more about his plans at PAL Robotics and he told us, “PAL Robotics has in its DNA the willingness to build (humanoid) robots which are able to help with real-life applications. This way of thinking started with the first robot, REEM-A, which was able to walk and play chess, to all the robots that came after that, from REEM-H to our mobile manipulator TIAGo and ARI.”

“As a researcher in robotics, I am excited to have the possibility to apply my knowledge in real application scenarios. Furthermore, PAL Robotics is developing the next generation of powerful and agile humanoid robots, I think we will see great things coming in the next months.”

“I joined the company as a Senior Researcher in Humanoid Robotics and I will mainly work on whole-body planning and control, trajectory optimization, and model predictive control applied to legged systems.”

Humanoid robots of the future: deploying complex systems in real-life unstructured scenarios

Lastly, we asked Enrico about his hopes for the future of humanoid robots, and he told us, “I would like to see legged systems, in particular humanoid robots, being able to seamlessly traverse complex terrain using their whole-body and multi-contact. Being able to decide autonomously the best action to perform, which contact to use, and where to place them. This aim is to deploy these complex systems in real-life scenarios that are often characterized by highly unstructured environments.

Enrico continued, “Another interesting aspect in humanoid robotics for the future, regards the use of equipment to enhance its dynamic and loco-manipulation capabilities. For example, rope access equipment to operate the robots at heights.”

We would like to thank Enrico Mingo Hoffman for taking the time to talk with us. You can learn more about Enrico and his previous work here. If you have any questions for Enrico or the team at PAL Robotics, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.  To find out more about our humanoid robots, such as TALOS, REEM-C, TIAGo, and ARI, visit our blog on our work and research.