RSS 2023 Workshop: Lowering barriers for robotics research

Friday July 14, 2023; 1:30pm-6pm

Thank you all for participating in this workshop!

Introduction presentation

To be kept in the loop for future iterations of this workshop, please reach out to: Ankur Mehta ✉️


Though robots themselves have been consistently getting cheaper, more available, and easier to use in recent years, robotics research and development (as presented at RSS and similar conferences) has conversely become less accessible with higher costs and infrastructure dependencies. In this workshop, we bring together roboticists and stakeholders interested in broadening the demographics of those who contribute to robotics research. We will discuss ongoing and upcoming efforts towards lowering barriers to participation, converging on key action items—individually and for the community as a whole—that can increase access to robotic creation.


Robots of the future should be built by, reflect, work with and support all humans, not just a select few. Creating such a diverse robot pantheon starts with improving access to ongoing robotics research and discourse today. We can do this by identifying various barriers, including cost, thinking about and championing approaches that challenge our existing notions of what counts as acceptable/relevant robotics research, and ensuring that adjacents fields from education to manufacturing to health are interested in a robotics future for all. This workshop focuses on these goals.


Ken Goldberg

Ken Goldberg headshot
UC Berkeley Ken Goldberg is the William S. Floyd Distinguished Chair in Engineering at UC Berkeley and an award-winning roboticist, filmmaker, artist and popular public speaker on AI and robotics. Ken trains the next generation of researchers and entrepreneurs in his research lab at UC Berkeley; he has published over 300 papers, 3 books, and holds 9 US Patents. He is the co-founder of the African Robotics Network(AFRON) which seeks to champion and support the development of robotics on the African continent through affordable robotics kits, robotic competitions and interconnected network of roboticists across the continent.

Expanding Access to Robots for Education and Research

Today, most robots are like personal computers were in the 1980s: expensive and isolated systems with limited software, computation, and memory. This is changing with “Cloud Robotics”, where robots are connected and available via the Internet and 5G networks. I’ll describe our work on FogROS2, a networked systems that facilitates access, rapid deployment, automated software updates, distributed data collection, and deep learning to continously improve performance. I will also tell the surprising story about the the African Robotics Network and the Ultra-Affordable Robot Design Challenge.

Nia Jetter

Nia Jetter headshot
Sr. Principal Technologist, Amazon Global Robotics

Nia Jetter is an executive level engineer who is passionate about changing the world through innovation, technology planning, teaching, mentoring and solving tough problems in Autonomy and AI that can be applied across different platforms. She has a dedicated focus on helping people who may not have easy access to educational materials to understand topics like artificial intelligence. Nia is enthusiastic about working the human-AI interface as artificial intelligence is further integrated into our society.

Nia is an Aerospace Engineer who has 20 years of experience in the Aerospace Industry and has had impact on a variety of programs across the product-lifecycle from innovation, design and development to mission and anomaly resolution and through customer delivery and support. In January 2021, Nia left the aerospace industry as a Technical Fellow to join Amazon as a Senior Principal Technologist for Robotics. In this role she is building a foundation in how robots safely collaborate with people through innovation and technology development for autonomy, as well as through strategic planning for robotics and other critical autonomous applications.

Nia has a bachelor’s degree in math with computer science and a minor in earth atmospheric and planetary sciences from MIT as well as a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Stanford. Nia enjoys reading (especially science fiction), astronomy, baking, travelling, dancing and creating short videos that break down complex topics like AI and explains them simply for her YouTube channel (Thinque Bytes). For more information, please see her website:

Exposure Matters - A journey through Aerospace to Robotics

Amazon Robotics has successfully deployed more than 750,000 robots into production. In many ways this is laying the foundation for how mobile robots that are highly collaborative with people will evolve and be deployed into society. A next step in advancing the field of Autonomous Mobile Robots is the deployment of robots that safely exist in an unstructured environment - in an environment where robots move in free space amongst people. As we proceed it is critical that we work to solve both technical and inclusion challenges that will allow us to meet the needs of our customers. This talk will cover a framework for building and deploying robots in an unstructured environment in addition to sharing mechanisms that have been deployed by Amazon and by personally by Nia to provide exposure, and increase inclusion and accessibility

Robotics kits

Vibration Motor-based Robot Kits as a Foundation for Basic Mechatronics Skills


REMS: Robotics Educational Middleware system



Duckietown robot

FlowIO / the Soft Robotics Toolkit

Workshop schedule

Relevance and impact

It is increasingly evident that research and engineering directions and outcomes are deeply correlated to the researchers and engineers that generate such contributions—participation begets perspective. And so it is increasingly important to effect broader participation in the development process, bringing additional voices into the story that is robotics research. Our workshop aims to launch a discussion on expectations and assumptions of the RSS/robotics community that present barriers to entry for aspiring roboticists, limiting participation in a way that serves to diminish the long-term growth of diversity in content at RSS overall. We gather current roboticists that have seen and explored these barriers, together with people who are not yet a part of our broader community that are impacted by those barriers. We will discuss ongoing efforts that represent the current state-of-the-art, along with potential future efforts to redefine what it means to be state-of-the-art, to ultimately move closer towards a vision where anyone—everyone—can be a robot maker contributing to future conferences.

Participant interaction

The workshop aims to bring together researchers that actively work on low-cost alternatives to typically expensive tools used in robotics research, and potential users that might find interest in them. In place of a generic workshop format, we plan to ask the workshop contributors to bring demos and kits that could be shared among workshop participants. We will also coordinate “play-testing” of these kits to allow for experiential discussions. That is, the interactions among participants including speakers will not only be via presentations, but also via sharing experiences with low-cost robotic demos, lowering the barriers in robotics research.

Workshop organizers